Computer-Assisted Instruction and Science

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Computer-Assisted Instruction and Science

What Is Computer-Assisted Instruction?
“Computer-assisted instruction” (CAI) refers to instruction or remediation presented on a computer. Many educational computer programs are available online and from computer stores and textbook companies. They enhance teacher instruction in several ways.

Computer programs are interactive and can illustrate a concept through attractive animation, sound, and demonstration. They allow students to progress at their own pace and work individually or problem solve in a group. Computers provide immediate feedback, letting students know whether their answer is correct. If the answer is not correct, the program shows students how to correctly answer the question. Computers offer a different type of activity and a change of pace from teacher-led or group instruction.

Computer-assisted instruction improves instruction for students with disabilities because students receive immediate feedback and do not continue to practice the wrong skills. Many computer programs can move through instruction at the student’s pace and keep track of the student’s errors and progress. Computers capture the students’ attention because the programs are interactive and engage the students’ spirit of competitiveness to increase their scores. Also, computer-assisted instruction moves at the students’ pace and usually does not move ahead until they have mastered the skill. Programs provide differentiated lessons to challenge students who are at risk, average, or gifted.

A Web site developed by the University of Vermont, http://www.uvm.edu/~jmorris/Sci.html contains links to many science programs. There are virtual field trips and experiences, science museums, lesson and unit plans, science information and ideas, and videos and software. Not all of the sites are free, but there are a variety of programs described, and this site is a good place to start. One site, for example, http://gldss7.cr.usgs.gov/neis/qed/qed.html, developed by the USGS, shows the position and magnitude of the earthquakes that have occurred over the past 8 – 30 days. One word of caution, try the Web sites on the above university Web site before you plan to use it. Several of the links are no longer available.

What Does CAI Look Like for Science?
Science computer programs demonstrate concepts, instruct, and remediate student errors and misunderstandings from preschool through college levels. Some programs help students learn key vocabulary words; others demonstrate concepts such as how machines work, the life cycle of a butterfly, and the positions of the stars and planets. Students can use Web sites to research information, find resources, or locate topics for science fair projects. Many science textbooks come with interactive CD-ROMs that can be used to reinforce ideas. Computer-created graphic organizers and concept maps can be used by students to organize ideas in science or as a guide for interpreting information found in a science textbook. Students can spend time in a virtual laboratory studying chemical reactions or observing a microscopic cell. They can answer questions about animals, see how clouds and mountains are formed, or watch the movement of the plates of our planet. There are games, quizzes, and information to support and enhance instruction. Problem-solving activities help students improve their higher order thinking skills and challenge all students. Below is an example of what students may see on the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Web site.

The USGS Web site, http://quake.wr.usgs.gov, has information that can enhance instruction about plate tectonics, waves, geography, history, and earthquake safety. Seismic charts from earthquake centers around the world show how the waves from the earthquake travel through the earth’s crust. Students can choose cities in the United States and determine from the earthquake activity map how their cities were...
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