STEM in Action: Building Scientific Literacy Through Hands-on Experiences


A basic understanding of scientific concepts, processes, and ways of thinking is critical for students to succeed in the world of today and tomorrow. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2014 report on the results of the international PISA 2012 science assessment, “An understanding of science and technology is central to a young person’s preparedness for life in modern society.”

So how can students gain the scientific know-how and experience they need? Research demonstrates that sustained, guided student use of technology tools for data collection, analysis, and visualization helps deepen students’ understanding of science concepts. Research also suggests that such learning experiences help increase students’ interest, motivation, and engagement in science.

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Below are a few suggestions to help students develop scientific literacy and spark their natural curiosity.

 1. Take students beyond memorizing science facts and theories.

Inquiry-based investigations provide an effective way to engage students in real-life scientific and engineering practices. Whether teachers choose to use a structured, guided or open inquiryformat, lab activities should give students the opportunity to apply the scientific process to their learning. Such activities should motivate them to question and investigate; make predictions; collect, analyze and interpret data; refine their questions; and engage in argumentation from evidence. This builds problem-solving and higher-order thinking skills, as well as communication and collaboration skills.

2. Connect lab investigations and technology tools with classroom experiences.

Lab experiences and technology are much more effective when fully integrated into the curriculum and directly connected with lectures, readings and discussions. They should be part of — instead of separate from — the flow of classroom science lessons.

3. Use real-world tools to make data meaningful for students while they “do” science.

Sensor-based lab investigations provide rich opportunities for students to deepen their science understanding and develop hands-on experience using tools like those used by real-life scientists and engineers. In addition, with new technologies such as PASCO Scientific’s wireless sensors, teachers can simplify lab setup and remove the clutter of cables, so students can spend more time exploring and performing experiments that were difficult or impossible before. Wireless technology also helps schools save money by eliminating the need for a separate device to connect sensors to a computer, tablet or smartphone. Students can simply transmit the data directly from the wireless sensor to their device. Allowing students to get their data faster alsogives them more time for analysis and discussion, which is key to building scientific understanding.

4. Look for compatibility across operating system platforms.

To maximize your technology investment and students’ use of tools like wireless sensors, make sure the tools are compatible with multiple technology platforms, including Windows®, Mac®, iPad® and iPhone®, Android™ tablets and phones, and Chromebooks.  

5. Plan for professional development.

If inquiry-based instruction is new for your students and teachers, conduct professional development workshops. Guide teachers to begin with more highly-structured activities and thengradually move students to open-ended investigations where they take more responsibility for planning their activities.

With technology-supported inquiry, teachers can empower students to reveal the invisible and unleash their imaginations. When students “do” science rather than simply read about it, theydeepen their understanding, develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and retain morecontent knowledge. This is not only important for students who decided to pursue STEM careers, but also for life in the modern world.  

Steven Korte is the CEO of PASCO Scientific, a developer of innovative teaching and learning solutions for K–12 and higher education since 1964. PASCO’s SPARK Element, Wireless Spectrometer and SPARKvue science learning application are all BETT Award finalists.