For many of us, learning science in school meant opening
worn textbooks, watching projector slides in a stuffy classroom and dissecting
rats once you got to eighth grade. Did you ever ask yourself, "How is this
relevant? How can I take this knowledge, go out into the world and use it in my
learning with the COPELLS Project don't need to ask. They're
science directly in their lives. Through a
variety of blended
approaches, they learn concepts they
will carry with them long after middle school. They might play an online game
where they label parts of the digestive system, watch a video on viruses or run
a simulation on animal variation. Other students might post about local
environmental issues and discuss them with students in another country. The
COPELLS website also offers a forum where students from different cultures can
post work, ask and answer questions, and practice their language skills.
The Center for
Advanced Technology in Education
at the University of Oregon created
the COPELLS Project with support from the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study group to improve science literacy for middle school students, especially English
learners (ELs). NAEP (2011) scores show that ELs score significantly lower in science and reading
assessments. They often lag behind their peers, mostly because language is a
barrier to science comprehension. But both ELs and general education students
have made statistically significant gains in their science understanding after
taking part in this project. And, perhaps more important, they say they enjoy
using the website to talk to peers in other countries.
Collaborative online projects (COPs) in science use open
sources organized with a project-based
(PBL) framework, where students work on real-life
projects, collaborate with other students and engage in the curriculum content.
Here's what it looks like in the classroom:
The teacher gives students a question that relates to a real problem that
research and conduct field investigations to solve the problem posed in the
groups, students come up with solutions to the problem and share their results
with the class and other classrooms.
use online, cognitive tools in their research and collaboration, such as
hypermedia, graphic applications, computer-based laboratories, games, videos and
other technology tools.
is an example of how PBL works with the COPs. In one unit, students answer the driving question: "What do students
in your school do that increases their carbon footprint, and how can they reduce
it?" Students get into groups and actively investigate this question,
based on their own experiences and what they learned in the unit. Students then collaborate to solve the issue, such
as recommending that more students walk to school. When sharing their work,
students use the forum, an online tool where
students can post their work, including images like this one.
COPELLS also uses the Cognitive-Affective Theory of
Learning with Media, a model of different types of interactivities encountered
in multimodal learning environments that includes:
discussion forums, students ask and answer questions and then take interactive
quizzes to get immediate feedback.
teachers provide guided instruction, students decide the pace of content
learning. They may, for example, decide to replay a video or play a game again
before taking on the embedded assessment.
decide the parameters for the activity they are doing, which may involve
choosing what to run in a simulation or designing their own experiment.
look for content material either by searching the internet or through the
decide where to go in a digital environment. On the COPELLS website, students
can click on stage or lesson menus to access the content.
COPELLS has two COP life science units —
What Your Body Needs and Let's Help Our Environment —
which are aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Each unit
is divided into stages of learning that are like chapters in a book. For
example, in one stage students will examine cells, and in the next they will explore
with education standards
teachers are faced with the challenge of aligning content to the CCSS and other
standards. The COPs let teachers easily link content with the CCSS. Charts are
available on the website, which participating teachers may access through a
login, so that teachers can see how the COPs and CCSS align. Here are some
CCSS for English
language arts for literacy in science and technical subjects (grades
the central ideas or conclusions of a text.
summaries or provide information on the topics in their science notebooks
and/or the forum.
Follow precisely a
multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements or
performing technical tasks.
expected to follow steps when conducting lab and hands-on activities that
incorporate scientific inquiry.
the meaning of symbols, key terms and other domain-specific words and
provides vocabulary supports where key scientific words link to online
contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, videos or
multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same
content in multiple ways so that they need to compare the information they
gain from each source and integrate it into their overall understanding of
COPs are also rich in content related to the ISTE Standards for Students. For example:
- Designing a cell gelatin model to show the different
cell parts addresses Standard 1: Creativity and innovation.
- Participating in forums addresses Standard 2:
Communication and collaboration.
- Studying multimodal content addresses Standard 3:
Research and information fluency.
- Researching local environmental issues addresses
Standard 4: Critical thinking, problem solving and decision making.
- Learning appropriate behaviors addresses Standard 5:
COPs within the digital environment addresses Standard 6: Technology operations
The COPELLS website is for science teachers and their students. Here are the steps you can take to
use COPs in your classroom:
- Contact the COPELLS Project to get login access for you and your students.
- Choose the unit you want to teach.
- Guide instruction for students.
- Check in with students to make sure they understand
students both formative and summative assessments.
COPELLS project combines collaboration, technology and PBL to give students
experiences that will help them learn science concepts they will carry with them
throughout their lives.
Want to learn more ways to incorporate STEM
skills into your curriculum? Check out ISTE's STEM