Great resources from the interwebs!
This is a collection of sites to help students of all ages tackle the challenges of math and physics. By no means is the content limited! These sites cover everything from interactive demonstrations of fundamental phenomena to graduate math concepts.
See Some Examples
DIGITAL TEACHER RESOURCES
Ours is the generation that grew up with computers. I remember large floppy disks along with the first grade, building live websites in junior high, and the birth of mainstream social media as I entered college. Given this set of conditions, and my interest in the sciences, I have learned to run programs from DOS to java, and even how to write simple code in HTML and C (unix), as if they were obligatory rights of passage. Despite this digital development, my experience with education draws from outdoor and experiential programs. Over five years, I have worked as an instructor or guide for: natural history, avalanche education, first aid, wilderness skills, snowboarding, and as a teacher at a school built around outdoor education. Perhaps surprisingly, my perspective as an educator in the outdoor and experiential education industry has interfaced very well with digital literacy, as both of these “alternative” teaching methods allow for the student to transcend the classroom learning environment by expanding the scope of traditional education. Both outdoor experience and simulations using digital media are able to provide scaffolding as well as for skill building. Moreover, digital media makes a vast quantity of demonstrations and varied approaches to instruction accessible, and by including these more frequently the classroom can stretch to better accommodate more learning intelligences.
Since I am a strong believer in continual progression, I have made a concerted effort to increase my digital skill set as it relates to education by building skills in several powerful resources. In this reflection, I am going to survey the use of socrative.com which is an online resource that can be more than an assessment tool, virtual laboratories where students can perform experiments beyond the scope of a high school lab, and online homework resources. These are some of the most valuable tools I have found that support a student-led classroom that mirrors the technological approach of our increasingly digital world.
Several years ago I research online survey and quiz forms because I needed a tool for data collection as part of my MSc thesis. At the time, there were few good options with powerful analytics to examine group responses, and they all charged monthly fees. I certainly wish I had socrative.com back then! The primary goal behind this resource is to assess students, and it certainly shines in this regard, but it can be used for creative instruction as well.
Socrative is a web based tool, with login protected accounts. Anyone can create a free account that includes cloud storage of personalized quizzes, a unique room code, and a control panel with powerful tools. Since it is website based, no additional applications are needed by the teacher or student, and access is possible through any device that connects to the internet. Bandwidth requirements are quite minimal, and I have yet to experience any dropped connections on cellular data. It is possible to create your own quizzes as well as to upload quizzes created by other teachers, and there is a growing wealth of quizzes in many topics.
In practice, the teacher launches a quiz and students access it simply by entering the room code that the teacher uses. Since many students have smartphones, they are able to use those or they can use a computer, of which we have eight in the classroom. The quiz interface allows for randomization of questions and answers, but the best benefit for the teacher is realtime feedback. It is possible to assign teams and perform a quiz as a variety of races, or to show individual results with or without student names. Feedback is instantaneous for the teacher and student, and this is the crux for taking the resource to the next level as an instructional tool as well. Immediate feedback to students can include an explanation as to how the problem should be approached, what equations are important, or any other information that might scaffold the student to complete it correctly. Students can use this information to edit questions, or follow up with a free response that corrects their answer when included in the quiz. These modifications change an assessment tool into a tool for students to self-assess and to further their learning by correcting mistakes and misconceptions before they are reinforced.
II. Virtual Laboratories
Since school science rooms don't have an entire warehouse of equipment with which to perform labs, the digital realm is a great place to go to simulate extra equipment and space. While kinematics has spawned a wide variety of online games, (Angry Birds, Scorched Earth, etc) more challenging topics like circular motion, electric fields, optics, and just about any other concept from mainstream physics curriculum are showing up on a variety of websites as interactive virtual laboratories. I have used content from NASA and the University of Colorado (UC) for the most part, but there are many more options out there with increasing detail, such as a “game” that a student introduced me to called the Kerbel Space Program. In most situations, the simulations from UC offer the best mixture of customization, variety, and entertainment for teaching challenging concepts, but others that are more in depth, or styled like a tutorial can be better for students who need more time to reflect or who require additional scaffolding to understand a concept.
These digital resources are phenomenal, but they require a different approach than that of standard laboratory work in class. Teachers may lament the extra time students spend setting up, slowly executing, and putting away a lab, but it we must recognize that important reflection takes place during this time. It is also the case that when students prepare a lab they learn about equipment and appropriate procedure, both of which are major factors in reducing experimental error. In the digital realm, students do not experientially engage with the equipment, so there is a significant amount of pre-loading and hard skill development that could be lost. Of course, instruction can mitigate these ill effects by preparing students for the lab through discussion, written planning and feedback, or even by developing their own lab experiments and hypothesis that would be possible to test in an unlimited environment. Through this process students will consider many of the problems (and solutions) that they would have faced in setting up a physical lab. As the students begin the lab, it is likely that they will experiment more freely, likely also performing the experiment “incorrectly”, and this process could help negate misunderstandings that were carried into the lab. Finally, it is important that the students have a clear goal so their lab work with the simulation is grounded in tangible discovery or verification of fundamental truths. Often, a worksheet may replace a lab write-up when the simulation is used for discovery or to further understanding rather than as an open ended performance assessment.
Overall, the benefits of a virtual lab greatly outweigh the negatives, though it would be a travesty to avoid physical labs all of the time. The best use of these tools is to enrich units by including an additional experiential component that is helpful to deepen understanding while taking advantage of the digital intrigue that often results in more motivated students.
III. Online Homework
It saddens me to talk to students who are forced to quit band, sports, or other meaningful extracurriculars because of excessive homework. The digital literacy of homework offers a solution to excessive homework that benefits the student as well as the teacher. In my experience, homework serves as a multifaceted component of student learning that definitively has a place in modern classrooms, though isn’t always applied well. Many subjects require more practice than what is possible in the classroom, while others require additional content learning due to extensive standards. Textbooks have served as the primary solution for as long as I have been in education, but given our growing technological literacy, we are ready for change.
Digital homework is inherently more efficient, and therefore can decrease time stress for both teachers and students. First of all, homework offered online can almost always be custom tailored for students. In any given year, instruction for a given class may change based on formative assessment, or change from previous instruction. Changes in instruction should be met with changes in homework, and customizable digital platforms such as offered by Pearson Publishing, along with their textbooks, provides the answer. Even more valuable than customization is the ability to provide instant feedback to students that is linked to scaffolding, further instruction, and additional problems. In many classrooms, a given textbook assignment or worksheet may be completed, turned in, then not addressed ever again besides as a grade. If students made mistakes on problems, they stand uncorrected and misunderstanding prevails. While a good amount of classrooms do take the time to correct homework in class, it can be a time sink, and many students will not voice misunderstandings due to their aversion to academic risk. Online homework prevents students from missing out on meaningful help, as immediate feedback ensures that they are at least notified of their mistakes. Also, metadata shows teachers what problems were challenging, percentages of answers, time spent, and a variety of other useful bits of data. Products like those offered by Pearson go much further with connections to online resources as well as their textbook. Coupled together, a student can engage online, then leave their computer if they wish and use their book to complete similar problems or to further learning. Students without internet access can also do assignments using just the book, so lack of access is not preventative. Of course, the traditional classroom’s time is partially freed up, as homework is largely reviewed during the completion process. However, it is still vital to complete any problems with which students have questions, as well as ensure students are able to do the problems before assigning homework.
Digital homework is a new front for many teachers, but it can solve some of the pitfalls of traditional assignments. As students actually learn content through immediate feedback, length of assignments can decrease, while difficulty and quality increase. A teacher who uses digital homework knows how learning is occurring based on the metadata that accompanies questions, rather than wondering. It is time for homework to streamline along with the modern digital classroom.