I’d like to thank ADM Middle School science teacher Jon Markus for welcoming me into his 6th grade science class for my second classroom technology observation. Teachers have enough to worry about with class preparation and delivery, grading, professional development, etc., and I always appreciate when a teacher goes out of their way to open up their classroom to me.
During this class period, students were presenting the results of experiments that they recently completed to the rest of the class. The technology equipment present in Mr. Markus’ room included a MimioTeach interactive whiteboard device, a MimioView document camera, a ceiling-mounted projector and speakers, and a MacBook Air laptop.
While Mr. Markus uses the MimioView document camera almost every day, I was excited to be present for a class where students would make direct use of the device. In groups of three or four, students developed research questions such as:
- what is the effect of insulation on the melting rate of ice cubes?
- what is the effect of duration in the microwave on the percentage of popcorn kernels left unpopped
- what is the effect of the height of a ramp on the distance a toy car will roll after leaving the ramp?
- what is the effect of changes to a vinegar:baking soda ratio on the amount of carbon dioxide that is produced
- what is the effect of the temperature of water on the amount of dissolved solids in the water
- what is the effect of changes to light wattage on the spin frequency of a radiometer
I want to start by saying that I was very impressed with the work being done by these 6th graders. Development of research questions and devising methods for testing hypotheses is something that researchers at all levels of science – from middle school through nobel prize winners – struggle with, and I am excited to see ADM’s middle school students already grappling effectively with these important skills.
Each group, as part of developing and carrying out their experiments, wrote down their research questions, hypotheses, and plan to test the hypotheses. Then, the experiments were carried out and students kept track of data with a hand-created chart on graph paper, and then students created a graph to better visualize their results and wrote a conclusion statement. With the exception of a few of the experiments that themselves involved high-tech devices to measure experiment variables, the process thus far was decidedly low tech, and it’s important to note that low tech can be okay! In all fields and at all levels, but particularly in math and science, it can be cumbersome to try to integrate technology all of the time. Computers and tablets do not always lend themselves well – without specialized software and/or training – to creating mathematical formulas, informal charting and graphing of data, creating schematics and pictures to visualize a process, and so forth.
In order to share the plans, data, and visualizations that were made by hand, however, Mr. Markus decided to draw upon one of our standard classroom technology components, the document camera. For those unfamiliar with document cameras, it is essentially a digital overhead projector. Rather than creating transparencies – a time-consuming and sometimes expensive process – and projecting through an overhead projector, a document camera has a digital camera that allows the user to project what amounts to a live video of a piece of paper or three-dimensional object.
Students presented from the front of the room, where the MimioView document camera is connected, and projected their handwritten experiment components for the rest of the class to see, while discussing each component along the way. From a technology side, I was interested in seeing how students were able to handle adjusting papers up and down to fit in the camera frame, an acquired skill as it relates to what can feel like a somewhat disembodied experience. For the most part, students had no trouble after spending a couple of seconds figuring out which way documents needed to be moved to put the section that they wanted to talk about on camera. While the MimioView camera has a flexible neck holding the camera, and can be adjusted up and down to effectively zoom in and out on a document, the standard height at which it was set was sufficient to show enough of the page for each of the presentations, and to display text clearly. To that end, text was displayed clearly enough through the system that – even in instances where it was written in fairly light pencil – it was readable from the back of the room. The system is full color, so color graphs that many groups made were especially vibrant. In this case, the document camera helped create a fairly seamless experience where the focus was on the content of the students’ presentations, and not on the challenges of creating a digital presentation (i.e., PowerPoint) or learning to work with a challenging presentation technology.
I believe that content should drive technology, and this class provided an excellent example of that in action. As a district, we’ve opted to provide a mounted projector, speakers, interactive whiteboard device, document camera, and laptop in every classroom, plus a number of other devices that are available on a more limited basis. To me, effective technology implementation is exemplified by what I saw in Mr. Markus class, where technology helped to efficiently cover important material, and isn’t necessarily tied to using all of the available technologies, all the time.
Again, I thank Mr. Markus for welcoming me into his classroom, and I thank his students for giving me a glimpse into the great things that they’re learning.