Affordable Online System Enhances Science Education

High schools that cannot afford expensive science experiments may now engage their students in online laboratories at a fraction of the cost with ParaComp Inc.'s "Smart Science" online education system. Smart Science, which obtained the first patent issued for a complete science education method in March, works through a highly interactive Java applet that allows students to perform experiments by becoming scientists - collecting and analyzing their own data, proving hypotheses, learning scientific principles, and developing rational thinking skills.

Smart Science users collect data and eliminate hypotheses by analyzing the information and comparing the results of several experiments. Students view the experiments by watching a video of an actual recorded lab, then click on individual video frames to collect data. Unlike traditional labs, students may retry an experiment to gather more information. Upon completion of each experiment, the data is sent to a server and stored where it can later be retrieved.

The program was created by Harry E. Keller, president of ParaComp, who is a former scientist and university professor. "With the exception of a few committed and talented teachers, the method of science was missing from the teaching of science," he says. Keller began looking into computers as a source for enhancing science education, eventually developing the Smart Science system.

Every Smart Science lab contains several experiments from which teachers and/or students may choose. In addition to the labs, the program also features customizable warm-up pre-lab quizzes, a post-lab review to reinforce the principles of the experiment, and supplemental materials. Schools in California, Colorado, Maryland and Missouri are already using Smart Science labs.

"Smart Science labs save the teacher and students the time usually spent in set up ... [giving students] more time for actual science," Keller says. He also points out that online labs have no safety problems and put an end to lab "sharing" or students copying each other's work. Aside from these advantages, cost savings is also a major benefit, with fees for the program adding up to about 25 cents per student or less, according to Keller.

For more information on the program, visit www.smartscience.net.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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