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Medford teacher shares digital notebook idea

Josh Dumas, medford high school, teacher, digital science notebook
Medford High teacher Josh Dumas presented his digital science notebook to colleagues at this year’s National Conference on Science Education, held March 20-23 in Colorado. Dumas has used the notebook with students over the past four years and joined the MHS staff this year. Submitted photo
Joni Hubred, News Editor

Medford science teacher Josh Dumas has over the past four years used a digital notebook in his classes.

Last month, he got a chance to show science teachers from across the country how it works.

Dumas was selected as a presenter for the 2024 National Conference on Science Education, held March 20-23 in Denver, Colo. He said Faribault Area Retired Educators (FARE) and his district provided support for him to attend the event.

The notebook, Dumas said, has evolved since he took the note-taking part of his class online. After using a couple of formats, he based the notebook in Google Docs.

Why give up good, old-fashioned pen and paper?

“Science is real life-based math,” Dumas said. “Biology looks at everything from history to math to art, and so much of what we do is so visual… Words on paper don’t get the message across.”

A suite of tools makes it possible to build visuals, link graphs, and more, he added.

Students start using their notebooks by logging into a class website. They get access to the notebook section by section, unit by unit, and can draw material in from other sources.

“I’ve taught everything from advanced biology to general biology and electives, and had (the notebook) in many of my classes,” Dumas said. “I can scaffold notes more for certain levels. At a more introductory level, the students have more provided for them, and at a higher level, I can take away items so students can add their own work.”

Dumas said the notebooks make learning a two-way experience.

“I’ve had students show me things,” he said. “It’s a nice format because it’s easy to update along the way. You can plug and play and put pieces in.”

In addition to presenting, Dumas sharpened his own skills at the conference. In addition to keynote speakers, teachers annually present on a wide range of topics and “big picture” issues that affect individuals in the classroom.

Dumas said he presented a label he designed at built at a previous NSTA conference and shared at the state chapter as well as STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) conferences. He said one of the best parts of presenting is that, at the end, he exchanges contact information with anyone who’d like to collaborate.

Also, he said, “It’s refreshing to be at a gathering of a bunch of nerdy science teachers. I think it’s a nice part of the profession.”

Dumas, a University of Minnesota grad in his first year at Medford High, also said he enjoys the connections that happen in a smaller school.

“I feel you can really be a big piece of the school community,” he said. “Here, I see every student at least once in biology and many in electives.”

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