In biology professor Declan McCabe’s new
“Biology in Elementary Schools” course, Saint Michael’s education
majors design imaginative hands-on science lessons, then visit have
local grade school children try them out.
Elementary students have fun with science.
McCabe says “a light bulb went off” last
year as he thought about two things: the time he spends doing
science demonstration for Burlington-area schoolchildren and the
several courses he teaches for non-science majors. Seeing a natural
nexus and opportunity for aspiring teachers, he wrote a course
proposal that the education department liked.
“This is a way our education majors
can get their science lab requirement, and in the end, have
something they can put in their teaching portfolios,” he said.
This past spring, McCabe’s two
sections of his Biology for Educators class contained 36 aspiring
teachers (all female). “We made it clear we would only accept
education majors in the course,” he said. “Since they’re dedicated
to the idea of being teachers, we end up with better quality
teaching experiences since these people are serious. For a lesson to
be deemed road-worthy, he said, “there has to be some hypothesis
testing and they have to translate the process for little kids.”
“The main consideration is that the
lessons relate to the state science standards,” he said.
“Specifically, we ask the hosting teacher to give us some learning
objectives and we try to teach those.” The Saint Michael’s students
then come up with ideas.
Soon children in Africa, South
America or Asia may be trying the same lessons Saint Michael’s
education students are developing. The class has developed a “wiki”
Web site to share their ideas with teachers around the world for
free, placing the college in the forefront of a promising new
A wiki is a Web site that is
generally editable by anyone with a computer, a web browser, and an
internet connection. (“Wiki” is a shortened form of “wiki-wiki,” the
Hawaiian word for quick.) Wikis use a quick and easy syntax to allow
users to apply formatting to text and create links between pages.
This simplicity means that authors don’t need to learn complex
programming codes to create web content. The main strength of a wiki
is that it gives people the ability to work collaboratively on the
The course is using WikiEducator, a
community resource supported by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL)
for the development of free educational content. COL is an
intergovernmental organization created by Commonwealth Heads of
Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning
and distance education knowledge, resources and technologies.
Currently, anything appearing on
COL’s site under the heading “basic biology” was put together by
Saint Michael’s students. (See link at end of article). Each group
of three students from the class came up with three lessons for the
semester, then taught each one out in the field, modifying it based
on reflection and sometimes trying the reworked version again with a
different grade if time permitted.
After presenting science lessons one
week in April to two Burlington elementary schools, both sections of
McCabe’s class gathered in a crowded Cheray science room, a laptop
computer before each student, as they processed their experiences by
groups. After everybody had enough time to update their wiki sites
with reflections from the recent school visits, McCabe placed a
conference call to Wayne MacKintosh in Vancouver in Canada.
MacKintosh is an educator who runs
the COL wiki site. Students and McCabe took turns asking him about
the site and telling about their experiences. The amiable MacKintosh
described the big challenges his organization faces in developing
and expanding the world’s access to technology for education.
Wiki Educator has become a valuable
tool to develop content and smart ways to use computers in the
developing world particularly, he said, telling the group that he
felt the lessons posted by Saint Michel’s students will be very
usable and adaptable around the world. “This is the power and wonder
of the wiki” he said. McCabe explained to him how well what he is
doing fits with the mission of Saint Michael’s with its emphasis on
MacKintosh said the project was a
“win-win project” since the Saint Michael’s classes developed real
content that can be used for the wiki site while at the same time
giving valuable experience to the student-teachers in lesson
“We may be the biggest wiki on the
planet – it’s something you can tell your grandkids,” he said.