Clare Wagstaff teaches 6th grade Physics and Chemistry and 8th grade Earth Science at a small private K-8 school in Buffalo, New York. She describes herself as "really lucky" with great students, small class sizes and plenty of resources. She loves the SoS online courses (she has participated in five courses to date) because they are flexible, and they are concentrated in terms of content and expectations. She described the courses as "Ideal for teachers…they start very basic and for someone who doesn't know anything…in the end you can come out with degree level stuff. " She enrolled in the Ocean System course in the summer of 2005 in part for graduate credit towards her master's, but mostly because as a SCUBA diver she has a great interest in the oceans and knew that the course provided a good survey of oceanography in a six-week period.
Meeting the needs of online students: a well-designed course
Clare found that the design of the SoS course met all of her needs for graduate level learning. She appreciated that researchers who are currently working in the field provided course content.
In terms of what I actually got out of the course, I thought it was super. I liked the way I could talk directly to people who are doing research right in the field, it is current, it is there. It is not textbook with the same thing for ten years. These essays are from people who are actually in the field doing it right now.
Even though the course was online, Clare said it provided her with opportunities to do hands-on research, and the video links helped her feel connected to her instructors.
What I'm learning about needs to be something that I can see, touch. I am dyslexic, not severely, but the fact that this course has so many different teaching styles, it really adapts to me beautifully…The video links, I loved that-it felt like I was actually in a classroom and talking to these people directly.
Clare thought the online format provided another advantage in that she had time to think carefully and iteratively about her answers to questions posed by the instructors and her classmates.
I was talking with my fellow students every day. There was often someone who would comment on my writing, or ask me a question that would make me stop and think and go away and research and come back. Whereas, in a normal graduate class, where I sat in a classroom, I wouldn't have a chance to go away and look up and research my answers again, I would be on the spot there. With this class, I found I could go away, really think about the questions that were being asked and come back and reply. I had a whole week to do that.
A greater understanding of the world: a richer personal and professional life
Clare reported that the SoS course increased her understanding of ocean systems, and this knowledge has had both professional and personal pay-offs. Professionally, she found it enriched her teaching by making her a more enthusiastic and confident teacher.
The course made my teaching easier. It made me understand what I was teaching. I could easily teach something without having to completely understand it, but the fact is it made my enthusiasm greater, because I had a better grasp of what was going on. It made me feel more confident in the classroom.
The knowledge she gained also enhanced her diving experiences and her understanding of the world around her.
It made me appreciate what I was looking at when I was diving out there and some of the physical effects that were occurring. I lived in England and I never really realized why the water was warmer there than I expected it to be at that latitude. But, when you think about it in terms of the North Atlantic current, and the warm water that it takes over there, it makes sense.
Up-to-date research: time to adapt it to the classroom
As her final project for the SoS course, Clare developed a detailed lesson plan for three or four lessons, using the knowledge and resources she had gained through the course.
I produced probably the most detailed and extensively thought out lessons I ever have. And to spend that much time on something like that is great, but in every day life, you can't do that, unfortunately. That is probably what I took away most-the fact that I managed to summarize and use it productively in a classroom session.
One of the activities Clare adapted for her 8th grade Earth Science course was a simulation of ocean currents available through the American Museum of Natural History's website. Clare wove the model into a discussion that began with physical properties of water, such as salinity, density and temperature, and moved from there to ocean currents and environments. Clare described ocean currents as a concept that is typically very confusing to students when learned from a textbook, but is much clearer when learned through an interactive model.
On the web site, the American Museum of Natural History gave us a really good interactive example of how the currents move, actually making it more visual and interactive. I could go on there and change different parameters and so the students could see the effects. For example, with global warming, melting polar ice and how that would cool the surface current and how that would have an overall effect on things like climate. The students loved it. They are exactly like myself. Give them something they can get their hands on and you have got them straight away.
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