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Science or Technology?

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Two cheerful and gifted girls sit in the back row of my morning technology class.

“Are you having fun at camp?” I asked.

“We love it!” they replied in unison, like best friends often do.

“What do you love most?” I questioned, secretly hoping for a few compliments.

“We love science class!” the bolder one remarked, while the quieter of the two smiled and nodded away at her friend’s proclamation. I must admit, my ego deflated slightly even though I felt elated to hear two sweet, smart and beautiful girls professing their love of science.

“We love the projects,” the quieter girl added.

“We like technology, too,” the more assertive one reassured me, “but we get to do computers all the time in school. We’re in the gifted class. But we hardly ever do science.”

They ‘did’ computers but not science in their gifted program? What did they do on the computers? I’ve been in several Chicago public schools where ‘doing’ computers often revolves around a separate agenda, vaguely connected to the curriculum. I’ve also witnessed (and been guilty of) using computer time as a reward for finishing class work. But working at El Valor has made me rethink these practices. At the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, we worked hard to create a challenging technology curriculum for El Valor that fosters and integrates the study of science and that demonstrates to students how to use computers as a tool to enhance understanding.

I relayed the girls’ love of the science projects to my science counterpart at the end of the day. She smiled and nodded. “The projects are a lot of fun,” she remarked. I believed her as I looked around at the colorful displays of scientific art on the walls and the mess of tissue paper and crushed flower petals that littered her room.

We began to fulminate against the lack of science in schools and against the typical technology curriculum, in schools lucky enough to have the budget, for often failing to make meaningful academic connections. Then we laughed wildly at the thought of doing labor-intensive projects with one teacher and thirty-plus students. It's difficult enough with one teacher, three tutors and 18 students.

The students at this camp are very involved in the projects in both science and technology class, excited to be working and talking, sharing their ideas while they are learning. Nevertheless, with student excitement and engagement comes a bit of chaos, as all teachers know. However, at El Valor, with an adult to child ratio of about 1:4, confusion and aggravation are minimized.

All of this left me thinking. Computers are being used in schools, but at the expense of science? What other academic fundamentals are being lost? What does our society really need, technically savvy people or critical thinkers? It doesn’t take long to become technically savvy. When I think of all the computers and other equipment that I’ve seen sitting unused in schools, or used in ways unconnected to the curriculum, I have to question if we are shortchanging students. The skills and characteristics children need to be successful in today’s world involve getting a good education, and being educated is a lot more than just knowing how to use a computer.



5 Comments

as an ex science teacher, what a wonderful system. however, we now find ourselves tied to an antiquated testing program that is trying to reach only those students barely below proficient. and raise them in reading and math. you are right, critical thinking, the arts, creativity, and science are becoming a thing of the past and the
TEST is the number one.

Agreed on use of computers in many class rooms as simply a reward for finishing early. Any suggestions for using computers in the classroom that is more meaningful? How do you motivate the teachers to do this?

Whether science OR technology, I thing you have found the ticket -- assisting students to become engaged in their own learning. That has been a goal of mine as a teacher for 23 years, yet I had quite a revelation as I recently looked at some old pictures of a special activity day in my school. Despite the variety of events offered, the students looked downright zoned out. Your type of self-reflection on teaching is what all of us need to keep interest high and passive presence minimal! God bless you and all of your endeavors!

One way I think you can get students to use computers for science is through research. Give them a science or technology topic and have them do a literature review on the subject. It will both enlighten them to the topic, as well as teach them how to use a computer for research. Just a thought.

I love the El Valor curriculum and I think it's a perfect example of integrated learning at it's best! The best way to utilize technology in the classroom is to have it relate directly to other coursework. Like at El Valor, how the student's technology work directly reflects what they are learning in science so can it be in the classroom.
Scenario: A Language Arts teacher wants the students write a poem about something; a Science teacher wants students to learn about the planets of our solar system; and a Math teacher wants students to learn how to complete multiplication and long division problems. All of the teachers can band together and create a culminating project.
The science teacher has the students use computers to make graphs and models of different levels of gases on each planet, the math teacher helps develop mathematical formulas to determine which planet has more of which gases, and the language arts teacher has the students write poems about the planets.
The computers were used to create graphs, to complete research, and to type their poems.
I went on about that scenario because to often than not I think teachers forget that they are inherently creative people and should get their heads together, instead of thinking that individually they are "in this" alone, to solve problems like: lack of funding, testing, how to integrate technology, etc.
Congratulations Amy and El Valor and the Nature Museum for reminding us of the wonderful things that come from cooperation!

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