Livin' it up, American style

Friday, October 20, 2006

I Love the Smell of Formaldehyde in the Morning.

The New York Times had an article today about virtual science labs replacing hands on science in high schools. There was a picture of a young girl staring at a computer screen as she 'dissected' a fetal pig. Increasingly, virtual experiments done online are replacing the ones that used to be done by students in a classroom. I can understand the use of online science lessons if a student wants to take a course that their high school does not offer, but I am afraid of schools using online labs to substitute for the real thing.

Clicking on the computer screen to virtually dump this test tube of chemicals into that test tube of chemicals is a sorry substitute for doing it in a classroom. The students are taught that these chemicals may be dangerous, and they need to wear gloves and goggles and be careful. There is the process of getting the Bunsen burner ready, and measuring out all the ingredients. There is the process of trial and error, as students add too much or too little of one chemical. There is the experience of smelling the different chemicals, or seeing the different viscosities. There is that moment of elation when students realize they did the experiment perfectly, or disappointment when they realize they did something wrong. There is that initial gross out factor when students first slice into their dead, cold, formaldehyde smelling frogs, which is quickly replaced by exclamations of 'cool' when students see little lungs and hearts that look like human's.

These hands on experiments are what makes students want to become scientists and doctors. These experiments make even the slacking, disinterested students in the class get excited and ask questions. There was never more energy in the biology or physics classrooms than the days we were going to do a lab. These types of projects are one of the most important types of lessons because they are not something that can be read about, or understood from pictures in a book or computer. I feel that if online lessons become more widespread and replace traditional lessons in labs, that fewer students will become biologists or pre-med majors. I think schools should go the opposite way, and have more chances for students to do hands on learning, to learn something that can't be learned from a book or computer screen.


  • you luddite! hehehe. j/k

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:25 AM  

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