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Technology for the Teaching and Learning of Science

Karen E. Reynolds & Robertta H. Barba

Copyright © 1996 by Allyn & Bacon, A Viacom Company, 160 Gould Street, Needham Heights, Massachusetts 02194. Excerpt from Chapter 4, "Using Technology-based Information Sources," pp 89-92.

Chapter Contents:

Navigating in Cyberspace

Printed materials are linear by design. The reader begins with the first paragraph of the first page of an article or a book and moves to the last paragraph of the reading. Cyberspace is not linear. In an electronic environment, the user always has the ability to "jump" electronically to another article, to another book, or to another information server. No two users explore the Internet in the same fashion or via the same electronic pathway. Cyberspace affords users a degree of freedom unparalleled in other types of reference materials. One keystroke or one click of a mouse is all that is needed to propel a user to new resources in an electronic environment.

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Evaluating Data from Cyberspace

As students venture from one electronic resource to another, they gather information for later use. It is often time consuming to read each article or citation word-by- word or line-byline. As children work in an electronic environment, whether that environment is a CD-ROM disk or on an Internet database, they should be encouraged to save information to disk for later analysis. Additionally, students should be encouraged to get multiple view points, to collect data from numerous sources; while noting the viewpoint of the person or group who provided the information.

Bias in reporting information needs to be considered in the information gathering stage. Many adults have had the experience of having a toddler describe the gigantic, mean, vicious dog in the neighborhood. When the adult goes to find the "monster," they look down to find a small, elderly, friendly dog. Students need to be encouraged to reflect on the "point of view" of the person or persons who presented the data as part of their personal data gathering process. What does the data mean? What is the relationship between the variables? Is this person who presented the data trying to persuade me to adopt their viewpoint? Critiquing and analyzing are part of the data-gathering process.

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Modifying the Investigation

In spite of our best efforts to define the problem before beginning a search of literature or a search of databases, many students will need to make midcourse corrections as they research a topic. Students exploring the available databases and information servers on the Internet often find that they need to redefine the problem, to focus their search, or to search for related topics.

Too little information is often as much of a problem as too much information. Sometimes students approach a task with a very narrow focus and find that there is inadequate information on the Internet to supply their needs. For example, a student may have wanted very localized information, such as the number of nesting pairs of a particular bird species in their geographical area, the Internet might not contain the desired information. Highly localized information might be better obtained through an actual count carried out by the students using traditional field biology methods or by a call to a local Forest Service Office. On the other hand, if students wanted to know about pine trees, they might be overwhelmed by the volume of information on the Internet. Servers such as the Biodiversity Gopher, the University of Virginia's Ecogopher, Greengopher, and gophers of various Federal Agencies all carry information about pines. In this instance, students might find that they need to limit their search to a particular species of pine or to pine trees in a particular geographic area.

Sometimes, we need to modify a search because we are using the wrong keyword or search word. We seek information and find that very little information on the selected topic is retrieved. When we use an encyclopedia as a source of information, the authors and/or editors assist us in searching by putting related words and topics at the bottom of the article. The writers of encyclopedia articles attempt to cue users to additional sources of information.

Bulletin boards on the Internet contain the same kind of cueing information, but in a different format. While some electronic databases contain search functions, others contain electronic links to information servers that provide similar types of information. Students accessing NASA's Johnson Space Center Bulletin board will find menu items which will link them to other NASA facilities, they will also find links to other government agencies that provide information on space programs. Electronic links are the Cyberspace equivalent of reference words at the end of encyclopedia articles. These links between and among wide area networks (WANs) and local area networks (LANs) may be used to assist students to broaden their searchers.

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Sorting Data

The information highway and CD-ROM disks contain vast quantities of information, more than most students can comfortably handle. After students have collected data, they need to sort data, to determine what information they have gathered is most useful for the task at hand. Students should be encouraged to reflect on their reason(s) for gathering data, on the quality of information they gathered, and on the relative importance of the data they have gathered.

If the purpose of an investigation was to determine the routes of butterfly migration, students need to make sure that the information they have collected is relevant to the investigation. Is the population of each country along the migration route salient to the investigation? Is information on wind currents salient to the question at hand? Does information on foods and customs of different ethnic groups help students understand butterfly migration? Data sorting is an important part of investigating.

Once students have sorted data as to its relevancy in to the investigation, they should organize the data into meaningful groups. Information may be organized in many ways, including: chronological order, sequentially, magnitude, similarities and differences, cause and effect, conceptually, and defined categories.

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Activity ­ Organizing Data:

Provide students with data "snippets" (i.e. cards of information on a particular topic). You might provide the students with information on animals or rocks and minerals. One strategy is to print out a series of electronic pages from a multimedia encyclopedia and distribute copies to each group in the class. Allow the students to work in groups and have them organize the information. Allow the students to share with other groups in the class their method(s) for organizing the information. Encourage students to critique their organizational strategy and the strategies used by other groups.

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Synthesizing Information

Synthesizing data means looking for trends in data. If students have gathered information from different sources, they need to look for commonalties in the data. Many times students will find that there are different viewpoints on data interpretation. They may need to present those view points as a way of synthesizing data. Students should be encouraged to look for trends in data. What is the relationship between the variables? What happens to the dependent variable as a result of changes in the independent variable? If one variable or factor changes, what impact does this have on the system? Graphs and tables of data assist students in pulling together multiple data sources, in examining trends in data.

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Analyzing Data

Data analysis addresses the question, "What does the data mean?". Analysis involves students in looking for trends in data. What are the variables? What is the relationship between the variables? What happens if one factor were to change?

When using electronic information sources, students should be encouraged to interpret the data, to look for patterns and relationships. If students were gathering data on different biomes, they should be encouraged to identify ways in which organisms of those biomes are alike and different. Plants of the desert are adapted to survive in a low water environment through modifications such as needle-shaped leaves, waxy protective layers, and deep root systems. Plants which thrive in the tundra exhibit adaptations such as short growing seasons and a high tolerance to cold, windy conditions. The relationship between climate and plant structures is easily investigated by elementary-aged children.

Before data can be analyzed, it needs to be formatted; to be presented orally, graphically, or in a written fashion. Tables and charts are the most common means available to organize and present data for analysis. In analyzing data, students should be encouraged to first organize information into a table of data and then to present the information verbally and/or graphically. Activity 4.4 is an example of an activity which can assist students in analyzing information. This activity encourages students to convert pictorial data to a graphic representation of information. It helps students to recognize the idea that data can be presented in written words, spoken words, pictorially, iconicaIly, and with real-world objects.

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998.

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