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WWW "HOT"SPOTS CAN LEAD TO REALLY "COOL" SCIENCE TEACHING & LEARNING

Dr. Thomas O'Brien, Professor, Science Education
Binghamton University, Graduate School of Education, PO Box 6000 Binghamton, NY 13902-6000
607-777-4877.  tobrien@binghamton.eduhttp://www2.binghamton.edu/gse/about-the-school/obrien.html

The ever-increasing interconnectivity of electronic databases via the World Wide Web coupled with the enhanced speed and memory capabilities of computers has made it possible for science teachers and their students to readily access a universe of scientific and instructional resources that is truly mind-boggling. Mindful that simply downloading visual and auditory information or engaging students in crude "cutting, pasting and re-publishing" of such multimedia does not result in real understanding, the Internet can (and should) be a powerful tool for supporting interactive, constructivist teaching and learning.

Both the process of doing "research" via electronic surfing with search engines and the products that are found from targeted "trips" can result in meaningful learning IF the users engage in pre-trip planning, on-line reflective processing and subsequent off-line "minds-on" action. The key as with all learning is the extent to which learners are actively engaged with each other and the instructional material in order to assimilate and accommodate new information into their pre-existing mental frameworks. Transformation and reconstruction of both external information and personal internal mental schemas is essential to real learning (vs memorization and information "warehousing"). Without this internal processing and external feedback, hypermedia learning tools merely "expose" (an appropriate radiation analogy) students to a greater density of what Alfred North Whitehead (in The Aims of Education, 1916) referred to as "inert ideas - that is to say, ideas that are merely received into the mind without being utilized, or tested, or thrown into fresh combinations... Education with inert ideas is not only useless; it is above all things harmful." Education may profitably include, but must go beyond the mere entertainment offered by the slick multimedia of video games and many web sites. Understanding implies the ability to process, organize, transfer and creatively apply knowledge in new contexts and it requires time. It cannot be simply "downloaded" at electronic speed from CPUs to the brain’s biochemical neuro-networks.

The Internet is not a substitute for clearly articulated curriculum, instruction and assessment. Free, undirected student exploration of cyberspace is (assuming they don't go down the electronic equivalent of Dr. Seuss's "not-so-good street,) the equivalent of plopping them down in the center of the Library of Congress -- few students, whether on a live or "virtual" field trip, would independently "rediscover" the central themes, concepts and habits of mind of science (as identified by AAAS and the NAS) in any finite amount of time. Without appropriate guidance, student ACCESS to MORE IMFORMATION may result in LESS UNDERSTANDING. Or as John Dewey (in Experience & Education, 1938) put it: "No experience is educative that does not tend both to knowledge of more facts and entertaining of more ideas and to a better, a more orderly, arrangement of them." Obviously, the degree of necessary teacher guidance and selection of project parameters varies with the particular instructional goals and prior experience of the students as electronic researchers/learners (and this of course, can be discerned by the teacher and not by the present generation of "search engines"). Advances in hardware and software have made it easier for students to not only be "consumers," but also "producers" of information as they gather and share the results of their library, laboratory, and field research (e.g., numerical data, text, graphics, animations, movies, and www links) with other students (and scientists) around the country and the globe.

One additional caveat must be kept in mind. That is, it is the nature of the www for sites to occasionally move (most often they leave a "forwarding address" for a short time period) or "close up shop" all together. On the other hand, most sites associated with professional organizations, universities, and well-established commercial entities tend to be stable. A list of some 500 science and science education "hotspots" are accessible through the following categories. Visitors may also access an extensive list of live links associated with this author’s Brain-Powered Science Teaching & Learning with Discrepant Events book series at: http://www.nsta.org/publications/press/brainpowered.asp (click Read More go to the free Internet Connections links for the individual books at the NSTA Press Extras page).

 

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