Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Impossible Dream

Note: Above image taken from the Internet.
Ever since I can remember, I've loved a great challenge. What greater challenge than impossible? Basically being an optimist, I refuse to believe that I cannot rise to any challenge.

It's been my great fortune to have faced a number of "impossible" challenges and have succeeded. Of course, I did get to select the challenges.

What makes a challenge impossible? For me, it's an expert or knowledgeable person saying so.

However, none of those challenges were grandiose in scope. They were modest challenges that might take a few weeks or months to complete.

My current quest is much larger and qualifies as a "dream." It's my impossible dream.

About a decade ago, I took a long hard look at science education here in the United States and saw some problems. My children had taken the requisite series of science courses. What I saw bothered me. Then, I read Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World. I have an extensive science background. After all, I was a university chemistry professor and the chair of the Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society.

I also have an extensive software background and was a software development manager for a large computer manufacturer. I spent many years as a contract consultant bidding and writing software for Fortune 500 companies. I was doing one for Sun Microsystems when I became aware of a new and yet-unreleased language, Java.

From these small beginnings came my dream. I wished to reform science education and bequeath to everyone an excellent science education along with Carl Sagan's "baloney detection kit" that he says all scientists have.

With little money and great hope, my partner and I began to design software and courseware. We decided to concentrate on the student laboratory experience for several reasons. It was the part of the science course that held the most promise for learning to think scientifically, and it was the part of most science courses that failed to work.

We spent uncounted hours in libraries reading about science education in books and journals. We investigated the history of science education with special emphasis on science labs. We searched for the latest in technology applied to science labs.

Our astonishing conclusion was that science educators had essentially solved the problems of how to provide great science education over 100 year ago! Basically, they chose to have students learn science by doing science. Their solution had a small problem, however. It required very small classes of twelve of fewer students and highly trained, experienced teachers. These two requirements put the cost of these classes beyond the reach of most schools.

Most modern approaches to teaching science, at least the lab part, attempt to achieve learning science by doing science without fulfilling these two requirements. In some cases, they succeed by dint of very good organization and great classroom discipline.

My colleagues and I sought to overcome the two problems with technology, specifically Internet technology. We chose this path because it could deliver a great result at low cost and because we understood the technology already.

We went a step further and decided to avoid using simulations. We chose to provide students with real experiments instead and to build in scientific thinking as well. We even obtained a patent covering these two essential ideas, that is to say the implementation of them.

We call the resulting mixture of software and courseware the Smart Science® core learning system. You can find out more at

Why shouldn't students have access to excellent science labs no matter what community they live in? Students should learn to think scientifically. It's a great tool to add to your mental toolbox. The more that they can step away from rote memorization and explore the world through the processes and tools of science, the more likely they are to learn and to come to appreciate science.

I have just given you a glimpse of my impossible dream. I'd like to provide great science to our children at low cost and help them to think better and understand the world better too.

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