Using ICT in Science – not all that glitters is gold!

Love it, hate it, trust it, rely on it, avoid it… teachers have very different views when the issue of ICT in lessons is brought up. However you feel, though, it is inevitable that ICT does feature in your classroom in one way or another. Whether this adds or decreases to your workload, and more importantly; whether it adds to or has no effect on the learning that takes place, is probably the thing that teachers disagree on. These two points are not separate – in my experience, teachers are already working at pretty much full capacity and this makes us reluctant to take on extra work unless we can see that it will improve student outcomes.

In this blog, I have tried to put together a list (far from comprehensive!) of some different uses of ICT I have built into my own practice. They all either reduce my workload, have measurably improved student outcomes or have achieved both of these aims.

Webcam

webcamSince my NQT year I have had a webcam in my classroom. The one I use currently was cheap (£10 from Amazon with a 5m extension USB cable for another £2) but when connected to my computer and displayed on the whiteboard the picture is excellent. I use this for so many different things; displaying student work for discussion, displaying demonstrations that are too small for everyone to see, trouble shooting students experiments (especially electrical circuits!), recording demonstrations to replay later on (e.g. thermite, alkali metals in water)… the list goes on and on. My webcam is attached to a retort stand with clamp for that proper ‘school science lab’ look! This way, I can use it like a visualiser but at a tiny fraction of the price.

All teachers in out department have one of these webcams in their labs. It was a small investment but having one in each room means that teachers use them far more than if we only had one and had to book it ahead of the lesson.

I would say that I use my webcam in over 80% of my lessons – it makes class control and management easier by displaying things for students without having to move them around them room and crowd together and improves learning by showing students small demos and allowing them to review each others’ work collectively much easier.

YouTube & Flipped Learning

I don’t know of many teachers whyoutube2o don’t use YouTube at least sometimes in lessons. Using a short video clip as a starter, to emphasise a point, to show an experiment we are not able to do in school or to prompt further discussion are well known and used strategies. I always try and download the clip before the lesson using http://www.keepvid.com to avoid any slow network problems, having to sit through an annoying advert or the video being moved on YouTube.

I have also set up my own YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCg34Jk53WFEEOqpLt0sBgPQ) which was originally set up to use for Flipped Learning. The idea behind Flipped Learning is that rather than spend too much youtubeclass time passing on factual information in a whole class ‘chalk and talk’ style before setting a homework task where students apply this knowledge you switch it round. The point is, if you get students to learn the background knowledge before the lesson, more time can be spent consolidating this knowledge and applying it (the higher level skills and more demanding tasks) with teacher support.

As we got towards exams at the end of the year, students told me they were using the videos to revise from and requested videos on other topics for their biology exams. I now have videos covering the whole of the B2 Edexcel unit and hopefully this year I will complete B1 & B3.

These videos are useful for revision, flipped learning, catching up after absence and so on. There are so many similar channels set up by other teachers with videos far better and more professional looking than anything I can ever produce – but the students did say they liked the familiarity of hearing their own teacher explaining things in the same way they heard in lessons.

Edmodo

edmodoI came across http://www.edmodo.com at a TeachMeet just over a year ago. It is an educational website that works in a similar way (and has a very similar appearance and layout) to Facebook, so students find it easy to navigate and use. I have groups set up for all my KS4 classes. I can set homework quizzes that I can write myself in a just a couple of minutes that edmodo marks automatically. The great thing is I can then analyse the results either student-by-student or question-by-question, which I find much more useful as it shows me areas that I need to cover again in future lessons.

Students can also communicate with each other and share resources and ideas (you can moderate these posts if you choose!) and also upload files into folders for students to view or download. I put up all worksheets, powerpoints and so on I use in my lessons so that students can access them for revision or catch up if they miss a lesson.

Wii IWB

wii iwbOpinions about the use of Interactive Whiteboards are varied. Some see them as indispensable in a modern classroom, others as a trendy fad that has slowly died away. For those in the position where they want one but don’t have one, Johnny Lee (http://johnnylee.net/projects/wii) has developed software that uses the IR camera in a Wii remote, an IR pen  and a Bluetooth connection to your laptop to turn any surface into an Interactive Whiteboard.

I have one set up in my lab which is rarely used, but there are some topics and lessons I find it very useful for. For example, being able to move electrons around from atom to atom and demonstrate different types of chemical bonding.

There are so many other ways that I use ICT in my job. Blogging (!), Twitter, keeping all my marksheets in Excel… For another example, I couldn’t now imagine teaching the the particle model without using the fantastic Atomscope animation programme that can be downloaded for free (http://getwordwall.com/VisualSimulations).

ICT offers so many possibilities for improving pedagogy or speeding up other tasks we need to do that we should always keep looking out for new opportunities. We need to do this at the same time as keeping a skeptical eye out for glitzy technology that appears to be ‘better’ than traditional/low-tech methods but actually simply improves the presentation rather than the content itself.  It can be hard being a magpie without being attracted to every shiny new possibility!

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