STEMpower

Applying Practical Skills in a Digital Age

For quite some time, educators have been employing the use of technology to teach practical skills in the classroom. With the widespread availability of computers since the 1990’s, science teachers have been able to transform the learning process, thereby incorporating problems and solutions within a blended context. However, with increasing emphasis being placed on producing technologically proficient students, some teachers may hold to the notion that practical skills application is merely an idea of the past. Interestingly, though, this subscribed pedagogy is mostly perpetuated in American science classes – many of the highly ranked nations (in terms of STEM success) focus on both fronts in equipping their students to obtain high achievements in math and science.

Emma Woodley (2009), in her piece entitled “Practical Work in School Science – Why is it Important”, sheds light on this continuing debate, and why practical work is so valuable to UK science teachers. She suggests that “skills development, experiential learning, independent learning, and learning in different ways” are all valuable components in shaping science education (Woodley, 2009). She further notes that “really effective practical activities enable students to build a bridge between what they can see and handle (hands-on) and scientific ideas that account for their observations (brains-on)” (Woodley, 2009).

Although I previously alluded to the single-pronged technological approach that some US curriculum material takes, there currently exists a momentum-garnering movement that seeks to reestablish the much needed connection between the practical and technical. The “SENSE IT” (Student Enabled Network of Sensors for the Environment using Innovative Technology) program, funded by the National Science Foundation, has afforded students with the opportunity of building sensors and circuits that can be used to test “water temperature, conductivity, turbidity and depth” (Hotaling, 2013). Through this process, students design and “deploy their own water quality sensors to interpret data”

Despite the success of SENSE IT and the onset of newer programs, very few initiatives have zeroed in on the concept of applying practical, on-the-job type training to science lessons learned in the classroom. PCS is proud to be a leader in this area, offering student audiences of various ages the chance to experience how different professions use science. For example, Pirate Camp, serves to engage students’ senses, curiosity, and critical thinking. In the process, students learn about building catapults, tying knots, making maps, and finding hidden treasure. PCS’ quest to garner STEM interest and skill attainment is always growing, and invites learners of all ages to examine exiting new trends in education!

Woodley, Emma. (2009, December). Practical work in school science –why is it important? Retrieved November 19, 2015, from http://www.gettingpractical.org.uk/documents/EmmaWoodleyarticle.pdf

Hotaling, Liesl. (2013, November 25). Sense it program gives students practical skills and more. Retrieved November 19, 2015, from http://www.livescience.com/41497-diy-sensor-networks-sense-it-nsf-bts.html

 

Lindsay Reeves

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