New approaches to science education brought about by distance learning

Mason Ferbert , Staff Writer

The science department’s change to the online format has brought a new age of online experiments and changed the way students learn the content.

Although online experiments are not being used much in the current situation, there is serious promise to using that method.

Science department curriculum instruction leader Dr. Chu Kwen Ho said, “Something good for online courses is virtual labs that can be done. For an example, student can log into certain websites that can do animation using the online platform.  Another example is building or constructing an electric circuit.”

The advantage of online labs is that they cost significantly less money than hands-on experiments. This will save money for the science department’s budget.

But the disadvantage to this format is that a big component of science experiments is the hands-on experience.

“I think it’s better doing experiments in person,” Ho said.  “You need to hold the task to and hold a chemicals agent to develop certain bioproducts or you want to test a hypothesis.”

Although until the pandemic is over, hands-on experiments seem out of the question and online labs seem to be the best option for now.

But at the moment there are very few experiments going on in science classes.

Chemistry and physics teacher Kent Woodard said, “There are still experiments, but they’re not hands-on so much as they are hands on the computer. There’s ideas that I have, I guess, for doing experiments in the class, but there’s no real good way to do group experiments because you have to face each other usually.”

Senior Jarod Blanchette has done some experiments in AP Computer Science.

“I don’t know if we call them experiments. I have had activities online, but they’re not experiments you usually see in science classes,” Blanchette said. “But I don’t know if that’s necessary. The course like computer science isn’t as hands-on as labs would be in lab science. Last year for AP Physics there was no experiments over the internet.”

Another changed aspect is the science curriculum because the online format as removed a key aspect to the science course.

Ho said, “kids are learning in person while other students are learning virtually at the same time. So I think that causes a lot of changes in how we implement the science curriculum.”

The change from in-person to online as really flipped some course on its head with how they go about teaching a subject.

“It’s been changed differently for different classes. AP Chemistry seems to have suffered least,” Kent Woodard said. “But it seems like Physics has really changed. In Physics, pretty much it was like every two or three days I had a fun little thing to tinker with or some kind of group activity to do because there is not a lot of information in physics. It seems like there was a lot more that could be done experimentally for the class, like trying to make it more fun and engaging. But now physics has pretty much turned into me teaching, the students taking notes, and the students doing the homework, like very traditional, which is fine. but I don’t think it is as good as what I could have provided if we were in person.”

This change has made classes like Physics more content-based because hands-on labs and activities are impossible in the current situation.

The change has also been noticed by students because the online format has been hard for them to learn in.

“It’s hard to say because I think it’s easy and hard because sometimes you don’t get video tutorials,” junior Safir Choudhury said. “In person, I think it’s better to learn from my experience.”

The online format is harder in a lot of ways but that doesn’t mean that it is totally useless. There are some upsides to the format and some of those might carry through to the future.

“Some benefits of the situation that is that we have mastered technology a lot better than before. Now we know how to use Teams to meet that saves a lot of time. We have found a lot of online resources that would be very useful for students to learn,” Ho said. “I think in the future there will be a combination of virtual labs, virtual meetings and in-person labs.”