A National Science Foundation grant is helping to revolutionize high school science education, connecting students to real labs using Webcams and remote control of lab equipment.
Julia Barnathan (standing), curriculum developer for Northwestern's Office of STEM Education Partnerships, assists a student with a lesson in radiation that uses iLabs to access a Geiger counter at the University of Queensland, Australia. Photo by Amanda Morris, Office for Research, Northwestern University An NSF report by Joan Naper of Northwestern University gives the details.
"There is a growing gap between the practice of science the way researchers at Northwestern and other institutions are conducting it, and what science looks like in high school," Kemi Jona, research associate professor and director of the Office of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education Partnerships (OSEP) at Northwestern University, says in the NSF article. "And that gap keeps getting bigger and bigger."
Closing that gap: Jona and partners at MIT received a $1 million grant from NSF to take the concept of online laboratories into the classrooms.
The iLabs are experimental facilities that can be accessed through the Internet. This isn't "virtual" science, but real high-tech equipment producing real scientific dta.
"Students are always online and very tech-savvy now," Jona said. "So the fact that they don't get to touch the device doesn't faze them at all."
Northwestern is the first large research institution to make these remote labs accessible in high schools.
To integrate iLabs into regular high school science curricula, Jona hopes to turn the Web site into a hub where students and educators can go to find, share and access facilities, similar to an eBay-type marketplace.
Right now, the nine instruments available on the site include an inverted pendulum at the University of Queensland in Australia, and a microelectronics device characterization lab, a dynamic signal analyzer, an educational laboratory virtual instrumentation suite, a polymer crystallization experiment, a shake table, a heat exchanger, a force on a dipole lab, and neutron spectroscopy labs, all at MIT.
Jona says that Northwestern will put some of its devices online starting this year and will conduct a formal pilot test of iLabs in fall 2009 with teachers and students around the country. He expects that iLabs will help close the gap between schools with many facilities to share and those with less to work with. He is bringing iLabs to the Chicago Public School system and other school districts that lack resources.
"My vision is to level the playing field in terms of providing better and more equal access for students regardless of where they live. For example, there's already some work going on with iLabs in Africa where there really are few resources available," he said. "Ultimately, I hope to create a worldwide resource that brings more students into science and scientific careers."
There's more at the NSF Website.