Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Can a Student Science Symposium be Techie? by Laura

Our annual science symposium was held last Friday afternoon.  Students in 6th grade worked in teams to program a Lego robot for a mission and also research and plan an innovation around the theme of robots of the future.  In 7th and 8th grade, students do an independent research project  based on our science theme of the year.  They begin in November with research questions and work to complete the research and the writing in phases right up until the May event.

Technology plays a role in every aspect of the process.  I wrote a Science Symposium Handbook several years ago to guide the students through the process and particularly the genre of science research writing.  This year I published it both in hard copy and on Issuu: Science Symposium Handbook 2010-2011.  Naturally students do background research and their writing on laptops.  Some students used Vernier Probeware for their research this year.This year I would like to publish student papers online as well. And of course they do their data analysis on their laptops.

I used Google docs for some aspects of editing. One winter's day, when school was canceled for a snow day, students posted their Materials & Methods section on a common Google doc.  I sat on my couch and read and edited each one, leaving comments for each student.  They had a chance to benefit by reading each others this way too.  I always have students peer edit sections of the paper before they submit to me, and this was sometimes done through Google docs.

Finally, students reflect about the process by filling out a Google form.  The responses fill in a spreadsheet that makes it easy for me to see them all in one place.  Forms have become my favorite Google app.They have reduced the amount of paper in my life even more than Google docs have.    I love being able to analyze responses both student-by-student and question-by-question.

I have grown very thoughtful, though, about where technology is not seen.  It is not seen in the afternoon presentations and the final paper itself.  I teach at a technologically innovative school, and I can see how the event looks the same as such events have for decades.I have hesitated to have students talk from presentation on their laptops because the screens are small and not as conducive to face-to-face conversation as traditional posters are.  My fantasy would be to have a projector for every student and use the boards as the "screen" but that is too expensive and running power to fifty projectors at once would not be possible.

The professional scientists who have attended the event over the year have always found it to mimic their own events.  This may not be valued by my students or the majority of their parents and the other adults in our school community.  So, I will continue to explore and mull over how science symposia in middle school should fit into the 21st century.  As always, I would love to have ideas from readers.

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