What's new in school: P.J. Jacobs students 'live' and learn science

8:07 AM, May 6, 2013  |  Comments

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This school year, students from P.J. Jacobs Junior High School joined 335 students who are part of MySciLife - using technology to live as a science concept and interact with other students from 15 classrooms in seven states across the United States. MySciLife is an online social learning environment in which students create an identity as a science concept, such as an organism, animal, object, scientist or force.

What would it be like to live life as a cell, a rock, an animal or a body system? Students develop a persona and maintain the role of this science concept via status updates, interactions and tools familiar to today's youth - safely within the MySciLife community.

Eleven teachers, including Jeffrey Mlsna at P.J. Jacobs, piloted MySciLife during this year and collected data on the effectiveness of this dynamic science learning experience. Preliminary results show that MySciLife is an effective tool for science-focused interaction and can be used to assess understanding as students "live" and learn science.

Analysis of the first semester data from the MySciLife Pilot Study shows that students improved their knowledge of the science content; found MySciLife to be more creative and more interesting; and felt that the social interaction helped them to better learn science. MySciLife is collecting data for a more comprehensive research study during the second semester. TeachersFirst (www.teachersfirst.com) and its nonprofit parent company, The Source for Learning Inc., will publish the results later this year.

Pilot teachers saw improvements. "I became interested in this project because I believed that utilizing a social media environment, in this case Edmodo, might help students take a more active role in their learning," Mlsna said. "I feel MySciLife has been a highly effective way to improve student engagement and foster personal connections with science classroom concepts."

MySciLife challenges students to envision themselves as scientific concepts, objects or people while using tools such as microblogging "updates" and digital storytelling in a safe, collaborative learning environment monitored directly by teachers. While it focuses on STEM initiatives and Next Generation Science Standards (http://nextgenscience.org/next-generation-science-standards) using a unique model of fun and dynamic leaning, MySciLife also builds critical thinking and captures students' creativity.

The goals of MySciLife are to extend science learning beyond the school walls and classroom schedule while providing teachers with an ongoing assessment of scientific understanding as students create and learn. This student-centered learning model also infuses digital citizenship skills such as the etiquette of posts and replies and safe, ethical use of online media.

The MySciLife model addresses many of the key elements spelled out in the U.S. Department of Education's 2012 report on Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in the Digital World. These include an adaptive, individualized method of instruction that can be differentiated and personalized. MySciLife encourages students to write, publish, critique and reply to other students' web posts throughout each unit, while facilitating the in-depth, deeper understanding and higher order thinking environment teachers strive to create.

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