Friday, October 31, 2008

Incredible History of Science Labs in Education

Science laboratories in education were first used sometime in the late 1800s. Since then, their purpose has changed. A very brief discussion of the purposes of this pedagogic tool will help understand the present ambiguous state of science labs and why the debate over their use in online learning creates such different opinions.

John Stuart Mill and William Whewell, in the middle 19th century set up definitions of science as an inductive pursuit with careful observations. From these facts, scientists cautiously draw conclusions, set forth hypotheses, and test them.

Science courses in schools at that time only taught rote memorization of words, laws, and formulas. Students sat in lectures and read textbooks.

The first chemistry laboratory at Yale (1847) was strictly for the use of scientists. Students were not allowed into it.

In the 1880s, universities began to allow students into their laboratories for the purposes of advanced scientific study. Soon, student scientific laboratories sprang into being - even in some high schools. We can imagine that these laboratories concentrated on teaching procedures and techniques that would be essential in a continuing scientific career.

However, some educators saw a larger need for students to understand science rather than just to learn about science and master the procedures and techniques then in use by scientists. They began to find ways for the science laboratory to become an opportunity for students to experience scientific discovery.

Prof. E. H. Hall of Harvard University was an early proponent of this concept in the United States. F. W. Westaway, a well-known science education advocate, also suggested that students should discover science instead of being told about it.

Despite these educators and others, laboratory experience persisted as cookbook procedures that emphasized technique and process. Why? Because teaching discovery labs takes inordinate resources. The instructor must have deep knowledge of the subject to be able to answer unexpected questions and guide students on their quests. Classes must be very small. Prof. Hall specified twelve students. Cookbook labs require very little in comparison from educator or educational establishment.

In the early 1900s, a liberal philosophy overcame education. Suddenly, social relevance became important. Laboratory experiments were abandoned in favor of "interesting" content. Of course, the pendulum has swung back again.

Faced with the necessity of providing laboratory experience to burgeoning classes along with state-mandated lengthy curricular requirements, educators again fell back on the old standby of prescribed laboratory activities. The big change: now they were projects lasting across several laboratory periods.

The Sputnik launch powered new interest in science in the 1950s. Government money was made available to schools to upgrade science facilities. Aside from an enlightened few, the rigid cookbook labs continued to dominate education.

Despite decades of recent effort and billions of dollars, we still see little change in the way science labs are used in 6-12 science education. The labs are infrequently integrated into the curricula. They rarely involve inquiry, exploration, or discovery. Too many science teachers view them as a necessity without any real purpose. The United States, in recent years, has consistently placed low in international tests of student science comprehension.

The growth of inexpensive access to the world through the Internet has the potential to change all of that. Internet technology can be used, as any tool might, well or poorly. Putting simulations on the Internet masquerading as labs takes away time and energy from true lab experiences and results in a poor science experience.

We have the technology to put real experiments on the Internet. I know because I've done it 150 times already. Each of the prerecorded real labs has a number of real experiments ready to use. These labs don't use simulations; they don't use Flash; they don't fool students into believing that science is absolutely precise.

Blending appropriate hands-on activities and projects with prerecorded real experiments that allow students interactively to collect their own personal data will build the best possible science experiences for our students.

Take a stand today for the ideas of a century ago that could not be implemented for ordinary students because of limitations in technology. We have it now. Let's get the schools to use it.

See for more information.

© 2015 by Smart Science Education Inc., U.S.A.
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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Simulations Teach the Concept But Not Science

At "The Principal's Blog," I read the following comment. "When I asked a conference participant, who happened to be an engineer, if he believed the simulation would be as good as the real experience, he felt like it would certainly teach them the concept."
You cannot disagree with this thought. Simulations, like books and videos and lectures and more, can "teach them the concept."

However, learning science is much more than learning concepts -- words, laws, formulas, relationships, and so on. Those are learning about science. Students must also learn science itself. Only by doing science do they learn science. Simulations do not allow students to do science.

This concept should be simple. Unfortunately, few people (other than scientists) really comprehend the essence of this matter. After all, most people took typical science courses in which they were not allowed to learn science but only learned about science.

Once you understand science, it becomes another way to view the world parallel to the ways you may be used to. Understanding science enriches your life and provides you with what Carl Sagan called a "baloney detection kit." You become more immune to predatory loans and other snake oil sales.

Understanding science will also help our country's students achieve better results on the international science exams we all read about in which we rank 27th or so.

So, how do students do science? By having science lab experiences that allow them to inquire, explore, and discover the real world. Simulations can help with concepts. They do not help with learning science. Only by applying the processes and methods of science to material world data, phenomena, and objects can they learn science. The National Research Council said as much in America's Lab Report.

Well-designed hands-on lab experiences work well if properly integrated into the curriculum. So do prerecorded real experiments with highly interactive software allowing students to collect their own personal data. The latter can be found, at low cost, in Smart Science® integrated instructional lab units. See for details.

© 2015 by Smart Science Education Inc., U.S.A.
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

MIT's iLabs are Great -- or Are They?

Sometimes a great concept just arrives too early or too late. I'm looking at the MIT iLabs project. NSF has kicked in $1 million to make it work for non-MIT students, i.e. regular students. The interface currently in place is too difficult for those below genius IQ to master.

However, I'm not writing to criticize the iLabs interface. I'd like to think really hard about exactly what they're doing and what Kemi Jona would like to do with the NSF money. He talks quite glibly about creating an eBay of online real-time programmable labs.

The iLab requires remotely programmable equipment with the ability to put results on an Internet link. That fact limits the range of experiments possible. Such equipment necessarily costs lots of money. Few schools will have that sort of equipment available to share.

Furthermore, the student will see the equipment as a black box and must have lots of additional instruction to appreciate fully the nature of the experiments being done. The information coming back from the equipment (as currently structured) is a string of numbers, not very exciting to the average student.

I see little chance that the iLab concept will expand to cover much of science education. If it remains viable, it may be a great experience for some students as a part of their science classes.

Consider that each time an iLab experiment is performed, all of the information becomes digitized before being transmitted. This information could be archived on a server database and provided to others on demand. Such a scheme would allow greater use of the equipment because if someone requests the same identical experiment, it will be immediately available from the database.

If some object to the repetitive nature of this scheme, you can readily record the same experiment several time to allow for normal experimental variation and chose the one for replay randomly. Take that concept one step further record all of the experiments that students might request. Then, the expensive equipment must be used only for a short period of time, rented if you will. The cost and feasibility of the entire operation goes way down and the likelihood of success goes way up.

You can also provide additional information in the digital feed such as images of the equipment while operating, images of the inside of equipment, and so on.

Moreover, you can embed the experience in a full learning scaffold so that students are forced to think about the experiment, must make predictions and analyze results. It can include post-lab assessments and online lab reports as well as substantial supporting materials.

Once you've created the system to store and deliver these experiments along with the learning support, there's no reason to limit the experiments performed to just those that can be run on programmable apparatus. After all, the programmable apparatus was only used so that experiments could be run on demand. With some clever video techniques and highly interactive software that allows students to collect their own personal data, you could cover all science areas that involve experiments and data collection.

Now, you have all of the benefits of the iLabs without the great expense or the problems associated with running an eBay-like facility for schools. You also have a much greater range of science that can be done. You have to wonder why the iLab people aren't proposing this marvelous extension of the iLabs idea when the technology to do it clearly exists.

Perhaps, it's because it's already been done - ten years ago!

Just take a look at

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Yet Another Simulated Lab

There must be gold in them thar hills.

I just took a look at Their demo is of the precipitation of chalk.

This new entry into science lab simulations raises an important question. What is the purpose of virtual science experiences? (I hesitate to call them "labs.")

The primary purpose of this particular one is to teach students lab procedures. There's no science in this example at all.

I have no problem with helping students understand lab procedures. I do have a problem with confusing lab procedures with doing science. As Albert Einstein so clearly proved, you can do great science without even going near a lab. Many scientists who do have labs use lab technicians to do the experimental work.

Here's my take on the potential purposes of virtual science experiences.

1. Learn lab procedures, techniques, and safety.
2. Visualize science processes such as plate tectonics, galaxy formation, molecular reactions, etc. that help students with concepts and cannot be viewed directly.
3. Perform real science experiments that aren't being done in classrooms due to cost, safety, time, space, or complexity.

Only the last item involves doing actual science and must, of course, use data, objects, and phenomena from the material world to be valid. Otherwise, the science experience really is just some combination of items 1 and 2. It should not be considered as a valid use of precious class lab time.

Some percentage of many science classes is devoted to lab work. That percentage might be 20% or 25% or some other fraction. During that time, students must experience science so that they can -

1. Develop an understanding of science,
2. Practice scientific reasoning, and
3. Understand the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work.

Using this time for other purposes diminishes the opportunities for students to gain these critical insights. Curriculum developers (including teachers who create their own curricula) must decide how much of their class time will be devoted to true student scientific investigations. That time must not be replaced by fake science in the form of simulated "labs."

© 2008 by Paracomp, Inc., U.S.A.
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Monday, October 20, 2008

Alternative to Virtual Labs: Don't Do Them??

Chad Orzel blogs at He discusses the use of virtual labs in AP science courses. In the end, he suggests that "I should also note that there's a clear alternative to teaching AP classes via "virtual labs": don't teach them. It's not the end of the world, after all."

In an earlier paragraph, he explains his position.
"In the end, though, I think that computer-based exercises are no real substitute for actual lab experience. Unless, that is, you can program the computer to have something really bizarre and inexplicable happen in one out of ten simulated experiments... Some of the chemical reactions should fizzle, some of the pigs being dissected should be missing vital organs, some of the physics data should just be screwy. That's what science is really like, after all."
Of course, he's speaking strictly of simulated science labs. Having the fake stuff he mentions doesn't really resolve the problem of simulations as lab substitutes. Here's a few of these problems.
  • Errors of science. Sometimes, a simulation will produce results that are simply inaccurate and misrepresent the real world. Let's face it, programmers make errors and so do software designers.
  • Precise results. The extreme precision (and accuracy) of simulation incorrectly gives students the impression that scientists work with the same sort of data. All a scientist has to do is ask the right question to probe the secrets of the universe. Nothing could be further from the truth, and students should not be misled.
  • Cartoons. The objects that students see in simulations are generally drawings and convey a cartoon-like quality. Students can be forgiven if they don't believe that what they're doing relates to the real world.
  • Failures. Simulated experiments always "succeed." Of course, the results are determined by an equation or algorithm and may not match real world data. Still, much learning can take place when an experiment doesn't quite work out. In a classroom, there's often not enough time to explore a failure. In virtual classes, students can look into the problem more deeply.
We've ended up with dueling professors. On one side, they argue that virtual labs have many benefits, especially for those in underserved areas. On the other, they argue that students arriving in college with no real lab experience are unprepared even for first-year, let alone second-year, science courses with their labs.

Wouldn't everyone like to have the best of both worlds? How many AP science students go on to take second-year science courses anyway? Wouldn't a one-semester lab-only course fill any gaps a student had in lab technique and safety?

I can tell you that you can have it both ways and at low cost as well as safely, efficiently, and effectively. Simply find an appropriate mix of hands-on labs (the inexpensive, safe kind) and prerecorded real experiments in a virtual setting with software that provides a highly interactive environment for collecting personal data.

My own answer can be found at Curricula using this technology have passed College Board audits for all three AP laboratory sciences.

© 2008 by Paracomp, Inc., U.S.A.
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Science Teachers Have It Tough

I recently came across a blog about the problems that science teachers have. You'll find it at
"Science teachers have it tough. They have one of the most costly subjects in a school to teach, yet get a very small budget."
Ms. Jackson is totally correct in this statement. If we all can assume that textbooks are a similar cost in all courses, then which courses have as much capital equipment and expendables/consumables? All right, which of those are required courses? You just have to come up with science.

Of course, science teachers reach out to free (and low cost) simulations. And, that's great!

A serious problem arises, however, when they substitute those simulations for lab experience. Some of the key reasons for lab experiences in science classes are as follows.
  1. Understanding the nature of science.
  2. Developing scientific reasoning.
  3. Understanding the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work.
That all may seem a bit abstract. However, these goals are critical for any student in a science class. Leaving a class without advancing these goals means that the time in the class was wasted.

Really! Who cares if you can list the first twenty elements in the periodic table or recite the level of taxonomic classification or name the eons, eras, and epochs of geologic time? You can look that stuff up. The real question surrounds the use of this information. And, not just use but wise use.

The three goals above are from America's Lab Report. In that same report, the National Research Council states that the typical American student's lab experience is poor. Their reasons include the lack of meeting these goals among others. They point out that in order to be a science laboratory experience, an activity must use data from the "material world." Simulations do not.

These days, science teachers can find more and more options other than simulations to provide quality lab experience to their students. One such option, the Smart Science(R) core learning system, although not free, is inexpensive and meets all of the goals of America's Lab Report as well as its definition of a science laboratory experience. Students work with real experiments at a cost of pennies per experiment. By blending inexpensive and safe hands-on experiments with these prerecorded real experiments, our overtaxed science teachers can produce great science classes and have their students leave the class understanding what science is really all about. At the same time, they can demonstrate a cost savings to their department head or principal.

© 2015 by Smart Science Education Inc., U.S.A.
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Friday, October 17, 2008

NACOL on Online Science Labs

The North American Council for Online Learning has published NACOL Goals, Guidelines, and Standards for Student Scientific Investigations. I am a member of NACOL and of the committee that produced this document.

You'd expect some pretty savvy thoughts about online science labs here. After all, these are the online learning people. You do get a strong pitch for online education and the potential to build really great science courses.

Their document relies heavily on America's Lab Report published by the National Research Council. Yet, it ignores the central message of the report. After lamenting the state of science labs in education and the state of research on this subject, the report begins with a definition of a science laboratory experience (called a student science investigation, which means the same thing, in the NACOL document). The report recommendations depend upon that definition.
“Laboratory experiences provide opportunities for students to interact directly with the material world (or with data drawn from the material world), using the tools, data collection techniques, models, and theories of science.”
The parenthetical phrase allows the use of such virtual experiences as analysis of large online scientific databases despite the emphasis on "interact directly with the material world." As long as the data come from the material world, they might form the basis for valid "laboratory experiences." If not, they do not. It's really that simple, and the report explains why.

The NACOL document, by ignoring this basic premise of America's Lab Report, devalues its discussion of the other recommendations of the report. Someone could read the entire NACOL document quite carefully and come away with two inaccurate conclusions.

1. (NOT TRUE) The NACOL document is true to America's Lab Report.

2. (NOT TRUE) Simulated labs are an excellent substitute for traditional labs.

While NACOL Goals, Guidelines, and Standards for Student Scientific Investigations provides a vigorous argument in favor of online science instruction, it omits a critical factor required to make that instruction valid and opens the door to fake simulated labs. As its sole serious defect, I would like to see it corrected as soon as possible and have communicated my opinion to NACOL in all possible ways. So far, they have not responded.

© 2015 by Smart Science Education Inc., U.S.A.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What About Lab Kits?

Several companies promote their science lab kits. Some suggest that unless you use (their) lab kits, you are providing poor science to your students. That's simply not true.

I have encountered three such firms (I'm sure there's more out there) all based in Colorado. What is their attitude toward science education and how can they help your students have a better lab experience?

Here they are.

Quality Science Labs, LLC
eScience Labs, Inc.

At-home science kits simply will not provide a complete science experience for students. The reasons are simple.

1. Safety.

One recommended AP Chemistry lab dissolves copper alloy samples in concentrated nitric acid. Even in a supervised and fully-equipped science lab, this experiment is dangerous. At home, you shouldn't even think about it. Besides the danger of the nitric acid, the reaction produces poisonous nitrogen oxides and should be run in a fume hood.

Homes simply are not equipped to handle this sort of experiment.

This issue is hardly unique to this particular experiment. Many chemicals are dangerous. Some experiments involve high temperatures or voltages and even radioactive materials.

Without the ability to use a wide range of equipment and materials, students have limited investigation options.

2. Cost.

The copper alloy experiment requires that you weigh the samples very precisely because you're measuring the percentage of copper in the alloys. It then requires that you dissolve them, dilute them precisely with a volumetric flask, and measure the light absorption with a spectrophotometer. Analytical balances and volumetric flasks are expensive. A spectrophotometer definitely will not be found in any lab kit due to extreme cost.

Many other experiments require expensive equipment such as microscopes, pH meters, and the like. Without this equipment, students ability to investigate may be severely limited.

Some people hold that simulations can fill in the gaps. I've dealt with that area in previous posts. Simulations (algorithmic generation of data, objects, and phenomena) absolutely cannot substitute for science lab experience.

Given that at-home labs cannot fulfill completely the goals of science lab experience, what do the science lab kit providers above say about the idea of augmenting the experience somehow?


Here's a headline from the web site of LabPaq.
"Created by Science Professors Because There's No Substitute for Hands-On Labs"
This sort of absolutist philosophy really has no place in the dialog regarding online education and science labs. Of course, there are substitutes. Furthermore, hands-on labs are not necessarily the best labs. Much depends on their design and other factors. For example, can the student write a passable lab report without even touching the materials? How much opportunity does the student have for experimental design? How much science can the student investigate?


Here's a quote from Nicolas Benedict of eScience.
"We can make predictions based on these models, but in reality it is only through hands-on experimentation that actual interactions can be documented."

As I interpret this quote, Dr. Benedict also eschews virtual experiences. Does that mean that he views the Mars Rover program as not being science? No one's hands are on the surface of Mars. The data come to the scientists after a rather long delay.

I would correct this statement to replace hands-on experimentation with the more reasoned wording in America's Lab Report. “Laboratory experiences provide opportunities for students to interact directly with the material world (or with data drawn from the material world), using the tools, data collection techniques, models, and theories of science.”

As long as the data are from the material world and students use the tools, etc. of science to analyze those data, you have a true science learning experience. Hands-on, although nice, is not necessary.

Quality Science Labs

John Eschelman, the president of
Quality Science Labs makes an effort to provide a total science experience and is open to using virtual experiences in conjunction with his own labs.

You won't find dogma on his web site. He simply explains why his kits save time in preparation and that they have complete lab lessons ready to use. Nowhere does he make the statement that only a hands-on lab is good science. If you are looking for lab kits, he has them along with full instructions and questions that help focus learning.


If you're going to buy a lab kit, I think that you should do so from a provider who has a reasonable attitude about the value of lab kits, someone whose goal is supporting your student(s) in learning science. Check out their sites and public pronouncements to see whether they think that only hands-on experiments are any good and whether they recognize that virtual experiments also can be great science.

© 2015 by Smart Science Education Inc., U.S.A.
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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Blending Virtual and Physical Experiments

One complaint about virtual labs, no matter how good, is that they miss important learning experiences. While I believe that this complaint is exaggerated, it does have some merit. Mostly, virtual labs lose the kinesthetic experiences: weight, smell, texture, and so on.

With current technology, doing open-ended experimental design in a virtual setting is quite difficult if not impossible. You come much closer to this goal with "hands-on" labs - if properly designed and implemented.

For these two reasons, a full set of science lab experiences during a course should include some traditional (hands-on) labs. The open question remains: what fraction of lab experience should be virtual and what should be traditional? Note that by virtual I do not mean simulated. Simulated "labs" should be an oxymoron. You should never see "simulated" as an adjective for "lab" because simulations are not science and are not valid substitutes for science investigations.

The Smart Science(R) team has taken the approach of integrating (or "blending") virtual and "hands-on" experiments into single lab when it makes sense to do so. We have plenty of purely virtual labs as well as purely "hands-on" labs as well as the blended labs, which we refer to a hybrid labs.

We aim for a total science investigation experience that includes as much hands-on work as is reasonable for someone working at home. Teachers, schools, and districts may make changes to this system so that it more closely matches their requirements.

The resulting hybrid labs may be viewed in two ways. Either they have hands-on lab that is extended with virtual experiments, or they have a virtual lab that is extended with hands-on experiments. Remember that the virtual experiments are real. They're just prerecorded. Students take their own personal data.

In this manner, we fill the hands-on experiment gap. Due to time, safety, cost, space, and other considerations, students don't investigate fully. They may do a single experiment, for example. By providing a rich set of virtual (but real) experiments, we allow students to investigate more completely.

We also, as indicated above, fill the virtual lab gap by allowing students the opportunity to have a kinesthetic experience and to do experimental design to a greater extent than allowed within the virtual framework.

The resulting hybrid lab potentially provides a far superior learning experience to even a well-designed traditional lab. It beats typical traditional labs and simulations by a mile!

© 2015 by Smart Science Education Inc., U.S.A.
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Real Science Labs for 25 Cents

Late in the 20th century, a revolution took place in communication, and we called it the Internet. Then, came Java, a language designed to take advantage of the Internet, especially recognizing that different operating systems and browsers would be used by different people for Internet access.

One of the early educational applications of Java on the Internet was the science simulation. You could find all sorts of Java applets for stuff like projectile motion and Brownian motion. Most were free. Of course, simulations of science were already available long before - even on floppy disks.

Over a decade ago, as I sought a means to use new computer technology to help improve science education, the simulations turned me off completely because they weren't science. Simulations are equations and algorithms, the stuff of mathematics and software engineering. Using a simulation to perform a "science investigation" turns out to be more like an investigation of mathematics or a stroll into the mind of a programmer. Some simulations contain serious science errors They all mislead students into believing that science is a precise endeavor without any ambiguity in analyzing results.

Furthermore, most of these simulations use Flash animations that are really cartoons and project that unreality to students.

Still, people use them. After all, they're cheap, they're safe, and sometimes they illustrate stuff that you cannot demonstrate in the classroom (very small, very large, or very dangerous).

There's about as much value to a simulation as to a video or animated book. Those are learning tools, but they are NOT science labs; they are NOT student science investigations. You may well ask, "What exactly is a science lab?" You'll find an excellent answer in America's Lab Report, written by the National Research Council and available at

The short answer is that a science lab involves data, objects, and phenomena from the material world. Once again, you may ask, "Why is that necessary?" The answer to that question is a bit longer. America's Lab Report holds the answer. It contains seven goals for science lab experience. It says that one of the goals is special: understanding the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work. That goal is special because only science lab experiences as defined can bring direct contact of students with the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work. Students can only achieve this goal by doing science in the real (material) world.

Other of the seven goals, such as learning scientific reasoning and understanding the nature of science, are most efficiently learned in the lab but also can be learned by other means. Still other goals, such as mastery of subject matter or teamwork, don't really require labs at all but should, nevertheless, be goals of lab experience.

If you've read this far, you may be wondering when the 25-cent labs will appear. I really couldn't explain properly without a definition of a science lab experience - the real thing, not fake simulations. You could just dismiss it all by saying that you can get simulations for very small prices.

Here's the key idea for providing really inexpensive and great science experience to students. Use prerecorded real experiments. Set up some science experiment, for example dropping a ball to find g, the Earth's gravity. Use video and still cameras, as appropriate, to film your experiment. Change the parameters of the experiment, and film it again. Keep it up until you have lots of experiments "in the can." For dropping the ball, the ball may change for each experiment. You could compare a bowling ball with a basketball, a softball, a volleyball, and so on.

The next step is really important and is a part of the patent issued to us. You write software that allows students to view the experiments and to take data interactively frame by frame. You may have to do some editing of the film to make the collecting personal data by students easier and more precise.

It can be quite expensive to do some experiments and especially do many more variations than are ever done in an ordinary classroom lab. But, you only have to do them once. Then, the cost is amortized over all of the thousands of students who will use the labs.

The primary costs of providing these labs become support, servers, and Internet access. The above is a cursory description of the experiment part of the Smart Science(R) core learning system ( We bundle multiple labs into packages that we sell for a fixed price per class or per student. For classes using 20 of these integrated instructional lab units, the cost per student could be 25 cents. It could even be lower in high-volume cases.

© 2015 by Smart Science Education Inc., U.S.A.
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Monday, October 13, 2008

Get Government Out of Our Schools and Into Entrepreneurship Support

We don't have to have federal government intrusion into our schools with No Child Left Behind.

However, we do have a sort of education crisis today with soaring dropout rates and very small numbers of students choosing a future in science or engineering. Most ideas for fixing our education system involve lots of time and really lots of money. We have too little of both.

Yet, we have a strong and innovative citizenry who are able to participate in entrepreneurship. Our federal government should be working in this area rather than trying to create its own bureaucracy to fix education. They can't do it. Since around 1980, the government has spent billions of dollars fixing science education; it's still poor.

It has been my joy and my pain to have built an exciting new way to deliver excellent science over the Internet. I have a patent. My associates and I have built 150 integrated instructional lab units based on our technology that cover all of the major sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, earth). We have many prestigious customers now and may actually be able to pay ourselves a very small salary soon.

I have learned that funding for education entrepreneurs is very hard to find. Consider the usual sources.

1. Venture Capital: These people are positively allergic to education business plans.

2. Angel Investors: These are hard to find and especially so with respect to education investment.

3. Foundations: Unless you're non-profit, forget it.

4. Government Grants: These have become more scarce lately. If you're not grouped with a university your chances decline. Not having a professional grant writer also lessens your chances. They require lots of bookkeeping when you get them. Finally, there's a long wait. If you fail, then it's usually another year before you can try again.

Government grants for education entrepreneurs should take priority over studies and other non-productive activities. If you have a prototype, you should be evaluated quickly and funded or not. Prototypes should be strongly encouraged.

There should be a way for government investment in education companies so that grants aren't the only option. They're doing it with banks now.

Although I like charter schools, giving them money makes little sense because the impact is so local. Our federal funds should be spent on ideas that will be quickly and broadly applicable.

I just happen to believe that my own Smart Science(R) core learning system is one such idea. I've spent ten years building this system that now is being used by such notable organizations as Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, Apex Learning,, and eight state online schools. (More details another time.) Yet, I cannot find funding anywhere. The government says it supports improving education but won't fund anything except studies and committees.

It's time for our government to become the venture capitalists for businesses that we absolutely must have such as science education entrepreneurs. Why not? Taxpayer investments might even make money!

© 2015 by Smart Science Education Inc., U.S.A.
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Simulations Aren't Science

I've finally had enough. I'm tired of seeing teachers use simulations as substitutes for science labs.

As a scientist, I would like to see people learn about science, not memorize definitions, formulas, and laws. The only way to learn science is to do it. Science requires investigating the real world, not some made-up world created by algorithms.

Learn science instead of learning about science.

This issue has become even more urgent lately because of the expansion of online courses. Many purveyors of online courses use simulations in their science courses in place of real science investigations or "labs." By so doing, they cheat their students of a wonderful opportunity to find out about science and to begin learning how to think as scientists do. They also are robbing our country of its science future. Basically, they are being unpatriotic.

But, many protest, science labs require expensive equipment, fancy facilities, lots of time, safety rules, and other stuff that many students don't have. What are we to do about those in poor rural areas and underserved urban neighborhoods? I've visited these locations around the country myself and know this problem. You can do great science without all of that fancy stuff. Here are the five ways in which people have provided science experience in online courses.

1. "kitchen" labs (can do at home with readily available materials)
2. investigation of large online scientific databases (like DNA)
3. remote real-time experiments (use programmable equipment, e.g. MIT's iLabs)
4. prerecorded real experiments (with highly interactive software for personal data collection)
5. simulated labs (using algorithms to generate data, phenomena, and objects)

The first four are valid. The fifth is not!

America's Lab ReportFor an authority on this analysis, take time to read America's Lab Report. You can read it online for free. It's fairly long, but you can just read the executive summary. The National Research Council of the National Academies wrote it. They define a science lab experience as follows.
“Laboratory experiences provide opportunities for students to interact directly with the material world (or with data drawn from the material world), using the tools, data collection techniques, models, and theories of science.”
Having this experience instead of simulations creates the opportunity for students to develop an "understanding of the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work." According to America's Lab Report, only the real thing allows you to achieve this crucial goal of science education.

Real experiments also allow you to understand the nature of science and to develop scientific reasoning skills better than the fake simulated labs do.

I urge everyone who cares about our future to oppose the use of simulated labs in science courses as substitutes for real labs. The first four items in the list above provide plenty of opportunity for doing science without high cost, safety problems, or lengthy times.

© 2015 by Smart Science Education Inc., U.S.A.
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