Hi! Welcome to our website that explores how technology can be used in a biology classroom. We are two college students -- Nicole Miller from Bryn Mawr College and Liane D'Alessandro from Haverford College. We are both biolgy majors getting certified to teach biology in grades 7-12. For our Practice Teaching Seminar, we were required to create a website that explained our views on the use of technology in a classroom. Below you will find a table of contents that will guide you through our website. We hope the information is helpful to you! Enjoy!

Table of Contents

Our General Philosophy On Technology in the Classroom

Specific Uses of Technology in the Classroom

Links to Useful Biology Sites

Our General Philosophy on the Use of Technology in the Classroom

As we think about whether to use technology in the classroom, we must decide what counts as technology. There are various uses of technology; some are straightforward and do not require much consideration in terms of whether it's best to use them. Others, which are more recent forms of technology, require deeper consideration as to how to use them most effectively. In general, as long as technology is balanced with the teaching of social and traditional academic skills, it has the potential to revitalize a classroom by appealing to different intelligences in students so that learning is more effective.

Examples of technology that are relatively simple include overhead projectors and televisions. Then there are slightly more advanced uses of technology such as lab equipment (microscopes, kits for testing water quality, kits for sequencing DNA etc.). While each of these tools can be very effective in a biology classroom (see section on "Specific Uses" below), they are examples of technology that do not require much thought into how to use them most effectively. On other hand, the hot area of technology nowadays, the COMPUTER, does require careful consideration about how to use it most benefically in the classroom. Below, we examine the issues surrounding computer use.

The first thing that needs to be considered before even thinking about using the a computer is training. Even the simple word, "computer," strikes a key of anxiety in many individuals because of a fear of the unknown. Therefore, greater emphasis should be placed on training teachers to use computers effectively. At the least, courses on basic word processing skills and computer vocabulary should be offered. These simple lessons would ease the fears of many teachers. In addition, there should be courses on effective ways to use the internet. Teachers have access to many valuable resources on the internet (as discussed further below in this website), but if teachers are to use the resources, they need to know how. After offering workshops on these topics, schools should provide on-going follow-up support for their teachers.

Another factor to consider before using computers is the cost both for the school as a whole and for the individual students. Schools should develop long term plans to budget more money for technology, in recognition of its potential benefits. For example, providing access to computers, televisions, VCRs, and overhead projectors as well as additional money to purchase videos, CD-ROMs, and laboratory equipment is very beneficial. (See "Specific Uses" section below.) It is not our intent to provide a lengthy discussion of the budgeting process; rather, we would like to mention the impact that computer use in the classroom could have on individual students.

Once we start integrating computers into our classes, we often move beyond the matter of a school simply providing a piece of equipment such as a television or overhead projector. Instead, we start suggesting or expecting that each student has access to a computer at home. This puts many students at a disadvantage. On one hand, students with a computer at home can complete homework at their own convenience. However, those without such access must structure their study and homework schedule according to the the school's limited computer cluster hours. That means they must do all their computer work -- internet research, writing, and revising of papers as well as reviewing any internet images used in class -- all within the 1-2 hours after school. What happens if those students also have a job or play a sport?

Therefore, before any student is expected to use the computer for class assignments, the teacher should survey students to find out if they all have access to a computer and the internet at home. While there are many exciting things a teacher could do with a computer -- have a class website to post assignments, grades, and lecture notes, for example -- we're wary of letting these uses take over the classroom. They would definitely help those with access to computers outside of school, but other students without this access would miss out on these benefits.

A third factor to consider when implementing computers as instructional tools is the atmosphere it will create in the classroom. Right now, educators are trying to make schools not only more community-like but also more open to the outside communities they serve. However, these efforts are in danger of being overshadowed by the use of technology, in many of the same ways that television and video games have contributed to the decline of healthy family interaction. Schools must consciously avoid letting computers replace peer relationships and positive adult role models. Kids need to learn to be comfortable with other people -- to be thinking, compassionate contributors to their society -- before they are set free in a virtual world.

Computers also complicate the push in education to make students and teachers responsible for learning more and more content. We must remember that the zeal to use technology could become another form of the zeal to cover and know massive amounts of material. For instance, the internet and other recent technologies are vast reserves of easily accessible information. Their potential as classroom tools allows us, without realizing, to assign overwhelming amounts of work to students on top of the traditional workload. For example, in addition to textbook reading and note taking, the teacher may also assign several relevant websites (each of which have their own links) that students are required to visit.

Furthermore, the use of computers as classroom tools has the harmful potential of emphasizing only a limited set of information-retrieval skills. It is important that students learn to find, manipulate, and challenge information that exists outside the format of the internet. Most importantly, we must be careful not to sacrifice the teaching of organizational, studying, focusing, and interpersonal skills as computers enter the classroom scene.

In general, we feel that many forms of technology in the classroom are extremely effective. They enable educators to reach students of multiple intelligences and to teach the word processing, graphing, and Internet research skills that are becoming increasingly important for today's generation of students. (See also "Specific Uses" section below.) However, computers should be used only if careful attention is given to the following issues. First, more training should be provided so that teachers not only aren't afraid to use them but also are able to show their students how to use them. In addition, schools should ensure that their use of computers doesn't give some students an unfair advantage and make the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots" even larger. Finally, let's not forget the more traditional societal values such as community interaction and the abilities to focus, organize, study, and think critically that must also have their place in the classroom.

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Specific Uses of Technology in a Biology Classroom

Technology Other Than Computers

An example of a rather ordinary but still effective use of technology is the overhead projector instead of the chalkboard. This allows the teacher to type up notes or diagrams that s/he would then give to the students and make transparencies of. Then, when it's time to lecture on the material, the students can follow along on their sheet while also looking at the projected image. An example of this is when we taught DNA replication. We distributed a diagram of the process to each student. In addition, we made a transparency of the diagram to display in the front of the classroom. This was much easier than our drawing the diagram on the board and having the students copy it. We could simply make notes on the transparency and point out key features of the process as we projected the image for students to follow.

Another standard example of technology is television. There are many great films on biological topics available for purchase for use in the classroom. Documentaries from TV or special programs on public television could also be taped to show a class. The benefit of bringing this technology into the classroom is that students are able to learn about the topic from someone other than the teacher. For example, if there was a documentary exploring whether genes influence violence, watching and later discussing it would probably be more interesting than listening to the teacher lecture on it. Moreover, films and TV programs also provide a visual component to the topic. For example, besides visiting the tropical rainforest (which obviously is not very feasible) what better way to learn about life in it than to watch a video? Surely that is more exciting than reading a dry textbook with lots of words and a few colorful pictures scattered here and there at best.

Another way of providing visual enhancements of a topic is microscopes. Some examples of when to use this technology are during a study of photosynthesis to examine the structure of a leaf in detail, a chapter on the cell cycle to view prepared slides of cells going through mitosis, a chapter on taxonomy to view prepared slides of representatives from each kingdom, or a lesson on osmosis. A video microscope is a particularly useful teaching tool as it allows an image to be projected to the entire class at once so that all can see it and discuss it together.

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CD-Roms and Web Based Student Projects

Computers could be used specifically for classroom instruction as in the case of CD-ROMs that explore such topics as human anatomy. These programs generally provide highly visual interactive components to a lesson. There are also a great many websites (see list below) that could be used during a class period to illustrate a concept. Some examples are practice with genetics problems and pictures of cells in mitosis. While allowing students to use these sites during school hours is beneficial, it would be even better if students could have access to them outside of class. If this is a reasonable expectation, then various assignments could be given. For example, instead of assigning genetics problems solely on paper, teachers could give the students a website address and ask them to follow certain directions. For those students who really like using the computer this may be a great motivational tool to get them to study genetics.

Another assignment would be to have the students do a project in which they compare the credibility of various sites. The ability to discern useful information from biased inaccurate information on the Web is a very important skill since so much research can be done on the Web. Again teachers need training in this area first before they can teach students how to do it. But once teachers are adept, they could give assignments such as:

  1. Find this site.

  2. Describe it.

  3. Compare it to this other site. What are the similarities between the two?

  4. How are they different?

  5. What do you learn from each one?

Potentially, this could help students distinguish useful sites from wasteful ones. It gives the students a critical perspective on sources -- a skill that is valuable not just for computer research but also any type of library research.

An interesting extension of this project would be to have the students do a research project on the Web in which they compare what various sites from different organizations say about the same topic. For example, students could compare what churches, the government, universities, regular citizens, and other professionals say about topics such as evolution, cloning, genetic engineering, or ecology by looking at websites from each of these organizations.

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Classroom Homepage

A classroom web page could be a forum for the teacher, students, parents, school, and community to interact. Students and their teacher and parents should all have a say in the content and format of such a page, and each group and individual should find some way to contribute to its development. In this way, everyone would have ownership in the ongoing process of creating and improving the site, and might therefore use it more frequently. Here we present some of our ideas for designing and using a classroom website, although teachers will certainly want to modify these suggestions to suit their own classes.

The primary users of a classroom web page should be the teacher and students. The teacher could post assignments, announcements, grades (by password), articles of interest, lists of links to related sites, answers to homework problems, and a syllabus. Pictures or slides used in class could be posted for online review. Students could use the web site to e-mail their teacher with feedback or questions, post their own projects, complete review or tutorial exercises created specifically for their class, and communicate with other classmates. Also, students could download assignments after absences, thereby catching up with the class more quickly and independently.

In addition to the teacher and students, parents could be involved in the web page in several ways. They could check their child's progress by viewing posted grades and comments. They could follow the entire class' progress by reading announcements and the course syllabus and viewing work on display. Furthermore, parents could help their children with homework because they would have access to assignments, links, and a way to communicate directly with the teacher. Finally, parents might set up a chatroom to collaborate with one another.

Another important aspect of the classroom web page is that it could involve the whole school and local community. The web page could become a forum for interactive projects, such as conducting community surveys or publicizing health and environmental threats. The class web page would always be available for community members to examine to see what is going on inside their schools. Community members could bring up local concerns within the realm of biology that the students could investigate and learn from. For example, they could suggest that students research whether the local water is safe to drink. Students could then post the results of their study to inform the community. Moreover, through the web page, community members who are experts in certain areas of biology could be inspired or invited to share their knowledge and experiences with the class. For instance, genetic counselors would be a great resource during a chapter on genetics.

A classroom web page could make learning more relevant and connected to students' lives by creating authentic assessment opportunities and widening the audience students could reach. It would also strengthen the connection between home and school and expand learning opportunities for students and everyone else involved.

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Distance Learning

Enter "distance learning" into any major internet search engine, and you'll find that it is widely available and rapidly expanding. The following discussion first provides a background on the meaning of distance learning and then goes on to describe its positive and negative aspects. Distance learning refers to courses in which some or all of the students are in a different physical location than their teacher. In some cases, students and teacher are separated by just a few miles, while in others they live on opposite sides of the world. Distance courses used to rely on mail correspondence but now involve videotapes, regional or satellite television broadcasts, and/or the internet. These media offer various levels of scheduling flexibility and interaction with instructors. They often involve a facilitator at the recipient site who oversees student-teacher communication and other logistics. Distance learning courses are offered for K-12 students by colleges, private internet-based schools, and public high schools.

A typical distance learning course on the internet could involve teachers and students responding to one another's comments in a newsgroup, the teacher e-mailing lists of recommended web sites and other resources to the students, and the students submitting assignments electronically for evaluation. Also, teachers may make one or two trips out to their distance learning sites to conduct intensive workshops. At sites with videoconferencing technology, students may participate and ask questions simultaneously with students sitting in the instructor's real classroom. As technology and participants' ability to use it improve universally, these "real-time" interactive classes will become much more common.

For middle and high school biology students, distance learning offers several advantages. First, it instantly expands the course offerings of a school, which is significant especially for small schools. The courses can be taken by whole groups, or just one interested student. Next, distance learning may be just what an unusually advanced student needs to sustain his or her interest in school or a particular subject because some courses lead to college credit. A third advantage is for students with intrapersonal, visual, or technological intelligence or who work best when learning is self-paced. In these cases, distance learning courses might capture and sustain their attention better. Finally, distance learning is advantageous since ideas rather than appearances govern online interactions. Students who are commonly marginalized or silenced may feel more comfortable voicing their opinions. This means that people from many different locations and backgrounds can come together and learn from each other.

There are a number of drawbacks, however, to distance learning. First, its cost to establish and maintain may be prohibitive in public schools. Distance learning courses currently cost about $100-$600 per student, depending on the credit available and the number of students enrolled. Added to this cost must be that of maintaining the technology and paying a site administrator or advisor. An additional concern especially within biology is whether distance learning can offer enough hands-on experience. Course providers may send supplementary lab materials or require students to collect and send in specimen. Still it's crucial to question whether these extensions constitute a full lab experience since the students may miss out on the ongoing, personal feedback that someone would normally get in a regular laboratory course. Finally, it's important to remember that the middle and high school years are a time when learners have a tremendous potential for personal and social growth. Much of that growth comes from interactions with peers and teachers. Distance learning courses are generally structured around curriculum rather than individuals, but we must resist this model and strive to teach the student, not just the subject.

Distance learning courses, in our opinion, should not be a high priority for traditional public schools. Those schools should seek first to fit their own curriculum to their students and take advantage of providing the personal interaction that long distances inherently minimize. In some situations, schools may find that their students' opportunities and resources are enriched by distance learning, and in those cases they should consider it on an individual basis. Small, isolated, or home schools may find a more secure niche for distance learning and be able to round out their curriculum with it. When schools do decide that long distance learning fits their needs, they should thoroughly investigate the distance courses they enroll students in and have some way to ensure that the program they choose and the students' performance in that program meet their standards.

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Links to Websites

General Biology Sites

Genetech -- An educational site provided by the biotechnology research corporation. Includes rotating features such as interviews with prominent scientists, teaching tips, and interactive activities. Worth returning to periodically for understandable background on current advances and ethical issues.

World Lecture Hall -- a compilation of hundreds of college courses on all subjects. Many courses include lecture notes, problem sets, labs, and images for reference. Seeing so many biology courses outlined together is sure to provide ideas for structuring your own curriculum.

Mad Scientist Network -- If you click on "Mad Scientist Network" under "General Science" you'll get to a site where people can write in science questions that they are most curious about and have them answered. Try reading other people's questions and answers or write in your own. Either way, you'll learn amazing things about science that will help you answer many of your students' questions.

BioChem Net -- Click on "General Biology" for links to great sites on all topics of biology.

University of Arizona - The Biology Project -- This is a very useful site for teachers to find lesson plan ideas for all kinds of biology topics including the tutorial on genetics crosses and a lab on the cell cycle (which were mentioned above).

Audesirk and Audesirk's Life On Earth -- Our favorite textbook authors have organized a wealth of links to complement each chapter in their introductory biology book. The sites they have picked out are well-written and illustrated, just like their book. In addition, each chapter's website displays an interesting article about an issue relevant to that topic. This would be a great way to connect classroom topics with the students' outside lives. For each chapter, a convenient way to start is by clicking on "Issues in Biology" (for the relevant article) or "Destinations" (for the list of pertinent websites).

Serendip -- Our host website. It's full of thought-provoking articles and interactive activities. Search around and see what catches your attention.

Specific Biology Topics

U.S. Global Change Research Information Office -- When you teach ecological issues, this is a great site to visit. When you click on "Search Resources or Programs, it allows you to type in any environmental topic and grade level. Then it searches for relevant sites.

U.S.Geological Surveys -- This site has a great project about the interaction between people and the environment. Check it out!

National Academy Press -- When you teach evolution, this site will be very useful. It contains ideas for activities plus discussions of why evolution should be taught and how to teach it using inquiry.

Knight Foundation -- This site is the web based version of a collaboration between Philadelphia Middle School Math and Science Teachers and Haverford College. The site contains over thirty inquiry based math and physical, chemical, and biological science lesson plans to use in middle school classrooms. Specific biology lessons pertain to the respiratory system, ("Don't Take My Breath Away" and "Won by a H-air!"), the digestive system ("The Quest to Digest"), kingdoms ("The Yeast Beast" and "Cool Cucumbers"), leaves ("Fall Colors"), and diffusion ("The Egg-citing Egg-speriment").

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