Earlier in the history of electronic advancement, children in highly developed countries had learned to appreciate and use simple to complex electronic gadgetries but never understood basic principles behind them. Some knew how to assemble robots but could not understand how the motor or magnets in it work. In other words they learn to walk before they crawl.
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Concerns have reached the classroom as today’s educational systems use more of ICT in teaching basic principles of English, Mathematics, and Science teaching. The question whether how much exposure and competence the pupils must have on certain science principles before they are exposed to ICT as a means of performing laborious, repetitive or more complex tasks is a challenge for educators of today. The schools and all education stakeholders must however understand that the uses of ICT tools are an advantage to both teachers and pupils.
Results of several studies conducted throughout the world revealed that the use of ICT greatly increased the level of learning and understanding of the pupils on the scientific principles being studied (Betts, 2003, Mistler-Jackson & Songer, 2000, Hogarth et. al, 2006).
In fact the ICT tools can even be use to demonstrate science principles in a safer way. For instance, teaching electricity principles to pupils can be both interesting and dangerous. But the advent of computer hardwares and softwares has made it more motivating and rewarding minus the hazards. Primary knowledge and skills about how electrical circuits work, how much power is required for certain types of lights, and others can be learned through simulation and not in actual exposure to real electrical circuits.
To determine if ICT is really needed for primary science education and understand when is the proper timing of its introduction into the learning process it is proper to understand first what ICT applications are necessary and how can they be integrated into the learning systems? What are the advantages and disadvantages of its applications?
Types of ICT learning tools in science
The use of ICT in teaching science for primary education came in various forms. Review of schools’ science teaching modules show the use of ICT hardwares and softwares to obtain and use science information, encoding of data, and creating presentations. Science information materials can be obtained from CD-ROM based encyclopedia and other e-books, journals, and articles, through a wide variety of Internet locations, and through local and international electronic library networks. There are a lot of word processing softwares that can be used to prepare science reports including customized programs for science report preparations. Data processing programs, spreadsheets, databases used for logging science data, processing them, and analyzing the results and its implications are already available for use.
Higher-level applications include the use of simulation programs to explain scientific principles and perform experiments in virtual conditions. There are experiments, which are impractical to conduct under normal conditions but can be simulated in computers to show the implications to let the pupils appreciate and understand. Example to this are CD programs that show what would happen if we walk on surfaces of different planets, what are the magnitudes of the gravity in Mars, Pluto, our moons, and others. Children can appreciate the effects through computer images animated based on the actual situation in the simulated locations.
Advantages of ICT science learning tools
The use of ICT tools has a lot of identified advantages over the use of conventional methods of instructions such as the traditional ordinary chalk and board and the pen and paper system. Several of these identified edge of ICT is discussed below.
In primary level ICT applications on data logging using sensitive probes to measure temperature, light, pressure, acidity, and other parameters increase the affectivity in data gathering and extend the range and accuracy of the observations. Ordinary tools used to gather these data such as thermometers, pressure gauges, pH meters or pH papers, and others require manual reading and data quality is dependent on the child’s skills and mode. The use of ICT based instruments has helped free the children from doing laborious task and repetitive works and focus their attention on analysing the meaning of the data.
The use of networks through Internet, intranets, e-libraries, and other ICT medium widened the pupil’s access to information and even brought him to places virtual which cannot be accessed easily with conventional means without ICT. Children can access information from libraries in other European, American, Asian, and other countries around the globe without leaving the classroom.
Simulation software used in science learning provides higher achievements of students than those not using the simulation, with girls achieving equally with boys (Huppert, 2002).
The use of ICT in the classroom makes as much demand on teachers’ understanding and mediation as non-computer activities; however it speeds up the process and makes use of class times more efficiently by eliminating board works as replaced by computer presentations. Illustrations and examples are more realistic with use of virtual replica of real world figures like plants, animals, and objects.
ICT has really made learning more fun and exciting and even made to raise the enthusiasm of the pupils as learning is made easy and enjoyable just like games.
Disadvantages and problems
Just like any other promising technologies the use of ICT has perceived problems in education and in application to teaching-learning in particular. Several reports and reviews enumerated these problems which can be grouped into: teacher related, facility related, and learner related.
As far as the teachers are concerned, review of Hogarth, et. al (2006) revealed some of those involved in utilizing ICT in science classes have doubts over the value of ICT in promoting learning in science lessons. This is caused by the fact that many ICT resources have no clear rationale for their inclusion in teaching. The worst case is that some teachers lack adequate training to handle ICT programs and if they are trained they lack the time to plan for effective use of ICT in their lessons. Some teachers lack confidence on the effectiveness of some hardware and software used in the process while others felt threatened by the presence in the classroom of a new, powerful source of information. Yerrick & Hoving (1999) also reported that despite similarities in teachers knowledge on ICT the implementation of ICT programs differ with teachers which could have been affected by the school’s and teacher’s practices.
In relation to facilities, Hogarth, et al. (2006) reported there are planning difficulties associated with banks of networked computers being located centrally in rooms which had to be booked in advance for the instructional purposes. These are caused by shortage of computers and other hardware and the lack of technical support. Materials in CD-ROMS and websites used in science researches must be controlled to conform to standards. Proliferation of non-approved materials in CDs and online can be a threat to performance and the quality of primary science learning.
On the part of the pupils the use ICT, which speeds up the processes may cause learning disparities across different types and learning capacities of pupils especially in the heterogeneous classes wherein fast learners are merged with medium and slow learners.
The Importance and Timing of ICT programs in science learning.
It has been properly illustrated above that advantages of using ICT in primary science education outweighs that of the disadvantages and that problems identified from different settings can be solved with proper planning and coordination among stakeholders.
Whether or not to adopt ICT programs to improve the learning of process skills among primary science pupils is already out of question. The question would be how much exposure to theories and learning the principles of science process skills the learners need before they are exposed to ICT applications. Is it necessary that theories must be learned first before application, or the other way around?
The answer requires common sense and areas of concern must be dealt in a case to case basis. There are process skills that require just basic competency such as data encoding, internet browsing, CD-ROMS access. But there are skills that require just theoretical knowledge before ICT applications are used. Graphing is one particular case. To understand the graph, pupils must be taught how it is done and how to anaylyse them.
But there are cases when innovativeness and flexibility on the part of the teacher is a better judge. To site an example in most cases pupils are taught about the basics on the physico-chemical properties, such as those mentioned above (temperature, pressure, pH, etc) and what these things are all about before they must be exposed on how to obtain the measurable properties whether conventional of through ICT. The use of ICT here just replaces the conventional which at this age are really outdated. But try to think that other teachers uses unique methods of presenting situations first via simulation software or even data logging programs to spur curiosity among pupils before discussing in depth the concepts behind them. Concepts such as magnetism, the earth, and others can be treated this way. Unless properly regulated, a teacher has the leeway to use his styles in order to achieve the learning outcomes. As a matter of fact, “who discourages innovation?”
We have lived into the Third Wave, the Information Age, and no one can argue about that. Whether we like it on not everyone even those who are out of school are exposed to ICT in everyday lives from the TV, the microwave ovens, the heaters, the street lights and everything. These electronic gadgets which have ICT software integrated in them confront us without any advance or basic knowledge about the theories behind them. The fact is everything can be learned if one desires. So if you are tasked to know how to operate a microwave oven you don’t have to understand how the microwave works on the food. But if you want to know about it you have the prerogative to learn. The point is as long as the basic requirement is satisfied then let the children use ICT to learn more.
British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta). 2004. Moving on: The role of ICT in pupil’s transition. Millburn Hill Road Science Park Coventry CV4 7JJ
Information and communication technology in primary schools The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools 2004/05. Retrived on Jan 4, 2008 from http://live.ofsted.gov.uk/publications/annualreport0405/4.1.6.html
Betts, S., (2003). Does the use of ICT affect quality in learning science at Key Stage 3? Studies in Teaching and Learning, pp. 9-17.
Hogarth S, Bennett J, Lubben F, Campbell B, Robinson A (2006) ICT in Science Teaching. Technical Report. In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.
Huppert, J. (2002). Computer simulations in the high school: Students’ cognitive stages, science process skills and academic achievement in microbiology. International Journal of Science Education, 24 (8), pp. 803-821.
Mistler-Jackson, M., Songer, N.B., (2000). Student motivation and internet technology: Are students empowered to learn science? Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37 (5), pp. 459-479.
Yerrick, R., Hoving, T., (1999). Obstacles confronting technology initiatives as seen through the experience of science teachers: A comparative study of science teachers’ beliefs, planning, and practice. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 8 (4), pp. 291-307.