ET541 Week 2 Relative Advantage of Instructional Software in the Classroom

I liked how in the audio introduction of chapter three, Roblyer (2016)  refers to the different types of software as “teaching functions to meet certain learning needs rather than ways to classify software products” (p. 74 ).  I like thinking of the different types of software in terms of “how can they function in the class “ or “how I can use the software to achieve the goals of a lesson?” I found that a very good thought to keep in mind as I explore instructional software.

Software Types

The learning functions or instructional software are: Drill and Practice, Tutorials, Simulations, Instructional Games, and Problem Solving. It is important to note that there is overlap in the different software that is available, as one might find drill and practice software that also has games, etc. I currently employ lots of tutorials in my classes, and some use of other software such as simulations, drill & practice, and problem solving.

Drill and Practice gives students practice doing a specific activity such as vocabulary or math facts, and gives feedback to student on their answer. Flashcards are a classic example. Other examples include fill in charts (think multiplication tables), and branching drills where questions increase or decrease in difficulty based on student responses. An easy to use flashcard maker is Quizlet.  In my earth science classroom, I can see using Quizlet to help my students master the basic terms. The earth science classes are mixed abilities classes and I think all students would benefit from the quizlet flashcards, the high achieving students like the reinforcement, and the lower achieving students will benefit from reviewing the information in a quick, interactive manner. Quizlet allows teachers and students to create their own flashcards that can include some stock photos, and also allows users to browse and use flashcards created by other Quizlet members. For a $25 fee, teachers can upgrade to an annual teacher account which is ad-free, allows teachers to track student progress, add images to flashcards, and gives the option to record audio. Although the focus of my final project is on Earth and Space Science, I wanted to include one of my favorite drill and practice websites for Physics: The Physics Classroom . This website has different sections, but drill and practice questions can be found in the Tutorial,  the Review Session , Minds on Physics (MOPs) , and the Calculator Pad.

Tutorials as the name implies, help students  learn about a specific topic. According to Roblyer (2016), a tutorial is a  “self-contained instructional unit rather than a supplement to other instruction. Students should be able to learn the topic without any other help or materials”(p. 83). A good tutorial is interactive, and gives the student an opportunity to practice the skill by giving feedback. One frustration is that some tutorials are “page turners” meaning they are basically online books without opportunity to practice skills/knowledge learned.

Some good tutorials for Earth and Space Science can be found at The Universtiy of Utah’s Astrophysics Science Project Integrating Research and Education (ASPIRE) page. Some of these are true tutorials, meaning they are stand alone lessons with opportunity to drill and practice, while others are simulations or games. Some of my favorites “true” tutorials from ASPIRE are: Star Lifecycle, and  Seismic Waves .  Another good source of interactive Tutorials is from Annenberg Learner Interactives. Again, some are stand alone, fully functional tutorials, while others are simulations, or do not offer feedback. Some of my favorite tutorials form Annenberg Learner for Earth and Space Science are: Interactives Rock CycleInteractives Dynamic Earth. Both have interactive check points with a “game like” feel along the the way, and assessments at the end. Annenberg Learner also has an excellent tutorial  periodic table. The National Oceangraphic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a good tutorial which is somewhat interactive, NOAA Jetstream School. This site acts as text book, and offers short quizzes (about ten questions) at the end of each unit. Another tutorial that has simulation and problem solving overlap is Science Courseware. This site offers free sign up for tutorials, simulations and assessments in a variety of science topics. There are some other good sites; however, these tutorials really are just on line texts as they are not interactive in terms of giving feedback to students. For Earth and Space Science these include the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS),  National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA),  and Window to the Universe.  When I use these sites, I will give my students specific questions to answer, and then we either review as a class, collect as an assignment, or quiz on the material (using their notes).

Some specific sites from both NASA and the USGS that I have used include: NASA Univese 101 : a great resourse to learn about Big Bang Theory, evidence to support the Bigh Bang, and more. Our Star the Sun which gives the reader a good introduction to the anatomy of our sun. USGS Geology in the Parks Rocks and Minerals Site to learn about rock types and rock cycles. I use this as a follow up to the Annenberg Interactives Rock Cycle activity. What on Earth is Plate Tectonics  or This Dynamic Earth: the Story of Plate Tectonics. I use either of these as a follow up with the Annenberg Interactives Dynamic Earth tutorial.

Again, my focus is on Earth and Space Science, but I would be remiss if I didn’t include my all time favorite tutorial, The Physics Classroom Tutorial. I use it as my textbook in Physics. This tutorial has animations, questions to check for understanding, and links to other topics to reinforce prior ideas. All in all, I measure all other tutorials against this one!

Simulations are interactive programs that allow users to learn about a topic or learn how to do something. Simulations are a natural in the science classroom especially for labs that could be dangerous, too costly, or take place very short or very long time scales. They are a good way to either introduce a topic or to follow-up a hands-on lab activity to check for understanding. Lastly, simulations can take the place of demonstrations. Some good Simulations for Earth & Space Science include ASPIRE . Specific Simulations for Earth Science include In Search of Cosmic Rays, and Cosmic ZoomPhet from the University of Colorado is another well trusted simulation source for all the science disciplines.  Specifically for Earth Science,  I have used the Greenhouse Effect, and next year I hope to introduce Plate Tectonics which allows students to see the progression of plates by compressing the time scale. Another source of Interactives can be found at the Glencoe Earth Science textbook site by searching the virtual labs.  Specifically, the following virtual labs work well: How are rocks classified?  allows students the opportunity to look at a variety of rocks and classify them, How do seismographs help determine an earthquake’s epicenter? allows students to quickly see the process used to locate epicenters of earthquakes,  What is the structure of Earth’s Atmosphere? allows students to “see” what occurs in each layer of our atmosphere, How do meteorologist predict the weather?, and How does the chemical composition of stars determine their classification?. For Physics, the Physics Classroom has a great assortment of interactives to help students solidify their understanding of concepts. Some of my favorites are Name that Motion, Graph that Motion, and Projectile Simulator.

Instructional Games have many similarities to drill and practice software, as well as simulations; however they are”often overlaid with game rules” (Roblyer, p. 96). Games also have  a competitive feel. Some  game software that I think I can use in my Earth Science class are: Quizlet which allows students to create games and keep score by clicking on the “Play” icon.  ReviewGame Zone is a site that allows teachers to create games that are content specific. Tried and true, students love to play Jeopardy in class. It makes a good review for assessments, but I find that studentssometimes get more caught up in the score rather than the content! A good Jeopardy maker can be found at Super Teacher Tools and Jeopardy Labs. Students also like to do crosswords as review, I have students complete in pairs or individually and will give a prize (a bonus point on test) to first team done. An easy crossword puzzle maker can be found at The Teachers Corner  and A to Z Teacher Stuff. Here is a link to some fun Earth Science hangman review games created by Charles Burrows from Spring Valley High School.

Problem Solving software does just that, it helps students solve problems. There are two types content specific problems, and general problem solving skills. Science Courseware has several sites to simulate and assess students knowledge in a problem solving environment. The site is free, and teachers must register their classes and students log on to site to take part in the tutorial/simulatiojn/problem solving activity, and then take a quiz. The teacher can log on and see all the student scores. I can definitely see myself using this in my earth science class next year, although the students will need practice navigating the website. Some other earth science specific problem solving sites can be found at Annenberg Learner Interactives. These combine tutorials with problem solving in such activities as Where Should you build? which gives students the opportunity to learn about volcanoes, and problem solve as to the best location for locating a building based on geologic evidence and Storm Chaser  where students determine the chance of a tornado occurrence.

Relative Advantage of using some of these in my earth science class include using tutorials in place of textbooks and lectureclass notes saving both money and time. The district will not need to buy expensive new textbooks to replace the dated books from 1999, and the tutorials save class time by allowing the teacher to work with students as questions arise as opposed to spending class time lecturing from powerpoint or SmartBoard notes. The use of these tutorials will also engage the students more than a traditional textbook. Another relative advantage of using the software is that students can pace themselves and go back to review if necessary. Also, the students will get a feel for what real seismologist, volcanologists, and meteorologists actually do by participating in simulations and problem solving activities. Overall, adding some of these software types can enhance the Earth Science Environment.


Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating technology into education. (7th ed.). New York, NY, Pearson.


6 responses to “ET541 Week 2 Relative Advantage of Instructional Software in the Classroom

  1. Caroline, what an awesome collection of resources! Some of these have resources appropriate for elementary age students as well as your level, so I’m excited to explore in more depth.
    Like you, our textbooks are extremely dated. California has adopted their version of NGSS, but textbook adoption won’t be for another few years. Meanwhile, we’re trying to make sure that our instruction is relevant, rigorous, and promotes critical thinking and problem solving. It’s a challenge!

    • Thanks Molly~ There is definitely overlap between the grades, and I know I have found some good resources on your page as well as some of our peers. I can see my high schooler students enjoying some of the website geared toward younger students, and some of those sites might be good for my struggling learners.

  2. Caroline, your post is really clear and well written and it is chock full of resources! Great job. You did a nice job of explaining each of the types of software and then giving really detailed information on how you might integrate specific software of these types into your Earth Science and Physics classes. I had a hard time coming up with software for simulations and problem-solving for my focus on undergrad classes in critical thinking, so it’s really nice to see all of these examples of software in for your focus area. I like that you’re not merely listing off software, but thinking about how the software can be used to achieve your instructional goals. Thanks for a great overview! I might check out some of this software, just for fun.

  3. Thanks, Mindi. I had the hardest time finding games and problem solving software. It is fun to see all the different software that our classmates are posting, now just to find the time to look at them, and figure out what I can use in class and how best to incorporate into my ever evolving lesson plans!

  4. As a math teacher in a problem and project-based classroom, I have to rely on the connections between math and science to find authentic problems for many of my content standards. I cannot wait to use the physics simulations in my pre-calculus class. It will be great for my students to see the movement and connect them to graph types, an important skill in using functions to model behavior.

    Thank you for sharing such a huge list of science resources!

  5. Simulations are great for Earth Science. A perfect example of when they are almost necessary. Geologic processes take too long and are often too large to observe otherwise.
    NASA has great resources.

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