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Having just completed my part time project to support Science on Stage (The European platform for Science Teachers) to develop teaching material for ICT (information and communication technology) in natural sciences I would like to share my thoughts in this blog. The project which lasted almost a year was sponsored by SAP CSR initiative and had an objective for European Science teachers to use ICT to collect, analyze and visualize data. Quite a few science teachers (coming from over 11 EU countries) involved in the project were new to programming. In my role as one of the programming experts to support the teachers learn and use software tools I got involved in helping with the programming aspects of the teaching material.

After initial identification of topics (ranging from Bicycle to space, Monster rain,..)for developing teaching material different software tools were evaluated for usability in the projects. Interestingly while the physics teachers were pretty comfortable with the idea of using Java to for developing programs for the Biology & Chemistry teachers idea of programming in it was not at all a option. Technically teachers needed to use ICT tools to collect data (ex: Spring Oscillations, Flight of ball, random rabbit selection for breeding..), analyze this data  (ex: compute acceleration, rabbit offspring generation,.. ) and visualize this data (ex: plot trajectory, population distribution,..) Among the tools initially evaluated included open source physics library, Logger pro (commercial video analysis tool), Tracker (open source video analysis tool), SAP Xcelsius, Google Docs, SAP Streamwork. In the project halfway status review meeting it was clear that the Physics related learning modules were pretty advanced in developing the programming content (based on Java) in the other sciences some additional tool would be needed to better help the teachers. It was here that the tool Scratch was presented to the teachers and they were pretty happy to try it out (thanks to its end user friendly development interface) and eventually ended up using it in some of their projects. The final results of the project are available online here as iStage teaching material and the related content is also available on the Apple app store as iBook.

Lot of interesting content was developed by the science teachers and the programs developed by them and their students also were pretty impressive. I personal developed a Xcelsius based dashboard for demonstrating biology concepts related to breeding in rabbits. Getting to integrate this into a wordpress based public website from EMBL here was more effort than I had planned for 🙁   The additional teacher training given to multiple the ICT learning in schools with tools Tracker and Scratch was pretty well received. The tools are good examples for how domain specific tools can look like that can help teachers develop ICT enhanced learning modules (they can be still improved but are much less challenging than using eclipse and java to develop programs by the science teachers).

Even as the Teacher community prepares for the next project (which also happens to be supported by SAP) to use Mobile phones in learning context, it is also a good point to reflect back. While the Science on Stage community has created a lot of useful content over the years I personally think they can do better in making the content more consumable and extendable in the web by making it more social. This is one area we plan to do more in the next project 🙂 The blog posts from “social is the plural for personal” provide some good ideas for this.In case you are personally interested in contributing to supporting the community please get back to me. A lot of interesting mobile projects are in the pipeline and a lot of development support would be needed 🙂 Personally I can say from experience that you can get to learn a lot in the project and in particular get to meet a lot of motivated science teachers from across Europe. The feedback from teachers like “I used Skype first time to collaborate”, “I still cannot program but now know what needs to be done” “working across countries in interdisciplinary manner” was very motivating considering that most teachers were working outside their normal school teaching duties. Science on and off stage in Europe seems to have a good future 🙂

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