Leah LaCrosse shares six edtech ideas science teachers can start using today to improve learning and excite students about science.
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6 Super Science Edtech Ideas
Link to show: www.coollcatteacher.com/e272
Date: March 13, 2018
Vicki: Today we’re talking with Leah LaCrosse @llacrosse, a 20-year veteran science teacher from Ohio.
Leah, today, we’re going to talk about how to use technology to make science more exciting and more effective.
So, Leah, what’s your first idea for using technology to engage kids in science?
Leah: Well, some of the best tools that I’ve used in the classroom are those that simply enhance the student’s voice.
Tools to enhance student voice
It could be a medium like maybe FlipGrid, where they’re sharing their ideas of a lab or a topic that we’re covering.
And it’s using video, which seems like it’s a really native platform for them right now.
So one of the things I try to do is give the students the technology that takes their ideas and enhances them for them, just in their everyday conversation.
Vicki: OK. What’s another idea?
Leah: Another way that I try to give students technology to showcase their science understanding is through like tools that help them to maybe build electronic books.
Tools to build eBooks to demonstrate understanding
For example, we use in my 8th-grade science class Book Creator for students to develop everything from science lab reports to personal studies that they do — like individual investigations — and even just topic research.
- See my review of Book Creator for Chrome
With Book Creator they can include pictures, they can include video, drawings, text. It gives them a couple different ways to share their understanding.
For me, as a science teacher, I can look through it, and I can see exactly what they’re hitting, what they understand, and maybe some areas that they’re misunderstanding.
Is technology a distraction?
Vicki: So, Leah, is there ever a time that either of these technologies have been a distraction, or do you feel like it really moves the science learning forward?
Leah: Well, I think that both of them — and really any technology that I would use — there is that beginning time period where it’s like sandbox time where they’re just learning how to use it.
I always think of giving my students that sandbox time so that they can play a little bit with the software. And then I think that they get the play out of the way.
After the first maybe — first or second time using it — then I really start looking for the science content to be showcased because…
Let’s be honest. Like FlipGrid video is so much fun. And the first time the students use it, they want to get their friends in the video with them, and they even want to show their dogs and cats at home, and all of that.
So, really, like… it can be a distraction at first. So that’s why I always model with the students.
“This is the proper way to create your video,” or “This is the proper way to set up your Book Creator book that you’re making.”
But then also giving them a couple chances at maybe making a few of those beginner mistakes and getting a little goofy, and then, “Get it out of your system, because this is for a grade.”
Sandboxes and rubrics
And rubrics. Rubrics help a lot, because then, students are engaged, but they’re also invested in it because they know exactly what target they’re shooting for.
Vicki: And I just want to stress — also as a fellow technology educator — that sandboxing is so important.
This is has been a vital strategy of mine in my 16 years of teaching.
When I introduce a new tool to give that 5, 10, 15 minutes to play with the tool, enjoy the tool, experience the tool, get excited about it.
And THEN start using it for learning. A sandbox can be such an important principle.
OK. So you’ve talked about FlipGrid. You’ve talked about Book Creator.
Do you have any other favorite tools?
Expose students to various tools for taking notes — visual or other
Leah: Well, I really, really like to get my students to sketch out their ideas.
So we use the Paper 53 app on our iPads. I, of course, start off again by modeling — what does a SketchNote — or what could a SketchNote — look like? Just short videos in class, or short labs, even lectures where there are just a couple of points being made.
We do a couple of SketchNotes together, and so students learn to draft out their ideas in a more visual way.
And I use this at the beginning of the year, and I give the students a couple of opportunities to work with it.
But then I also partway through the year open it up. “If this is your Go To for sharing your notes, keep using it. But if this isn’t working for you, like, let’s find something different.”
It might be typing up your notes in a Google Doc.
It might be just writing it in your science notebook. Whatever works.
But I like to introduce the tool early enough, give them a couple of opportunities, and I’ve seen some amazing student SketchNotes just using a free app like Paper 53. It’s perfect for them.
Vicki: And visual cues are so important.
And handwriting is important, particularly for math and science, they’ve found.
You know, you have to be careful. Because some kids — when they take notes typing — will just transcribe instead of actually processing what they’re learning. So those visual cues are so important with SketchNoting.
So, you what? It actually looks like you’ve given us four ideas.
Can we have a fifth idea for technology and science?
Leah: One of the best ways, I feel like using the devices that we have available to us. Like our mobile devices, especially in science, is using that camera feature and having the students like capture a photo and annotate over the top of it.
Use the camera feature on any mobile device
So it could just be in the regular camera app, in the photos app, or it could be something like Skitch that they annotate over top of. But using the picture and then even using videos from the classroom, and have them use slow-motion and watch it over and over and over again.
Sometimes, I feel like in science, they give us answers that they think are the right answers, not what they’re actually seeing, or hat they’re viewing. So by having them use that camera and use slow-motion and use annotation, you’re just focusing them back on the fact that science is visual and I need to report what I see. My experiment isn’t always a cookie cutter answer, so …
We have so many awesome mobile devices, and so many short cycle apps that allow us to capture video and capture images and work with them.
Vicki: And the idea of actually filming science experiments is such a fantastic icea.
I just remember setting up labs and taking forever setting up the lab.
And then the reaction takes just seconds. And if you miss it? Then it’s like — (aaack) — what do I do? Do I start over? I don’t have time to start over. And I don’t really know what happened.
And that’s so fantastic because you can replay that experiment and see what happened, can’t you?
Leah: Yes. Over and over.
And some of the things that the students understand now, with Newton’s Laws and action and reaction is because of that ability to use slow motion and just watch it again and again.
They’ll play it over and over again.
And a lot of what we take in video, I share on our class Instagram account.
So there are kids that are watching that science experiment, and even just like Newton’s Cradle — you know, going back and forth — they’re watching that science over and over again.
It just has a little bit deeper context for them at that point.
Vicki: I love that.
Now, do you use robots?
Leah: We do.
What about robotics?
In my class, we use the Sphero robot quite a bit.
We’ve even used mini Spheros and Ollie.
We get into a little bit of a light coding with it, but with my Spheros, they can do so many engineering challenges with them.
It’s great that they can learn some coding, but it’s even better that they can learn that design thinking, and that they can do rapid prototyping.
Really, it’s just a matter of giving them a prompt and watching the kids use some of those old-school tools and blend it with the current technology.
I feel like they’re much more invested in the science at that point.
We do use LEGO Mindstorms with like a couple kids here and there will LOVE to work with LEGO Mindstorms, and I have a robotics club that will use those.
But really, every unit I can pull Spheros into, no matter what the content. So that’s my Go To robot. (laughs)
Vicki: OK, so this could seem overwhelming.
It’s obvious you have been using technology for a while.
If you have a teacher who is in science, and maybe they’ve been teaching for a while. And they want to get started using a technology.
Which of these you’ve mentioned today is a great way to get started?
Leah: I would say looking at what they’re most comfortable with anyway.
For me, I have a Master’s Degree in Literacy. So for me, using Book Creator and using book-building tools came naturally for me.
So when I first got my iPad, I was asking my fifth graders to create cartoons and create books and do things that were more literacy based. That was my first — and my most current understanding. I really got into that.
Then I had some success there and started to break out using iPads more in the lab setting.
So my gut instinct is that I would start out with something like Book Creator because it’s something that you can use over and over and over throughout the year. It’s relatively easy to break into. But I think it gives the teacher and the students confidence in using technology with science.
Start using technology within your comfort zone
So that would be my first. And then branching out.
Vicki: And if that doesn’t work, they can always start filming their experiments, can’t they?
Leah: Exactly. (laughs)
Vicki: Yeah, that’s another great one.
So science teachers, you know… Technology is another tool in your toolkit.
It’s a great way to add to what you’re doing.
I mean, you’re already… you know, science. I mean, it’s so fascinating, especially when it’s hands-on and you get kids involved.
You just have so many more tools in your toolbox now, and these are some great ones to get started.
We will share Leah’s information in the Shownotes, because she has so many more ideas.
I hope that you’ll use these to make your science class more exciting!
Contact us about the show: https://www.coolcatteacher.com/contact/
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford [email protected]
Bio as submitted
Leah is a 20-year veteran educator. Working in the area of social studies at the start, she later found her passion in teaching science. Currently, Leah works with 8th-grade scientists. Her main mission is to help support their development in science and science communication. Grant writing and awards have brought many resources to her science classroom. From iPads to robotics to 3d printers, science exploration with technology support is happening in @lacrossescience.
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