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Using the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen in the Chemistry or Science Classroom (Or Any Classroom)

February 5th, 2010 DanStasko No comments

By guest blogger, Dr. Dan Stasko, Natural & Applied Sciences Professor at the University of Southern Maine, Lewiston-Auburn College  [See also: Chemistry Pencasts + A Comparison of Pencasts With Other Forms of Lecture Capture]

Those of you reading this blog regularly already know what the LivescribeSmartpen is. But, for those unfamiliar, it is a device that records what is written along with audio present at the same time.  Wow! This is such a blasé description for such a game changing device in the educational arena, akin to the Grand Canyon being a hole in the ground. Unless they see it in action, it is hard to impress upon someone what a novel and ingenious tool this is.  I just want to take a moment to share the ways others and I are using the Livescribe pen to improve the educational experience for our students, particularly science, technology engineering and math students (STEM students). Much of what I will discuss below is shown in practice here or incorporated into my University of Southern Maine class website: danhasclass.blogspot.com.

One of the most straightforward application for the pen is it’s stated function: note taking. From the educators perspective, we apparently have limited control in this arena because not all of our students have the pen. But, if we extend the note taking concept to other areas, then  ‘annotated notes’ have a wide range of potential applications that an educator can implement.  Items like student-parent-teacher conferences (as described here ) and annotated flash cards (as described here ) are a few of the readily applied uses in this arena.  A simple extension of this annotated note concept takes advantage of the fact that the pencast is near ideal for quick tutorials. The instructor is able draw figures and charts or formula and equations that can be discussed and extended in an incredibly straightforward and natural way. If you have ever had the ‘pleasure‘ of using Mathtype or Microsoft Equation Editor to write an equation, you know that what should be a 2 second job with a pen and paper has now taken minutes.  It is the difference between calling someone on the phone and explaining how you would call someone on the phone. One is effortless. The other laborious and involves detailed description of a large numbers of steps.  The livescribe pen and the shareable pencasts that result allow the educator to quickly craft a series of examples that, literally, talk the students through problems and examples, such as the talking math exam solutions ( shown here ). These are all potent options for an educator.

Pedagogically, giving students detailed answers is not beneficial, but, rather than seeing the problem laid out for them, these pencasts offer the opportunity for the instructor to model and underscore the thought process and problem solving skills which the students can hopefully incorporate into their own attempts.   At the University of Southern Maine, I have been attempting to incorporate some of these techniques into my classroom by generating small ‘lecturettes’ dealing with review topics or extra worked out examples that students can access out of class.  Two recent examples of this include a few extra examples dealing with free-radical reactions in organic chemistry and a refresher review of the concept and uses of molarity for a General Chemistry class.  This moves some review and practice out of the very limited class time and allows for learner centered teaching, with students able to experience the review material they need (as needed) while accessing fresh content and still having the time to ask questions in class.  I worry less now about ‘covering content’ because I know that I can slip extra examples into the study materials for the class or pen an additional example as needed for those students that want it.

Example Lecturette:

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