Science in action: Technology supports 21st-century curriculum

District 181 students conduct liquid density experiments using scales and iPads; the devices are part of the 1:1 action research taking place in select classrooms this year. Pictured are Rachel Foracappa (left) and Herbert Wang (right).

Courtesy of: Bridget McGuiggan

Elm School fifth grade teacher Matt Haeger is one of ten teachers participating in action research of 1:1 technology as part of the @d181 Initiative this school year.

The @d181 Initiative was first implemented in the 2011-12 school year with a mission to promote student creativity, problem solving and risk-taking through the innovative use of technology. To that end, a committee of staff led action research on the effectiveness of 1:1 technology, providing two classrooms of students with either a MacBook Air laptop or iPad for each student, and studying any change in levels of engagement, student achievement and the learning environment. All Elm School fifth graders have an individual iPad for school use.

Haeger recently led a science lesson on buoyancy that made use of not only the iPad, but more traditional tools as well.

“The iPad is a tool like a pencil or a calculator," he said. "As such, the content is the focus, and technology provides students an engaging way to consume and create that content.”

For the buoyancy lesson, the goals for the lesson were for students to (1) understand the concept of liquid density, (2) learn how to measure for density, and (3) compare and contrast the density of various liquids. To help develop the skills needed to meet those goals, students formed small groups to accomplish a series of tasks centered on the scientific method. They used scales to measure weight and the iPad to take notes and draw their results.

When asked how teaching in a 1:1 environment has changed his classroom, Haeger said, “As teachers, we must meet our students where they are. Technology is an ever-expanding component in all our lives. Nowhere else is this more true than in the lives of the students we serve. Let's leverage the inherent engagement of technology, and access the plethora of information available through technology. We are no longer bound to the books we have in our libraries and classrooms.”

Students are also not bound by the school bell.

Some students have extended the learning beyond the school day,” Haeger said. “They research and enrich on their own. In addition, the ability to bring the devices home has increased communication between the students and me and increased collaboration between students. These skills are necessary in order to be college and career ready.”

Assistant Superintendent for Learning Janet Stutz has seen similar experiences in each of the 1:1 classrooms.

“We recognize that students as learners have changed, and instruction is changing with it," Stutz said. 
"Curriculum isn’t based on lecture and rote memorization like many adults may remember from their days in school. The teacher must help students master skills like communication, collaboration and critical thinking, and infuse techniques that meet a variety of learning styles and needs.”

Technology Director Eric Danley sees the Common Core State Standards moving education in that direction across the country.

“The Common Core Standards are permeated by technology and key 21st-century skills," Danley said. "Students must be not just knowledgeable, but knowledge-able--they learn how to find information, how to validate what they have seen, and how to work both independently and with a group in developing a position or conclusion from reliable sources. It is an exciting time to work in education.”

Right: Elm School students Victor Buccellato (left) and Derrick Brown (right) gather materials needed for an experiment to measure liquid density.

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