In primitive society, knowing how to feed and protect ones self and family was essential for survival. In today's complex, high technology society we must individually have a much deeper understanding in order to find employment and thrive. The continuation of our society will depend on how well we can teach ourselves and our young to understand, steward, and work within the restraints of our world's environment.
During the author's visit to parts of Africa in 2005, politicians and school administrators repeated requested,
America, please send us teachers. It is apparent that there is a world-wide shortage of adequately trained teachers.
Many of the developing countries continue to face economic and environmental challenges. Many countries not only need schools and teachers, but also need to develop the skills of their peoples to creatively address their problems and challenges.
The science of teaching is still in its infancy. We have much more to learn about learning. But it now seems that we construct (Constructivism) our understanding from experiences. There is no other way (presently) to input into the brain other than through the nerves of our senses. We are just beginning to understand how our senses detect the environment and realize some of their limitations and quirks (such as the false impression of
3 primary colors). We have even less understanding about how we form ideas and understanding. Apparently they are woven perhaps a little like yarn into cloth by connecting sensual experiences together. Language seems to play a crucial roll so reading, listening, talking, and writing are key to formulating our ideas based on our experiences, perhaps like a stiffening starch.
It may seem strange, but compared to the little we know about learning and our senses, human beings have been able to learn more about those aspects of the world which our senses seldom if ever detect. Using science to investigate the extremes and the apparent inconsistencies in the universe, we have detected such things as invisible electromagnetic radiation, the
fundamental particles within matter, the dark matter of the universe, and missing energy of universe expansion.
One thing which is well established is that effective learning requires practicing that which is being taught. (This is fundamental to sports, mathematics, and any skill.) Therefore science should be taught using activities that scientists commonly use.
As individuals we have all been learning via our senses since before we were born. We all do so by different paths provided by the sequence of our individual experiences. But we wish to find an optimum method of transmitting the understanding developed by our collective society to each of us individuals. Just making the world's information available on the Internet does not in itself provide any understanding of the world or help us successfully guide our individual actions. (As another example, a common practice of presenting
electron shells to students early in their study of chemistry without any experimental experiences does not provide useful understanding.) We need a way to share successful understanding developed by the smartest humans with all the rest of us. Because historians have been able to link the sequences of experimental discoveries with the development of concepts, we have reason to believe that these historical sequences led to the development of the best understanding yet achieved by human society. (That recognized, it should be acknowledged that there may be better, yet to be discovered, ways at reaching such understanding of the world. Currently it is popular to organize science curriculum around topics such as water quality or other environmental issues in order to motivate students to study science. But it is not clear that the understanding developed by these topics is equal that developed using historical sequences.)
It is also apparent that the more random sequence of individual
practical experiences typically develops many misconceptions that need to be squashed by structured teaching. Unstructured practical experience creates understanding a bit like trying to knit cloth by just holding up many strands of yarn and randomly tossing them around. While tangles do occur, to get more useful cloth the yarn must be untangled and systematically woven. Random practical experiences develop rudimentary understanding which is acceptable if holding the experiences together with a few basic knot-like ideas is all that is essential. This may have been adequate for more primitive societies. But when more complex understanding is needed, the linking of ideas needs to be more systematically woven. Since we have historical records of research efforts and discovered experiences which successfully developed useful understanding for our collective society, we should use those same historical sequences to teach the desired understanding to individuals. Again, this is not to say that there may not other sequences for teaching that might be better. Rather, that historical sequences appear optimum because they have led to the best understanding yet achieved. This preference for using historical sequence to develop understanding has been the preference of many top scientists such as Albert Einstein.
So far we have proposed that science instruction should involve doing activities commonly done by scientists, linked with vocabulary and concepts to understand the experiences, in a sequence identified as what led historically to successful understanding.
It became popular, perhaps because of financial cheapness, for science teachers to use lectures, textbooks, discussions, worksheets and tests to try to develop understanding. That was more successful when students came to class already possessing a wide variety of experiences gained from working on the farm or "playing" with real world materials and situations. But with increased devotion of "spare time" to television and electronic games and music, students come to class with dwindling repertoires of real world experiences resulting in the decline in educational achievement. To attempt to teach without students having any experiences is a bit like trying to knit cloth without having any yarn. We can teach vocabulary recognition (and related skills like finding molecular weights and balancing chemical equations) without experiences. But without experiences the understanding of vocabulary is like a pile of crumbly dried starch without any fiber to provide structure.
The advent of the launching of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, in 1957 by the Soviet Union heralded a national realization that traditional American science education was flawed. In 1983 the National Commission on Excellence in Education released A Nation at Risk confirming a steady decline in science achievement. In 1993 AAAS Project 2061 issued their BenchMarks for Science Literacy suggesting what every individual should know. In 1996 the National Research Council defined National Science Education Standards for all students to receive science experiences in a sequential pattern at all grades in school. The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) suggests that United States science education continues to be inadequate.
In 1959 the Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC) proposed a new rigorous high school study of physics based on experiences provided by laboratory experiments and, when otherwise unavailable, experiences provided by movies recorded on 16 mm film. But only a tiny portion of Americans studied PSSC physics. Shortly thereafter CHEM Study, CBA, and BSCS provided similar chemistry and biology courses of study. But those efforts largely died when their federal funding ended because most teachers who had learned the
starch by traditional instruction saw little need to add the
yarn of additional experiences for students.
IPS created an introductory science course most thoroughly building student understanding on experiences provided by a carefully developed sequence of in class experiments leading to a understanding of the atomic nature of matter. Harvard Project Physics developed a second generation
new physics course attempting to attract more students by using a variety of multimedia experiences sequenced by historical discoveries. Interdisciplinary Approaches to Chemistry developed a second generation chemistry course with over 70 experiments sequenced by conceptual development of themes (essentially historically) in several of the disciplines of chemistry such as
There have been efforts to preserve and augment the PSSC filmed experiences. Dave Vernier, Patricia Laws, John Amend and many others have pioneered computer supported experiences. Glenn Crosby encouraged providing more chemistry experiences using more easily accessible household chemicals. David Lieberman pioneered ways for students to remotely do science experiments using Internet accessed equipment too elaborate or expensive to individually obtain.
Arnold Arons, Lillian McDermott and many others have worked to provide experiences to create better understanding for flawed common sense developed as explanations of random experiences.
Project 2061 of AAAS has produced an Atlas of Science Literacy detailing a network of concepts coherently organized from simple to complex (essentially in historical sequence).
Phase one: Digital formats (1996-2001): Continuously improving digital platforms, networks and software, such as MPEG formats, DVDs, CDs, PVRs, video game consoles, etc., affect media and entertainment distribution and value. Powerful market forces in the overall economy drive innovation beyond the control of media companies.
Phase two: Technology integration (2002-2006): Web services, grid computing, peer-to-peer/distributed computing and other improvements to identified needs from phase one. On demand strategies and middleware enable companies to respond more flexibly to customers and competitive shifts. Greater ROI from technology investments through enhanced standards, utilization and processes, more reliable autonomic (self-healing) systems, reduced network downtime and automating as many functions as possible.
Phase three: Transformation (2006-beyond): Exponentially more advanced and powerful systems transform value creation:
The impact of interactive, immersive media experiences—and users at many levels affordably equipped to participate, customize, create and distribute content—will rock markets and business models between now and 2010. Successful companies will respond by forming open relationships along the media creation and distribution chain as well as with audiences.
- Business intelligence—Improved data capture, analytics and knowledge management = better informed business decisions
- Economies of scale—Reengineer scale and processes around new technology capabilities = reduced operating expense
- Partnerships—Digital ecosystems with other firms = shared costs, greater value
- Increased productivity—on demand and utility computing; multiple support technologies working more seamlessly.
Pervasive media represents the coming era, where consumers and businesses are fully connected, immersed in media all the time. Users will be inundated with choices.
Digital technology will enable media companies to create content of extraordinary quality, stability, storability and revolutionized production.
Digital platform-universal standards will allow content traveling online to be managed and tracked throughout all enterprise processes, from creative to order fulfillment. This enables media companies to create new value through organizing around the core business and interoperating with partners that can perform certain media business functions more cheaply and efficiently.
The open media business of the future: conclusion: Despite an environment of uncertainty, successful companies will open up new ways to create, manage and distribute content. They will open new ways to store, catalog and break down content into multiple product units, as well as open up the delivery, packaging and availability of content elements.
Digital technology and the Internet now offers a lower cost way to widely distribute effective, accurate, professional science instruction which may be utilized by individuals or in partnership with existing educational institutions. These can be flexibly used and repurposed as desired by the users.
There have been a great many excellent efforts to help fix American science education by many of this country's brightest minds. Yet the problems in American science education continues. Perhaps many of the recent efforts have not seen wide acceptance partially because they have not been integrated into systematic courses of instruction or distributed in an economical manner. ie-Science helps address those two difficulties.
This ie-Science is intended to be a small contribution providing Internet-delivered, experiment/experience-based, largely historical sequenced study of science. It is designed for anyone, even with limited access to specialized equipment or facilities, to learn science in a systematic sequence. Since considerable progress has already been made for teaching classical physics, efforts in ie-Science at first will be devoted to developing understanding of the latest and least understood portions of chemistry and physics. In chemistry and physical science the biggest challenge will be to find ways to provide advanced experiences for students working at home or in other situations without specialized equipment and materials. There is hope that someday funded facilities can be established for students to remotely conduct a variety of experiments for which equipment is too expensive or elaborate for them to individually obtain, much as professional scientists currently remotely utilize the world's most expensive and sensitive equipment.This project addresses several common educational problems:
With the wide accessibility of the Internet, it is now possible to provide quality science instruction remotely. While it is not possible to provide expensive laboratory facilities for each remote student, that cost may be unnecessary. Until the last century, scientists often did research on the forefront of knowledge in the most humble of facilities with little more than self made apparatus and self collected resources. Some educators have noted that much chemistry instruction can still be done with household chemicals. While previous efforts have involved instructors collecting such substances locally for classroom use, there appears to be little preventing individual students from collecting chemicals and equipment from their kitchens or purchasing at local groceries and hardware stores for experimenting at home. Quality experimental science instruction is possible via the Internet.
For investigations requiring very expensive equipment, today's scientists often
book access time to share state of the art equipment provided at national laboratories for use by multiple groups. Once arrangements are made, the Internet is often used to transmit results from the expensive remote equipment to the individual's local work site. For experiments not possible at home, ie-Science also uses this arrangement, providing raw experimental data via the Internet for local analysis.
This project is intended to initiate such home science instruction involving learners actually practicing real science, guided and assisted via the Internet. It is unlikely that this first effort will be ideal. There will be all sorts of difficulties. But this project is a prototype which can be used to learn science and be revised when difficulties are encountered. It can provide the inspiration and foundation for others to help build a new kind of science education based on the advantages and features of the Internet.
For people who are bright and don't require the nagging of an instructor, Internet-based experimental science may open the door to a better understanding of the world we share and cherish.