Sunday, July 12, 2015

What is a Smart Science Lesson?

Smart Science® lessons are "experiential online science lessons with real experiments and hands-on measurement."  What do these words really mean?  Break it down into three parts.  They are:

I. Experiential Online Science Lessons

II. Real Experiments

III. Hands-On Measurement

Understanding each of these leads you to understand the overall Smart Science concept and why it is poised for a new era in education.

I. Experiential Online Science Lessons

Taking this phrase from right to left, you can first analyze lessons.  A lesson is simply a learning experience.  For a lesson to be effective, it must have a beginning with introductory material, a middle where students engage in learning, and an ending with checks on learning and review.

Exactly how you set up a lesson is its pedagogy, how the learning takes place.  In Smart Science lessons, this pedagogy is based on 150-year old ideas and is also right up to date with the latest thinking.  The pedagogy challenges students to ask questions and seek answers through real-world data.  It fits perfectly with 5E pedagogy and with inquiry-based learning.

Science comes from the Latin meaning "to know."  In particular, this word has come to mean knowing about the physical world from the smallest subatomic particle to gigantic galaxy clusters, from viruses to giant sequoias, from how chemicals react to what the world was like billions of years ago.

The term online is rather well understood to mean using the Internet these days, although it could be a LAN.  The importance of this term is what is is not.  The word "virtual" often has been used to mean online, but it truly means in a virtual world, someplace unreal.  Virtual labs existed long before the Internet; they were even distributed on floppy disks at one time.  Online can include remote robotic labs today.

The connotation associated with virtual is that of a simulation, usually an animated one.  We say online to avoid the confusion of virtual.  You still have low cost, immediacy, data storage, and more.  You only lose that stigma attached to animated simulations.

Experiential really becomes the crucial word in the description.  I'm sure that you get that these are online science lessons now.  So are the lectures from Khan Academy, but they are not experiential.  The big difference comes from the lessons being highly interactive.  Students are very engaged in obtaining their own personal data.  They cannot copy from others but must do the work themselves.

In this way, students experience the lesson material.  They don't just passively absorb.  They don't merely do exercises or answer questions.  They are seeking answers to questions from real experiments.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.  Real experiments form the next topic.

II. Real Experiments

This phrase, along with the next one, describe one of two cores of Smart Science lessons.  The second core is the pedagogy as described briefly above.  Why are real experiments preferred to simulated ones?

The most obvious reason is engagement.  Reality simply engages better than fakery.

Beyond engagement, students have the opportunity to come to grips with empirical data. Moreover, these are data that they take themselves!

Science is about understanding our universe from the tiniest to the grandest parts.  While it uses mathematics, it is not about understanding mathematics.  Scientists do not investigate equations; they use them.

III. Hands-On Measurement

Nearly every single online science system with experiments hands your data to you.  You do not have to take a single data point yourself.  Smart Science lessons are different.  Students must make their own measurements.  Measuring is an essential part of the process of science and should not be left out of student experiences, especially in grades K-12.

Smart Science lessons have much, much more.  They have assessments and constructive writing.  They provide experimental background information and vocabulary.  They are a complete learning system.

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