How you can use ICT with Primary Science with ease today

Teaching Strategies

By Michael Hilkemeijer

 

In science, it is very important to make accurate measurements and observations. It is really helpful to be able to record these measurements or observations in a meaningful way. Using ICT in Primary Science can be extremely good at achieving both. For measurement, computers are great at gathering various forms of data automatically, accurately and wherever and however necessary. In terms of recording, databases and spreadsheets can be extremely useful in helping you collect relevant information, to search through and sort that information and then to help you display that information in many ways.

 

Measuring and recording is encouraged to be taught throughout the Australian Science Curriculum in the context of Scientific enquiry and science as a human endeavour.

 

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Monitoring

You can collect data that cannot be gathered in other ways by using methods of monitoring. Spreadsheets and other data monitoring software can present the measurements collected in a chart either in a bar or line graph. Let us now examine the role of spreadsheets more closely.

 

Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are another kind of data-handling software that is widely used by adults in the science industry. They manipulate numerical data which makes them well suited to mathematical calculations and modelling.

 

When teaching with and about spreadsheets, it is therefore important it involves the following activities:

  • Selecting appropriate opportunities – this is about deciding when the use of spreadsheets can enhance or extend children’s learning such as through a research project that involves exploring number patterns and rules.
  • Selecting appropriate resources – both teachers and children need to make the informed choice as to when a spreadsheet.
  • Exploring the full range of data-handling activities – spreadsheets are not just about storage and retrieval of information, they facilitate hypothesising, decision-making, organising and analysing and synthesising.
  • Making explicit links between knowledge, skills and understanding – knowledge, skills and understanding have relevance across the primary science curriculum so make explicit and reinforce the links between children’s previous experiences and new learning across the range of contexts.
  • Modelling appropriate use of ICT – for example, how spreadsheet formula can be replicated using the ‘fill down’ function.
  • Demonstrating and intervening – for example, demonstrating the effect of changing the price of a sausage in a spreadsheet budget.

 

These points should be used in conjunction with the teaching strategies in the next module.

 

When to use Spreadsheets?

To explain when spreadsheets should be used I will use the following example of children recoding plant growth. The following discussion takes place between the teacher and the Year 2 students (Williams & Easingwood, Spreadsheets, 2003, p. 72).

 

Teacher Q: “What type of information have you collected?”

Student Answer: “How much the plant has grown in centimetres?”

Teacher Q: “How are you going to write this down?”

Student Answer: “By measuring the plant every day and writing the height of it next to what day it is.”

Teacher Q: “Which program are you going to use?”

Student Answer: “Database.”

Teacher Q: “Why? How are you going to use a database to show this?”

Student Answer: “I can make a new card for every day to show how much it has grown.”

Teacher Q: “But how will it show how much it has grown?”

Student Answer: “By drawing a graph.”

 

While the student had a good idea of the outcome the understanding of the process to get to the outcome is incorrect. If the whole point of the exercise is to record the total growth then a database would not work as they do not show cumulative results.

 

You would need to explain the following essential information – databases search and sort information whereas spreadsheets model and manipulate numbers.

 

Although spreadsheets are valuable for mathematical calculations young children need to be introduced to them gradually. The formula required to make the best use of spreadsheets can be quite sophisticated and it is better to leave it until the latter stages of Stage 2. Despite this, it is important that children use a spreadsheet to record results as soon as they can so that they make sense of its ability to handle data quickly and present it in graphs. Williams and Easingwood (2003, p. 73) state that “in using these sheets for recording, children will at least soon learn how to fill in the spaces, or cells as they are called, and be able to alter their size and format.”

 

 

What do you need to know about Spreadsheets?

In order for you to teach effectively with spreadsheets, the following list identifies the knowledge, skills and understanding that is required.

  • Creating, opening, saving, closing, deleting and printing documents;
  • Selecting worksheet and cell size;
  • Selecting font and font size;
  • Inserting, modifying and deleting row and column labels;
  • Inserting, modifying, moving and deleting textual and numerical data;
  • Inserting, modifying and deleting formulae and functions;
  • Using fill down and fill right functions to replicate formulae;
  • Inserting and deleting cells, rows and columns;
  • Formatting data, e.g. left alignment, centring on decimal point;
  • Searching and sorting data;
  • Adding, modifying and deleting borders and shading;
  • Selecting, modifying and displaying graph types;
  • Formatting graphs to include axes labels, key and text;
  • Exporting graphs and spreadsheets to other applications;
  • Importing information from other applications, e.g. clip art, data;
  • Utilising help;
  • Altering defaults;
  • Customising the spreadsheet program, e.g. switching off functions not needed;
  • Utilising alternative input devices, e.g. data-loggers;
  • Protecting cells and documents.

 

 

Introducing Spreadsheets

You can introduce spreadsheets to children through the functions that they perform. Another way would be by making the link with calculators and place emphasis on a spreadsheet’s potential for supporting and facilitating calculations, especially those of a repeated nature.

 

As suggested by Potter et al. (2012, p. 151):

 

“Children may begin by entering a number and choosing an operation to perform on that number, for instance, adding 3.This process can be repeated focusing on emerging patterns, predicting and checking. At this level, spreadsheets have a number of advantages over calculators, the most pertinent being that they are easily checkable, by reviewing the formula for a calculation, or by graphing results to identify anomalies. It is important that the copying and pasting of formula is not offered as a solution too soon, before the purpose and process of formula-writing has been understood.”

 

Additionally, you could use a ready-made spreadsheet to introduce spreadsheets to children and when they get conversant with these you can introduce them to a whole-screen blank spreadsheet where they can fill in the cells with their names and measurements depending on the topic.

 

 

Making records

The application of spreadsheets in science lessons can also be used to record data in an organised and efficient way. Through the use of data organised in tables children can make accurate records because units of measurement can be listed with column headers and the table structure makes it clear for children to understand. Additionally, spreadsheets have the ability to present numerical data as charts and graphs.

 

Data presentation and analysis

As discussed earlier, spreadsheets are great for recording information and in doing so can help students to analyse, interpret and present findings from their experiment. When used effectively, spreadsheets enable students to collect and analyse data and this helps them with a range of scientific skills such as spotting possible errors in the data to identifying patterns and predicting outcomes.

This type of data can be turned into graphs and charts allowing the discussion of data as it emerges on screen thus refining their thinking and their predictions about the experiment.

 

Teaching Point:

When monitoring the use of spreadsheets in the classroom you may decide when it is best to intervene. Be mindful that a student’s understanding of a process such as spreadsheet modelling, cannot be represented by a checklist. It will require a description of the approach in which they approached the task and the support they needed. The level of description which best match the student’s approach can be recorded together with an indication of the degree of help required.

 

 

Databases

The use of ICT allows children to display their science in a clear and concise manner. No other computer is as practical and important as databases in terms of being an essential precursor to any ICT. Yet, some literature like Ball (2003) is fairly dismissive of the value of databases in primary science.

Two examples of using databases include 10 year olds building a database about flowers and dinosaurs. In both instances, children were able to interrogate a prepared database successfully.

So what do you need to know about databases?

There are three different types of databases – binary, flatfile or tabular, and relational e.g. CD-Roms.

 

Binary:

  • Creating, opening, saving, closing, deleting and printing documents;
  • Adding, modifying and deleting data and questions;
  • Plotting and replotting branching tree keys;
  • Inserting titles;
  • Selecting font and font size;
  • Exporting branching tree keys into other applications;
  • Importing information from other applications, e.g. clip art;
  • Utilising help;
  • Altering defaults;
  • Customising the branching tree program, e.g. switching off functions not needed;
  • Utilising alternative input devices, e.g. overlay keyboards;
  • Protecting documents.
  • Flatfile or tabular:
  • opening, closing, deleting and printing existing datafiles;
  • navigating through records using forwards and backwards;
  • simple and complex sorting (more than one condition);
  • searching to retrieve data;
  • plotting and replotting graphs/reports, including:
  • adding text, title, etc.
  • selecting graph type
  • selecting and modifying colours
  • saving
  • exporting graphs to other applications;
  • entering data into a prepared datafile, including:
  • selecting a new record/answer sheet
  • entering, modifying and deleting data
  • saving;
  • designing a new datafile, including:
  • opening a form/questionnaire designer
  • selecting font, font size, font colour, background colour
  • inserting and modifying questions, including making appropriate selections for style and format of answer supported:
  • words numbers dates;
  • yes/no multiple choice;
  • inserting text, images, borders, arrows;
  • saving.

 

Relational:

  • Loading, including installation prior to first use;
  • Modifying computer display and volume settings;
  • Opening and closing;
  • Navigating using menus, hyperlinks, forwards, backwards, home;
  • Searching and retrieving information using menus, indexes, keywords and hyperlinks;
  • Playing audio and video;
  • Copying and pasting text and graphics into other applications;
  • Selecting and printing information;
  • Utilising help;
  • Critical evaluation.

 

Teaching with and about databases involves you as a teacher doing the following:

  • Selecting appropriate opportunities – this is about deciding when the use of databases can enhance or extend children’s learning such as through a research project that involves interrogating a database.
  • Selecting appropriate resources – both teachers and children need to make the informed choice as to when set up a database.
  • Preparing suitable resources – it may be instructive for children to construct a database by determining their own fields and records, it may also be suitable for them to interrogate prepared resources.
  • Exploring the full range of data-handling activities – databases are not just about storage and retrieval of information, they facilitate hypothesising, decision-making, organising and analysing and synthesising.
  • Making explicit links between knowledge, skills and understanding – knowledge, skills and understanding have relevance across the primary science curriculum so make explicit and reinforce the links between children’s previous experiences and new learning across the range of contexts.
  • Modelling appropriate use of ICT – for example, how producing a branching tree database in electronic format enables modifications to be made quickly and easily.
  • Demonstrating and intervening – for example, intervening to assist a child to identify the tallest child in a class by sorting height data in descending order.

 

Using the power of the Database

 

An important part of a database in primary science is the powerful search and sort functions as they are the key to accessing a higher level of understanding. For children to be able to look for and find quickly different types of data that is usually buried deep in a huge amount of information is extremely valuable. They can display it on the screen, look for relationships, similarities and differences and patterns. Just by using a database and is very powerful as it accesses new levels of learning.

 

An example of this occurring might be on a topic of ‘ourselves’, where children might interrogate a database for the number of children who have brown hair or eyes, favourite food or the number and types of pets.

As a teacher, you need to be aware that if the children are going to build a database then a certain set of skills will be required and these are different to that when interpreting the database itself. For example, children will need to identify and search different sources of information, and then make judgements on the value of the information to determine which are useful, valid, relevant and accurate and those are not. A search strategy will have to be planned and this will require putting together and framing key questions. Keywords and operations such as AND, OR and NOT will need to be used when searching for information. All these features allows for rapid and dynamic feedback and response.

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