School Library Monthly/Volume XXVII, Number 2/November 2010
The National Science Digital Library: STEM Resources for the 21st-Century Learner
by Daniel Toomey
Daniel Toomey is a 7th and 8th grade science teacher at Edgewood Campus School in Madison, WI. Email: email@example.com
The National Science Foundation (NSF) established the National Science Digital Library (NSDL, nsdl.org) in 2000 as a central online network for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teaching and learning. The NSDL comprises over fifteen audience-specific pathways and dozens of collections offering interactive Web-based resources, professional learning opportunities, research-based findings, and software tools for all aspects of STEM education. It offers a wide range of information that is especially beneficial to science and math educators looking for trusted online resources to use in formal and informal settings. School librarians will want to be familiar with this resource and can be instrumental in introducing other educators to it.
The driving force behind the NSDL is the many partnerships with STEM organizations. These exemplary organizations can be found through the Web individually; however, the NSDL provides a location for all of these organizations under one Web site. Therefore, a search can be funneled directly to related subject queries and avoid unnecessary results. A link on the NSDL Web site (http://nsdl.org/about/?pager=pathways) lists all of the pathways, subject areas, and collaborators associated with the NSDL. Examples of Pathway Partners include the Chemical Education Pathway (UW-Madison's Journal of Chemical Education and American Chemistry Society), the Biological Science Pathways (AAAS), and the Engineering Pathway (University of California Berkeley and University of Colorado).
In addition to the extensive science and math pathways, the NSDL contains several other components: Science Literacy Maps, Science Refreshers, NSDL on iTunes U, Collections, Resources for K-12 Teachers and Librarians, Expert Voices Blogs, NSDL Wiki, Recommended Resources, and Brown Bag and Web Seminars. Each resource is located on the left-hand menu column.
Science Literacy Maps
One of the most helpful components for teachers on this site is the Science Literacy Maps. Science teachers are required to teach grade-level local, state, and national science standards. Recently, there has been a push to measure teacher effectiveness based on these learning outcomes through standardized test scores. Now more than ever, science teachers are faced with a need to navigate successfully through each of these sets of standards, not only to teach the content to students but also for personal accountability to their school district. The NSDL, in partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Project 2061, has created a concept-browsing interface based on the Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS 1993) and the strand map visualizations published in Volume 1 and 2 of the Atlas of Science Literacy (AAAS 2001, 2007) The Benchmarks are progressions of learning goals that describe what learners should know, or be able to do, at key stages in their education across the natural sciences, mathematics, technology, and social science disciplines. In the Science Literacy Maps, a user can search by a specific benchmark and find lessons, related resources, and related standards (http://strandmaps.nsdl.org/). The concept map of a physical science standard is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. NSDL Science Literacy Maps
A science teacher who is teaching about the States of Matter can use the Science Literacy Maps to search for a specific benchmark within this map and obtain a wealth of information related to that benchmark. In this instance, the search shows the results of a 6th-8th grade benchmark within the States of Matter map. The selected benchmark addresses atomic theory, temperature, energy, and heated substances that expand: "Atoms and molecules are perpetually in motion. Increased temperature means greater average energy of motion, so most substances expand when heated" (http://nsdl.org). The "Top Picks" link provides the most relevant resources, while the "Related Resources" contains more choices for the users. An important aspect of the NSDL Science Literacy Maps is the entire search results are obtained from one of the collections or pathways that comprise the library, e.g., the resource has been specifically selected by a scientist or educator for inclusion in the library. Often when using Google or other search engines, the user is inundated with millions of results—many of which are unrelated to the subject. Further, the user is then required to determine if a particular source is trustworthy or not. Because of these considerations, it is extremely advantageous to use NSDL resources such as the Literacy Maps, because there are no longer extended amounts of time spent by the user verifying the authenticity and relevance of the resource.
Another key feature of the Science Literacy Maps is the link to the corresponding National Science Education Standards or NSES (NRC 1996). In the past, science teachers spent hours tabbing cross-referencing between both sets of national science standards in an effort to verify that each was met throughout the year. Correlating information from both books was time consuming and, at times, frustrating, but now science teachers can easily use the Science Literacy Maps NSES link to toggle between both sets of standards. Using the atoms and molecules standard example, the user can verify the related NSES standard: "Heat consists of random motion and the vibrations of atoms, molecules, and ions. The higher the temperature, the greater the atomic or molecular motion" (http://nsdl.org). The term "ion" is used in the related NSES, therefore, the teacher should consider discussing this term as well. In science, especially chemistry, ions explain the interactions of atoms and molecules and reveal its positive or negative charge. This can lead to several other important ideas including energy, bonding, and water quality. In addition, teachers can share the importance of calcium, sodium, and potassium ions within cells to this strand. Indeed, using the related NSES link can provide the teacher with a valuable tool to make connections between different sets of educational standards.
Another way to search for resources within the NSDL is through the K-12 Teacher Resources shortcuts (http://nsdl.org/resources_for/k12_teachers/). Teachers can access subject-specific material depending on their interest. Figure 2 shows an image of the resource page, and by clicking on one of the icons the user is directed to the main Web site of the pathway. For instance, clicking on the Chemistry link takes the user to the Chem Ed DL homepage (http://www.chemeddl.org/collections/) housed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chemistry Department. There are several links to choose from on this page, and a particularly useful tool is the Periodic Table Live! (PTL). The PTL is an interactive Web-based resource that contains videos of how several elements react with air, base, acid, and water. For those students who ask, "When can we blow something up?" the PTL provides a safe response to this time-honored question.
Figure 2. K-12 Resources
Choosing the Life Science link sends the user to the BiosciEdNet or BEN collaborative. The first resource is DNA Interactive (http://www.dnai.org/), an interactive Web site devoted to the understanding of cell biology. Many of the advances in biology took place at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which makes this a perfect choice for science teachers looking for accessible and student-friendly online resources related to biology. The DNA Interactive Web site has an extensive timeline related to breakthroughs in science. In addition, there are interviews with James Watson and Francis Crick describing their initial reasoning prior to discovering the structure of DNA. Students are able to see, literally, how science builds on prior research. Under "Code," students read text and put pieces of the DNA puzzle together, much like a scientist. They can watch short video clips and manipulate state-of-the-art animations to understand the DNA-RNA-proteins sequence. There is also a section for teachers that includes worksheets and projects related to the Web site.
Science and math teachers no longer have to sift through the mountain of results obtained through popular search engines like Google and Yahoo. The NSDL provides an all-encompassing, reliable, and trusted online library of information that can certainly help any educator save time and effort when looking for teaching resources. School librarians can add this to their list of recommended online resources and help teachers and students learn to use it.
The resources and services of the NSDL can also be embedded directly into a school or library Web site allowing students, teachers, and parents direct, customized access to materials without having to leave the school Web site. The code for the Science Literacy Maps API is freely available and easily integrated into an existing Web site. Information on how to do this can be found under "For developers" on the main page of the maps (http://strandmaps.nsdl.org/). How to align in-house materials to the benchmarks and include them in the resources provided under the tabs is also included.
Customized, dynamic searches of NSDL collections can also be embedded in a library Web site by using Web search services, thus bringing the search returns directly into a myriad of contexts such as a teacher course Web site or pages to support student research. The searches can be customized using keywords for different topics, as well as by collection (http://nsdl.org/nsdl_dds/services/ddsws1-1/index.jsp). NSDL metadata is available for harvest via OAI, for those who wish to hold copies of the metadata records locally and integrate them with in-house catalogs and content. These capabilities take the wealth of NSDL resources and tools one step further towards supporting faculty and students in navigating the growing body of digital educational resources in support of learning goals. For further information on these services and how to embed NSDL into a library or school portal, school librarians can contact Laura Lusk (firstname.lastname@example.org).
National Science Foundation. National Science Digital Library. http://nsdl.org/ (accessed August 24, 2010).
American Association for the Advancement of Science. Benchmarks for Science Literacy. Oxford University Press, 1993.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. Atlas of Science Literacy. Vol. 1. American Association for the Advancement of Science Project 2061 and the National Science Teachers Association, 2001.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. Atlas of Science Literacy. Vol. 2. American Association for the Advancement of Science Project 2061 and the National Science Teachers Association, 2007.
National Research Council. National Science Education Standards. National Research Council and National Academy Press, 1996.
NSDL Science Literacy Maps. http://strandmaps.nsdl.org/ (accessed August 24, 2010).
NSDL Collection K-12 Short Cuts. http://nsdl.org/resources_for/k12_teachers/ (accessed August 24, 2010).