Smart Science Online enables students to experience the scientific discovery
method with a virtual apparatus. This is not a new concept; however, the
Smart Science approach is more realistic than simulations or digitally
In a biology lesson, for example, a student may select from several
hypotheses and then test each using cultures in a set of petri dishes.
The "simulation" uses
actual photos of the cultures growing over time allowing the student to
step through the process, pointing and clicking at the material in the
video. Clicking on cells of a given type translates to points on a graph
for that cell type. We used this method in a biology lab to test the
effect of various contaminants on seed germination. When the first hypothesis
failed, our student tried several others, all the while gathering data
that empowered him to draw his own conclusions.
Students are not discouraged by "getting it wrong" or having an experiment
that does not work. Testing hypotheses one by one, the student gathers
information to draw his or her conclusions about the experiment. They
can keep notes separately or include them in a lab report. Smart Science
explains how to use the virtual apparatus to gather data. The lab report
is automatically constructed for the student using fill-in forms along
with the information gathered throughout the experiments.
We initially found the process to be complex and at times tedious, but
once familiar with the system, complaints of "I don't get it" quickly turned into
"Cool! I didn't expect that." It is important when using this system to
view the learning process in terms of the scientific method. If your
student understands that mistakes are opportunities to learn, he or she
will learn a lot more through this trial and error method.
All Smart Science labs include graphs, and one of the lessons we reviewed
was an experiment to demonstrate how speed impacts graph slope. Among
the hypotheses were:
- Faster motion does not change the slope of the graph
- Faster motion gives a steeper graph line
- Faster motion gives
a shallower graph line
our hypothesis, favoring a steeper graph line and then clicked, "Enter
the lab, we followed people moving across a path in the video and marked
their positions along the way. These points were collected by Smart Science
and placed on a graph in real time. After testing a slow walk, a run
and a bike rider, it became very clear very fast that our hypothesis
Help is available along the bottom of the screen where the
hypothesis is selected. One button labeled, "Apparatus" explains how the experiment
is conducted and what equipment is being used (microscope, stop watch,
etc.) The instructions are clear and easy to understand.
Within the lab, where the data are gathered, there are vocabulary words
along the bottom of the page. Clicking on one brings up a glossary
that goes straight to the word or phrase on which the user clicks.
Below the glossary terms are links to other resources, including a
brief bio of a scientist, a list of science terms and a dictionary.
Students can take a quiz from the lab page that relates to the information
gathered there. The lab report is also launched from the lab page.
The lab report tool also has clear and simple instructions and has
the data gathered during the lab already included. The student answers
questions about what they were trying to discover, the procedures used,
and the outcome. The instructions encourage use of new vocabulary words,
and to relate the current experiment with previous ones. Quizzes and
lab reports are submitted for grading, and instructions tell the student
what resources can be reviewed to complete each.
The high school and middle school versions we tested worked the same
way. The content is different only in that each reflects the rigor
expected of the grade level for which the labs were designed. Smart
Science greatly extends the "lab experience" for a homeschool student because it allows
methods and apparatus to be used that might not be affordable or even
practical in the home. Many online interactive programs are very easy
to use and resemble video games or interactive animations. Although there
is a learning curve to this program, it is easy to use. What sets it apart
from similar programs is that it is neither an interactive animation nor
an educational game.
Smart Science is an effective resource that can be a great supplement
to your existing science program. Annual subscriptions for 6th grade
through 8th grade Physical Science or General Science are $49.95. High
school Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science or Physics are available for
$59.95. AP Physics, Biology or Chemistry are available at $89.95. Subscription
rates are per year, per student.