Sunday, August 03, 2008

Science education - need a new approach

The general approach to science in our schools is a bust. It doesn't attract enthusiasm or many students. And our need as a society for a scientifically fluent citizenship and for scientifically-strong professionals is vital.

The curriculum for science continues to get short-changed as the schools increase their focus on the more testable math and language arts. Starting in middle school and in high school, the science labs continue to get back due to budget cuts, lack of teachers, and the perceived danger of actual science labs with acids and bases and fire.

Fortunately, there is a solution: computer-based instruction. This can be personalized which will solve the problem of students progressing in science at dramatically different rates. We can do simulations of experiments with amazing capabilities. It can be inquiry based and socially relevant.

So far, there are bits and pieces of great curriculum but no consensus. Right now, I'm reviewing the Jason curriculum from National Geographic to see if it can be used as the basis for some sort of "Time4Science" (ie an online interactive science curriculum)



Harry said...

The situation is even more complex than you state. Despite the advantages of virtual "labs," virtually every one is a simulation. Instead of investigating the real world as science does, they're investigating someone's idea embodied in equations and algorithms.

America's Lab Report makes it crystal clear that simulations are no substitute for good labs and explains why.

However, all is not lost. For example, some instructors use large online scientific databases for student investigations.

The best technology for fixing our problems without making them worse is prerecorded real experiments combined with highly interactive software that allow students to take their own personal data.

It even blends in inexpensive and safe hands-on labs to make the total experience even more powerful.

By embedding these experiments in integrated instructional lab units and recording everything in a database, new possibilities open up. Now, you can track progress and success at the district, school, teacher, classroom, and student level with great ease.

This technology attacks a significant portion of the science education problem but not all of it. Still, it's really nice to see that we have a new tool that can make a difference.

See for more information.

If you have a minute, take a look at where I expound at much greater length on these important issues.

BBat50 said...

Harry, thanks for stopping by. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. It has been around my life for a long time. My Dad was a big time simulation guy; I spent years at SGI in the late 80s when animated simulation of CAD/
CAM, CFD, and molecular modelling were cutting edge areas; I was in the video game industry and around physics engines for years; and now I'm in the education space. With all that said, this is not an area that I've looked at in any real depth in the last decade but I want to. Your site and blog seem like the mother load of info. Thanks for stopping by.

Tara said...

I am entering this conversation a bit late.. but I have seen that hands-on experiences are very very powerful for children. I am an aerospace engineer and love tinkering with things and so I started a non-profit to inspire children to tinker and design and think about becoming scientists and engineers one day. simulations are great, but only to help introduce a concept. To really understand a concept (like electricity or magnetism, gravity, light, sound etc), you need to play with it, experience it, build models, troubleshoot etc..
We train engineers to develop cool courses on a bunch of topics ( so that children see the real-world applications of these text-book principles. It isn't enough to play with a projectile motion simulation on a computer. Only when you design and build a catapult, trouble shoot it and make it work do you realize that a 45 degree shooting angle works the best. Time and again we have seen children do very well on simulations, but unable to transfer it to a real-world problem. So the answer is a combination of both.
Keep up the explorations!