Academic journal article Science Scope

Using Apps to Integrate Writing into Science Education

Academic journal article Science Scope

Using Apps to Integrate Writing into Science Education

Article excerpt

Writing is a key component of science instruction. Writing about science helps students acquire knowledge of the discipline (Choi et al. 2010; Gunel, Hand, and Prain 2007). Classroom instruction in science writing also introduces student to practices such as formulating ideas, constructing new knowledge, crafting arguments, disseminating results, and communicating within the science community (Keys 1999; 2000). Writing grants students access to a scientific identity and to activities in which scientists engage (Gee 2004). Finally, writing is a component of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Goals for NGSS include having students "develop and strengthen writing abilities" while using digital tools "to produce and publish writing" (NGSS Lead States 2013). Similar to the NGSS, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) require students to "use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing" (CCSS.ELA-UTERACY.W.6.6; NGAC and CCSSO 2010.)


In a perfect world, teachers in both English language arts (ELA) and science classrooms would use similar writing practices. Students would then begin to see connections in their writing across disciplines. Unfortunately, there is still a disconnect in many schools between the writing practices taking place in ELA and science classrooms. Kiuhara, Graham, and Hawken (2009) investigated the writing practices and beliefs of 361 ELA teachers, science teachers, and social studies teachers. The teachers in this study did not report using the CCSS or the NGSS; however, the English teachers in the study reported assigning writing that was longer in length and included informational writing assignments, whereas science teachers reported using more worksheets, step-by-step instructions, and lab reports. On their own, students are unlikely to transfer literacy strategies and instruction across disciplines (Moje 1996). It is therefore important for teachers to recognize the shared responsibility of writing instruction (Kiuhara, Graham, and Hawken 2009).

While the CCSS and NGSS stress the importance of collaboration across disciplines (for example, the NGSS asks science teachers to connect to specific CCSS), this shared responsibility between science and language arts instructors is not always possible. In some cases, the science instructor does not have access to a qualified or willing partner; in other cases, both parties are willing but may not know how to bridge their perceived disciplinary gap. We have found technology to be advantageous in enhancing multidisciplinary instructional approaches. In particular, we have found that mobile applications via phones or tablets are useful in promoting writing instruction in science classrooms. Mobile apps are timely, as more adolescents have access to smartphones (Lenhart et al. 2015) and more schools are implementing Bring Your Own Device policies.

Educators have already investigated the benefits of apps in science classrooms and found that apps allow for collaboration, incorporation of multimodal literacies, and increased productivity (Beach and O'Brien 2012; Castek and Beach 2013). Apps and mobile devices also create opportunities for student learning in a variety of physical spaces (Ehret and Hollett 2013). The implication is that the physicality and mobility of apps enable students to take their learning across disciplines--literally into science and ELA classrooms. This article will provide specific evidence of apps that are useful for improving writing and can successfully be implemented in both ELA and science classrooms. Each section contains a description of the instructional approach, apps that could be used to implement the idea, and an example from science instruction. It should be noted that the apps provided exemplify the collaborative possibilities between ELA and science; however, the list is not meant to be exhaustive.

Apps to prepare students for writing

Research has demonstrated that students are more successful writers when they understand the writing process and that the quality of their writing improves when they have opportunities to plan and develop their thinking first (Graham and Perin 2007). …

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