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MIT STEM Workshop Demos Free Math and Science Curriculum

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently hosted a workshop on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education that included a demonstration of a university project to create STEM focused videos that can be freely used in high school classes. The STEM workshop drew a mixed group of subject experts, teachers, and policy makers from around the country to hear about innovative programs being run in Florida, Nevada, Washington, and elsewhere.

Among the presentations was one featuring BLOSSOMS, Blended Learning Open Source Science or Math Studies. This MIT initiative features a courseware library with about 50 math and science lessons, all freely available to teachers in multiple formats: as streaming video, Internet downloads, DVDs, and videotapes.

Each 50-minute lesson is a complete resource with video segments, a teacher's guide, downloadable hand-outs, and a list of online resources about the topic. The lessons mix short videos--all less than five minutes--with in-classroom exercises designed to engage students in problem solving and critical thinking.

MIT faculty members teamed with educators in Jordan and Pakistan to create the first set of BLOSSOMS lessons. Now teachers from around the world create and submit modules.

"BLOSSOMS is scalable, bringing virtual in-class visitors--content experts--into the classroom in a way that is pedagogically supportive of the live in-class teacher," said Richard Larson, an MIT professor of engineering and principal investigator of the BLOSSOMS project. "The students sit in their regular seats in class, all electronic devices turned off, and the teacher shows segments of a BLOSSOMS module to them on a screen or TV set in front of the class. After a few minutes, usually less than four, the screen fades to black, the video is turned off, and the teaching baton is handed to the live in-class teacher who engages the class in a very interactive, problem-based response to what they have just seen."

Larson added that the objective is for the students to achieve "some interim learning objective." Then the teacher turns on the video again, and they all watch the next segment. "This iterative teaching duet process continues through the entire class time."

One recent video features a biology segment titled, "Geologic Time: The Ticking of Our Planet's 4.6 Billion Year Clock," during which students can perform multiple activities: picking which position along a geologic timeline represents the time when dinosaurs went extinct; building a geologic timeline for hanging up in the classroom; placing events onto a timeline; and estimating the growth in the length of a lizard's tail after specific periods of evolutionary change. Other newly uploaded videos cover the properties of materials at lower temperatures, data transfer speeds, steganography (the study of creating hidden messages) in bitmap files, and the physics of racing cars.

Larson said the overall goals of BLOSSOMS are:

  • To excite students about math and science and STEM careers;
  • To show relevance of STEM to their real world;
  • To develop critical thinking skills;
  • To develop an awareness, understanding, and appreciation for other cultures, since BLOSSOMS is an international collaboration; and
  • To introduce the in-class teacher to technology-enabled education in a supportive way.

BLOSSOMS is hosted by MIT's Learning International Networks Consortium (LINC), a global effort to improve distance and elearning technologies. LINC hosted the STEM workshop, which plans to meet again in October 2012.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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