“Give a kid a computer, and the student becomes the teacher.”
If you’ve crossed the path of a teenager lately, you most likely saw him or her with a computer in some shape or form—from a smartphone to a tablet. Give a kid a computer, and the student becomes the teacher. Even math teachers learn new and exciting things about graphing calculators from their students. Today’s students are technologically savvy, yet many take on the “I can’t do” notion when it comes to math and science. So how do we get students hooked on math and science like it’s the latest electronic device?
Increasing awareness of opportunities in STEM fields
STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Although there is continuing growth in technology and engineering jobs, fewer students are choosing STEM majors in college. Many students struggle with math and science and deem it too difficult. Educators recognize the need to engage and interest students in these subject areas. Across the nation, school districts are implementing STEM programs and learning projects that promote scientific thinking and prepare students for higher-level mathematics courses. K-12 educators want to increase awareness of opportunities in STEM fields and increase the number of students who pursue degrees in these disciplines.
The challenge of supporting math and science courses
In spite of the well-acknowledged need to support science, technology, engineering, and math, many schools—especially small schools—face serious resource challenges. The National Research Council (NRC) identified an “imbalance in access to qualified teachers that currently exists between students from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds.” Small schools have difficulty competing with large districts, both in terms of salary and career opportunities for STEM teachers. Other challenges are economic; the capital cost of providing special building facilities puts many science and technology courses out of reach for their students.
How does online education support STEM?
Online education provides an economically feasible alternative for schools with limited resources to support STEM education. With online learning, it’s possible to offer courses that are not typically available, such as nursing assistant or pharmacy technician courses. In addition, these programs provide more alternatives for individual students who might want to take courses outside the standard curriculum or at different times than when a course is available at a school. Many schools implement online education through a blended learning model: classroom activities are supported by digital content, with customized practice exercises provided to individual students. Another way blended learning is implemented is through the flipped classroom model, where students take notes and are engaged in online activities, and then use the classroom for follow-up practice or question-and-answer sessions.
Online education supports STEM education through digital media, simulations, and interactive tools, which engage students actively in scientific inquiry and real-world problem solving. Online programs provide a variety of activities to explore scientific concepts; some allow for multiple paths to achieve a solution and provide constructive feedback to students as they work through problems.
How do interactive activities and tools support STEM education?
Online learning offers a variety of interactive components in science and math lessons to engage students and pique their curiosity.
In science courses, virtual labs lead students through experiments that integrate all the STEM components. These online labs allow students to carry out virtual experiments with most of the elements of a live lab at a fraction of the cost and in a safe environment.
Math and science lessons can also incorporate rich graphical presentations, including models, pictures, diagrams, and graphs to engage students. Interactive activities allow students to manipulate data and solve problems using tools such as algebra tiles, an electromagnetic spectrum, an interactive periodic table, or a graphing calculator. These tools motivate students and require mathematic thinking. Through online learning, students are exposed to step-by-step activities, which guide them through a structured sequence of exercises to solve a problem or discover a connection. Students are engaged, able to work at their own pace, receive individualized feedback, and begin to experience success in math and science courses.
So, how do we get students hooked on math and science? Through online learning that is interactive and engaging.