Putting Science4Us to the Test
Science4Us may be a new curriculum, but it’s undergone various stages of field testing over the past three years. From homeschool parents and students providing feedback about basic game play to classroom teachers suggesting specific features to improve the curriculum design, we received a significant amount of feedback and suggestions that have helped shape the curriculum we have today.
Initial testing of the online pieces of one module started in 2010 and was completed by a small group of homeschool families. During this beginning phase of testing, we were interested to know if students were able to successfully play the activities. We wanted to know if the activities were designed in a user friendly way. Comments from the first round of testing guided activity design.
Following the small usability testing of the online activities, we were interested in learning what teachers thought of the support materials included with the curriculum. This time around, we provided a small number of traditional classroom teachers with a packet of offline material to accompany the online activities of one module. We were interested in learning how the teachers implemented the online activities with their students and their feedback regarding the hands-on activities and teacher guides. The results of this round of testing streamlined the development of our online activity Teacher Guides. It also provided information about how a digital curriculum fits in today’s classroom environment. We found that all of the teachers in this round of testing implemented Science4Us as a whole class using a projector. Realizing this detail helped guide the development of discussion questions and the understanding that the curriculum needed to be flexible in it’s delivery, as not all classrooms have the same technology.
Also from this initial classroom testing we were able to get an idea of the grade level appropriateness of the hands on activities that accompany the online activities. Teachers provided candid feedback regarding the degree of difficulty their students had completing or comprehending each activity. We found that diversity of activities was the key.
Then in 2011, classroom testing of a module, complete with updated online and offline activities, began. Not only were the digital and hands-on components in place, but also many of the teacher resources, such as the student reports and lesson plans, were available for scrutiny. Kindergarten, first and second grade teachers across three schools implemented one module with their students and provided feedback regarding general usability as well as many suggestions for improvements. One of the many suggestions that we took from our users was to provide teachers with a guide for each of the eight sessions that make up a module. Another idea from a teacher lead to the addition of the function that allows teachers to comment on their students’ Notebook entries.
The official beta testing program began with the 2012 school year. Hundreds of teachers across 34 states, including homeschool and traditional classroom teachers participated. We still collected general feedback from the users, but we also implemented surveys to garner specific information. What would make Science4Us easier to use? Would using Science4Us have any impact on a teacher’s interest in teaching science or a student’s interest to learn science? Not only did more excellent suggestions come through, we found the curriculum was making a difference.
Teacher suggestions from the beta testing resulted in many changes, including limiting the number of rounds played in specific games to help keep young learners engaged, and combining all of the printed material into one PDF for one-click printing to save teachers time in preparing lessons. In addition, a key feature of the curriculum, the ability to assign activities to one student or the whole class, was developed and tested with many feature updates suggested by the users. So not only can work be assigned, but student progress can be checked with a quick click of a button. We asked teachers what they wanted in a digital curriculum and we listened, implementing their suggestions to make using Science4Us that much easier.
Teachers commented that their students “… are more interested, engaged and excited to learn.” “They love the videos and songs! They don’t even realize they are learning!” The students “…are always observing and researching new information seen in the program.” But what did the teachers themselves think? Did we give teachers what they wanted and what they needed to provide a stellar science experience for their students? One teacher commented that Science4Us “…has given me a good foundation to build a lesson upon. It adds vocabulary that I have not discussed in the past, vocabulary that is pertinent, but other textbooks have never included. I love that.” While another mentioned that they “…love the integration of technology. I also love that it is hands-on science with very little expense and prep. This program is very valuable in that way.”
Over two years, Science4Us was put to the test by families and classrooms, and it’s only become a stronger product as a result.