The Science and Engineering Practices of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) require students to ‘obtain, evaluate, and communicate information’ (NGSS Lead States, 2013). As students engage in argumentation, verbal reasoning, and explaining with evidence, it is critical that they have access to dynamic technology tools to promote and guide such communication.
Despite this need to communicate with increasing clarity and creativity, oftentimes students and teachers rely upon common modalities such as Powerpoint presentations, Word brochures, and handmade posters when asked to communicate information within the classroom setting. While useful and rife with practical implications, these traditional options tend to be overused and are limited in their capabilities to communicate information in dynamic new ways.
Additionally, it is important that students learn to use a wide variety of technology tools within our 21st century classrooms (US Dept. of Education Office of Educational Technology, 2016). This article features recommendations for technology tools that enable students to communicate information in innovative, creative, and visually appealing ways. All of these resources:
- Are free
- Can be downloaded for offline use, emailed, and/or shared via social media
- Are web-based
- Have privacy mechanisms to ensuring students’ work is secure
- Require an email address to create an account
Technology Tools to Meet NGSS Standards
From presentations to posters, eBooks to event flyers, and everything in between, Canva offers 63 different design types that students and teachers can easily use to communicate information in exciting new ways. Used by more than 10 million people worldwide, Canva’s mission is to “empower the world to design,” which is evident in their vast array of graphics, text options, icons, and templates. Canva quickly became a staple in my classroom, as it constantly inspires and facilitates many creative evaluation deliverables such as magazines, advertisements, and flyers.
Visme offers presentation, infographic, and banner tools to help teachers and students communicate information. Of this list, Visme is the easiest to use. Editing features are simple yet powerful, data can be easily incorporated in beautiful ways, and insertable options are usefully categorized, sparing you the annoyance of scrolling through seemingly unending lists of icons. As a bonus, the Visme Twitter account (@Vismeapp) frequently supplies useful tips and tricks to boost communication skills. However, Visme is the most limited in the number of free templates available for use.
(Next page: NGSS tools 3-5)
Piktochart provides a host of free templates for students and teachers to create visually appealing infographics, presentations, posters, and reports. Users can upload files, insert graphics, adjust font and backgrounds, and use powerful tools such as graphs, videos, and maps to customize their presentation in a myriad of ways. Of this list, Piktochart is the most challenging to to use, but the initial investment of time and energy is well worth it.
Lucidpress is a free Google-based alternative to Microsoft Word, offering a wide variety of document templates such as resumes, brochures, menus, and many more. Lucidpress integrates with GoogleDrive, making it the only tool on this list that supports simultaneous collaboration by multiple users on text-based files (for free). However, Lucidpress limits free accounts to only three pages per document, and lacks capabilities to insert data in creative and visually appealing ways.
Prezi is quickly growing in popularity, and has been used more than 75 million times. Prezi focuses exclusively on presentations, offering a wide variety of templates and customizable features to create more engaging and memorable presentations. Like Lucidpress, Prezi also allows simultaneous collaboration among multiple users. Prezi is very different than traditional presentation formats (such as Powerpoint), so students will likely encounter a learning curve in early attempts. However, once students learn how to use Prezi, they will be able to quickly and easily create powerful, beautiful presentations.
Suggestions for NGSS Tool Use
The potential applications for these technology tools are limitless. Here are a few examples of how I have used these technologies in high school science courses:
These technology tools provide novel modalities for students to facilitate the Science and Engineering Practice of obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information within the classroom. Students will improve their skills in using different technologies, promoting problem solving and critical thinking as they work to communicate information in innovative new ways using these tools.
Before attempting to use the tools described in this article, it is imperative that students first understand appropriate uses of technology, especially in a web-based setting, to ensure a safe and productive online experience.
Also, part of the power of these tools lies in their novelty. It has been my experience that students will find them new and exciting, and thus will be eager to experiment with them. That said, any of these tools will quickly lose their originality and corresponding intrigue if overused over the course of the school year.
Students should consistently be required to step outside their comfort zone as they attempt to communicate information. In doing so, student interest will be maintained, resulting in maximized engagement and achievement.