Science and technology go together. It is no coincidence that they are next to one another in the acronym STEM: technology is both a product of science and an essential tool to produce even more scientific advances.
Nowadays, a state-of-the-art science lab is filled with technology, so why should the teaching of science be any different, when a teacher’s aim is to provide a realistic experience that will prepare students for real life application of the skills they have acquired in class?
There are plenty of ways technology can be integrated into the science curriculum depending on various factors such as the school’s budget and which branch of science is being studied. Let’s have a closer look at some of the possibilities.
Infinitely small, infinitely large
Mixed Reality can give students the chance to interact with virtual versions of places and objects they could not otherwise access: it provides an engaging, hands-on experience that can be applied to any subject and bridge any economic gap, taking students on virtual trips to museums or on a time machine, and science is no exception.
When applied to science, mixed reality is an excellent tool to teach students about that which is too small to see with the naked eye or too big to fit into the classroom: imagine gaining a better understanding of the nucleotides in a DNA strand by examining a three-dimensional model of it you can see through an MR set like Acer Mixed Reality Headset or exploring a simulation of the solar system where planets and satellites are at your fingertips.
Even without a headset, also Augmented Reality is a tool with virtually infinite potential for educational uses in the STEM field: Acer Chromebook Tab 10 can now support Google’s latest ARCore platform version and other augmented reality apps that can aid the teaching of maths and science by bringing 3D math problems to students’ desks, not to mention a wide range of more exciting possibilities such as miniature volcanoes and imaginary trips to space.
From theory to practice
Another fundamental aspect of using technology to teach science is that keeping the school’s science lab out of date does not create realistic expectations of what it is truly like to do science today. A curriculum that focuses on teaching science through experiments and data collection instead of relying only on textbooks can benefit immensely from using the latest technological tools to gather and analyse data in greater quantities and with far more precision. A student who has only ever recorded temperatures manually with a thermometer or studied the concept of pH only with universal indicators will find that they have a lot of catching up to do when confronted with a real research lab.
Introducing technology into a school lab is not a painless transition: top-of-the-line instrumentation is expensive and can take a toll on the school’s budget, and most importantly, teachers themselves must master its use before they can teach it proficiently, so updating a school’s science equipment is a significant investment in terms of money, time and effort, but just like in any successful investment, for everything that is lost, something more is gained: when applied wisely, the use of technology to teach science is worth the trouble.
Cameras can be attached to microscopes for the whole class to see what is on the slide and record the images for later viewing; data from a physics experiment such as speed and acceleration can be recorded and turned into a handy spreadsheet for further analysis. Even using a mix of analogue and digital tools can be an educational experience: students get to compare the ease and effectiveness of both methods of data collection and, upon finding the inevitable discrepancies, introduce the topic of human error in the scientific process.
It is not the easiest road to take, but we cannot deny that a lab equipped with the latest technology makes students into better scientists: it teaches methods comparable to the ones used in real-world research, allows for more in-depth analysis, and keeps them more engaged, potentially fuelling a lifelong interest in science that does not end with graduation and will one day swell the ranks of the next generation of researchers.