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What challenges do online projects pose for teachers?

The most common problem is where do you fit in time for an online project in an already bulging schedule? Is it worth eliminating or down-sizing some content topic? Only the classroom teacher can judge where or if online projects fit into his or her teaching. What to cover in depth, and what to skim through superficially is always an issue in teaching -- more so in biology than in any other discipline. The National Science Standards urge us to address the nature of science and the process of science in our teaching. Online projects can be a means of putting students in the active role of researchers, learning by doing, revealing the assumptions and tenets of the scientific method in a concrete way as they go.

In our tightly organized course outlines, it often happens that we are teaching about nematodes when an online project about plants or environmental policy appears on the horizon. How important is it to adhere to a logical sequence of topics set forth in September and how important is it to seize the moment and join in a stimulating collaboration with other student researchers? Only the classroom teacher can weigh the many considerations that go into this decision (constraints of district achievement tests on content, the interests and personalities of students in the class, resources, etc.). Often, this challenge is really an opportunity to point out the connection between topics in biology. For example, nematodes are important pests on crops. They occupy a major niche in ecosystems and are affected by our policy decisions. Some cause illness in humans. You can connect virtually any 2 topics in biology.

One might argue that being able to stop what you are doing, observe, and hypothesize is a scientific virtue. What if Alexander Fleming had thrown out those funky plates contaminated by blue mold because they weren't on the lab agenda? Real science is not always convenient. It takes time and persistence. Experiments usually don't "work" the first time, but require repetition and refinement. Online projects can provide this lesson also.

Online projects involve collaboration at the classroom level and beyond. To make them work educationally, teachers need to incorporate stragies of cooperative learning and individual accountability into their lesson plans. We can discuss specific ways to do this below.

What is the best way to choose an Online Project?

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