University of North Dakota Faculty/Staff Newsletter

Faculty team scores national tech fellowship

Elementary students enjoy an innovative technique for teaching and learning science known as the “Geodome,” which was designed by a team of educators from UND.

Elementary students enjoy an innovative technique for teaching and learning science known as the “Geodome,” which was designed by a team of educators from UND.

A team from the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education and Human Development was recently honored with a National Technology Leadership Initiative Fellowship award from the Association for Science Teacher Education.

The team will travel to Austin, Texas, March 7, to present the project in a symposium at the international Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITTE) conference.

Mark Guy, Education, Timothy (Tim) Young, Physics and Astrophysics, Cindy Grabe, Education, and Bruce Farnsworth, Education, won the award for their paper titled “Exploring New Technology Tools to Enhance Astronomy Teaching and Learning in Grades 3–8 Classrooms.”

In 2009, UND received funding from the State Board of Higher Education to enhance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) opportunities in teacher education. That funding resulted in the SITE project (Simulation Immersion in Teacher Education).

A unique feature of the SITE project was the integration of two innovative technologies: a portable, inflatable digital dome planetarium (GeoDome) and Apple iPad tablet devices for student use.

“We believed that with the support of new technologies, teachers could help their students better learn fundamental concepts in astronomy,” Guy said. “In the SITE project, teachers taught core science concepts of light, perspective, and motion outside the planetarium and then reinforcing it inside the planetarium.”

“The real key is that the teachers and students were making observations in a computer-simulated universe with real world connections that deepened their understanding of the cosmos,” Young said.

The SITE Project was implemented in 13 classrooms (grades 3-8) during the 2010-2011 academic year with the overall goal of enhancing the teaching and learning of fundamental astronomy concepts.

Participating teachers for the SITE project were recruited after an initial orientation inside the dome held on campus during the spring of 2010. Thirteen teachers enrolled in a summer 2 1/2 day workshop which focused on grade-appropriate (3-8) instruction of core astronomy concepts for grades 3–8; orientation to the capabilities of the dome’s digital 3-D software and imagery; and familiarization with iPad apps for astronomy and student projects; and 4) development of astronomy lesson plans.

“Teachers reported that the simulation environment (and selected iPad apps) excelled in supporting the two core concepts of the SITE project - perspective and motion,” Guy said. “They found the two core concepts of astronomy promoted students’ grasp of cycles and patterns such as moon phases, orbital periods and seasons.”

Teachers and students reported many learning benefits from GeoDome instruction, Guy said. For one thing, through the planetarium’s 3D visualizations, astronomy was made more concrete.

“Students developed strong interest and excitement about space and astronomy topics and were spurred to investigate independently,” Guy said.

“The iPads created an environment that allowed students to explain and expand concepts through aligned graphics/visuals and text,” Grabe said. They also provided a versatile platform for students to explore, research, and express their learning in their own “final projects”

About the National Technology Leadership Initiative Fellowships (NTLI):

Since 2000, the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education has collaborated with four teacher education associations representing the content areas of mathematics, science, English language arts, and social studies education through the NTLI.

The NTLI Fellowship was established to recognize an exemplary presentation on technology at the annual conferences of each of these organizations. The Fellowship aims to encourage further dialog among professional associations regarding appropriate technology use in teacher education. Each year NTLI Fellows are invited to present at a two-hour symposium at SITTE. They receive an award plaque and complementary conference registration.

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-- Juan Miguel Pedraza, writer/editor, University Relations, 777-6571,

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