Webbing through Science History

Article excerpt

Byline: Sarantos Psycharis and Athanasios Daflos

Virtual experiments, data logging, the internet-these are just a few of the ways technology is changing the classroom environment today, ushering in new learning opportunities for students and new ways for teachers to present knowledge. Exciting yes, easy no.

Compared to a decade or two ago, teaching is becoming a different profession. The role of the teacher is moving from the traditional perspective of teacher as "transmitter of knowledge" toward the view of the teacher as a "facilitator of learning"-more of a coach or guide. Accordingly, this new role demands different skills from the teacher. For example, today's teachers must be able to

Adapt curriculum to make best use of the new technologies;

Help students use the new tools efficiently; and

Highlight the connections and natural overlaps between subjects-connections that are made more accessible by the availability of technology in the classroom.

We worked with fifth- and sixth-grade teachers at The Greek Primary School in Athens, Greece, to design a web-based learning environment for students that integrated science and history and successfully met these goals. Essentially, we created a virtual history of scientists-starting with the life, discoveries, and theories of Archimedes and ending with the corresponding issues related to James Watt. We chose scientists from the past that were already familiar to the students, such as Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton. We look forward to adding more scientists in the future.

Each entry in the virtual history contains a description of each scientist's life, his discoveries, and historical elements of the era in which the scientist lived. For example, Archimedes played an important role in the defense of Syracuse against Romans in 213 B.C. by constructing war machines. This delayed the capture of the city, which was eventually captured by the Romans.

Students move through each entry's web pages-photo album, inventions, history-to explore relevant concepts in an interactive way. Links are also included through which students can access additional information about that person. After clicking through each page, students then review the entry's related internet links and create their own profile of the scientist being examined. In this way, students practice their web skills and make important connections between history and science. Figures 1 and 2 show screen shots from the virtual history.

Why the Web?

When the project began, the teachers' goals were to integrate science and history and to create a learning environment in which students could develop technology skills, particularly experience using the internet. We wanted students to compare the static information in textbooks to the interactive material on this web application and realize what a powerful research tool the internet can be. We also hoped that by interacting with other students they would become proficient in teamwork.

The teachers chose to develop a web-based learning environment because the web is independent of specific computer platforms and the tools used to create multimedia pages-HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) for the creation of web pages and Macromedia Flash for the animated scenes-were available free on the internet. Thus, the only equipment needed to make-and use-this learning unit is a computer with internet access and a browser (i.e., Internet Explorer or Netscape).

Another benefit of the web-based learning environment is that additional pages can be added and information (links, images, etc.) about scientists whose histories have already been created can be updated by teachers or students.

Figure 1. The startup screen.

Building the Virtual History

We worked with classroom teachers two months before the classroom implementation in order to familiarize them with using HTML, creating links, and inserting photos. …