Jackie Crowe, who teaches 12th-grade physics at Lexington High School in Massachusetts, enrolled in a summer course at the Center for Science and Mathematics Teaching a few years ago and followed up with a course at Harvard University on peer instruction and personal response systems.
Crowe relies on these systems when preparing her students for the AP Physics B Exam. Students think about a question she poses and then select a multiple-choice response through a device resembling a remote control. The students discuss their answers with their classmates and have the option to resubmit choices based upon their conversations. Through the system, Crowe has access to the students' answers before and after the discussion, gaining insight on the most poorly and well understood concepts.
"The students articulate their beliefs about the response and then they often see misconceptions based on their conversations," explained Crowe.
While some technical tools require formal training, the Internet and social media lend themselves to greater creativity.
When trying to figure out how best to take advantage of the Internet resources, Hughes has observed that more pre-service teachers tend to rely on each other, rather than on professors. Since technology changes so quickly, professors often find it challenging to keep up with the trends.
"Typically, a pre-service teacher is between 18 and 22, so many people think they should know all about technology, but this is an overestimation of digital media skills," Hughes says. "For example, they use social networking sites such as Facebook, but there are lots of other social networking applications."
These aspects of multimedia encourage greater collaboration among teachers and provide support networks either previously unavailable or without such a grand reach.
"A common interest in teacher education programs is the effort to get teachers to approach the practice in a more dispassionate, collegial, analytical, collective way." Kerr says. In the past, teachers would study at a college of education, and then teach in a classroom for six hours a day, catching up with colleagues at a lunch hour or during a prep period in the teachers' lounge. In contrast, today's teachers are encouraged to guide, support, and mentor one another, developing and sharing different responsibilities, Kerr continues.
This trickles down to the organization of the classroom. Traditionally, teachers arranged desks in rows, and expected quiet behavior, while lecturing and administering tests. Technology encourages discussion and critical thinking by way of community based data collection.
"There's a clash between what many of these technologies allow with the Industrial Age approach to education that is in place in most schools," Hughes says. In addition, teachers who do engage in this type of instruction tend to change their styles when they need to prepare students for standardized exams. "Testing assessment doesn't match what much of these technologies afford. There's no reason why including technology doesn't prepare knowledge that students could be tested on," she says.
Miller observed that in his middle school, math and science teachers have access to computer games that demonstrate the effects of gravity, for instance, or that replicate a dissection, but feel pressure to adhere to prescribed curricula geared toward standardized tests.
When preparing her students for the AP Physics B Exam, however, Crowe sees technology as a means for strong comprehension of the subject. For example, she explains that the photoelectric effect, the concept of how different metals are affected by specific frequencies of light, becomes clearer in a lab-replicated environment. "The students better understand the process, and that would have been difficult to do without technology."
Corrected 11 a.m. 5/3/12: An earlier version of this article misidentified Marina Pita