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Implementing the Module (continued)

Finally, well-designed instructional software can increase teacher productivity. There is a variety of ways such software can accomplish these goals, such as helping teachers with assessment, record keeping, and classroom planning and management. Instructional software such as the Web site offers teachers the convenience of a full week of instruction that is available anywhere there is an Internet connection. Instructional software can also give teachers increased credibility in their students' eyes. Many of today's students have been raised in a technology-rich environment and often respond positively to the use of technology-based methods that streamline and enhance communication between teachers and students and, in so doing, increase the efficiency of both.

Organizing Collaborative Groups

All of the activities in this module are designed to be completed by groups of students working together. Although many of the specific steps can be completed by individual students working alone, this strategy will not stimulate the types of student-student interactions that are one of the goals of active, collaborative, inquiry-based learning. Therefore, we recommend that you organize collaborative groups of between two and six students each, depending on the number of computers equipped with Internet access that you have available. Students in groups larger than this will likely have difficulty organizing the student-computer interactions equitably, which can lead to one or two students assuming the primary responsibility for the computer-based work. Although this type of arrangement can be efficient, it means that some students do not get the opportunity to experience the in-depth discovery and analysis that the Web site was designed to stimulate.

If you are teaching all five activities as a unit, we recommend that you keep your students in the same collaborative groups for all of the activities. This will allow each group to develop a shared experience with the software and with the ideas and issues that the activities present. A shared experience will also enhance your students' perceptions of the activities as a conceptual whole. This will be particularly important in the activities toward the end of the module, as students consider some of the ethical and public policy implications of basic research related to cancer.

If your student-to-computer ratio is greater than six students to one computer, you will need to change the way you teach the module from the instructions in the activities. For example, if you have only one computer available, you may want students to complete the Web-based work across an extended time period. You can do this in several ways. The most practical way is to use your computer as a center along with several other centers at which students complete other activities. In this strategy, students would rotate through the computer center, eventually completing the Web-based work that you have assigned.

A second way to structure the activities if you only have one computer available is to use an overhead projection system to display the computer monitor onto a screen for the whole class to see simultaneously. Giving selected students in the class the opportunity to manipulate the program in response to class suggestions and requests can give students some of the same type of autonomy over their learning that they would gain if they were working with the Web site in small teams. Activity 5 requires students to use the Web site for extensive research; in this case, give the students printouts of the reference database to work from. This strategy, however, will not give the students an opportunity to interact personally with the Web site. We recommend that you use this strategy only if you have no other options.

Dealing with Values and Controversial Topics

Instructors sometimes feel that the discussion of values is inappropriate in the science classroom or that it "detracts" from the learning of "real" science. The activities in this module, however, are based upon the conviction that there is much to be gained by involving students in analyzing issues of science, technology, and society. Society expects all citizens to participate in the democratic process, and our educational system must provide opportunities for students to learn to deal with contentious issues with civility, objectivity, and fairness. Likewise, students need to learn that science intersects with life in many ways. Opportunities to encounter and consider carefully some of these ways will reinforce and enrich those scientific principles that we desire to teach.

The activities on the Web site provide a variety of opportunities for students to discuss, interpret, and evaluate basic science and public health issues in the light of values and ethics. Many issues that students will encounter—especially those having to do with public policies that force people to protect themselves from agents known to cause cancer—are potentially controversial. How much controversy develops will depend on many factors, such as how similar your students are with respect to socioeconomic status, perspectives, value systems, and religious preferences. It will also depend on how you handle your role as facilitator of the discussion. Your language and attitude may be the most important factors to the flow of ideas and the quality of exchange among the students.

Neutrality may be the single most important characteristic of a successful discussion facilitator. The following suggestions may help you think about how to guide your students in discussions that balance factual information with feelings.

Following these general suggestions should help you stimulate meaningful student-to-student interaction with as little direct involvement by you as possible. Initially, some students may have difficulty responding without specific direction. It is important, however, that you resist the temptation to intervene extensively in the initial, sometimes uncomfortable phase of long silences and faltering responses. Unless students are given opportunities to evaluate ideas and values in the context of a larger problem, they may never learn to do so.

Assessing Student Progress

Because we expect this module to be used in a variety of ways and at a variety of points in an individual teacher's curriculum, we believe the most appropriate mechanism for assessing student learning is one that occurs informally at various points within the activities, rather than something that happens more formally just once at the end of the module. Accordingly, we have integrated a variety of specific assessment components throughout the activities within the module. These "embedded assessment" opportunities include one or more of the following strategies:

These strategies allow you to assess a variety of aspects of the learning process, such as students' prior knowledge and current understanding, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, level of understanding of new information, communication skills, and ability to synthesize ideas and apply understanding to a new situation.

An assessment icon and an annotation that describes the aspect of learning you can assess using a particular strategy appear in the margin beside the step in which each embedded assessment occurs.

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