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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

How to Teach with Technology: Science and Math

Students fire off ideas for using digital tools to teach scientific and mathematical concepts.
Sara Bernard
Journalist

Check out these tips from students and educators for high tech teaching:

Science

In former teacher T.J. Fletcher's honors chemistry class at Eagan High School, in Eagan, Minnesota, students worked in groups to conduct video interviews of local experts on a research topic of their choosing. (Look at information and examples of their completed projects.)

Credit: Courtesy of DreamWorks SKG

"The biggest thing needed for this project is an analysis of your resources," says Fletcher, who notes that in a project such as this, the teacher is not going to be the expert in all areas. "By using your resources wisely and filling in the areas in which you lack expertise, the project becomes very doable. Plus, it's a great way to get the community involved."

"I let the students be the experts when it came to editing the videos," he adds. If a group lacked the needed editing skills, the students would set up tutorials outside of class. For easily obtainable editing software that's often free with a system, Fletcher notes that iMovie for Macs and Movie Maker for PCs are good places to start.

For inexpensive yet effective video cameras, he suggests trying Flip video cameras: "Their cost and durability make them an excellent choice for the classroom."

Are You Game?

Making video games will likely require some heavy lifting on the part of educators, but those interested in helping students create their own games can check out the World Wide Workshop Foundation, which, among other projects and resources, provides a program for teaching kids to design their own games.

Games for Change, a national hub dedicated to using video games for education and social change, has a free tool kit for making social-issue games. For more on games in education, go to this Edutopia.org article and this Edutopia video.

Credit: World Wide Workshop Foundation

A Transformative Experience

"You could use movies or cartoons to teach students Newton's laws of motion. For example, a teacher could use the movie Transformers to demonstrate what laws of motion the movie follows or breaks. That movie is pretty popular, so the teacher wouldn't have to worry about students paying attention.

When the students figure out which laws of physics are being broken, they could write down what would actually happen if the law hadn't been broken. This would make class a little more interesting because, for example, if Optimus Prime made a giant leap that is impossible, the students would probably have fun imagining the character falling."

Visualizing Chemistry

"One of the coolest things that one of my high school teachers did was give us three months to work on a 20-minute video project on a specific topic in the class. The class was on chemistry, and our topic was the chemistry of global warming. To this day, I could tell you just about anything about global-warming chemistry. A video project was so much more fun than a boring research paper!"

Animating Geography

"One way we can use technology is by using Xtranormal to teach geography. You get an Xtranormal account, and you can make movies by picking a character (or sometimes two if you want), a setting, and a voice for the character.

You can teach geography with Xtranormal videos by having your character define geography words or describe what they are. If you want the character to say something, all you have to do is type the script in the script box. When you press Action, he or she will say everything you wrote."

Credit: Xtranormal

Xtranormal is a movie-creating Web site that allows users to pick a scene, type a script, add sounds and actions, and publish their work. In Lisa Parisi and Christine Southard's class, students have made Xtranormal videos as a part of the Time Zone Experiences Wiki and other class projects -- and they've been a resounding success. Says Parisi, "One student, who was typically an unmotivated writer, spent hours writing and rewriting her script so it would work well in the video."

Testing For the Fun of It

"If I was teaching science, I would use the Java Gaming site to help my class learn with fun quizzes. One of my favorite games on there is a little bit like Jeopardy!. I first used this site when I was in fourth grade, and I liked it very much. You can use it for different subjects, and it is really fun with science."

Java Gaming lists free online games that range from educational mind-bogglers to action and arcade favorites. Education-specific Java sites include JavaMath and Educational Java Programs.

Math

Taxing Brain Teasers

"Send fun weekly extensions of the math curriculum via text message to students! A book we have used for this is Stretch, Bend, and Boggle, by Brian Stokes. For example, a problem might be, 'Can you find a four-figure number that is reversed when multiplied by 9?' When my sister and I were homeschooled, my mom used to email us both something like this every week. She used to send it on a Monday, and we had to send it back to her by Friday."

Disposable fun

"An idea for teaching kids about angles in math class is having a scavenger hunt and giving them a disposable camera so they can take pictures of different angles."

All on Board for Math

"With interactive whiteboards, you can teach a class of second graders their multiplication tables in a fun, easy way. You'll need an interactive whiteboard and Notebook software. Go to a blank page, paste in a red circle, and clone it at least 50 times. Call up children to group together the circles to show a multiplication problem.

For example, give a problem such as 2 x 2 = x, then let the kids group the circles into two groups of two. Or, for 7 x 5, they can do either five groups of seven circles or seven groups of five circles. This can help kids get more interested in math, and it can make it more fun for them because they are able to interact with their math problems.

I recall kids in my second-grade class saying that it wasn't so much fun going over their times tables every day, all week. When kids get to group circles on an interactive whiteboard, they see it not as learning a new math technique but, rather, as a game."

Credit: Lego

Counting on Lego

"I think teachers could use such video games as Lego Batman. In the game, you collect little Lego pieces in order to gain points. You can use it to teach algebra. Let's say you collect ten billion pieces. Then you can ask, 'What's the scientific notation for this number?' Or you could ask, 'How many pieces are there in a level if there are 100 pieces in a round and there are 10 rounds?'"

All the Angles

"Math teachers can have students go out and film a video on angles in the real world. You can have them record the different angles and do a little report afterward. Students can even do this if their cell phones have little cameras. If not enough students have camera phones, you could have groups put together a video and make sure that there's one phone with a camera for each group."

Don't Be Left Clueless

"For math, I would use a Voki to explain the problems to my class. For example, if I wanted them to guess a number I was thinking of, my Voki would give clues such as 'I am a multiple of three. I am an even number, and my ones place times two equals my tens place. Who am I?'

It would be fun for them to actually get on a computer to do math. It is easier, too, I think. If they want to hear it again, then they can just replay it."

Credit: Voki

A Voki is a mini-avatar users can create online for free. They can embed their Voki into Web pages or blogs, and write or record the text it speaks. (For a quick look at Vokis in education, go to Sue Waters's blog.)

In Lisa Parisi and Christine Southard's fifth-grade class, students use Vokis as a part of the Time Zone Experiences Wiki as well as with other blog and wiki-based projects to showcase their knowledge about the various topics they are studying.

Blast Off!

"A type of technology that helps with math skills is a computer game called Math Blaster. In this game, you have to solve math problems, and the more answers you get right, the more points you get for your rocket to fly. It's my favorite educational game!"

Sara Bernard is a former staff writer and multimedia producer at Edutopia.

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