Science Education Apps Fostering Stronger Student Engagement

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., April 29, 2015 – Dr. Rachel Morgan Theall, associate professor of chemistry at Southeast Missouri State University, has introduced new technology in her courses this year with apps that help students better grasp course material.

Morgan Theall has integrated Nearpod, Socrative, Slide Shark and Quizlet, among other apps provided by Pearson, and various periodic element apps in her science education courses. Students in the College of Education have access to the apps through the iPads they are using this year as part of the EDvolution.

“I do think, if done correctly, this technology is beneficial to the students. I started doing it because every student in education classes is required to have an iPad,” Morgan Theall said.

“I know that many public schools are going to 1:1 classrooms. My students need to learn how best to use these devices, and many of them may have come from schools where the devices were in use,” she said. “Why shouldn’t the University match and better the experiences these students had before they got here and teach them the best practices for these devices so they can be better prepared for the teaching market?”

Morgan Theall has used these resources in her courses for two years and continues to look for more valuable ways to expand the use of apps and to further engage students into the learning process.

“When they realize that it’s not just a ‘busy work’ thing or a novelty, and that they really can learn using the devices, then they are very excited.  They show me new apps all the time.  I have them share the best apps with each other and make recommendations for how and when to use them.  And, I have less of other device distractions in the room such as text messaging and Facebook,” Morgan Theall said.

She said she uses Nearpod to lecture and quiz students by using a drawing feature that allows her to see in real-time if students understand the concept. Students using Nearpod can draw images, such as models of an atom, and then submit them to Morgan Theall. She can instantly see her students’ drawings and anonymously share them with the class to spark classroom discussion.

“I share drawings that have errors in them and we talk about how to make the drawing better, and I share drawings that are really well done so students can see an ideal drawing,” she said. “I usually go through the process at least twice – draw, discuss, draw – and all that data is stored so that I can see how the students improve with continued instruction in Nearpod.  I also know where my students’ weaknesses are and where I need to explain again or spend more time with the material to help them understand.”

Socrative allows her to create polls in which students can answer individually or in teams fostering group discussion. Slide Shark allows her to write on PowerPoint slides. Morgan Theall notes this is a great resource in large lecture halls where board space is limited due to projector screens.

Other apps Morgan Theall uses are Spectrum Analysis, which analyzes the atomic spectra and shows students what to look for in lab experiments, and SpectraSnapp, which walks general chemistry students through how to build their own spectroscope from their phones, capture spectra with their phone’s camera, and help students to analyze their spectra to determine which elements are present in the light they looked at through the spectroscope.