Portable technology has become nearly ubiquitous in the last 25 years. From the tape decks and cd players of the late 20th century to laptops to today's smartphones and tablets tucked into back pockets and bookbags, mobile devices are finding their way into more and more hands. To make sure we are making the best use of them, it is important to make sure they find their way into our education, as well.
Mobile learning falls into two broad categories—a formal, pedagogical approach, incorporating portable technology into the classroom or into formal homework assignments and a less structured approach incorporating personal mobile devices into informal, holistic learning.
Science NetLinks offers resources that fall into each of these categories as well as those that can be used in either scenario. We have a growing collection of Science Apps on our site that cover a range of scientific subjects and grades. We review outside apps in the Tool section of our website, and each review tool is comprised of two sections. The first is aimed at students themselves, giving a basic overview of the app and explaining what it is that they might hope to learn from it. The second section is entitled "For the Educator" and shares our ideas of how the app might be incorporated into the classroom.
In the Human Body App, students in grades K-5 are invited to explore what we're made of and how we work. Assign yourself an avatar and get started exploring the systems of the body. In the skeletal system, for instance, you're able to disassemble all the bones of the body and then try to piece them back to where they belong. Or follow along with the digestive process as food is turned into fuel for the body and then waste. Kids can satisfy their curiosity on their own or teachers can use it to reinforce learning goals about the human organism.
The Bobo Explores Light App is a charming ebook for the iPad. Aimed at older elementary and middle school students, the book features an endearing robot named Bobo who guides readers through an interactive exploration of 21 light-related topics, ranging from lasers to lightning to bioluminescence. The app is engaging and likely to keep a child's attention on its own, but could also be used to supplement classroom lessons.
The Science360 App, which is sponsored by NSF, offers students the opportunity to explore the latest in science videos, pictures, and graphics. Detailed explanations accompany each one. This would be a good first stop for educators looking for science, math, and geography classroom resources, as well as a treasure trove of content to refer interested students to.
Biology teachers may also find the Virtual Frog Dissection App useful. If a lack of resources, a squeamish stomach, or ethical concerns keep students from this standard biology activity, this app comes to the rescue, offering an approximated experience of animal dissection. It also includes the ability to assess students' understanding through a randomized 25-question quiz.
Finally, in Science NetLinks' own Gravity Launch App encourages students in grades 3-12 to pilot a spaceship. This gives them the opportunity to see how the force of gravity can affect the trajectory of an object in space. We have written a lesson specifically designed for using the app in a Grade 3-5 classroom environment, focused on helping students overcome the common misconceptions they have about the force of gravity at this age.
Other lessons, while not specifically written with mobile devices in mind, lend themselves to the technology without much difficulty, particularly if they already include an out-of-classroom component. Some of these include Using Field Notebooks for Biodiversity Study, Wildflower Garden, and Simulating Climate Change Research in Grasslands.
Finally, Science NetLinks also offers audio and video that can be watched on a mobile device. We have more than 400 Science Update podcasts that introduce students to researchers working on current projects in 60-second, student-friendly stories. We also have nearly 100 videos arranged by grade band (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12) that cover everything from science fairs and Pluto to endangered languages and solar cells.
Mobile learning resources can be a benefit both in and out of the classroom by reinforcing and elaborating on what a teacher is sharing in a lesson as well as encouraging curiosity about and attention to the world around us. When teachers excite in students a love of learning and of discovery, these devices and their apps can give them the means to follow through anywhere and anytime.
Photo courtesy of Brad Flickinger via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)