21st Century Science Tools

Every year, the burden of science fair is upon us.  Now, as a former researcher, I should love science fair.  However, the way our city’s current science fair expectations are set up, students are using the archaic system of printing out a typed paper that sits in front of a cardboard display and allows for little creativity.  Instead, I try to show students examples of scientific journals and how they can compare their science fair projects with real-world research.  I encourage them to add their own flare and make the project their own.  One that they will be proud to share with the scientific community.  The struggle continues each year to keep them engaged and enjoy their projects.  Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011) discuss the need to expose students to dynamic learning environments.  Our city science fair is slowly embracing the digital age, but I want my students to be ahead of the curve and possibly even be the pioneers of the shift toward technology use.

As my career progresses, I try to take steps each year to make science fair more fun and engaging.  My ultimate goal is to create a school-wide science expo that allows students to choose projects within the realm of science and engineering.  Students would have a choice of projects even though the official science fair for the city would only accept experimental design projects and a few engineering design projects.

This year, I am focusing on connecting the bridge between the writing team and the science team.  At our school, we collaborate so that the students conduct research from a scientific perspective in the science classroom and research writing techniques for expository writing during their language arts/writing block.  Because the perspectives can be so different, communication among our teaching team is important for student continuity.  The previous year it seemed we planned for a shared vision, but some miscommunication occurred during implementation.  This caused confusion for the teachers and students.

In addition to a more developed cross-curricular unit, I wanted to work on research skills specifically since it seems to be an area of challenge in our curriculum.  Students hate the idea of a thesis and bibliography.  Even the words alone spark a contagious wave of moans coming from students when they are mentioned.  Thinking of technology as a tool for the enhancement of learning, I want to try this lesson plan to use reliable resources to encourage students to engage with their research in a more meaningful way.

The objectives of the lesson plan are to:

  • Explore digital tools that aid scientific research
  • Use organizational methods that support the production of expository writing
  • Identify reliable resources that support scientific research
  • Encourage more independent use of recommended tools that guide student through their project research

The internet is a vast infinite resource, but good information requires you to sort through the detritus of what some people post.  Students are easily overwhelmed by looking links and find it easier just to resort to the first 3 hits Google provides.

I used the 5E approach when writing the lesson plan.  It reminded me of Renee Hobbs’ Digital and Media Literacy: Connecting Culture and Classroom (2011) since her five core competencies follow a similar approach.  5E is considered a best practice in inquiry science lesson planning.  It helped me organize my lesson into opportunities to support collaborative work, critical thinking, effective research techniques, and add allow students to connect personally with their research.  I hope help turn the pain of “the boring research paper” into an opportunity for learning that encourages the thirst for knowledge.

Hobbs, R. (2011). Digital and media literacy: Connecting culture and classroom. Thousand, Oaks, CA: Corwin/Sage.

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, Ky: CreateSpace?.


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