Implementing Virtual Lab Learning to High School

Implementing Virtual Lab Learning to High School

Evangelia Prodromidi (American Community Schools (ACS) Athens, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0267-8.ch022
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Science is traditionally considered one of the most complex and demanding subjects in school, yet can be one of the most inspiring experiences one has encountered in their academic life. Scientific knowledge can be applied to and explain everyday life phenomena beyond the boundaries of a conventional classroom. This is the key to teach and learn science effectively and can be assisted by technology as a pedagogical tool. The i2Flex model was implemented in a High School Science IB class as online/virtual laboratory investigations, in an effort to enhance high cognitive skills and academic performance of students. By allowing students to self-pace and self-direct their learning and practice to some extent, students not only engaged more actively in the science curriculum but improved their practical, writing and even collaborative skills. Teaching time in class became more flexible and productive and addressed areas of learning, such as critical thinking, analysis and elaboration of performed work, which have always puzzled students and perhaps lowered academic outcome.
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In the final years of High School and especially in demanding and rigorous high honors classes and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes, science often seems to the eyes of students as really “rocket science’’! Academic outcome may frequently be hindered by lack of interactive and life-connecting experiences of scientific concepts. As a former science researcher and a current instructor in IB/AP Biology and Environmental Science, I seek-alternative to conventional-ways of teaching Biology or Environmental Science in a theoretical and practical level not only to satisfy academically the college or university requirements, but to instill the scientific method and way of thinking in young individuals, who will become science professionals and the future citizens of our society.

Empowering young individuals to construct their own learning by being autonomous, taking initiatives, analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating their knowledge and understanding is the basis of constructivist pedagogy (Brooks & Brooks, 1999). Initially, this new methodology may seem utopic or even radical to many traditional instructors but it gains more and more ground in modern schools as it challenges instructors to transform into mediators of students and environments, instead of simply being providers of information and managers of behavior. Taking this into consideration, the idea of implementing blended learning into the teaching of experimental science in the form of complementing the face-to-face class meetings with virtual or online laboratory activities formed my own action research topic as an educator, and opened up a new era to me as an instructor to use technology as a pedagogical tool to meet student needs and address different learning styles. Specifically, virtual/online laboratories are delivered with computer technology and offer investigations, which involve simulated material and equipment and are performed by the students. Additionally, another type of online laboratory can be performed by students with physical apparatus operated at a distance or alternatively students can base their investigation on datasets already manipulated by usually professional organizations (de Jong et al., 2014). In recent years, a repository for online experiments has been developed which includes online labs, learning applications, and virtual inquiry learning spaces making them accessible to teachers all over the world (Dikke et al., 2014). In my class setting I have mainly used virtual simulations of well-known experiments in Biology (see examples below), which offered the opportunity to compare them directly with hands-on laboratories and were user-friendly, easily accessible online for all students, and provided a wealth of experimental skills to students of all learning levels.

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