The authors would like to thank Allen Breeding for his assistance during this project.
Using the Construction of a Science Education Web Site as a Focus
Directed Study Course in Undergraduate Elementary Science Education
Scott P. Lewis
George E. OBrien
Florida International University
Jessica A. George
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
As a result of interest in the use of the Internet in classrooms and its relevance for preservice and in-service elementary teachers, faculty decided to engage in the construction of an Elementary Education Science Web Site and the utilization of Web-based resources in our elementary education (K-6) courses. The current growth of the World Wide Web (WWW) -- which includes the establishment of lesson banks, links to informal and formal science settings, links to organizations that serve teachers, and especially Web-based science projects (see Cohen, 1997; Lyons, Hoffman, Krajcik, & Soloway, 1996) -- makes the WWW an intriguing new gateway to such resources.
A variety of sources suggest that using the WWW may alter the role of the teacher and the learning process itself (Battle & Hawkins, 1996; Collins & Collins, 1996; Farquhar, McGinty, & Kotcho, 1996; Nadelson, 1997; Owston, 1997). For example, Carey (1993) contends that the teacher may become a facilitator rather than a disseminator of knowledge. The development of the WWW may even herald the replacement of a physical university with a virtual university (Barnard, 1997). While teachers at all levels are increasingly engaged in efforts to use the WWW, there is as yet little research on the effectiveness of the WWW in the classroom (Windschitl, 1998).
Reasons for site construction
The purpose of the site construction was threefold: It provided an opportunity to 1) investigate instructional resources on the WWW that would be useful for in-service and preservice teachers; 2) examine how those resources could be used in an elementary science methods course; and, 3) develop an artifact that could assist in studying the use of the WWW in classrooms (particularly university preservice classes). This article will describe the process of the construction of the site and how it might serve as an independent study project for students.
Like many of our faculty colleagues faced with the challenge of learning about the WWW, we are confronted with the obstacles of lack of time and expertise. The development of a Directed Study Course which focused on the creation of an elementary science Web site was an effort to overcome these obstacles. It allowed us to create a collaborative working group where students could share their technical expertise in creating a site with faculty.
As the WWW increasingly becomes a part of our instruction, a number of questions can be raised about the way it is used, including how it differs from other resources such as traditional texts, how much prior knowledge is necessary for effective student utilization, and whether it does, indeed, change the way we are teaching.
As members of the science education community beginning to use the WWW in our own classrooms, we want to share with the EJSE readers some of our first experiences constructing an elementary science education Web site in collaboration with elementary education students. The students were enrolled in a three semester credit Directed Study Course as part of their undergraduate elementary education degree program. This report is written in a style that focuses on the process from a personal point of view that we thought would help convey the process to a like-minded audience.
Recruiting preservice Teachers for the Directed Study Course
The Directed Study Course was created as a means of meeting the needs of both students-- who were interested in computers and science education-- and faculty who wanted a Web site but needed assistance in carrying out the project. It was thought that giving students this opportunity would not only allow them to work closely with faculty in creating a useable product, but also provide them with an introduction to the use of Web sites in science education. Thus it would help the elementary education program students achieve new knowledge and skills in science and technology which are increasingly needed in school districts where students will be seeking employment.
Three students (two female, one male) who were completing a required elementary science methods course were originally recruited for the project. The students had been identified from their science methods class work as outstanding students who felt comfortable working with computers. One of the students decided she did not want to participate in the project, so that the remaining students (one female, one male) began and completed the Directed Study Course in the spring semester of 1997.
Steps in the Directed Study Course
We adopted a number of general strategies for designing the Web site that several Web site developers have recently advocated (e.g., Hackbarth, 1997; Milheim & Havey, 1998) including the identification of goals, the use of links to allow return to the home pages, and the incorporation of feedback in the design process. In addition, one of the students had previously studied Web site design strategies such as limiting the text on a page to avoid too much scrolling and formatting consistently across pages to avoid reader confusion. Some strategies we developed that might be helpful in designing science education Web sites in particular are described below.
In the initial group meeting, a timetable was laid out for developing the site. A summary of the course timetable and tasks is presented in Table 1
Time frame of Major Tasks Accomplished During the Sixteen Week Directed Study Course (Spring, 1997)
Major task accomplished
|Learning HTML, Review of
sites, Feedback from teachers and needs,
Planning of Web site
|Prototype development and
redesign of site
|User tests of site|
|Redesign of site, incorporation of additional features and links|
The process was conceptualized as iterative with rounds of development where students often worked at home or in computer labs without faculty assistance followed by testing and then further development. In person meetings were held biweekly with additional communication done via e-mail and telephone.
The two faculty and two students, called "the Web Site Group," decided that HTML should be used to construct the site rather than using an off the shelf product to develop the Web design. The group felt that using HTML would allow greater flexibility in design and insight into the details of the development of the site.
Because our focus is to serve preservice elementary education students, it is natural that we would be interested in resources that are relevant for elementary students. However, it was also our intent to provide resources that the preservice students could use to explore post-elementary levels of curriculum, as well as specific science domains. Thus resources have been identified from a variety of levels in K-12.
The Web Site Group began looking for science education related sites to review. At that time, formal criteria for inclusion of sites were not explicitly developed. Given the ease with which anyone can display information on the Internet, the accuracy of information is a legitimate concern. We initially reviewed sites that were authoritative within the science education community such as the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse [http://www.enc.org/classroom/index.htm] and Access Excellence [http://www.gene.com:80/ae]. Each of these was reviewed during meeting times and various notes were made about the features the group liked and disliked about the sites. The group also developed a mission statement to clarify the purposes of the site which also provided guidance for locating resources to be included in the site.
We also used feedback from several teachers about their likes and dislikes about using the WWW to shape the design of the site. For example, a colleague discussed how frustrating it was to use sites that had many pictures that necessitated a long waiting time for transfer of information. The group used this particular suggestion to insure that the Elementary Science Web site contained a minimum of such pictures. This idea is supported by Maddux and Johnson (1997), who discuss how documents that take several minutes to upload will discourage users.
A subsequent meeting focused upon additional types of Web sites to examine. For example, the Web Site Group wanted to look at sites developed by nearby institutions to see what they had to offer. We decided that having links to such sites on our Web site might encourage teachers to become aware of such resources as potential allies in project development, sources for materials, and field trip destinations. Thus, one student developed a list:
Miami Museum of Science-http://www.miamisci.org,
Miami-Dade County Public Schools-Science-http://dcps.dade.k12.fl.us/www/inst/main.html,
Miami MetroZoo Science-http://www.nbc6.nbc.com/metrozoo.html].
At this point a variety of science education sites had been viewed. While the purpose of this review was foremost to focus on locating appropriate resources, it also gave us an opportunity to identify a range of ideas for site design. These became an informal part of our discussions. Given the proliferation of sites and the variety of designs that are being used, simply viewing a number of Web sites can yield a quantity of ideas.
The next step was to consider how the sites might be linked together in an orderly way that might be displayed on the Web site. In order to facilitate this process, the group took a decidedly low tech approach by placing the names of the sites on 3 x 5 index cards and then physically rearranging the cards on a table to accommodate ideas about categorizing the sites. Examples of categories included subject matter sites (e.g. biology, earth sciences), informal science education, and teacher resources.
At the end of four weeks, the students had learned sufficient HTML and had overcome some problems involving file transfer to the University server to upload the first draft of the Web site. The site was reviewed during a meeting to edit for typographical errors and design elements such as color, font type and size, and to review the descriptions that would accompany the links. Corrections and adjustments were then made to the site.
A few weeks later a form was developed to assist in gathering information from a sample of preservice teachers as they used the site. We invited students in several of the elementary science methods classes to allow us to observe them using the site. Four students participated in this observation activity. They were beginning to plan science lessons that they would need to teach in elementary classrooms in the field component part of the course, so the use of the site was seen as a way to help them obtain background information on the topic they would be teaching.
For example, one preservice teacher was planning a lesson about ants for a group of first grade students. In the course of observing and assisting this persons search efforts, the Web Site Group noted the levels of help they had to provide and the particular series of steps she took in her search. At that time, few links had been provided to biology sites, so that the preservice teacher was redirected to use the search engine links. She used these to locate a variety of ant-related sites such as E.O.Wilsons Ant Web Site. [www.dna.affrc.go.jp/htdocs/Ant.WWW/Harvard/ANT_MCZ.html ]. This individuals preservice teaching experience was enriched by the search process, which led to the discovery of relevant sites and facilitated her lesson planning. Although the development phase of the project was centered on the activities of the Directed Study students and two supervising faculty, other elementary science methods students provided feedback that was also valuable to the project by clarifying how the site was utilized to meet their needs.
We gathered additional site use data from students taking the elementary methods class by asking them to fill out surveys at the end of the semester. Twenty seven surveys were returned (from two classes with 47 students). The majority of these students (19/27) described themselves as sometime Web users. Nearly half of this group (13/27) reported wanting to look for lesson plans as a goal for using the Web site, while the rest gave a variety of reasons, including using it for class projects, knowledge, and curiosity. We found that preservice teachers new to using the WWW needed an overview of the search process. They were sometimes not clear about where they were within the site and how best to navigate. Thus a general introduction to the WWW and the use of links was made in subsequent semesters while introducing the site to elementary science methods classes.
A final round of site editing marked the end of the spring semester and the formal portion of the Directed Study Course.
Tour of the Site
Please take a few minutes and examine the site via this hyperlink. [http://www.fiu.edu/~georgej/]
While the elementary science education site continues to evolve, we will make some comments about the particular features of the site to clarify why they were added.
On the first page you will note a greeting and links to the Elementary Education Department through the College of Education [http://www.fiu.edu/~coed/ and Florida International University [http://www.fiu.edu]. This gives students an option of linking back to the university Web site.
Just below this introduction is a table with 5 main categories: Teacher Resources, Science Subject Index, Kids Corner, Mailbox, and Search Engines. Below the table is a description of what each of these categories contains. Feedback from preservice teachers indicated that these descriptions were important in helping them navigate the site.
Lets now explore several of these hotlinked categories. Teacher resources [http://www.fiu.edu/~georgej/teachres.html] includes a variety of links such as the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse, Annenberg Foundation, and National Science Teachers Association which provide a variety of information such as lesson plans, grant opportunities, and teachers guides to science. Each of the site links (which has been bulleted with an apple to correspond to the apple logo at the top of the page) is accompanied by a brief description. The format of showing links with an annotated description is a standard throughout the Web site. It should also be noted that the top of the page includes links for navigating back to the home page or to one of the other main category areas. Thus, site users will not need to return to the home page to utilize other areas in the site.
The next area, Science Subject Index,[ http://www.fiu.edu/~georgej/scisub2.html] contains a table including seven categories of subject areas: chemistry & physics, biology, earth science, environmental science, astronomy, meteorology, and informal sciences . While the divisions are somewhat artificial (it can be argued for example, that meteorology falls under the domain of earth science) this portion of the site serves as a useful starting point for someone investigating resources about a particular science domain and a way to organize a number of links we had located. It should be noted that the informal sciences page includes a division of local and national sites that is an outcome of the decision the Web Site Group had made to include local science resource links as discussed earlier.
Some of these pages (such as the environmental science page) include dynamic features. Faculty encouraged student initiative in adding such features to the site. For example, one of the student designers added the JAVA applets in the site after finding them available on a Web construction site.
Returning to the main page, the inclusion of the next category - Kids corner [http://www.fiu.edu/~georgej/kids.html] was a result of teachers feedback that it would be useful to have links that their own students could use. Thus the Group developed a page of links featuring projects that students can get involved in such as Volcano World [http://volcano.und.nodak.edu/vwdocs/kids/kids.html].
The last category on the main page is the search engines link [http://www.fiu.edu/~georgej/search.html]. As discussed in the description of the preservice teachers efforts to find resources on ants, search engines provide an important method for locating resources beyond the links the site has provided. The dynamic nature of the WWW and the rapid proliferation of sites and information makes the incorporation of these engines on the site a necessity.
The collaborative work during the Directed Study Course between the students and the faculty was a key to the development of the Elementary ScienceWeb Site. The roles of students and faculty during the process are summarized in Table 2.
Roles of Students and Faculty for Web Site Creation During Sixteen Week Course and Post-Course
Faculty & Students
During the 16 week
Course (Spring, 1997)
|Initial organization of
Outline of site
Writing the site in HTML
Student who had experience in working with HTML taught less experienced student
Identifying desirable features of sites
Evaluation of site
Formative testing of site
After the 16 week course
|Using the site with elementary science methods classes||Addition of features to site|
This collaboration resulted in a match of needs and experience-- we had the opportunity to work with computer savvy students who could help scaffold our understanding of some of the technical aspects of building a Web site while we shaped the planning and formative testing of the site. In turn, students had the opportunity to apply their computer skills and to work on a team project that may be a useful model when they begin teaching.
A picture of the student experience emerged during a discussion with one of the students after the completion of the course. The beginning stages of the project were confusing for her, but "it started to get a sense of direction ... when we actually started to do the research and look for the sites [to] actually sit down and say this is what we want to do, because at first I wasnt sure. I know we wanted a Web site, but I wasnt sure what our purpose would be behind it". She also found that the other student did not know much about using HTML and so they had to negotiate their respective work roles with each other in order to accomplish the project in a timely fashion. She had to become a teacher for the other student and often assigned him tasks such as developing particular pages. She also was able to give the faculty updates on many technical procedures involved in building the site so that they too would understand how it was done. This student found that the project was exciting for her- she enjoyed the opportunity to utilize her developing Web design skills and to learn more about the process. In discussing the work with teachers in the field, she realized that they did not know very much about using Web sites in the classroom. Thus, she saw that an opportunity existed to develop these skills in a career in the field of educational technology. She is currently planning on pursuing a masters degree in this specialization.
The development of the Elementary Science Web Site using a Directed Study Course was important in a number of ways. It served as an opportunity for our students to gain additional experience working with computers in education. The course led to the development of a Web site that could be used by our elementary science methods preservice teachers. Now it is a regular part of our introduction to the methods course; students know that they can find a number of science education resources by using the site. It has familiarized us with a number of Web resources that are available for teachers. It has also given us an artifact with which to discuss problems with students such as access to the WWW, searching difficulties, and an introduction into the use and value of Web sites. Finally, the development of the site provides us with future directions for teaching and research; it gives us a vehicle for adding course activities and supplemental resources for our science methods course and affiliated program experiences. The site will be updated and modified to reflect new science education resources, issues, and student interests. The expansion of the site and our experience with the site development process should also enable us to develop more systematic studies of the use of Web sites by university students.
Barnard, J. (1997). The World Wide Web and higher education: The promise of virtual universities and online libraries. Educational Technology, May-June, 30-35.
Battle, R. & Hawkins. (1996). A study of emerging teacher practices in Internet-based lesson plan development. Journal for Science Education and Technology 5(4), 321-42
Carey, D. M. (1993). Teacher roles and technology integration: Moving from teacher as director to teacher as facilitator. Computers in the Schools, 9(2/3), 105-118.
Cohen, K. (Ed.) (1997). Internet links for science education. New York: Plenum Press.
Collins, C. & Collins, S. (1996). The Internet as a tool. National Educational Computing Conference, Minneapolis, MN. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 398 883)
Farquhar, J., McGinty, B., & Kotcho, C. (1996). The Internet as a tool for the social construction of knowledge. In Proceedings of selected research and development presentations at the 1996 National Convention of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Indianapolis, IN. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 397 793).
Hackbarth, S. (1997). Integrating Web-based learning activities into school curriculums. Educational Technology, May-June, 59-71.
Lyons, D., Hoffman, J., Krajcik, J., & Soloway, E. (1996). An investigation of the use of the World Wide Web for on-line inquiry in a science classroom. Paper presented at the meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, Chicago, IL.
Maddux. C., & Johnson, D. (1997). The World Wide Web: History, cultural context, and a manual for developers of educational information-based Web sites. Educational Technology, September-October, 5-12.
Milheim, W., & Harvey, D. (1998). Design and development of a World Wide Web resource site. Educational Technology, January-February, 53-56.
Nadelson, L. (1997). Online assignments. The Science Teacher. March, 23-27.
Owston, R. (1997). The World Wide Web: A technology to enhance learning and teaching? Educational Researcher 26 (2), 27-33.
Windschitl, M. (1998). The WWW and classroom research: What path should we take? Educational Researcher 27(1), 28-33.
Our purpose is to create a Web site that will provide science and science education information to current elementary teachers, future teachers in elementary education (i.e., university students) and students in elementary schools in the South Florida area.
Individual Feedback form, used while working with individual students...
Web Design Questionnaire
(completed by interviewer)
Name_______________________Date____________ Time_________ Guide__________
A. 0 years B. 1-2 years C. 3-5 years D. More than 5 years
2. Grades taught:
3. Experience using Web:
A. Never use B. Use Sometimes C. Use often
4. If prior experience, what do you use it for?
5. What are your goals in using the FIU science education Web site?
6. Introduction to FIU Web site needed:
A. None B. Simple C. Moderate D. Extensive
7. The user needed help-
A. Never B. Occasionally C. Frequently D. All the time
8.Specify paths while using (use another sheet if needed):
After finished, ask
9. Did the user find what they needed?
A. Yes B. No C. Not sure
10. Suggestions for additional links that would be helpful.
11. Suggestions for design features that would be helpful.
Group Web Site Evaluation Questionnaire
Name_______________________ Date____________ Time_________
1.Teaching experience (circle one):
A. 0 years B. 1-2 years C. 3-5 years D. More than 5 years
2. Grades taught:
3. Experience using Web (circle one):
A. Never use B. Use sometimes C. Use often
4. If prior experience, what do you use it for?
5. What are your goals in using the FIU science education Web site?
6. Please list all links that you used (general names ok) (use back if needed):
7. Did you find what needed?
A. Yes B. No C. Not sure
If no or not sure, why didnt you find it? (e.g., too difficult to follow links)
8. Suggestions for additional links that would be helpful.
9. Suggestions for design features that would make things easier.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR HELP IN EVALUATING THE SITE!!!
About the authors...
Scott P. Lewis, Ph.D.is an Assistant Professor in Elementary Education at the College of Education, Florida International University, University Park Campus, Miami, FL 33199. Fax: (305) 348-3218. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
George E. O'Brien, Ph.D. is a Professor of Elementary Education at Florida International University.
Jessica A. George is a Substitute Teacher in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system in Florida.
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