The research is in: teaching science is impossible.
That’s what Dr. Scott Beaver, former college professor turned Outschool science teacher, says about the subject that is dear to his heart.
“I was part of this research study,” Dr. Scott said, “where they had education majors sit in on like a million hours worth of science classes.” The surprising results of the study were that “there's no way to really teach science. The only thing you can do is get the learners motivated.”
It’s that finding - science learners must be motivated - that is clear in Dr. Scott’s classes, with names like “Minecraft Ores Chemistry” and “Atom Smashing Secrets Revealed.” These classes may teach students traditional science, but they do so in a non-traditional way, relying on Oustschool’s live online class platform to connect curious learners from around the globe.
Clearly, Dr. Scott’s formula for teaching science is effective: he has taught over 100 Outschool classes and garnered almost 100 parent reviews, all in shortly over a year. While Dr. Scott attracts learners to his classes with incredible course names, he keeps his learners coming back with his approach to instruction.
No skimming topics, but lots of sparking curiosity
A traditional college or public high school science course is a “checklist of things that you have to talk about,” Dr. Scott said. Educational standards and guidelines force teachers to skim over topics and don’t allow the time to present material in ways that promote curiosity.
“Since I don't have to worry about the guidelines so much here in Outschool, I can expand on that cool idea and make a class out of it,” Dr. Scott said. He was initially skeptical designing courses around a single science concept, but now the results speak for themselves.
“I have parents send me emails after the class that are like, ‘My child spent three, four hours on the Internet researching, and they learned about this and that.’ It's so much more than I could've taught them in an hour.”
Breaking the cycle of teaching to the top
Dr. Scott’s background as a gifted student led him on a circuitous path to teaching science on Outschool. A natural at math and Science, Dr. Scott realized that most teachers addressed top students like him, leaving most others in class unable to follow. This cycle continued through college as top students earned PhDs, became professors, and taught other top students, leaving everyone else behind.
“That's the way the system works, but it's really disconnected from ninety-nine percent of the learners,” Dr. Scott said. “When you tell somebody what they're supposed to be thinking, your first reaction is to close down the mind, and then it's over before it's even begun.”
Parents of young learners will be impressed to learn that Dr. Scott gets most of his Outschool course ideas from his old college-level science courses. This allows him to select curiosity-provoking topics, while “toning down the math and science, and having a discussion about the real world implications of these things.”
Why students don’t need labs to learn chemistry
As an online chemistry teacher, Dr. Scott is an educational unicorn. Most of his peers have not embraced teaching science online. “There's this standpoint that if you can't get it in the lab, then it's not a real chemistry program,” Dr. Scott said.
Most students in traditional school settings, Dr. Scott says, miss out on the most important part of the lab process, which is designing the process. This helps students test and stretch their understanding of course concepts. That doesn’t happen when students walk in a room, blow something up, and write a report on the results.
“You almost need a chemistry degree to understand the basic concepts are involved in a lab, even if you're just doing something simple like mixing baking soda and vinegar to make a volcano. I realized that labs basically just confuse the learners,” Dr. Scott said.
Since Dr. Scott’s classes meet online he has learners do the challenging and creative work of planning and designing hypothetical labs in order to improve their understanding of his course concepts. By figuring out all the things that wouldn’t work in a hypothetical lab, Dr. Scott’s learners develop their capacity for critical thinking and creative problem-solving.
A group of global learners curious to learn science
One of the hallmarks of the Outschool experience is the chance to take courses with learners from around the globe, and Dr. Scott notes this as one of his favorites parts of teaching science online. This allows students who love science to gather for one course in a situation that would probably not happen in a school bound by geographic location.
“I was really shocked the first time I offered a chemistry class and I had six or seven students show up that all knew the Periodic Table almost as well as I did. I was like, ‘You have to be kidding me.’” Dr. Scott frequently has students from Australia, England, Canada, and the U.S. all in the same classroom at the same time together. “That was a real eye-opener for me,” Dr. Scott said.
The secret to flipping the teacher-learner model on its head
Whether teaching science or social studies, math or mythology, Dr. Scott believes that most teachers approach education from a fundamental assumption that stifles growth and creativity. “A lot of teachers look at these students like they're young and inexperienced, and they don't know anything,” Dr. Scott said. This leads teachers to feel like they must construct learners into people who can participate successfully in society, but not necessarily remain curious about learning.
“I flip that model on its head,” Dr. Scott said. “I think all of these young learners as super intelligent. They're inquisitive, they know what they know. But by the time that they're in second grade, they've had people telling them, ‘You're wrong, and you can't do it that way.’"
Ultimately, the shift that Dr. Scott suggests to get kids excited about science, and learning in general, is simple: validate learners for who they are. “Even if they have a seemingly ridiculous question, validate them for speaking up. The potential is there, and I feel like they're born with the ability to do anything they want to do.”
Imagine if every teacher held the same beliefs as Dr. Scott. Maybe then, teaching science, or any other subject, wouldn’t seem so impossible at all.