Sunday, November 09, 2008

Mrs. Smith Teaches Science

I just ran across a nice blog called Mrs. Smith Teaches Science.

Several rather insightful comments suggest that Mrs. Smith understands many important facts about teaching science and is willing to learn more.

She only goes a bit astray in the area of virtual labs. The acid-base simulation she refers to in her post at is just too unreal to be used as more than a demonstration. With a real alternative available, why not go for that instead?

The simulation is created by a Java applet. That's certainly an improvement over the typical Flash animation simulation. However, it still has the problems of all simulations.

1. Ownership. Students don't really own their data. Sure, they can calculate the concentration of the unknown. However, they can do that with a completely paper lab.

2. Faith. Students see a drawing of the equipment and materials. Nothing looks real. They have to believe that the underlying algorithms work correctly for any choice of parameters. The data may fit some equation, but would a real titration fit?

3. Connection. Students cannot connect well to drawings. It's a gut thing. When you're doing an experiment, you should know that you're investigating the real world. After all, that's what scientists do.

4. Complexity and ambiguity. True science faces complex situations where investigators may come to different conclusions. Exposure to these situations will occur in real labs but not in simulations. Adding in fake error is insufficient -- because it's fake.

The Smart Science® learning system may be commercial, but it's not expensive. The cost per lab per student for access to a full course of virtual/hands-on labs (access only, not materials) is generally less than a dollar and usually much, much less. (Price depends on grade level, type of school [online, traditional, college, K-12], and number of labs.)

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