There's an App for That: Designing a Smartphone App about Ecosystems

Contributor
Bradley Bowen and James Finch
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
Activity
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

This article in NSTA’s March 2014 edition of The Science Teacher describes how one class studied interdependent relationships in ecosystems by building smartphone apps. Student teams used engineering design principles to define a problem, research and develop solutions, and optimize designs. Once an app design was completed, students created a prototype and “marketed” their app to their peers using a 30-second video commercial. Each step of the project was guided by essential questions provided in the article. Students individually documented their progress in a journal. Upon receiving final feedback from their peers, students recorded reflections on the design process and what they had learned about the ecosystem they studied. The article provides one example of student work, an app summary sheet which describes the project, and a rubric. The rubric was used to clarify expectations to the students and to assess the final project. The teacher who used the activity reflects on the project and offers suggestions for modifying implementation of the activity at the end of the article. App design software websites are listed for teachers’ reference. The activity does not appear to address the influence of either constant or changing conditions on the complex interactions in ecosystems, but it is possible that a particular app design may do so.

Intended Audience

Educator
Educational Level
  • High School
Language
English
Access Restrictions

Available by subscription - The right to view and/or download material, often for a set period of time, by way of a financial agreement between rights holders and authorized users.

Performance Expectations

HS-LS2-7 Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.

Clarification Statement: Examples of human activities can include urbanization, building dams, and dissemination of invasive species.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The article states that this activity is aligned to three PEs: HS-ETS1-3, HS-LS2-6, and HS-LS2-7*. As written, the activity focuses on the engineering design process within HS-ETS1-3. Teachers will need to be proactive to be sure students are fully engaged with the disciplinary core ideas found within the life science performance expectations. One way to do this is to build into the activity a formative assessment that evaluates how well the teams answer the three essential questions about the content of their initial app design. Other ways to encourage students to engage with the content is to include additional criteria on both the app summary sheet (see p. 44) and the rubric (see p. 46).

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The engineering design process is well articulated in the article and supported by suggestions by the authors. Teachers may find a list of steps on p. 42 particularly helpful if they are unfamiliar with how to go about design thinking in engineering. Such steps include defining the problem, researching the problem, brainstorming possible solutions with peers, identifying the best solution, and then an iterative process of making a model, testing the solution, getting feedback, and redesigning the model.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Given the strong engineering emphasis in this activity, teachers will need to be sure that students engage with the disciplinary core ideas. Asking generative questions of the students about their local environment or an environment that is of natural interest may help to stimulate students' thinking. Also, students are most engaged with the disciplinary core ideas at the beginning of the lesson (p. 42) when they contemplate the three essential questions. The student example provided on p. 43 shows an understanding of the disciplinary core ideas. Teachers should be monitoring the content of the student projects to be sure the disciplinary core idea is not lost in the engineering design process. To address this concern, teachers could add a section within the app design sheet, the app summary sheet, or the rubric that reminds students that the app needs to include the DCI. See also the tip included in the PE section of this review.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The design choice for the app will be a determining factor in how well the crosscutting concept is addressed. Teachers should be cognizant of both the disciplinary core idea and the crosscutting concept and look for ways the app design addresses these components of the performance expectation. If a design lacks these components, then one way to prompt students is to ask a question about how the app will address the disciplinary core idea or crosscutting concept. The peer review process may also provide an avenue for students to check each other and to see how well the different dimensions of the performance expectations are addressed. Finally, teachers may want to add criteria to the app summary sheet or the rubric to specifically highlight attention to the crosscutting concept.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This activity excels in its application of engineering design principles to a life science activity. Teachers who are unfamiliar with the engineering design process will appreciate the annotated list of steps which include researching and defining the problem, brainstorming one possible "best" solution to model, and then an iterative process of building a model, testing the model, getting feedback from peers, and redesigning the model. As mentioned previously, teachers will need to be proactive in supporting the life science performance expectations. Ways to do so are mentioned in the tips for addressing the disciplinary core idea section above.

  • Instructional Supports: The instructor is provided with one example of student work, an app summary sheet which describes the project, and a rubric. The rubric can be used to clarify expectations to the students and to assess the final project. A complete listing of freely available app software is provided, along with tips about how to best incorporate this information into the activity. There is some information provided about how to tie the design process to the life science content, but as stated earlier in this review, teachers may want to add criteria addressing the disciplinary core ideas and the crosscutting concepts to the app summary sheet and the rubric. Asking generative questions of the students about their local environment or an environment that is of natural interest may help to stimulate students' thinking. Helpful resources to guide creating good generative questions may be found here: http://learnweb.harvard.edu/alps/tfu/info3c.cfm http://www.exploratorium.edu/ifi/resources/workshops/teachingforunderstanding.html

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Teachers can use particular steps described in the activity to monitor student progress. These steps include reviewing the student journals at regular intervals throughout the activity, the memo to the teacher, the App summary sheet, the commercial, and the student feedback. An additional way to monitor student progress could include using a Google doc for teams to record their answers/thoughts to guiding questions throughout the activity. There is no guidance offered to support differentiated instruction.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Technology is not a component of the resource itself; the resource is paper-based. However, a variety of options are presented for teachers to use technology to support this lesson. The choice of technology is left to the teacher. This review will be strengthened by teachers submitting their experiences with the different technological options.