An Examination of how Technology Impacts a High School Biology Classroom
Jeremy Ensrud, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Origins of My Research
I have been interested in discovering teaching methods that motivate and engage low-achieving students in the science classroom. I have witnessed large gaps between the students that are engaged and successful in science, and those students that are unmotivated and struggling. According to E.A. Skinner engagement is critical in determining what children can accomplish. “Children’s active engagement in learning activities is considered to be the mediator between perceived control and actual accomplishments” (Skinner, p. 24). If disengaged students were encouraged to become engaged would they have more success in school? I wondered how I could engage the students in my classes that were struggling. Some of the research I read suggested that the use of student-centered technology might have a positive impact on student attitudes toward learning, motivation, self-confidence, and self-esteem (SIIA Report). Some students succeed regardless of the educational environment they are placed in, while others struggle, fall behind, lose interest, and fail. According to Richard Stiggins, “our success as educators in standards-driven schools turns, not on our ability to motivate bright high achievers, but on our ability to rekindle the desire to learn among those students who have given up on themselves and on us” (Stiggins, p. 44). How do I motivate students that are struggling in science?
Why use technology?
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classes are essential in preparing the students of today for the jobs of tomorrow by developing critical thinking and problem solving skills. Many educators are already a step behind their students when it comes to using technology. We are teaching a generation of youth who have grown up connected to advanced mobile technologies. Mobile platforms are creating new methods for collecting and disseminating information within the classroom. “With the number of students gaining access to technology, we will begin to see advances emerge in our Nation’s classrooms. These may include simulations, specialized laboratories, Web research, data collection, analysis projects based outside the school, and experiences and communications with experts or even other students for projects” (NSB). I believe that the technology that is currently available we help students realize real-world connections between their classroom education and their future. “It is education that is meant to take us into this future that we can’t grasp… Nobody has a clue what the world will look like in five years time… and yet we’re meant to be educating them for it” (Robinson). The purpose of my teacher research project was to observe what happens to student engagement when students use iPads in a science classroom. Through the use of formative assessment feedback, summative assessment comparisons, student perception surveys, and classroom observations, I found that the use of iPads had a positive impact on both student engagement and performance in the science classroom.
During the second trimester of the 2010-2011 school year I taught four high school biology classes using a classroom set of iPads for electronic formative assessments, summative assessments, and supplemental instruction. Almost all of my class worksheets were transcribed into Google form documents. The Google form documents were linked to a class website. The Safari application on the iPads was directed to the class website, so that the students had easy access to the assignments. I instructed the students on how to navigate the iPads, how to access the class website, and how to submit the Google form assignments. We also explored several biology applications and a flash card study aid called gFlash. Student developed vocabulary lists were uploaded to a spreadsheet on the student Google accounts, and then synced with the gFlash application. This application automatically generated flash cards and multiple-choice quizzes from a two-column spreadsheet. The students used this application as a study aid to enhance vocabulary retention. For summative assessments, students were given the option of taking the unit tests on the iPads, or on a Scantron. Most students chose the iPad, however there were a few that preferred the old fashioned paper and pencil. I asked those students why they preferred the Scantron, and one student replied, “I just don’t trust the technology.”
For data collection I compared formative assessments and summative assessments between classes using iPads and those not using iPads. I administered a Likert scale survey regarding student perceptions toward using the iPads. I also used a time-on-task observation chart to collect data regarding student engagement while using iPads.
Students were very excited to use iPads in the classroom, and the effect that the iPads had on the learning environment was very surprising. I found that the use of iPads in the classroom had a positive impact on both student engagement and performance in the science classroom. Students were engaged in learning activities, and the rate of classroom participation increased. Students reported on a survey that they were more likely to complete and turn in assignments that were accessible on the iPads. Students performed better on tests and quizzes. One of my students said, “I used to think I didn’t like science, your class has totally changed that!”
Using a time-on-task observation chart I observed that students were on task 97% of the time while using iPads. This was reflected in the turn-in rate for assignments. For all of my classes using iPads the average turn-in rate was 91%. Last year’s average turn-in rate was 80% for non-iPad classes.
As part of a collaborative team goal with fellow science teachers an ecology pretest was administered to two classes using iPads, and to two comparable classes who were not using iPads. The scores were recorded and compared to a post-test administered at the end of the unit. Students using iPads showed an average improvement 38% higher than non-iPad classes. There was significantly more improvement between the pre-test and post-test assessments for the classes using iPads. In the iPad classrooms 90% of the students earned passing scores on the post assessment with an average score of 80.5%. Only 70% of the students in the non-iPad classrooms earned passing scores, with an average score of 67.6%.
The iPad is a wonderful tool for assessing student learning. However, I believe we have only scratched the surface of the educational potential for mobile devices in education. Electronic assessment improves teacher-student communication by allowing students instant feedback on their assignments. It also allows the teacher to evaluate where they are being effective. “Assessments used in the classroom should increase relevant feedback to students, teachers, parents, and decision-makers and should be designed to continuously improve student learning and inform the learning environment” (Apple). In the traditional classroom most teachers don’t have the time to grade a student’s work and allow the student to remake their work or retake their test until they get it right. With the iPads and digital assessments this ideality becomes a reality.
In my classroom iPads significantly improved student engagement and performance. Students were excited about using this technology, which resulted in students being on-task and turning in more assignments. Immediate feedback and communication allowed students to identify where they were having problems, and it also allowed me an opportunity to re-teach topics that were obvious problems. I believe that mobile technology will revolutionize education by increasing productivity, enhancing student learning, and helping students make real-world connections between their classroom education and their future.
Apple, Inc. (2008). Apple classrooms of tomorrow—today: Learning in the 21st century. RetrievedMarch 19, 2011 from http://ali.apple.com/acot2/global/files/ACOT2_Background.pdf
National Science Board. (2006). America’s pressing challenge – Building a stronger foundation. A Companion to Science and Engineering Indicators. Retrieved March 19, 2011 from http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsb0602/
Robinson, K. (2006). Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity. TED. Retrieved April 3, 2011 from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html
SIIA Report. (2000). Technology improves student performance. Electronic Education Report, 7(18), 3.
Skinner, B.F. (1968). The technology of teaching. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Stiggins, R. (2001). Student-involved classroom assessment. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.