Professional Development

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In today’s schools, the effective use of technology has become increasingly more important as a means for teachers to improve their curriculum, instruction, and assessment. One such technology that has been embraced by many teachers includes Smart Response systems or other electronic polling devices. These devices allow teachers to poll their students to collect instantaneous formative assessment data on student learning. Using this data teachers modify their instruction to address areas that need additional clarification. In this example the question is “Are teachers really maximizing the true potential of this technology?” This data collection can serve as the first step in the scientific approach to Science Education. post 1.png


According to the Associate Director for Science, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the U.S. President, Carl Wieman, the answer lies in what happens after the students are polled. His presentation at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science, “A Scientific Approach to Science Education”, stresses that we need to approach “the teaching of science like a science” by:


                    1. Using practices based on good data.

                    2. Utilizing research on how people learn.

                    3. Disseminating results in a scholarly manner and copy what works.

                    4. Utilizing modern technology.


Effective lessons are designed around questions and follow-up, utilizing student-student discussions and consensus groups, with students actively engaged in figuring out. Student engagement and peer discussions will also enhance student-instructor communication. All of these interactions can be facilitated by the use of technology in the form of electronic polling devices. Additionally, other forms of technology such as simulations also increase student engagement and learning.


Fjodor Dukaj attended the AAAS conference in Vancouver and then created a PowerPoint presentation to share this topic to the science faculty at Somerville Highpost 2.pngSchool.  Attached is the PowerPoint presentation that was presented at the science department staff meeting.


Instructional Strategy:

  1. Slow down and reduce the cognitive load in class.  Reduce the use of jargons. Make class relevant. Have students complete doable tasks and a pre-assigned reading.
  2. Use electronic polling devices to ask questions that promote critical thinking. Pose questions that students can relate to and that connect to their prior knowledge and real experiences.
  3. Engage students by displaying the results of the poll and then have small groups of students debate the various multiple choice answers, then the class as a whole discusses the different answers, and finally the answepost 3.pngr is shown and the problem is explained by the teacher
  4. Utilize the many new forms of technology to engage students in various ways including simulations, digital media, interactive lessons, probeware, tablets, apps and other online technological resources such as those provided by Thinkfinity.


Using tablets, apps, simulations and other forms of technology has increased student engagement. Anecdotal data reported by teachers’ shows student engagement at a level of 4.2 on a scale of 1 (low) -5 (high) when using various forms of technology. Wieman’s data shows knowledge retention increases from 30% to 60% and class averages increase from 41% to 74% as a result of his scientific approach to learning science.


Classroom lessons need to be more student-centered rather than teacher centered. This includes student-student interactions with students learning from each other. Although Wieman’s lecture was titled “A Scientific Approach to Teaching Science”, this approach can be effective for teaching any and all subjects.


                    1. Take a scientific approach to teaching.

                    2. Effective lessons are designed around questions.

                    3. Make lessons relevant and use students’ prior knowledge

                    4. Engage students and promote critical thinking.

                    5. Peer to peer discussions increase learning and retention.

                    6. Use technology (electronic polling devices, simulations, probeware, interactives, SmartBoards, apps, tablets)

                         and Thinkfinity to its fullest potential. 

                    7. Copy what works, share your successes and learn from the successes of others.


For more on our experience using Smart Response Systems, visit any of the following:

          • Video of Fjodor Dukaj's class using a Smart Response system and peer to peer interactions.

          • Science NetLinks and All About Science group

           •The PhET project at the University of Colorado has excellent simulations for science


Are you taking a scientific approach to education?


If electronic polling devices are being used for the sole purpose of collecting instantaneous formative assessment data, are we using this form of technology to its fullest potential? The answer is NO!


After receiving students’ responses using an electronic polling device, what do you do next or more importantly what do your students do next? Are you getting the most out of your technology?


Comment on this discussion here.


Sebastian LaGambina : Sebastian LaGambina served as the Director of Science at Somerville High School since 2008 and will now be taking on a new role as Assistant Principal at Somerville High School starting July 1st, 2012.