Learning To Let Go: Lessons Learned From A Virtual Science Summer Camp

After months of preparation and a week of virtual science camp in the books, I am proud to share that me and my cohort have officially completed our first remote teaching experience! While I can’t speak for the rest of my cohort, I can confidently admit how proud I am of myself, and our awesome middle school campers for sticking in there (despite the technology glitches) and constantly showing up each day of camp! This has been a profound learning experience for me, as I’m sure it was for others as well.

We all know 2020 has had (and still does have) its fair share of obstacles, most stemming from the global pandemic that has forced everyone to think twice about even the simplest of daily activities. On a much larger scale, our schools were faced with a decision they never knew they would have to face. Given the global public health crisis, our schools quickly transitioned from in person classes to emergency remote teaching (ERT) overnight. This also meant that our traditionally in-person sustainability science camp was moved to a remote setting. That being said, there are many lessons I have learned from this and today I will be sharing the role I believe technology should have in science education, along with its affordances and pitfalls.

Source: Istockphoto.com/martinwimmer

The Role of Technology in Science Education

Given my recent experience running a remote science camp under my belt, I have allowed myself some time to reflect upon this journey and the specific roles I believe technology should play in the field of science education. The opportunity to do and learn sustainability science alongside middle schoolers has taught me a boatload of how I plan on incorporating technology tools into my future teaching practices and pedagogy.

1. The first and most important role I believe technology should hold in science education is the notion that it should, “…enhance the teacher’s role in the classroom, not to replace it” ( Flick and Bell, 2000, p. 7). Throughout my graduate classes, the discussion of technology’s role in the classroom has been debated time and time again. More often than not, I find technology critics to be most fearful that teachers will lose their main responsibility as the educator in the classroom due to the increased use of technology in our learning spaces. While I understand this concern, I find that Flick and Bell (2000) successfully line out why this concern is no longer completely valid in its thought process. As long as we continue to keep our teachers at the forefront of our students’ learning process, there should not be great worry as to technology stealing teachers’ thunder.

2. Another major role I see technology having in the science classroom, whether that be in-person or virtual, is the understanding that, “Technology should always be introduced in the context of science learning” (Flick and Bell, 2000, p. 3). In other words, technology should always be used to enhance the student learning process, rather than using it just for the sake of using it. This is something I want to remain mindful of as I continue my preservice teacher journey, as it is imperative to use technology only when it is complementary to the science work my students will be doing.

3. Last but certainly not least, technology in the science classroom should be utilized to make the science work even more fun, exciting and engaging! I understand that my future students will each have their own favorite school subject, and for many it may not be earth science. While I enter the school year with this understanding, I want to make my class as exciting, authentic, and relatable as possible! Through my experiences as an academic tutor, substitute teacher, and recent remote camp team member, I have found that the preteens and teens of today love technology (maybe even more than me!) and soak up any opportunity they get to engage with a new gadget, app, or social media platform like Tik Tok. If I can incorporate unique technology tools like Google Jamboard or Flipgrid into my teaching tool kit while simultaneously making it meaningful and engaging for my students – I don’t see why not!

Pros and Cons of Technology in Science Classrooms

Pros:

Source: https://facultyinnovate.utexas.edu/flipped-classroom
  • Technology and science share a reciprocal relationship where by nature, they both embody a desire to further new discovery. For example, students may ask questions that “fuel the desire for new technologies” (Flick and Bell, 2000, p. 11).
  • As mentioned earlier, technology use in the classroom helps enhance student learning, as well as collaboration between students. The advancement of certain technology tools with cloud-based features (i.e. Google Drive) has allowed students to work together on projects in live time.
  • Technology helps us move away from the traditional model of education where the teacher lectures and students passively retain all the information. Through new advancements, it has paved way for things like Flipped Classroom models and more student and inquiry-driven, collaborative strategies to support student learning.

Cons:

  • There is still a digital divide issue related to accessibility variability of students technology access in school versus at home. This inequality in technology access has been of controversy for a long time and is something that needs to be considered when certain at-home assignments require students to use technology.
  • The potential for distraction is always there. It’s just something to be mindful of, that’s all.
  • Digital literacy. As highlighted by Havlik (2014), “The ability to sift through excess news stories, differentiate fact from opinion, and organize and synthesize data to communicate scientific ideas are not skills learned by being an everyday user of social media.” Students traditionally scan through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook passively, neglecting fact from opinion. As science teachers, we must guide students’ thinking processes as they differentiate “good” data from “bad” data. For example, we need to teach our youth to be scientifically literate through deciphering well supported scientific evidence from poorly supported ones.

I almost forgot to explain the title of this post! “Learning To Let Go” stems from my incessant nature to want to plan everything ahead of time and expect everything to go as planned. My experience co-leading the virtual science camp has taught me that I need to modify this mindset by learning to be more flexible, as the state of our world (and school openings) have forced us to do so. While I know I have a far way to go, I am proud of the leaps and jumps I’ve already made.

Resources:

Flick, L. & Bell, R. (2000). Preparing tomorrow’s science teachers to use technology: Guidelines for science educators. Contemporary issues in technology and teacher education, 1(1), 39-60.

Flipped Classroom. (2019, October 24). Retrieved July 24, 2020, from https://facultyinnovate.utexas.edu/flipped-classroom

Havlik, B. (2014). How Social Media Can Support Science and Digital Literacy http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/blogs/education/2014/08/how-social-media-can-support-science-and-digital-literacy/ Retrieved on July 12, 2017.

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