Monthly Archives: February 2015

EDTECH 541: Hypermedia

This entry is a video blog. Hopefully it will be embeded!

EDTECH 541: Spreadsheets and Databases

Spreadsheets and databases are a natural component to science courses. If they are not already a part of your science class, then you are doing something wrong. There are various labs students do that allows them to collect data. Data is easily organized in a spreadsheet. I gave a few examples in my Weebly discussion of 4 examples, http://getzedtech.weebly.com/spreadsheets-and-databases.html. Any time a student collects data over a period of time, a spreadsheet is useful.

I am fortunate to teach in a field that naturally lends itself to having databases. One of the most powerful ones is the NCBI database that allows access to genetic sequences of anything that has DNA, or in some cases, RNA. Lawrence Berkeley Labs maintains list of databases for its scientists to easily locate. I should not be surprised, but there is even a wiki that lists databases, and if accessing them is free or not. Even the US government has a website committed to science. They even have a section of the website dedicated to science education resources.

In case it is not obvious, real scientists use databases in their research and work environment continuously. Part of doing research is to find “new” information. When we get something new, it is unique until we can find something to connect it to. That is where the databases come in to play. We use our data and search databases to see if someone else figured out something similar to what we did. Genetic sequences are easily compared in the NCBI database (like I mentioned before).

One of my favorite databases is of photographic images. I love how all the images can be used for free from government websites, unless it is somehow a proprietary website. I even made a webpage of government image databases in EDTECH 502. I don’t know if my links still work, but the ones on the right side navigation bar at the DOE website seem to work. It looks like the government put their images up at Flickr so you will have to link from the DOE landing page to the Flickr spot.

In researching this topic, I am delighted to see that there are so many resources available for free online. Students need to learn how to use spreadsheets to organize their data, and similarly, how to use databases to verify if what they figured out fits in with the rest of what other people are doing.  Collectively scientists and researchers allow us to have the information we have about how our world works. Life did not come with an instruction manual. For example, everything in the chemistry textbook had to be figured out by humans at some point in time.

References:

Basic Local Alignment Search Tool. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2015, from http://blast.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Blast.cgi

Energy.gov. (2013, November 01). Retrieved February 19, 2015, from http://energy.gov/management/office-management/employee-services/photography

Explore Selected Science Websites by Topic. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2015, from http://www.science.gov/

Getz, M. B. (2012). Why read this page? Retrieved February 19, 2015, from http://edtech2.boisestate.edu/melissagetz/502/concept.htm

List of academic databases and search engines. (2015, February 12). Retrieved February 19, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_academic_databases_and_search_engines

Science Databases and Other Electronic Resources listed by Subject. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2015, from https://commons.lbl.gov/display/rst/Science+Databases+and+Other+Electronic+Resources+listed+by+Subject

Science.gov topic Science Education for user category All categories. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2015, from http://www.science.gov/browse/w_133.htm

EDTECH 541: Relative Advantage of Using Presentations

I am a fan of using presentation tools because it is something students can stare at instead of me. I did not use them often because students would whimper when they saw PowerPoint was on the way. I can understand their point of view because I had a student teacher who thought he was the most amazing teacher due to his prowess with PowerPoint. I had the advantage of sitting in the classroom with the students so I could see their glazed eyes and confused faces. Using PowerPoint just so you can say you’ve integrated technology into your daily lesson plans is not the right reason to use PowerPoint. It is akin to taking kids to the computer lab so you don’t have to write a real lesson plan for that day. They’ll be doing technology by using the Internet to do research.

I read Alice Keeler’s blog post on embedding PowerPoint presentations into your website, and agree with her about making the class’s content available to students outside of class. I did not start making websites until 2005 so the only time I had a website for students and parents to access was in my last teaching position. There are lots of problems with the links at the website because I did not properly move it to GoDaddy, but one day the links will hopefully work so you can see how I set things up for the kids. It is at http://www.biotechbiotch.com.  Essentially I had a calendar and linked to a copy of whatever I handed out or whatever website we used that day. If you are a teacher who can wrap up the entire lesson in a PowerPoint presentation so that kids and parents can review it at home, go for it. Anything we can do to provide useful structure for students will help them be able to focus on the content. After all, that is the main reason the teacher is there. We are a conduit that helps shovel factoids or thinking processes into our kids’ brains.

If you’re going to use PowerPoint for its structure, that is great. Just don’t make it too wordy or too boring. I may do the extra credit activity for this week because I had students do presentations in the past and I want to improve upon that lesson. I want to do it virtually and as a part of my course in 3dGameLab. This would be a good time to set it up for the kids. With that presentation, I require them to use the scientific writing at the Protein Data Bank to present one of the Molecule of the Month structures. They get to pick the topic and have to focus on using images from the website. I did this in 2009-2010 and it was a very eye opening experience for me. I’ve always tried to integrate one oral presentation into every semester because I know students need the practice. These presentations showed me how bad it had become for the set of kids I had. Laziness had crept up to a new dimension. I had a sample presentation for them, I did a sample for them, and put in as much structure as I knew about at the time. We were a Google school and students uploaded their presentations to the school’s site. Because of this, there is a firewall preventing me from sharing their horrific work with you. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Bottom line…if PowerPoint is being used for positive structure, then it is totally necessary. If it is just being used so you can say you or the kids are doing technology, save yourself the time and frustration. Find something else for the kids to do that will engage them more than your lecture. Even if you have amazing slides created by the textbook publisher, make sure what you choose to include is absolutely necessary.

If you are interested in seeing the presentation I did this week, check out: http://getzedtech.weebly.com/presentation-on-python-strings.html

References:

Keeler, A. (2014, June 15). Embed a PowerPoint on your Website. Retrieved February 15, 2015, from http://www.alicekeeler.com/teachertech/2014/06/15/embed-a-powerpoint-on-your-website/

EDTECH 541: Instructional Software and Technology Tools

Relative Advantage of Instructional Software

When I can find software to use in class, everybody benefits. Obviously it means I don’t have to lecture that day, other than to explain how to use the software. Chances are the students will be more interested, especially if the software is fun to use. Unfortunately some of what I have had students use is less than ideal. For example, I had students do a webquest to learn about doing protein gels. I could have lectured, but it seemed better for them to see the animations. For this particular webquest, I gave them questions and links to various websites where they can find the answers. I learned that if I were to do this again, I may have to put the link to the website adjacent to the question it answers. As much as students like using computers, they don’t necessarily like to use them for research, or to find an answer that can’t be easily found in a Google search or a wiki.

To teach students how to analyze data by using software that gives them the opportunity to read graphs or the results of an experiment, is not as good as having them do it hands-on in the classroom, but it is better than them not getting any experience with the information. Unfortunately many of the virtual labs I have used with students are either so difficult that it takes me hours to figure them out, like Gizmos, or they are just point, click, and drag exercises that they actually end out being a waste of time. Until my abilities with creating software or using software to create lab scenarios gets better, I am afraid that if I use software with the kids, it is going to be written by somebody else.

Interested in what our textbook has to say, I started skimming through it. Sadly on page 77, they say, “Today, after more than 30 years of development and experimentation, there is less talk of computers replacing teachers…” which is actually an optimistic perspective. What is sad about it, is that from my experiences in the last 4 years, it is not true. Computers and scripted curriculum are replacing teachers. There are companies who are making lots of money by replacing the teachers that used to be in the classroom by replacing them with virtual teachers. These virtual teachers will often have a load of 200 students per day from whatever states they have a credential to teach in. While I realize this post is supposed to be about how educational software and technology tools help the classroom teacher, I feel the need to point out the disparity that exists between a classroom teacher and a virtual teacher. Software IS replacing the classroom teacher. I know this because I taught kids in Delaware who did not have a classroom teacher. The software and I replaced whoever should have been the classroom teacher when the school was restructured. For my Pennsylvania kids, I was their teacher, even though I never met them in person, and live 2000 miles away. I did not actually ever teach them anything. I tried to tutor them if they would stay focused enough during a tutoring session to let me explain things to them, but even then, I had some kids who were not used to the idea of being responsible for their learning. This is not at all what I meant this blog post to turn out as so I will curtail my digression on how bad virtual schools are at this point, but I do want to point out that in my presentation of tutorials, drill and practice, and other categories of instructional software, this is not the same software being used in virtual schools. The software links I am presenting for this post are stuff that I either used when I was in the classroom, or would use should I ever get back in a classroom. (The later seeming further and further away from possibility, but you never know. So far using a wheelchair rocks using a walker, and if I upgrade to a power wheelchair, who knows what my limits will be?)

Robolyer and Doerling point out on page 78 that “instructional software packages are developed for the sole purpose of supporting instruction and/or learning.” It is important they differentiate between technology that is merely a tool, technology that is replacing the teacher, and technology that supports the teacher. Granted, they are not acquiescing that software is replacing teachers, but trust me, it is. They go on to elaborate which types of software can allow for directed and / or constructivist approaches. Naturally, as the students are given more control of the software environment, the more constructivist it can be. For example, having students build a website gives them more freedom than merely doing a webquest where they go hunting for answers to questions. (I have had students do both.) I see a parallel between paper and equipment lessons and computer software ones. The tutorials and drill and kill are like the worksheets or notes I used to print out on paper for the kids to use.  Simulations are like cookbook labs. Problem solving scenarios are like inquiry based labs. At the moment, I don’t have a parallel for instructional games, unless doing a Jeopardy review or having kids make board games qualifies as an instructional game.

In chapter 3, Robolyer and Doerling give advice on how to select good examples of software in each category. In addition they elaborate the pros and cons of each type. Many teachers scoff at having any rote memorization types of drill and kill, whether it is a worksheet or a computer program. It is comforting to see that I am not the only one who finds value in having students practice specific types of problems repeatedly. I am currently tutoring an algebra 2 student, and while preparing for her winter final, it became pretty chaotic with so many different problems to figure out. One thing I started to notice, however, is that what was becoming more important than getting the right answer, was learning how to evaluate the situation to determine which technique best solves each problem.  We may never recognize we are factoring a binomial in the real world, but learning how to be calm while sorting through our resources and evaluating them is a skill both my student and I will benefit from knowing.

Tutorials are my favorite type of programs to create because I love learning how to use Articulate Storyline. I took the BSU class on Flash, and it was pretty much a nightmare. I used Articulate’s free 30 day download for two classes, and became hooked. Fortunately I have significant support from my husband and family, so I was able to purchase Storyline.  Flash will integrate with Storyline so I may do some flying numbers in Flash to bring in to a Storyline project, but otherwise I think I am stuck on doing the “explanation screen” way of trying to help students with various science topics. I have not created many tutorials, but you are welcome to see what I have done at www.getzguides.com. For my students who were enrolled in virtual classes because they were at a treatment center, my guides were a way they could get additional support for the classes if a live tutor was not available.  Robolyer and Doerling point this out on page 88, tutorials are useful for instruction when no teachers are available. You may be surprised by how many students are taking classes that don’t have a readily available teacher. It is for these students I write my tutorials.

I am a huge fan of physics simulations. Even making apps with Corona or other simple programs lets you use physics. Even though I did not figure out how to make an app by coding in lua for one of my BSU classes, I did come to appreciate how physics can easily be integrated into simple software programs. As much as I am addicted to Minecraft, it is odd how they only have physics apply to two types of blocks. Then again, because they suspend the laws of physics, students can easily make three dimensional representations of objects when building in creative mode.  Redstone mimics electronics and minecarts can travel based on gravity, so Minecraft is not completely void of physics. The redstone and use of minecarts on trails can give kids an opportunity to participate in something a teacher created, therefore making it a simulation or game, or they can create their own situations which would fall into the problem solving category.

I am torn when it comes to digital dissection because I know I truly learned more about animals by dissecting them, than if I had just gone through a point and click way of learning body parts. I wonder, though, how necessary it is to kill so many animals just for tenth grade dissections.  Our book quotes from studies that showed digital vs physical manipulation does not seem to matter in terms of what information students retain (Roblyer & Doerling, 2013, p.91). For many teachers, the benefits of no set-up or clean-up, less costly equipment once the software is acquired, unless its license has to be renewed annually, and less supervision needed during the class period, outweigh the negative perception that what the students are doing is not actually real. The American Chemical Society (ACS), and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) have come out against virtual labs. Even the College Board will not accept credits in classes where students did a virtual equivalent of a lab. (Robyler & Doerling, 2013, p. 93).  This means students will be doing PCR and running agarose gels for their AP biology lab, instead of imagining the bands migrating through the gel.

The last two categories, Instructional Game Software and Problem-Solving Software, are more difficult for me to see in the science context. The book recognizes Geometer’s Sketchpad, which is a very good program. It helps make geometry more spatially available. They also mention Spore as a game for studying evolution. I can’t comment on Spore because I’ve never played it. I do have to say, though, that I did an internship for a nanotech company in Emeryville, and the folks who created Spore were either on our floor or above us. It was interesting to ride in the elevator with them. But I digress, once again…

You may notice in my presentation , instructional games and problem solving software have very few entries. Hopefully I will be able to add more links after I post my blog. Fortunately the book treats the last two categories like it did the first three by giving example scenarios, and pro/con lists. One possible con that struck me was the idea of having to choose software that can handle limited physical dexterity (Robyler & Doerling, 2013, p. 95). I don’t think many students like having me in class because I can find faults easily in student work, and I will mention it. It is not to be mean; I’m actually trying to be helpful. People who don’t have disabilities really have no clue what it is like to have some. Just ask me about how ludicrous some of the ADA adaptations are where I live, and I’d be glad to tell you how we need people with the disability to create the adaptive physical changes, or in the case of my classes, adaptive software. We used Minecraft as a game, and as a way to do problem solving when I took EDTECH 531. In 531, we created an example of how to use one of three software packages as an educational tool, and there were some lessons I could not physically do because of the way they were designed. I did not have the manual dexterity to click and drag fast enough. If you know how to contact me, and you want me to evaluate any website or program you create for its difficulty with my limitations, just ask. I happily volunteer my eyes, hands, and defective brain as a testing environment.

In 531, I was incredibly impressed with how Minecraft (MC) can be used to simulate many social studies situations. I thought of a few ways it could be used with science, and I plan to make quests in 3dGameLab that have students use Minecraft to look at some science concepts. I feel like Minecraft is predictable enough that you can act like a scientist, and evaluate the game in survival mode as if one is going through the scientific method. I wish I qualified for minecraftedu so I could create scenarios that have students go mining for organic and inorganic resources. I can do that with regular MC, but it will be much more difficult to control student access to specific areas, and to protect blocks. The possible lessons in Second Life are also amazing, but from what little I’ve experienced, they are not on the level of games or problem solving. I can see World of Warcraft being used for problem solving because that is what you have to do continuously- the first problem being how to play the doggone game. I felt that way with Minecraft, too. I think any of these software programs that are easily intimidating at first are actually really good tools for students to learn resilience, endurance, and perseverance.  I was a MC misfit when I first started playing it. I later became addicted to it. The book makes a distinction between doing problem solving software activities merely for the sake of learning how to problem solve. (Robyler & Doerling, 2013, p. 97). I can totally see using software for that purpose, at least until someone figures out how to create something that can be open ended enough for students to be able to make mistakes and therefore be able to learn from them

One thing that should be in any of the interactive software games is a chance for failure. When click and drag scenarios are too predictable, students won’t be challenged and will complete the activity because they are required to, and not necessarily because they are enjoying what they want to learn. We need to be careful, though, to not build in failures that students will take too strongly or  too personally. I still don’t know where I am going to fit into education in my next stages. I’m hoping it will involve creating quest based courses in 3dGameLab that other teachers will want to use. If I can figure out how to turn a quest or a course into how to problem solve something in science, other than an easily predictable physics or genetics lab, I will be ecstatic.

References

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching [6th edition].