When students have access to technology as a tool, they become more curious about their world. Students become self-motivated, ready to collaborate with others to research and discover the possibilities. –Challenger Center for Space Science Education web site

The Challenger Center for Space Science Education (http://www.challenger.org) was founded on the principle that exploration is the essence of learning. Since its creation by the families of victims of the Challenger space shuttle disaster, the Center has strived to use students’ natural enthusiasm for space to create innovative learning experiences.

I’ve always been interested in technology and impressed by the Challenger Center. When I found out a new Challenger Center was being built here in my own school district, Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township just southwest of Indianapolis, I was eager to see how I could help. During our talks, the National Challenger Center offered my district the opportunity to become a test site for the first EdVenture Lab. EdVenture Labs involve district teachers, in conjunction with the Challenger Center, collaborating to develop a curriculum that incorporates national and state standards with inquiry-based student projects using technology.

Naturally, I jumped at the chance to be the EdVenture Lab Commander for Decatur Township and to explore the Challenger Center’s vision for these multimedia-rich labs and their impact on learning. I now facilitate the first EdVenture site in the country focused on inquiry-based projects for grades K-5 utilizing technology.

Actively engaging students

The Decatur Township EdVenture Lab opened its doors in December 2002. The EdVenture Lab represents the next generation of computer labs, where students use technology to enrich and enhance learning. The lab contains wireless laptops, plasma screens connected to my teacher computers, a document camera, a digital camera, and several pieces of probeware–electronic sensors which enable data collection and analysis.

I am currently developing EdVenture Lab lessons for our district’s K-5 students. With teacher input, I have created 12 different lessons so far. All EdVenture labs include inquiry-based projects that integrate technology using cooperative groups. Activities reach across all disciplines, but there is an emphasis on science. Students and teachers from around the district then visit the lab to participate in the lessons. We’ve already had more than 64 classroom visits totaling more than 1,500 individual student experiences.

Kindergarten students who come to the lab are doing really simple things, like studying how things move–how a ball, for example, can bounce or fly or roll. The first graders are doing a lesson on leaves, and the second graders are doing a unique lesson exploring bats and echolocation.

In this lesson, students learn about the differences and similarities between megabats and microbats. To demonstrate how microbats use echolocation, we use probeware in the form of a Motion Detector from PASCO Scientific. The Motion Detector uses ultrasonic pulse ranging technology to help focus on a target and report its distance from that target. We compare the clicking noise of the Motion Detector to the noise a bat makes. The Motion Detector’s data are fed into DataStudio software, which produces a graph showing distance versus time.

As Hugo, our microbat puppet, “flies” around the room (with the help of the teacher), the kids watch the screens to see how Hugo uses echolocation to determine when he’s getting closer or farther away from an object, based on how quickly a signal bounces back. We bounce the signal off a student, and then we bounce it off something hard like the back of a laptop. The students see how the difference in the sounds helps bats figure out whether they’re flying toward something edible or flying toward a brick wall. Using the Motion Detector in this manner demonstrates echolocation to such a level that these second graders “see” and appreciate how echolocation works.

Investigations with technology

Another unique lesson under development will also use probeware. Using the University of California’s GEMS mystery unit, third graders will try to figure out who took “Mr. Bear.” When the kids enter the lab, there is a crime scene laid out. There are different fibers and liquids they have to test. Students test the liquids, look at the fibers, and examine fingerprints to find clues as to who stole the stuffed bear. Students use a PASCO Scientific Temperature Probe and a computer microscope to analyze different parts of the pretend crime scene. I have a PASCO pH probe as well, which students will use to do the chemical analysis looking for acids or bases.

In the EdVenture Lab, I’m not only working with kids but modeling good technology integration for teachers. When teachers come here, they see how technology can be managed in the classroom and how it can be integrated to the point where it’s almost invisible. The kids don’t even realize they’re using it; it’s just another way to communicate information. Teachers also see that, when kids are actively engaged in learning using technology, it deepens their understanding.

It’s very exciting to be the beta-test site for the nation’s first EdVenture Lab. The proper technology and the opportunity for collaboration combined with inquiry-based lessons makes learning meaningful and extremely powerful.

Sue Keene is a National Board Certified Teacher with 28 years of teaching experience. She is a recipient of the Indiana Computer Teacher of the Year award, among other honors.