Advances in high power computing have made available computer simulations which can mimic science laboratory procedures. Substitution of hands-on & minds-on science laboratory classes with computer simulations present several benefits ranging from reduced costs, elimination of hazardous waste and broader student access to science programs. However, these benefits come at a great cost to our youth. We at WHY SCIENCE are passionate about computer simulations and agree with the statements put forth in the American Chemical Society Position Statement on Computer Simulations in Academic Laboratories. This document provides a clear insight into the nature of this cost. An essential part of learning science is to use the senses to interact with, and understand the culture and practice of science. When students
- directly experience chemicals for experiments,
- investigate properties by observing, touching and feeling the products they make,
- strategize on what instruments they should use to investigate a problem, and,
- build an apparatus to investigate problems,
they engage and develop their creative and cognitive abilities for life-long scientific discovery and problem solving. Since simulations, by their very nature do not involve contact with chemicals or lab equipment, they cannot be considered as an equivalent replacement for the hands-on & minds-on experiences in science laboratory classes.
Don’t rely on computer simulation as a primary pedagogical tool for teaching science, because there is no evidence to support computer simulation’s efficacy as compared with hands-on & minds-on activities in promoting student creativity and problem-solving [See references in the ACS Positions Statement]. Thus the increasing use of computer simulations in K-12 education is distressing because it alone does not develop 21st Century Skills.
Developing 21st Century skills that a high school graduate can use in any STEM discipline they choose to study in college requires many hands-on & minds-on experiences that can be found in K-12 science laboratory classes, structured after-school academic programs, and well-conceived science fair projects. Thus in all grades, learning science and problem solving through hands-on & minds-on activities becomes something that students will enjoy doing and may choose as a career path for the pursuit of happiness.