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Making gains with real-world science connections

Helping middle school students grasp abstract science concepts can be a challenge. Many times, when we teach something in class, students have nothing to relate it to in the real world. So, they soon forget it.

Five years ago, we integrated technology into our science program to help students make real-life connections to science and develop a deeper understanding of core concepts and skills. Since then, we’ve improved our science test scores by 20 percentage points and have become a Texas Education Agency (TEA) Recognized campus.

In 2006-07, when we purchased a web-based concept mastery program called Adaptive Curriculum (AC), we did something unusual. We admit it can sometimes be difficult to get teachers to buy in to new technology applications. So, we began our implementation with the students. For the first year, before teachers were trained, students used the software independently in the computer lab. The strategy was to let students explore the interactive instructional units, called Activity Objects, and report back to the teachers. Our students didn’t have to use the software; they were motivated to use it.

Students reported that the program helped them understand lessons they hadn’t understood in class. They frequently mentioned that the program’s real-world scenarios helped increase their understanding. They also found it rewarding when they were able to show their teachers how to do something in the software, and it was motivating for us to see how enthusiastic students were.

Before the second year of implementation, we teachers were trained over the summer. Our school now uses the AC Science program across all grade levels in labs, classrooms and students’ homes. We integrate the Activity Objects into whole group instruction in the classroom using SMART Boards, and often pull out sections of lessons to introduce concepts, reinforce instruction, or provide additional practice. Every student also has access in the computer lab and at home. As a result, we have found that more parents are helping students with science because they find it easier to do so now. It’s helping us create an instructional setting at home.

For students, the program’s real-world scenarios, realistic visualizations, interactive simulations, and 3-D models make abstract concepts easier to understand. Students like that they can explore, make hypotheses, manipulate items, and see the impact of their decisions. They also like that the activities are self-paced, so they can repeat something as many times as needed to ensure understanding.

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