Category Archives: Weekly Column

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Documentary Review: Einstein’s Big Idea

I have been an avid fan of documentaries, particularly science documentaries, for as long as I can remember. As a child, I watched the Walt Disney Show on Sunday evenings that occasionally added “nature programs” into the mix of Donald Duck, Zorro, and Davy Crockett episodes. As an undergraduate, I spent evenings watching Jonathan Miller’s The Body in Question, which captivated me and gave context to my daytime studies at the university. Later, in graduate school at Cornell, I watched each of Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos episodes as they first aired. Dr. Sagan was a professor at Cornell, and it was exciting to watch one of our own lead the way in popularizing scientific learning. At about the same time, each Wednesday evening I awaited the next installment of Life on Earth, in which David Attenborough gave the same attention to biology that Dr. Sagan gave to physics and astronomy. Continue reading

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Hands-On Science Education: Basic Requirements

There are three basic requirements for designing and implementing an excellent elementary science program. These are:

  1. It should be cross-curricular, so that it is relevant and doesn’t subtract from time devoted to other important academic domains.
  2. It should be organized into thematic concepts, so that hands-on activities lead students to conclude fundamental scientific truths.
  3. It should be hands-on, so students enjoy it and benefit from the cognitive advantages of this form of science instruction.

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Cross-Domain Science Instruction

I remember attending a school board meeting in Pennsylvania some years ago at which a board member posed a rather dispiriting question: “With everything else we are responsible for, how can we possibly teach more science in elementary school?” State standards dictated a certain level of proficiency in students’ reading and mathematics on standardized tests and school funding depended on student performance in those subjects. With the stakes so high in reading and math, this board member worried that there was simply not enough time in the academic year to devote to a first-rate science program. Thankfully, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction responded with a bit of wisdom that is TEMP1.001too often forgotten in American curriculum design. She said, “Science is very cross-curricular in its implementation. Good science instruction incorporates mathematics and language arts. It touches upon social studies and geography. It is relevant to everything else we teach.” Continue reading


Exploration 21 LogoWHITE LARGE

Hello! Thank you for asking for information about Exploration21.

Exploration21 is Cognitive Learning Systems, Inc. (parent company of LabLearnerTM) ninth grade curriculum. It melds the “physics first” concept with the introduction of basic high school chemistry and biology. This approach is entirely consistent with the Next Generation Science Standards. Whats more, Exploration21 is 100% hands-on and digital.

On this non-public introductory site, you will find three resources to help you decide if Exploration21 is right for your school. However, we hope that after reviewing this material, we can talk in greater detail about the unique circumstances at your school. Continue reading


Science Education: Giving Your Students Presents

Try to remember yourself as a child with a wrapped present within your grasp. A relative or friend has gone to the trouble of not only getting you a gift, but of obscuring it with cardboard and paper to create the kind of mystery that consumes an impatient child.

Driven, you look for ways to gather information about the contents of the tantalizing package. How about considering its size… about a half a meter squared… definitely not a bicycle! Is it longer than wide… might be a… But no, you’ve been fooled before; sometimes the shape of the box can be misleading. Continue reading


E. coli to Elephants: Extrapolating from Models

In 1954, the famous French scientist Jacques Monod’s uttered the phrase, “Anything found to be true of E. coli must also be true of elephants, only more so.” E. coli is short for Escherichia coli, a very common bacterium that lives in the human intestine. E. coli is useful for humans because it is a major component of our normal intestinal flora that promotes general health. It is especially useful to scientists, however, because it has severed as a simple model to study countless cellular phenomena that occur in all living cells, not just bacteria… including elephants. Continue reading


Math and Science: A Symbiotic Relationship

Consider the following list of activities that you might find as part of the science curriculum in many schools around the country:

  • A fourth grade class has an aquarium or hamster in the back of the room.
  • A third grade class visits a local pond.
  • A second grade class anticipates the hatching of a cocoon into a butterfly in a nylon cage.
  • A fifth grade class makes models of the solar system out of marbles and Ping-Pong balls.
  • A local park ranger speaks to a group of sixth grade students about water pollution and its effect on animals.

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Beyond the Dictionary: Teaching Science Concepts, Not Definitions

Too often, science curricula offer students what amounts to a smorgasbord of science concepts to learn in their K-8 years. Different concepts are taught at different grade levels with no obvious connection between them beyond falling under the broad heading of “science.” This lack of curricular organization imposes an unnecessary cognitive obstacle on students—pushing them to learn a great deal of content without the context to understand it all. Continue reading

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Science Education: The Core Concept Model

Schools often group science concepts into the categories such as biology, chemistry, physics, earth science, and so on. Such categories have existed at the heart of the curriculum for over a century. We have Chemistry and Physics and Biology textbooks. Teachers are certified in Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Physical Science, and so on. Everyone is familiar with and apparently comfortable with this structure. Continue reading


Science Education: Teaching Truth and Honesty

There is only one thing in science worse than incorrect results or bad conclusions, and that is not being truthful. Lying in science is taboo. It is like sneezing into an open petri dish – you just can’t do it. Indeed, you can’t even consider it. Lying is the ultimate scientific sin because to lie not only undermines a scientist’s credibility; it is an attack on the very nature of science.

HonestyIt would seem like scientists have great incentives to lie about their research. The stakes in science are high, and emotions can run even higher. Passions nursed for a hypothesis through long hours at the bench, in the field, or at the computer, might make tweaking results to align with the hypothesis seem attractive. Disputes with another scientist—particularly one with whom you compete for grant money—might make a researcher want to say anything to undercut their rival. Scientists are only humans, and total commitment to one’s work and ideas and hypothesis can overwhelm even the most affable of souls. Continue reading