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Science Teachers at Home on the Web

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Curriculum Center

Whether showing off student projects, directing young travelers to the best of the Web, or organizing Web sites around a specific classroom theme, many science teachers are establishing "homes" on the World Wide Web. They have discovered that other teachers and kids also enjoy their work! Building a Web site is an effective and rewarding task for these teachers, who say that they are having fun!
Included: Seven science teachers talk about the special Web sites they have created!


"Teachers need to take more active roles in posting content to the Web," science teacher Randall Warner told Education World. "Teachers are the experts, not only in content but also in instructional method, [so they] may be the best potential authors of Web content.

"Some of what's on the Web is weak in depth and accuracy -- although it's getting much better -- and some is simply too technical and without instructional objective," added Warner, a teacher at California Trail Junior High School, in Olathe, Kansas.

Warner thinks that improving the content of the Web is so important that teachers should put their Web-authoring skills to the test during summer breaks. "If teachers would actively take on the role of creating and posting content, the wealth of valuable and age-appropriate content would quickly grow," he said.

Warner also wishes the business world would help! "Teachers are already asked to do so much," he said. "Perhaps corporate and other grant monies should be available as stipend incentives to teachers to do this work in the summer -- instead of painting houses!"


COOL SCIENCE ONLINE

As the Webmaster of his own site, Mr. Warner's Cool Science, Warner is doing his part to improve content available to students on the Internet. He first published his site as a science portal for students to use when surfing from home but quickly added other resources to make the site more a of "homework helper." The site contains research links for students, a tutorial on the life cycle of the monarch butterfly, fun online games, and pages of student-friendly links about such science themes as sharks and nutrition.

"Students needed a place to start that features fun and safe links to explore on the Web," said Warner. "That's still the primary focus, but I now feature some of my class projects and student work online, and there's a page where I've created a few Java games that I add to occasionally."

A highlight of Warner's site is his Monarch Watch page. That page features a tutorial on the life cycle of the monarch with a complete series of photos captured in his classroom. He uses the monarch tutorial with his students. The class participates annually in the monarch-tagging program, and Warner feels that the tutorial is a great way to introduce his students to the program.

Mr. Warner's Cool Science site is actually used more by kids from around the country than by Warner's students! He has heard from students and teachers as far away as the United Kingdom and Australia.

Occasionally, Warner receives science questions from students who need information for a class topic or project. He enjoys pointing those visitors to online resources that will help them discover the answers to their questions.


A WORLD ON THE WEB

With her Web site, Mrs. L-F's World, Nancy LaPosta-Frazier established a new teaching tool for her classroom. She hoped it would help her achieve her own version of the three Rs -- research, reinforcement, and 'richment!

"When it comes to research, I feel that having students search for Web sites can be a waste of time," LaPosta-Frazier explained. "For example, I went to a popular search engine and typed in the phrase global warming. More than 56,000 pages were located. At the middle school level, those numbers are overwhelming. Instead, I performed the search and located several age-appropriate sites. I included links to those sites on my weather page and had students access the sites when we covered global warming."

To provide reinforcement for classroom material, LaPosta-Frazier has been able to locate sites that offer similar content with a different approach. When her class studied air pressure, she found a site that allowed her students to adjust the level of mercury in a barometer and see the corresponding effect on the condition of the sky. Her Web site contained a link to the demonstration so students could access it directly.

"The Web provides wonderful opportunities for enrichment," added LaPosta-Frazier. "After we completed labs using light microscopes, we turned to the Web to view images obtained from an electron microscope. The students could then compare the differences in magnification."

LaPosta-Frazier, who teaches seventh and eighth grades at Wickford Middle School, in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, believes that teacher-created sites are exceptional because they keep children in mind. Many science sites on the Web provide information, but they are often too complicated for elementary and middle school children. The benefit of teacher-created sites is that teachers control the level of the content. Difficult concepts can be presented in a manageable way.

LaPosta-Frazier's site has links to resources that complement her seventh- and eighth-grade science curricula as well as an Educator's Corner with links to classroom demonstrations and projects. She also features a picture gallery of classroom photos and a Parents' Corner. The site's online games have intrigued many of the students -- and because they do not need to type in complicated URLs, her students find Mrs. L-F's World easy to use.


CAVALCADE O' CHEMISTRY?

"Lots of chemistry textbooks get so wrapped up in using the big science terms that they totally lose sight of the fact that students don't understand any of the words," Ian Guch told Education World. "When you get a bunch of science professors to write a chemistry text, the textbook typically ends up being a very boring, very hard-to-understand science text with lots of irrelevant pictures thrown in.

"With my Web site and my teaching in general, I try to explain things in terms that students will understand," added Guch, a teacher at Connelly School of the Holy Child, in Potomac, Maryland. "From the mail I get from students worldwide, it seems to be more effective than the traditional big words, complicated ideas way of teaching chemistry."

Guch suggests that many of the curricular Web sites aimed at teachers water down the material so much that the activities are nearly useless. His site -- Cavalcade o' Chemistry -- is written in simple English but not in a condescending manner. The site offers free, high-quality resources for chemistry teachers. Teachers have responded positively to the site, he said, especially because it doesn't ask for personal information, request users to sign in, or charge a fee.

Although the site is a reference for Guch's sophomore and junior students, he rarely uses it in the classroom. Most often, the students refer to the site from home for practice problems and tutorials.

Guch hopes to give the site a broad enough base that students of all levels will find it useful. Favorite portions of his site include the Top Ten Reasons to Take Chemistry and an Interview with Mr. T. During parent conferences, one of the first things parents often mention is that they enjoy the Mr. T interview!

Guch cautions would-be Webmasters: "Most often, sites from teachers consist of an infrequently updated homework section followed by a vast list of mostly broken links. I think the problem that many teachers have with their Web sites is simply that they don't have enough time to maintain a Web site. As a result, the sites frequently end up abandoned. Making a Web site, as many of us know, is nearly a full-time job.

"Another problem with a lot of personal Web sites is that they have banner ads all over them, making the sites into big billboards," Guch added. "I believe it's inappropriate to put commercial information where students will see it. I also believe that taking demographic info from visitors is just plain wrong."


MIDDLE SCHOOL LAUNCHPAD

"Part of my job is to be a resource for other teachers and to encourage them to use the Internet and technology as part of their teaching," Sandra Kennedy told Education World. "So I began by talking with those teachers, asking them how I could help and what their students needed."

The result of her questioning is Middle School Science, a Web page that connects students to science resources appropriate for kids in sixth through eighth grade.

A technology facilitator and science teacher at a middle school in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, Kennedy says that the site has been most often used as a resource for student research projects.

"My goals are to provide resources for students so they don't have to spend a lot of time wandering aimlessly in cyberspace at home or at school and to provide a place for teachers to post sites that are helpful to them," stated Kennedy.

"I maintain the site, but many of the links are suggested by teachers," Kennedy said. "I have added some sites as teachers have asked me to do research to find sites for projects that they are doing. I make this available for other teachers so that we all don't while away our lives using search engines!"

Kennedy thinks the Web is large enough to accommodate Web sites from all kinds of teachers. She admits that her site is not "glitzy" or "exciting," but it offers students a jumping-off point to all kinds of places and all kinds of information. Her students love some of the links, which include Bill Nye and the Yuckiest Site on the Internet, even though they do not always fit in with current classroom curriculum. The site enables Kennedy to encourage students to use those resources at any time.

"The Internet and its sites can offer simulations in particular," said Kennedy. "I have found some of the sites about matter and energy to be much more effective than anything I was able to do before the Internet."


GOING BEYOND THE TEXTBOOK

"Sites created by teachers have a number of different functions," explained science teacher Ken Fuller. "Some offer tutorials or even complete courses. Some exhibit samples of student work, which other students may find informative. A number of sites provide wide ranges of ideas for science projects or reports. My hope is to use the Internet to get students to think beyond the narrow confines of a single textbook."

Fuller enjoys learning and sharing what he has learned. That is his excuse for learning about constructing and maintaining a Web site.

Fuller's efforts, posted at Science Can Be Fun!, attempts to combat some of the falsehoods written in many science textbooks. He set out to provide some helpful suggestions for students who are working on science projects as well as links to sources of information, especially raw data.

Faye Ross Middle School, in Artesia, California, wouldn't be the same without Fuller, a member of the science teaching staff for 32 years. He instructs students in Earth science, life science, and physical science and tells them that he chose to become a science teacher because it allowed him to justify spending time and money on two of his favorite hobbies -- science and teaching!

In the most recent addition to his Web site, Fuller called on his years of experience and published a series of science activities that deal with the outdoors.

"I added Backyard Biology to encourage students, teachers, and others to become more familiar with their immediate environment," explained Fuller. "There is a tendency to think of biology as the study of organisms living in jungles or other faraway places while trampling some of the most interesting studies underfoot. I encourage my students to take time to 'look up, look down, look around' when they go out. I encourage them to become aware of some of the interesting things happening around them all the time."


HOT LINKS FOR KIDS

Frada Boxer, a technology facilitator for Nichols Middle School, in Evanston, Illinois, designed Middle School Science and the World Wide Web. The site offers separate "toolkits" of Web resources for teachers and students as well as theme-related link pages about wetlands, astronomy, and human anatomy.

"When I created this site, I wanted to make others in the district aware of how the Web could be used at the middle school level," said Boxer. "My hope was to provide teachers with a plethora of sites to use with their classes. Science sites, if factual, provide the latest information about topics. They also provide multimedia, which books can't provide."

One great benefit of the Internet is that children can watch science as it happens, said Boxer. Classes can see an actual volcanic eruption, an earthquake, and other scientific events as they occur. Web pages created by teachers can put resources about current news stories at students' fingertips.


AMAZING SCIENCE

Ed McMullin, who teaches seventh-grade science at Kennedy Middle School, in Redwood City, California, has found that sites such as his own Amazing Science Page enable teachers to personalize their science education programs. He feels a special responsibility to interest students in science and promote its value at the middle school level because he hopes to encourage his students to continue their science instruction when the subject becomes an elective.

"The Amazing Science Page interests students in science and rewards those students who produce good projects each year," McMullin said. "The site is designed to make viewers think and to involve students online in a way not usually done."

McMullin uses his site as a classroom resource, and his students have received it warmly. The site presently highlights the Kennedy students' model airplane projects and mousetrap cars. With the help of his students, this science teacher puts a humorous spin on the topic of optical illusions through the site as well.


SCIENCE SITE WEBMASTERS RECOMMENDED THEIR FAVORITES

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute This site helps teachers and students keep up-to-date on the biology and bioethics topics that are in the forefront of research today.

Monarch Watch The Monarch Watch Web site explains the University of Kansas program headed by Dr. Chip Taylor. This project gets students involved in real-life scientific research through tagging monarch butterflies.

BrainPOP Here you will find short streaming "movies" that explain topics in health, science, and technology. Children love it!

Dennis Kunkel's Image Gallery This site presents a collection of electron microscope images.

Constructor From the BBC Web site, this online program enables users to design and experiment with two-dimensional models.

WebElements Periodic Table WebElements is an interactive periodic table site. It is frequently updated and contains very complete and current information about the elements.

Heavens-Above This astronomy site provides information to help users view satellites, Mir and the International Space Station, the space shuttle, and the flares from iridium satellites.

Southern California Earthquake Data Center Visit this site to stay on top of recent earthquakes in the California area. It has maps and animations.

Bill Nye Explore with the real "science guy" online! His Web site has demonstrations, facts, science links, and a teachers' lounge.