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    Philippa On The Ice Philippa Werry at an Antarctic research camp 2016

New Zealand Science Teacher

Learning in Science

New website for science teachers and students

Pathwayz is a new interactive website for science teachers and their students.

ben himme 3 olivia and caitlin smallCarmel College students Olivia and Caitlin work on Pathwayz.

With material arranged in a tree-like format, Pathwayz is a collaborative space where teachers can share resources and ideas, as well as create custom ‘learning pathways’ by specifying a sequence of tasks (nodes) for their students. 

Benjamin Himme is a science teacher at Carmel College in Milford, Auckland. Over the past two years he has been developing the website for science teachers and their students.

“The site has notes and videos that are organised into a branching tree structure. Each idea is represented by a leaf and one concept builds off another. The idea is that concepts follow a logical progression,” he says.

The site currently includes coverage of the NCEA Level 1 science externals and Level 2 and 3 biology externals. Materials for senior physics/chemistry and the Cambridge curriculum (CIE) are in development.  

New Zealand Science Teacher asked Benjamin (below, with student Emma) about the project’s genesis.

ben himme 2 ben and emma small

Hi Benjamin. How did Pathwayz come about, and who was involved?

The project began about two years ago. In a funny way, Khan Academy was a big inspiration for the site. I was watching one of their videos – it contained a small mistake that was immediately corrected, but it made me realise that their content wasn't perfect either.

I had been making YouTube videos for my students and wondered if there was any way to contribute to the site. I was disappointed to find they only accept financial contributions/help with translating videos into other languages. I simply felt that it was a flawed model to have all the content produced by one person.

No-one can be an expert in every field and this greatly limits the depth, breadth and quality of content available on an educational resource site. There are many teachers out there who make amazing YouTube videos for their students. I think Wikipedia has proven that a user-generated and moderated approach can yield vast amounts of high quality content. We really believe that every teacher is an expert.  All teachers work hard to make high quality resources for our classes. I wanted to provide a platform where we could easily share these resources.

Pathwayz was born after a dinner with a group of friends. My friend Samuel Crookes is an IT consultant who runs a successful IT business (Warp Speed Computers). He’s always had an avid interest in all things scientific, and together, we developed the concept of a user-generated and moderated website for science teachers and their students. 

The project started as a partnership between the two of us. It's been a lot of work, and neither of us could have done this on our own.  A few other teachers have since come on board too and have started developing content for Pathwayz. 

What does ‘study like a ninja’ mean?

I guess ‘study like a ninja’ really means ‘study smarter, not harder’. There are a lot of websites with scientific information. The challenge for students is navigating this sea of content and finding relevant material at the right level.

We wanted to create a ‘tree of knowledge’ that's all-encompassing, but also allows students to display only what's immediately relevant to their curriculum or course. Every node (leaf/concept) can be tagged based on its relevance to a curriculum topic. This means that students can apply a filter and see what's relevant to their curriculum topic.

We also wanted students to be able to study ideas in a logical progression. The branching tree structure allows students to see how different concepts relate to one another. It allows them to get some idea of what prior knowledge is needed before progressing to higher level concepts.

We also hope to add more advanced functions one day, like a system that reminds students to revisit concepts after increasing time intervals (e.g. revisit an idea after a day, then a week, then a month).

Teachers are invited to contribute to the site. How does that work?

Registered and authenticated teachers (we do some checks to try and make sure they really are a teacher) can add videos and resources to the site. If teachers would like more involvement, we can allow them higher-level privileges to develop an area they are passionate about.

Those who become developers who can add or edit the notes can even add to and alter the organisation of concepts within the tree. Sam has developed a pretty neat system. The tree isn't static. Anyone with sufficient privilege can add a concept to the tree; our system calculates the best possible structure, preventing crossovers and overlaps. 

Developers can also tag nodes as relevant to a specific curriculum. I've always felt that different curricula act as a barrier to collaboration. As teachers, we tend to organise content according to our own curriculum or course. Thus, we operate in the relative isolation of our classrooms and schools.

There are plenty of sites out there with resources for teachers, but they are either organised according to a single curriculum or lack any organisation at all. We wanted to develop a system that had the flexibility to overcome this barrier.

Pathwayz has an underlying ‘tree of knowledge’, but each user might see it from a different perspective by applying curriculum specific filters. If a user adds content, it still goes into the underlying tree of knowledge so that teachers will have access to it.

ben himme 1 emma small

Left: Carmel College student Emma tries out the new website.

What’s your vision for Pathwayz, and how do you see it being incorporated into the work of New Zealand science teachers?

Ultimately, we hope to have a large number of teachers each making a small contribution to an area of the site that they are most passionate about. Pathwayz is not about producing content. That's why Pathwayz is free to use and always will be (subscription fees act as a barrier to collaboration). We could never charge for people to access content that they have helped produce.

What do you have planned for the future?

We hope to add multiple choice questions to the site in the coming year. Teachers will then be able to set custom learning pathways (a series of ideas) and monitor their progress as students answer questions after each concept. They'll also be able to generate class quizzes specific to their course just by selecting the relevant concepts from the tree. We'll actually get the students to write the questions. Whenever they are set a task, they'll start by each writing a question themselves.

Each time a student answers a question (written by another student) they'll rate it. Their final score for a task will be based largely on the questions they've answered, but a small component will also be based on how other students rated their question. Poorly rated questions will get eliminated from the 'gene pool'. In this way, students will make a significant contribution to the site too. 

Visit Pathwayz resource site.

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