“…learners of science have everyday representations of the phenomena that science explains. These representations are constructed, communicated, and validated within everyday culture. They evolve as individuals live within a culture” (Driver, et al., 1994, p. 11).
I am from a small community of approximately 6,000 people in northwestern British Columbia. While we have a small museum/art gallery (half of the ground floor of the building is the museum, the other half is the art gallery), we do not have many resources as far as math and science field trips go. We do have a fish hatchery, as well as mineral exploration sites, past mines, forests, and so on relatively nearby, but we are limited as far as more diverse hands-on experiences outside the classroom go. While I agree that students construct knowledge through immersion in their surrounding environments and cultures, I also know that if I simply left it at that, many of my students would not be provided with the opportunities needed to extend their thinking and to continue to develop a sense of inquiry as they got older. Because of this, I am finding virtual learning environments for science and math increasingly important the more I learn about previously inaccessible opportunities and options now available.
As Driver et al. (1994) point out, “the symbolic world of science is now populated with entities such as atoms, electrons, ions, fields and fluxes, genes and chromosomes; it is organized by ideas such as evolution and encompasses procedures of measurement and experiment. These ontological entities, organizing concepts, and associated epistemology and practices of science are unlikely to be discovered by individuals through their own observations of the natural world. Scientific knowledge as public knowledge is constructed and communicated through the culture and social institutions of science” (p. 6). Classrooms by nature have the potential to support this “culture and social institutions of science.” Students actively engage with peers, both socially and collaboratively, sharing perspectives and knowledge, generating ideas, and developing questions and hypotheses; “knowledge is not transmitted directly from one knower to another, but is actively built up by the learner…” (Driver, et al., 1994, p. 5). However, at the same time, Yoon et al., (2012) point out that, “as noted in the NRC (2009) report and elsewhere (Squire and Patterson 2009; Honey and Hilton 2011), learning in informal spaces is fluid, sporadic, social, and participant driven — characteristics that contrast with the highly structured formal classroom experience” (p. 521). While the “structured formal classroom experience” is changing, virtual environments, or environments that integrate digital technology to create an inquiry-based classroom, continue to create a much different classroom experience for learners. Sherry Hsi (2008) argues that it is through this “…direct experience and manipulation with virtual objects” that informal learners are given the opportunity to build “their intuitions about basic scientific phenomena” (p. 892). In this way, Hsi points out, information technologies have “transformed…informal learning institutions” through the creation of “…freely available educational resources accessible over computer networks and the Web to create extended learning opportunities outside of formal schooling” (p. 891), as well as providing opportunities for educators to use pre- or post-visit activities with their classes, and to access virtual explorations for remote learners via the internet.
The next question is how to effectively integrate digital technologies and virtual environments into existing curriculums. Yoon et al., (2012) conducted a study at “a premiere science museum in a large urban city in northeast USA using augmented reality visualization technologies” (p. 520). Their study focused on electrical conductivity and circuits, and research was conducted on four groups using digital technology and increasing levels of scaffolding to support learning. The traditional “hands-on” group was presented with two metal spheres; one connected to a battery by a wire and the other connected to a light bulb. When a student grabbed the spheres, the circuit was completed and the light bulb lit up. The second group was presented with the same scenario, but this time, the addition of digital technology allowed for a visual representation as well, as the completion of the circuit triggered a projection of the animated flow of electricity onto the student’s hands, arms, and shoulders. Groups three and four also had the digitally enhanced experience, along with varying levels of additional scaffolding to support learning. Yoon et al.’s research concluded “that the digital augmentation, in and of itself, is an effective scaffold” (p. 531); however, the results of their study also found “…increased cognitive abilities in terms of theorizing about the phenomenon from students in Condition 4, suggesting that scaffolds might be necessary to reach more advanced learning” (p. 538). True learning should represent a balance. As Driver et al. (1994) point out, “If students are to adopt scientific ways of knowing, then intervention and negotiation with an authority, usually the teacher, is essential” (p. 11). Driver et al. offer that the teacher must introduce new ideas or cultural tools, provide support/guidance as needed, allow students to make sense of the ideas/tools themselves, and then assess students’ understanding to inform further action. Yoon et al. noted that “When asked what they thought was the most and least helpful scaffold, 100% of the students identified collaborating in a group as most helpful. The least helpful scaffolds were identified as the knowledge prompts (57%) and the directions (37%)” (p. 532).
When exploring various learning environments and communities this week, I was struck by the incredibly amount of information as well as opportunities that are now available. The Exploratorium (https://www.exploratorium.edu/) in San Francisco, California, offers an incredible number of websites (i.e., “Time-lapse Weather Watching,” “Total Solar Eclipse Turkey 2006”), videos (webcasts, video clips, podcasts, and slideshows), blogs, and so on, to support learning in both science and mathematics. By incorporating some of these resources into science lessons, teachers have the opportunity to expose students to information they would likely not be exposed to otherwise, as well as to engage learners, and allow for new and potentially powerful collaborative discussions. A second learning environment that I explored this week (although it was not listed in Lesson 2) was Google Expeditions. I had never used Google Expeditions before, but found it while looking for resources to share on our forum. While I have not yet used this with a whole class (due to trying to figure out how to find that many cell phones, as well as how to make enough cardboard viewers) my initial experiences with it have been pretty neat! There are an incredible number of science-based expeditions that teachers “guide” while students “explore.” The “guide” setting provides teachers with leveled questions as well as important information on locations, species, artifacts, etc. viewed by the students. While this resource does require that each student has a phone and a viewer (which can be made, but does take some time for the first one), it really does provide a virtual experience for the student as the ultimate effect is being right in the scene provided on the screen. Students I have experimented with have been incredibly excited and engaged, asking many questions about what they saw and learned. While I find that many students in my classroom do not really know where to even start asking questions because many of the topics we discuss are outside their realm of experience, Google Expeditions allows for students to have an “experience” to base their questions on.
I was thinking about a comment that I commonly hear today about our learners, that learners today just do not understand concepts as well as learners did in the past. One colleague commented that in the past “we strove for excellence, while today we’re just hoping for some effort.” While there are perhaps elements of truth built into this statement, given the new understandings I have gained from this course, I would question whether students in the past really had a greater understanding of concepts, or if we just assumed they had a greater understanding, without understanding ourselves just how strong a hold misconceptions actually had.
Driver, R., Asoko, H., Leach, J., Scott, P., & Mortimer, E. (1994). Constructing scientific knowledge in the classroom. Educational Researcher, 23(7), 5-12.
Hsi, S. (2008). Information technologies for informal learning in museums and out-of-school settings. International Handbook of Information Technology in Primary and Secondary Education, 20(9), 891-899.
Yoon, S. A., Elinich, K., Wang, J., Steinmeier, C., & Tucker, S. (2012). Using augmented reality and knowledge-building scaffolds to improve learning in a science museum. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 7(4), 519-541.