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Technology for Learning
is it real
As we search for ways to make our students’ to the experimental science found in the
learning experiences “real,” it is increas- lab and theoretical work that underlies
ingly hard to avoid the use of computer some aspects of physics and astronomy,
science,
technology. Aside from the ways that com- there is growing interest in how models
puters can help with organizing, managing, and simulations give a third way into
or Only a
and analyzing data, they are increasingly doing science. For the balance of this
finding their way into the core practices column, I’ll be considering how students
of what it means to do science. Think of can do this in age-appropriate ways, giv-
Model?
recent science news you’ve heard and this ing them a new vision of what science
becomes clear: Climate change, disease, really involves. examples are drawn from
and other topics rely heavily on models to my work with kids and what others have
better understand the underlying phenom- done, framed by the “Six Strands of Sci-
by
ena. By modeling these situations, scientists ence Learning” recently promulgated by
can explore what factors have the greatest the National research Council in their
B o B C o U lt e r
influence and which interventions are most Learning Science in Informal Environ-
likely to be effective. This basis in modeling ments.
is also at the root of why different scientists
get different results: If you change the vari-
Sparking and developing interest
ables considered or the ways they interact in
and excitement
the model, you will get different results.
In some ways technology extends exist-
By building and manipulating models,
ing science, sometimes in transformative
your students can test “what if” scenarios.
ways. For example, models of ecosystems
What if we planted new trees: How
draw on sophisticated computations that
much would that help the environment?
can account for a broad range of variables.
CITygreen from American Forests can
This allows scientists a nuanced view
help you model different scenarios. What
of how variations in populations of prey
if a sick student comes to school—can
and predator species as well as a range
the whole class become infected? Star-
of other factors influence the health of an
Logo models let you see how quickly this
ecosystem.
can happen. Instead of memorizing and
Other fields have essentially come
repeating factual statements like “Trees
into being because of the technologi-
are good for the environment,” your
cal capacities we now enjoy. Models of
classroom comes alive as teams of stu-
Bob Coulter is the direc-
climate change and disease transmission
dents explore different scenarios, look for
tor of Mapping the Envi-
simply didn’t exist in a meaningful way
results, and debate the outcomes.
ronment, a program at
before appropriate tools were available.
the Missouri Botanical
Garden’s Litzsinger Road
When John Snow mapped cholera in the
Understanding scientific
Ecology Center that sup-
1800’s, it was simply descriptive—power-
knowledge
ports teachers’ efforts to ful for its time, but limited to describing
enhance their science cur-
past events instead of projecting into the
Building on the interest and excite-
riculum through use of the
future.
ment students gain when they can take
Internet and Geographic
Information Systems (GIS)
In recognition of this expanding role
an active part in learning, they are also
software. Previously, Bob
for computers in the practice of science,
learning specific content framed within
taught elementary grades
some are starting to argue that we need
an authentic investigation. Seeing how
for twelve years.
to recognize computer-based science as a
each concept relates to others builds a
bob.coulter@mobot.org
core element of the discipline. In addition
conceptual network that gives your stu-
Page 16 • Connect © synergy learning • 800-769-6199 • January/February 2010
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