Lessons Learned by Leading Researchers in Science and Education | Conceptual Framework

Introduction:

Creating an Integrated Science Learning Environment, Dr. Rebekah Nix


Today's Educational Environment

The ISLE program encompasses an emergent model for developing an integrated learning environment to accomplish the goals set forth for today’s science educators and their students. Combining an Internet-based virtual field trip product with an extended field trip to a natural area offered a unique framework to address the specific needs of multilevel inservice and preservice science teachers, and the increasingly diverse audience of learners they served.

Virtual Field Trip homepage: Global Environmental Change

In March 1998, it was reported that a new website was created every four seconds. You’ll just have to check the web to find out how much that has increased with the advent of blogs, and wikis, and the like! The ‘information explosion’ has resulted in the creation of massive amounts of bits of data reinforcing the misconception that science is simply a collection of facts and figures with little relevance to the everyday lives of individuals and societies. Building on the explosion imagery, the increase of information on the World Wide Web is consequently non-linear in nature. This poses an interesting challenge to classroom teachers, as well as teacher educators, on a global scale. Science teachers, in particular, teeter on the apex of this rapidly-advancing wave and must find effective ways to balance issues and manage change in the classroom.

Educational Reform on a Global Scale

Recent technological advances have created an awareness of the global community and provide graphic examples of the impact of individuals and the inter-relatedness of systems and societies. The impact on education has been tremendous, rapidly transforming the proverbial one-room schoolhouse into a global system without limitations. As such, the new emphasis on information processing has spawned some instructive and educationally relevant findings. Advances in information technology are creating entirely new pedagogical possibilities. The call for change has been issued on a worldwide scale.

Fraser, in his 1997 presidential address to the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), highlighted the importance of the expansion, internationalization and cross-nationalization to this educational research organization. "New technologies facilitate a shift from communication isolation and deprivation to communication access and exchange" (SEDL, 2000, ¶ 3). Also evidenced by the abundance of new publications, increased interest in both teaching and learning combined with the political and social attention to education on a global scale has supported similarly rapid and significant advances in learning environments research specifically. New approaches and methodologies are being developed in direct response to the effects of the information revolution.

Clearly, education has been pulled into a new realm. Information technology in science education is quite real. Our job as citizens of this now global community is to place these tools and resources into the proper context and provide sufficient support to all learners, especially today’s teachers. The possibilities are indeed endless. Tomorrow’s educators must be involved in the development of a new model for science education. We will realize the potential of information technology in science education today by approaching the challenges just as our children will have to face the issues of tomorrow. We are all simply learning by doing. Incorporating information technology in educational reform efforts has fostered a global learning community. Increasing collaboration among classroom teachers, science education professors, and graduate students is already helping individual elementary school teachers to change their science teaching practices. The same can be done to help teacher education programs address the needs of practicing classroom teachers.

Implications of the ISLE Model

In a speech delivered to university students and their parents, instructors, and administrators, Fraser (2001) presented “compelling evidence that the classroom environment so strongly influences student outcomes that it should not be ignored by those wishing to improve the effectiveness of schools and universities” (p. 2). Consisting of more than content and outcomes, the curriculum of schools and universities includes unexpected places and spontaneous ways in which the business of learning can take place. Fraser (2001) eloquently concluded that: “It is the quality of life lived in the classrooms that determines many of the things that we hope for from education – concern for community, concern for others, commitment to the task in hand” (p. 2). Because the ISLE instructors changed the teachers’ learning environment in Phase I, the ISLE teachers’ were able to improve each of their students’ classroom learning environments in Phase II.

In the ISLE model, a process approach to information technology practically illustrated how, when combined, separate parts that typically work independently can be combined to realize effective applications in the real-world. The significance of this internalization of concepts and principles was recognised in the Montgomery County Public Schools, where a change in philosophy during the last 10 years began slowly from the bottom up. “A few teachers learned about constructivist theory and began advocating restructuring of curriculum and instructional practice. Word spread. More teachers began attending conferences and workshops. As interest grew, retraining sessions were conducted. Teachers made great changes because they wanted to, not because they were required to do so” (Matusevich, 1995, ¶ 11).

Conclusions

The ISLE model provided a catalyst for educational change. Like train-the-trainer programs, the ISLE multiplied the power of actual scientific field experience through an educationally-sound, globally-available, virtual field trip product. The actual university/field trip course enabled teachers to understand the concepts and learn the techniques of constructivism.

These skills and insights were internalized by each individual, as well as the whole team. By establishing a networked community of like-minded individuals, transfer of theory and practice is more readily implemented in the geographically separate school settings. As the ISLE teachers implement more and more constructivist learning opportunities in their classrooms, other teachers throughout the school are likely to begin to see and hear and feel the effects of such change. The virtual field trip provided a means for these second-generation ISLE teachers to implement constructivist teaching through the same foundation as the actual ISLE teachers. Thus, a true mentor relationship is formed and the community is further expanded; thereby, a single teacher might effectively influence an entire district, as this approach is transferred to other science lessons and across disciplines.

Building on fundamental coursework in science, society, and technology, participants directly interacted with renowned experts and specialists. The principles of hands-on inquiry and teacher-as-researcher transferred directly into the classroom as students observed and participated in diverse educational settings. Real-world experience integrated the core concepts of science with the subtleties of pedagogy that sprung from allowing students to construct their own knowledge.

Virtual field trips, based on the ISLE model, enable the principles of student-centered inquiry and constructivism to be practiced for the benefit of all styles and ages of learners. Why are geology students required to complete field camp or medical students required to perform internships? Because the real world is where theory and practice come together and science becomes relevant, making sense that leads to understanding.

Fraser, B.J. (2001). Twenty thousand hours. Learning Environments Research, 4, 1-5.
Matusevich, M.N. (1995, May). School reform: What role can technology play in a constructivist setting? Montgomery Public Schools. [Online]. Available: http://pixel.cs.vt.edu/edu/fis/techcons.html.
SEDL. (2000). Reaching out with technology: Louisiana’s innovative practices in educational technology. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.
[Online]. Available:http://www.sedl.org/rural/seeds/louisiana/call.html.

To that end, let’s look at what you’re going to do for this course…


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