I had been considering dropping my M. Ed course as my interest in being a TL has waned with severe funding cuts in NSW and the addition of 6 new staff members, including a new Head Teacher, to my science faculty – all with enthusiastic and creative teaching ideas. CLN647 Youth, Popular Culture, and Texts has given me a lot to think about that I didn’t expect from the title. Now I find that I am spending a lot of time researching ideas for improving our science units of work and practice, based on points raised in CLN647.
The NSW version of the National Curriculum, was released this month and is to be implemented in Science for year 7 and 9 in 2014 and for year 8 and 10 in 2015. My school, as part of the federal National Partnerships program is receiving funding to boost numeracy, engagement and literacy (NEL). In our school plan, released last week, funding in this scheme has been allocated to science for someone to spend approx. 1 day PER WEEK to development of new programs/units of work, incorporating new activities and pedagogies that support NEL as well as considering differentiation to support our selective, special needs and mainstream students. I submitted my expression of interest on Friday and I really hope I get some or all or the time allocated to curriculum development.
So, this final blog post is written mostly for myself, my faculty and other science teachers out there [sorry Helen and Kelli]. It is an overview of the activities, tools and pedagogies that I have become interested in during CLN647 and how I think we can incorporate them into new programs. Some are only a starting point and need more research and more thought. Others are a bit more fleshed out. Any comments from the rest of the world are appreciated 🙂
Building Programs around Pop Culture Artefacts
Beach and O’Brien (2008) suggested that schools tend to favour print-text based traditional pedagogies that are in conflict with the pop-culture and multimedia based experiences of students outside of school. They further suggested various ways and reasons why pop-culture artefacts should be incorporated into curricula, including improved digital and information literacy.
Science teachers, in my experience, frequently use a range of pop culture resources in their teaching, sourced from: movies, TV shows, radio, magazines and newspapers. Typically, they are a minor part of a topic and are either very heavy on content (eg. documentaries) and/or a minor part of a topic acting as an extension for good kids or an engagement ‘hook’ for lower ability classes. Ideally, I think it would be advantageous to build some programs AROUND watching a movie or playing a game, where this is the key component that links the outcomes together.
The science staff at my school are generally in agreement that we wish provide a more multidisciplinary, context and narrative based approach to science in the future (see Science of Xmen post). The use of pop culture in the form of movies will help enhance engagement which may lead to improvement in other outcomes and also in behaviour. They are yet to hear of my game ideas ;).
There are some important considerations for incorporating pop culture. We need to find artefacts (movies or games) that balance relevance with engagement. They need to allow exploration and development scientific understanding and skills without being boring. The X-men trial has been ideal for this as its futuristic setting and science basic provides a lot to talk about while being a good story. The usefulness of Xmen is increased because although the movie I showed my class was released in 2000, it has not dated excessively and maintains pop culture relevance as new movies in the series have been and are planned for released since this movie. It is hard, however, to think of many similar pop culture artefacts that will balance scientific relevance and student engagement over a number a years, as we will also need to accurately predict the artefact’s ‘use-by-date’ as being at least 10 years away (syllabus changes and associated funding generally in approximate decade long cycles).
Use of wikis
A wiki is a collection of webpages whose content is typically organized around a specific purpose or topic. Content can be collaboratively written, added to, deleted, and modified by users. The best-known example of a wiki is, of course, the massively collaborative online encyclopaedia Wikipedia (www.Wikipedia.org) (Knobel and Lankshear, 2009:631).
Wikis fit in very well with many science topics where there are multiple different aspects or categories of evidence/information that students can investigate in small groups to research, collaborate and co-construct knowledge. However, they have been slow to be taken up by our staff due to access restrictions (see also Electronic Game Use. A Critical Reflection post), training, time and ‘comfort’ level.
I trialled wikis in my teaching this year and have realised that poor pedagogy made the experience less valuable than it could have been. I attempted a wiki with year 7 selective/GAT class but this was a poor technological fit as they had sporadic access to computers affecting their engagement and the continuity of the process. I think that year 9 and 10 (issued with DER laptops) may benefit from having a wiki focused program, but there should be no program based around wikis for year 7 and 8. A short, small wiki activity may be appropriate for year 7 or 8 in term 4 after year 12 have left when they could have a series of lessons scheduled into a computer room but with the number of classes on the same line, staggered timing and management of project duration would need to be closely monitored.
Additionally, the content I attempted in my trial was poorly suited to a wiki and poorly integrated with other teaching and learning activities. The science content that I think is particularly suited to presentation and discussion in a wiki includes: energy and energy transformations; natural disasters; types of biotechnology; evidence for evolution; body systems; and adaptations of organisms. These are easily broken down into categories that have similar formats and levels of work for each group.
This term I will trial a wiki to be used with my year 9 in the Disease topic. I plan to have each group (2-3) research a common disease of their choosing. To scaffold their initial choice, I will provide them with a suggested list and also record what they choose (whether on the list or not) to make sure each group is researching a different disease (otherwise, I suspect all will do herpes 😉 ). Each group will then research and upload to their own page pictures and information the cause, symptoms, transmission and treatment over a couple of lessons, on their DER laptops, in class. In the second stage of the topic, students will view the pages of other groups and list at the bottom of the page whether they (or anyone they know) have had each disease. They will also be asked to check whether their symptoms and treatment agree with what is on the page.
I think that although this is a very traditional activity for the Disease topic often done as a poster, using a wiki will benefit students in a number of ways. Firstly, using a wiki may engage students more than a poster. Heafner and Friedman (2008) have noted that wikis facilitated a pedagogical shift from traditional teacher-centred teaching to more active learning resulted in increased student engagement, motivation and deeper learning. Based on my observations with year 7, I think they will perform to a higher level if they know that their wiki is a live website. Students will also be able to edit their work and other’s more easily which facilitates a higher standard of work and a co-construction of knowledge. Davies et al. (2011) suggested that wikis may offer a new approach to assessment ‘as’ learning as well as assessment for and/or of learning. Properly scaffolded, wiki creation as an assessment may develop students’ capacity to be self-aware and self monitoring above and beyond the essential requirements of the formal learning activity and develop learning skills. The students must manage the task by collaborating and deciding who is doing what and when on the wiki because most wiki platforms (I will use Wikispaces) have the limitation that if more than one at a time person is editing a page, the version that goes live is often different to what is expected. Further co-construction of knowledge occurs when they are required to add their own personal experience of each common disease to other groups’ pages. Additionally, as Wikipedia is one of the most heavily reference information sources I come across in assignments, I hope to extend my students critical literacy skills and help them to realise that Wikipedia is NOT like an encyclopaedia, with an editor and publisher, but is a live wiki. Past discussions with all high school year groups at about this point have shown that my students are unfamiliar with wikis and have poor critical literacy skills. Finally, I hope that the construction of a wiki will help to develop both their general and digital literacy skills.
As a teacher, the individual logins allow me to monitor more closely what students are contributing to the collaborative task. I can also edit pages easily, or ask students to edit pages, to correct any scientific mistakes before they are viewed by others. The moderation and permission which I use can allow me to moderate the additions of other students so that the wiki doesn’t just become a graffiti wall – a problem I have had in the past where students are allowed to comment on posters in a more anonymous setting.
Information Literacy & DIIGO in Research
Currently, all year groups undertake research projects in science. Teachers generally scaffold the content required and often will discuss referencing but there is little real focus on information literacy. DIIGO and the use of annotated bibliographies and webpages provides a potential vehicle for this.
Through the co-mentoring program at the school, I became aware that our HSIE faculty heavily scaffold digital literacy in their year 10 research project by a several stage submission process, the second stage of which (after question development) is an annotated bibliography. They used paper forms which need to be signed off on, which their students often became annoyed (“why can’t we just cut and paste the URLs? They’re too hard to write”).
Additionally, the teacher was continuously running around the room, trying to see web pages and offer help with many students waiting. Towards the end of the lesson, students started sending emails to themselves with many cut and pasted URLS because they were working on the library computers and could not book mark pages for later use. I thought that this HISIE project was a great idea but that there must be a better way of managing it.
A week or two later, through research for Assignment 1 in CLN647, I learnt about DIIGO through Alvey et al. (2011). DIIGO is a free social bookmarking which allows annotations/notes and highlighting. On any computer with internet access, you can access your book marks webpages. I hope to incorporate annotated bibliographies and similar in most computer research assignments but get students and teachers to set up DIIGO accounts. An example might be that students would find 5 webpages relevant to their assignment, highlight the important parts, add one annotate with the citation/reference and another annotation with their assessment of the reliability and validity of the information on the page. They would share it with their teacher (and possibly the whole class) for feedback and submission.
Cook et al. (2011) asserted that mobile phones should be viewed as new cultural resources that are a ubiquitous and almost essential part of everyday life for most people. They argue that phones should be included in lessons and curriculum. We can assume that students have access to a phone and that the phones a minimum have a range of basic functions when designing our programs. Using the assumption that students will have their own mobile device that can be combined with computer access through DER laptops or computer rooms, there are a number of innovative technologies that can be incorporated into our teaching practice to promote engagement and participation in Science.
I would estimate that at least 90% of students have access to mobile phones in class with the capacity to photograph, record footage and sound as well as play mp3 files. I would further estimate that 20% seem to have access to a smart phone and this number will increase as parents provide more ‘hand me downs’ with contract renewals and upgrades. There may be a range iphones and android (and other platforms) smart phones, so it may be difficult to recommend any single app for in-class use. However, students can be made aware of and encouraged to use free science apps in assignments or homework with appropriate choices. For example, everyone could record the change in the position of stars, constellations and planets change over a week/month and students with access could use Google Sky map (Android, free) to identify astronomical bodies.
My greatest interest is in how we can use smart phones in geographical and temporal data. Currently, I run a series of lessons every year in the bushland on school property identifying flora and fauna of significance and compare it to previous years results. The students have high levels of engagement in this as they believe their findings have value and will be used in conservation of this environment. Smart phones may be able to assist in: photographing organisms; identification of organisms; and GPS geotagged, time dated photos of vegetation along a transect which could provide a virtual layer to help us understand ecological gradients, succession and responses to disturbance. This may be particularly useful in determining, for instance, whether to back burn the area.
There are also several Citizen Science projects that our students could be participating in via smart phone apps and webpages. Recently featured on ABC Radio Nation, for example, is The Cockatoo Wingtag Project which uses a free iphone app, Facebook and/or a webpage to collect information on the distribution and behaviour of Sulfur Crested Cockatoos in Sydney. Another example is the Atlas of Living Australia which uses volunteers to collect information on Australian biodiversity.
Even most basic mobile phones can be used to record and listen to ‘podcasts’ students make on a topic. For example students could be given an assignment where they make a 3 minute ‘health report’ or editorial-style comments about a particular type of biotechnology (IVF, GM, cloning etc) and discuss what it is and why it should or should not be encourage in society. This is not a new pedagogy or technology but podcasting has not been used very much in my school, to my knowledge, and the use of mobile phones will increase the accessibility and ease of implementation. Mechanisms for sharing and submitting files will need to be carefully considered, however, if using a mobile device, for both privacy and logistic reasons.
Finally, we can and should use photos taken by mobile phones in our pedagogical practice. For example, frequently students in year 12 chemistry make parallax errors in reading measurements from thermometers and measuring cylinders. This skill should have been learn in year 7 and regularly practice throughout junior science but due to the chaotic nature of lab work and the number of students requiring attention, teachers often do not pick up on bad measuring practices to correct them. If a photo of readings was taken teachers and/or other group members could easily confirm the accuracy and validity of the measurement recorded.
Above are just a few ideas and tools available, generally based on Web 2.0 ideas. Web 2.0 was the buzz-word and communication framework suggested almost a decade ago (Reilly, 2005). When writing science programs for the new syllabus, it is important to realise that mobile devices and a social Web 3.0 (O’Connell, 2011) may provide the communication framework of the next decade. Through research into new tools, technologies and innovative pedagogies and then through trial and reflection we may enhance our teaching practice and programs in the future.
Alvey, T., Phillips, N., Bigelow, E., Smith, B., Pfaff, E., Colt, W., Leander, K., Dalton, B. & Ma, J. (2011) From I-Search to iSearch 2.0 English Teaching: Practice and Critique 10(4): 139 – 148 http://education.waikato.ac.nz/research/files/etpc/files/2011v10n4nar1.pdf
Beach, R. & O’Brien, D. (2008). Teaching popular culture texts in the classroom. In D. Leu, J. Coiro, M. Knobel, C. Lankshear (Eds.). Handbook of research on new literacies (pp. 775-804). London: Routledge.
Cook, J., Pachler, N. & Bachmair, B. (2011). Ubiquitous mobility with mobile phones: A cultural ecology for mobile learning. E-Learning and Digital Media 8(3), 181-195.
Davies, A., Pantzopoulos, K. and Gray, K. (2011) Emphasising assessment ‘as’ learning by assessing wiki writing assignments collaboratively and publicly online Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 27(Special issue, 5): 798-812
Heafner, T.L. & Friedman, A.M. (2008): Wikis and Constructivism in Secondary Social Studies: Fostering a Deeper Understanding, Computers in the Schools 25:3-4, 288-302
Knobel, M. and Lankshear, C. (2009) Digital Literacies. Wikis, Digital Literacies, and Professional Growth. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 52(7): 631–634
O’Connell, J. (2011) Web 3.0: preparing our students for tomorrow’s world. Part 2 Scan 30(4): 37-42
O’Reilly, T. (2005), What Is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software. http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html (accessed August 2012)