How we teach science is changing. Now what?
July 17, 2017
How to choose transformational digital resources for the K-12 science classroom
How we teach science is changing, and it’s changing fast. In the face of all of this change, it’s vital to consider what teachers and students, the end users of digital science classroom resources, actually want and need.
The question is no longer whether or not to use digital classroom tools to support teaching and learning but how to choose the best ones in an ever changing digital environment. Less than two years ago, in a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation study, 93% of teachers said they “regularly use some form of digital tool to guide instruction,” and they were confident in the potential for digital resources to “be effective across all instructional purposes.” That number is only climbing, as states adopt new standards and as schools adopt more technology resources.
Let’s take a moment to look at what teachers are using digital science classroom resources for, what science teachers are specifically seeking out and what they are challenged by, and what you should consider when purchasing digital science resources.
What science teachers are using digital resources for:
1. Delivering content directly to students. Teachers are seeking out resources that support their teaching of core material.
2. Promoting engagement through multimedia instruction. As students learn about macro and micro concepts in science, teachers are looking for resources that give visuals and create relationships, making concepts more tangible.
3. Personalizing learning. Teachers want easier ways to adapt their lessons to the needs of individual students.
4. Empowering student-led inquiry by enabling student choice.
5. Enabling independent practice and student ownership.
Science teachers’ priorities according to grade band:
Grades K-2: Delivering planned instruction and increasing engagement with multi-modal instruction
Grades 3-5: Supporting student collaboration and fostering independent practice
Grades 6-8: Increasing engagement with multi-modal instruction and evaluating class learning progress
Grades 9-12: Supporting student collaboration and personalizing the learning experience to meet students’ needs
Science-specific challenge areas:
In Teachers Know Best: What Educators Want from Digital Instructional Tools 2.0, “K–5 science teachers are more likely to find the digital tools they use frequently to be less effective, while those in grades 3–5 and 9–12 are more likely to say that digital and non-digital resources are not available and sufficient to meet the standards.” In grades 9-12 there was a statistically significant decrease in how effective teachers thought their digital resources were.
What to consider when purchasing digital science resources:
1. Bang for Your Buck. It’s no surprise that the cost of a resource plays a key role in any purchasing decision. As districts, schools, and teachers weigh their resource options with their available funds, they must consider how often the products will be used and how many students they will impact.
2. Personalization Capabilities. Does the tool easily facilitate differentiated instruction? In a Front Row Education survey, more than 93% of teachers said they have students who are below grade level in their classrooms, but 70% of teachers also said they have students who are at least one grade level ahead. Being able to cater to the unique needs of each student is not only becoming more important, but also becoming more accessible with digital products.
3. Ease of Use. For teachers this means saving time and integrating the digital tool into their existing instruction plans. In the annual Speak Up survey, “the top-cited barrier for using digital tools was lack of teacher training on how to properly integrate digital content within instruction.” On the same note, in Teachers Know Best: What Educators Want from Digital Instructional Tools 2.0, the majority of teachers agreed with the following statements about which tools they use most frequently:
• This resource is consistent, inviting, and easy for me to use.
• This resource is intuitive and easy for students to use.
• This resource saves me time and is simple to integrate into instruction.
• This resource allows both teachers and students to continually tailor tasks and instruction based on individual student skills and progress. For students this means that the product is intuitive and does not require extensive instruction or support from the teacher.
4. Crosscutting Capabilities. Does your digital science resource allow searching across multiple science content areas to find connections?
5. Flexibility. How easy is it to add instructional resources, customize content, and share with colleagues and students? In the Schools of Hope survey from MeTEOR Education, “fewer than 40 percent of educators reported substantial efforts toward more flexible project- and collaborative-based learning approaches that engage and empower students.”
Finding digital classroom products is easy, but choosing the right ones is hard. At Britannica, first and foremost, we hope to always be an informational resource to help you create a thriving technology ecosystem for your schools.