What aspects of the following math and science learning environments would be useful in the design of my perfect learning experience?

As I navigate the various math and science learning venues, I am aware of two important similarities; interaction and authenticity. I think that most of the software options attempt to include both, but I am not sure of the degree to which they have succeeded.

Model-It

I can see limited benefit in the Model-It visual modeling and simulation tool. The information on the website claims that *students can build, test, and evaluate qualitative models without needing to know the underlying calculus driving these models*, but I wonder at the reason for doing this. I created a few models that were not based on any scientific knowledge whatsoever.

I believe that the addition of parameters or criteria is missing from this design. I think that creating a tool that would allow students to model their knowledge and extrapolate from that model would be incredibly beneficial. In my opinion, the design process used for Model-It did not rely enough on the need for authenticity.

NetLogo

NetLogo affords design of authentic modelling applets and use of effective models that have been created be skilled designers. I have used NetLogo in my classroom, specifically the Climate Change model. Like the Model-It, there is no intrinsic interactive component, but teachers would be free to set up interactive activities within their own classroom.

I can see models like those created using NetLogo being of great use in educational settings. But one danger of the authentic-looking models is to make sure students realize that these models were created to show hypothesized information. Just as we know that science is always changing, we cannot be completely sure of the science that has gone into the creation of the model. As educators, we must encourage our students to ask important questions about the source of the underlying data and identify possible biases in the model.

Using a combination of activities from Model-It and NetLogo would be beneficial in that it would teach students that models are designed by individuals to represent their knowledge. When we use a model created by another, it is important to understand their knowledge base.

Geometer’s Sketchpad

In my resource sharing, I referred others to Geogebra, which is, in my opinion an excellent resource for knowledge visualization and representation. Geometer’s Sketchpad kicks things up a notch by integrating the Java Sketchpad!

I think that geometric construction software is ideal for math and science education. The ability to make the sketches interactive adds to the educational value. The ability of Geometer’s Sketchpad to make the interactions fluid and vibrant using Java adds to the student engagement. But there is still the question of authenticity. The question is not with the authenticity of the geometric constructions created in Sketchpad, it is with the students’ understanding that authenticity is required.

Imagine having a student create a parallelogram. Think of the requirements using a compass and a straightedge, or even using a MIRA. Will students understand that they are constructing parallel sides, congruent angles, congruent sides,… if they use a geometry sketching program without having learned to construct manually?

As with Geogebra, I can see value in Geometer’s Sketchpad as a teaching tool, a learning tool, and an assessment tool. I would forgo all the bells and whistles and stick with the free Geogebra though!

Wisweb

Wiseweb is an excellent site full of interesting math-based applets that would provide great activities for students using an interactive whiteboard. There are getting to be a great many of these type of learning object repositories; Illuminations, Interactivate, National Library of Virtual Manipulatives among others.

I think that there is definitely a place to integrate these learning objects into our classrooms, but I would caution over-use. Important discussion about the theory behind the activity must be included and reflected upon *before* use, *during* use and *after* use.

Graphing Claculators

In my opinion, the use of graphing calculators takes knowledge building in mathematics to a higher level. But, as with any tool, they must be used responsibly. Learning how to check pencil and paper graphs of circular functions is an excellent reinforcement of graphing concepts. Applying transformations to functions to understand change without the tedium of multiple pencil and paper graphs is liberating. Using calculate functions to determine points of intersection and lines of best fit encourages accuracy.

Imagine the interactive activities one could design using a graphing calculator emulator projected on an interactive whiteboard!

However, the Texas Instruments graphing calculators afford much more than graphing capabilities. The financial and statistical applications of the calculators enable students to calculate monthly payments, future value of investments, and standard deviations at the touch of a button. It is easy to forgo the complex formulae and rely on the calculator to find the answers.

Globe

In my opinion, science teachers should use Globe! Combining interaction with authentic data collected to answer authentic problems is the epitome of ICT use in education.

Similar to Journey North where students around the world are asked to help forward scientific efforts of real scientists, Globe engages students to take part in helping solve real-world problems affecting them and the world around them.

Students can learn from the experiences of others, or they can get involved as data collectors, following the data interpretation and use. Those that are actually charged with collecting the data must follow strict processes, reinforcing important scientific principles.