Thursday, January 30, 2014

Utilizing Students as Resources in their Own Education

By Sean Scarpiello

While STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) continue to be pushed in schools, many districts face difficulty in providing the expensive lab technologies needed to support these types of classes. As a result, many teachers feel as if the lack of proper facilities means that a satisfactory understanding of STEM subjects is too difficult to teach. However, STEM classes do not need to be extremely costly. If teachers can find creative ways to teach the lab components of these classes, students can learn in a fun and interesting way at a low cost. In all of my lab experience as a student, some of the best lab experiments I took part in cost practically nothing.

Just this past week, I had a lab physiology where we looked at the effects of different carbohydrates on blood sugar levels. When my professor was designing lab, he very easily could have designed an experiment involving mice, a special carbohydrate-containing food for the mice, as well as equipment to humanely remove and test small drops of blood. However, this would require a lot of different permits and high expenses which he did not have available to him. Instead, he thought of a novel way of studying the same blood sugar levels at a much lower cost. To do this he utilized many of the resources that we already have available to us. More specifically, my class decided that we would be to subjects for our own experiment. We each ate a different food containing carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, or pasta) and measured our blood sugar over a two-hour period using the same low-cost equipment utilized by diabetics. As a result, our class received the same type of data we would expect to find in mice but at the low-cost of a few household staples and cheap blood sugar monitors.

While experiments like this can only be carried out on a college campus, the same idea can be applied to high school and even elementary level STEM classes. All the different fields of science are always around us, so it would make sense that science can be easily studied by the things around us. For example, a chemistry teacher could discuss density and the miscibility of liquids by showing the class what happens when cooking oil and water are mixed. A biology teacher can teach his or her entire class to extract DNA from a strawberry with some salt, rubbing alcohol, and dish soap. Here, students can become actively involved in a fun and interesting way at a low cost for school districts. In fact, lab experiments like these are practically free because everyone has some of these resources already around the house or classroom. In addition, teachers can use these experiments to help students visualize what exactly is going on scientifically.

Further, these types of experiments do not need to be limited to STEM classes. In fact, many of the social sciences can be taught using similar techniques. By giving students surveys on topics such as political views, social studies teachers can teach the different ideologies behind different political parties through the ideas their students already possess. Also, teachers can also give students simple sociological surveys to talk about topics such as race, gender, and culture in a sociology class. Using these types of surveys, students become deeply involved in the learning process and understand how different topics relate to themselves. Equally as important, teachers can give these surveys at practically no cost instead of buying more expensive textbooks or published papers which support the same ideas.

Students can be a great resource and tool in their own education. By becoming involved in their own low-cost, homemade science experiments, students can learn from the resources already around. In fact, students can even take their knowledge home and show their parents simple experiments such as extracting DNA from a strawberry in their own kitchen. Even the use of simple surveys can be used to teach students about themselves as well as the different social sciences which govern our day to day lives. In all, it is easy for teachers to find novel and low-cost ways to keep their students actively involved in class.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Effective Implementation of Technology in Education

By Sean Scarpiello

As more and more schools continue to invest in educational technologies, it is important that these technologies are being used efficiently and effectively. Just because a school buys a new set of iPads for a class does not guarantee they will help students learn. For students to get the most out of their new technologies in class, it is important that educators are ensuring that class time is utilized to include a balance of traditional education and application of these new technologies. If teachers can maintain this balance, students will be able to get the most out of their valuable class time while still reaping the benefits of technology.

There are some education professionals that feel as if technology will completely replace traditional education sometime in the future. In my opinion, schools should always retain some sort of traditional education components in schooling. While it is important for students to learn how to read, write, and understand basic concepts in math and science, education should still be about learning to make friends and communicate with others. Plus, teachers should be available to give individual attention to students in a way that personalizes each student’s education. One way this may easily be carried out is through the limited use of technology. If students are overexposed to technology, they can lose their motivations quickly. One way technology can be implemented effectively would be to implement the use of computers and tablets for homework and projects only. That way, students will get a personalized education during the day where they can interact with teacher and other students. Plus, students will not dread going home to pages of boring math problems or grammar worksheets. The use of technology will have students looking forward to completing interactive games as homework.

By over-stimulating students with technology, students will lose interest quickly. For example, if students play a math game on their tablets all day in school, the same students will probably get bored by the end of the day and any additional work to complete on the iPad at home would not be as beneficial to students. Further, some schools are implementing technology in areas of education that clearly did not need technology. I recently read an article discussing how students are using iPads in gym class. Students were able to videotape exactly how they played volleyball and then had the ability to playback the video and watch themselves later. While this seems cool, it really is a waste of schools funding on expensive technologies. Gym class should be about getting exercise and learning about physical education, not watching videos.

Despite this example of technology being poorly implemented during class time, tablets and laptops may still be effectively used during class in an effective and helpful manner. For example, new educational applications that mimic student response clickers as well as other technology-based diagnostic tools for teachers may also be implemented effectively. In that way, students can interact with each other and their teachers through technology instead of completely isolating themselves from others. Teachers will also be able to use technology to identify weaknesses and address them in class. This allows for class time to be utilized more effectively and efficiently so each student’s needs may be addressed.

In all, while it is important to implement technology in school, the benefits of technology are not guaranteed unless this technology is properly implemented. Like many things for young students, the novelty of technology can quickly wear off for students if they are overexposed to this technology. Therefore, by limiting the use of technology during class and as homework - when needed and in moderation, students will reap the most benefits from these technologies. Replacing valuable class time with time where students’ heads are buried latest tablet or laptop will not help them with developing interpersonal and communication skills which are vital to learn at an early age in school.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Using YouTube to Motivate and Teach STEM Students

By: Sean Scarpiello

Back when I was in school, my classmates and I would constantly ask our teacher “when will we ever use this in life?” This was especially true in subjects such as math and science. These days STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education is being pushed on students more than ever and as a result, teachers are having an increasingly difficult time motivating students in these subjects. Math and science are difficult subjects to learn and teach because the fundamentals of these subjects are often dry and boring to students. However, if teachers can show students that these subjects can be fun and interesting to apply, students will want to learn the tedious fundamentals so they can move on to the more fascinating applications of these subjects.

One way that I continue to be motivated to pursue a career in STEM fields is by watching videos on YouTube. While there are many different YouTube channels with math and science videos, a few channels stick out as extremely fascinating. One of these channels, called Vsauce, asks thought-provoking questions and attempts to answer them in a fun and interesting way. Some of these questions include Is Your Red the Same as My Red, What Color is a Mirror, and What is it Like to Travel Inside a Black Hole? While answering these questions, the host goes off on many tangents where he introduces a lot of other related information that is also thought-provoking. In fact, while the title of the videos appears as if they answer one question, there are usually several different questions being answered in multiple fields of science.

Despite this, the videos on Vsauce are not instructional videos that walk students step-by-step through solving math equations, but they do motivate students to want to learn. Therefore, teachers could introduce a new topic in class with a video that details all of the fascinating real world applications using the math and science students are about to learn. For example, a teacher introducing subject matter discussing Newtonian mechanics can begin this dry material with the video Guns in Space. In this 5 ½ minute video, the host looks at what it would be like to fire a gun in space and on the moon. The video also gets into how astronauts experience no gravity, how much water it would take to extinguish the sun, and what it would be like if there was a tunnel straight through the earth. Now, students would see that there is more to Newton’s equations on kinematics than just plugging in variables and solving algebra.

Another YouTube channel that does offer instructional videos is called Crash Course. Like Vsauce, Crash Course is hosted by a scientist who walks students through difficult scientific phenomena in a fun and easy to learn way. Crash Course has over 200 videos in chemistry, physics, biology, ecology, and even United States and world history. These instructional videos are extremely helpful as they clearly explain confusing information and offer many visuals that make learning easy. Many of the science videos start with an introduction that shows students exactly why the material they are about to learn is important in the real world.

Much like the Vsauce, Crash Course’s videos could be used to introduce new material. This way, students get a general understanding of the material they are about to learn. Teachers can use Crash Course as a way to supplement material. For example, when attempting to teach how electrons move around the nucleus of an atom, Crash Course’s dynamic visuals, in their atomic orbital video, display electron movement much better than a stationary image in a chemistry textbook. Beyond this, teachers can assign these videos as study aids or homework. This would not only serve to refresh students’ memories, but also give students clear understanding of some of science's most obscure topics.

These videos are fantastic in that they are completely free for anyone to watch on YouTube at any time for no cost. Further, students can watch them on their own to boost their interests in math and science or watch them to get additional instruction in these difficult subjects. Teachers can also use them as a study aid or homework assignment which can be accessed anywhere with an Internet connection. In all, YouTube channels such as the Vsauce and Crash Course are fantastic as they offer more students technology-based education at no cost.