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Online Science Site Teaches Students to Solve Real-Life Problems


Curriculum CenterThe WISE Web site -- created by scientists, researchers, classroom teachers, and technology experts -- guides students and their teachers in investigating scientific problems. The goal of the site is setting students on a course of lifelong scientific learning. Included: A teacher and his students who have used the WISE approach offer their thoughts.

How can science teachers set their students on a path toward lifelong science learning easily?

  • A. Have students focus on scientific problems that are personally relevant.

  • B. Show students that the scientific approach is something that they can use throughout their lives.

  • C. Teach students to use technology and the Internet in finding answers to their questions.

  • D. Visit Web-based Integrated Science Environment (WISE).

  • E. All of the above.

Although "E" is the correct answer, WISE, an online science site, is making it simple for teachers to set their students on a path toward lifelong science learning by helping students solve real-life problems. The site guides students in environmental investigations by providing scientific hypotheses and scientific evidence and by posing questions that help students analyze current scientific controversies.

"WISE was created to take advantage of the Internet by engaging students in critically evaluating Web material about important science concepts," said Marcia C. Linn, chief investigator of WISE. "Using WISE, students learn the science they need in their lives and the technological skills they need to be successful in their future courses and the workplace."

The problem with most middle school science textbooks is that a different topic is covered each week of the school year, according to WISE. According to Linn, the Web site proposes a better way of enticing students to use the scientific method -- engage them in personally relevant problems in the classroom.

WISE is the brainchild of a group that includes classroom teachers, pedagogical researchers, technology experts, and discipline experts. The site and the educational program available at the site were launched in 1998. Currently, WISE is free, thanks to funding provided by the National Science Foundation.


One of the investigations on the site explores the mystery of deformed frogs. In parts of North America, the number of physical deformities among frogs is on the rise. Two major hypotheses that scientists are currently examining are explained. Then students are guided by several questions to help them solve the mystery about the frogs.

The goal of this particular investigation and the other projects on the site is to bring science to life and to motivate students.

"Students who use WISE projects, such as Deformed Frogs, Genetically Modified Foods, How Far Does Light Go? or Malaria, gain sophisticated understanding of concepts such as adaptation, gene flow, and light propagation," Linn told Education World. "They learn to understand and use these ideas during class and later in their lives."

Linn said WISE is based on 15 years of research from real classrooms with real students and teachers. She and Sherry Hsi summarize that research in Computers, Teachers, and Books (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000).


Douglas Kirkpatrick, who teaches at Foothill Middle School, in Walnut Creek, California, started using WISE projects about three years ago because they offer his students a deeper understanding of science concepts and processes.

"The Web provides a vast amount of current information and evidence that students may use to support their claims. They need to be able to critique that information, based on criteria such as source, relevance, and the quality of science [supporting the site]," Kirkpatrick told Education World.

WISE does more than teach students about their environment and investigating scientific questions. The site also makes such investigation enjoyable.

"I think the WISE project is great," said Ashley, a sixth-grader at Foothill Middle School. "It's so much fun, but then again, I guess the important thing is it teaches me so much. I really liked the debate. It really made me think."

Adam, another sixth-grader, agrees. "I think this program is helping me and all other students because it gives you information and then you have to evaluate it and answer some questions."


One of the key benefits Kirkpatrick noted is the assist it offers him in the classroom. "I really feel like [WISE] is more of a partner in my teaching," he said. "I am free to work with small groups of students rather than standing up front with no chance to get through to all kids."

Helping teachers take advantage of technology, locate information, overcome isolation, and build on one another's experiences are among the benefits of WISE. The projects meet standards and complement current science curriculum for students in grades five through 12.

WISE also allows students to complete their answers, discuss theories, and post their arguments directly on the Web site. Teachers can grade the student work in Assessing Student Work on the site.

"I also like the support that the project provides teachers," Kirkpatrick added. "The ability to manage classes, grade work, provide feedback to students, and customize projects arguments directly on the Web site. Teachers can grade the student work -- all online -- has been a real benefit to me."

Kirkpatrick's advice to teachers who haven't used WISE: "First log on to the WISE Web Page and sign up so you can review some of the projects Second, take the risk and try it. It's free!"

Diane Weaver Dunne
Education World®
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