Solving the World’s Emerging Problems: Inspiring STEM Students with Better Chemistry Education

Today’s STEM students will lead the way with innovative solutions, but can only do so if we provide them with the necessary education to succeed in these fields.

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An Ideal World: How We’d Like Things To Be

If we imagine that we had a magic wand that allowed us to solve educational problems beyond our direct area of influence (especially in regards to chemistry), we can see a world where students arrive to post-secondary education well prepared and unafraid of challenging topics.

 

As it stands now, students arrive at college not only with wildly different levels of preparedness but also with a baked-in set of fears and anxieties about chemistry. These fears can have a number of sources, from messaging that chemistry is incredibly difficult to anxiety around related subjects (such as mathematics).

 

Students without lab experience can be fearful of making embarrassing mistakes and struggle with a lack of familiarity with the equipment. Dr. James Caras, CEO of Catalyst Education, shares with findings from his student interviews, “Students are very intimidated. They’ll tell me when I interview them how they’re most terrified of their lab classes. They’re afraid of making very public mistakes. They’re afraid of hurting themselves or just breaking expensive equipment or glassware. And they really don’t feel prepared.”

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In an ideal world, we could fix these challenges at the very root — students would all have equal access to quality education, materials, and tools to create firm foundations for college success in STEM. In lieu of that, we need to help students overcome their preconceived notions about chemistry when they arrive at college. The right tools and approach can engage students actively, allowing them to interact with the concepts in a meaningful way. Interactive engagement leads students to the discovery that they can, in fact, do chemistry.

Overcoming the Experience Gap

These same tools can help overcome the challenge stemming from students coming in with such significant differences in chemistry experience — some may have AP-level coursework from high school under their belt, whereas others may not have had a chemistry course since sophomore year. The quality of the chemistry education also varies strongly with each school’s faculty and resources.

 

The challenge then lies in bringing the less experienced students up to speed without boring your more advanced students. On the flip side, moving too quickly will leave lower-end students behind and with the risk of losing them altogether. As Dr. Donna Bassolino from The College of New Jersey tells us, “It’s so hard to keep them, we don’t want to lose the lower end kids… it would be nice to find some way to equalize [the field] or to bring the kids that are behind up to speed a little bit faster.”

 

Building adaptable courses around students’ needs and using tools that rely on familiar interfaces, such as mobile devices, can go a long way toward addressing this critical issue. Implementing active learning approaches such as flipping the classroom can create much stronger student engagement and help students come up to speed — when students can work together they can help each other and close those knowledge gaps. Meanwhile, leveraging educational technology helps to provide real-time feedback and guide students along problem-solving pathways.

Modernizing and Reshaping Chemistry Education

“…I think technology does a lot to drive change. A lot of faculty are finding the flexibility of learning management systems enhances whatever content they normally would be offering to their students.”
James Caras
CEO of Catalyst Education
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Reducing Barriers to Inspire Students in STEM

“Many of these students are entering first-year chemistry in college with this perspective that they can’t do chemistry. Chemistry is not for them…they weren’t made out for it. From our perspective, what we try to focus on is really lowering that barrier, that intimidation factor, and make that subject matter more accessible to them — get them more engaged. I think preparation levels are definitely a concern, but it’s also about what we can do from a technology perspective…to remove that barrier for students.”
Justin Weinberg
CEO of CCo-founder & CEO of Aktiv Learning

¹ This page may contain direct quotes that were provided at a time where Aktiv Chemistry was named Chem101. We have replaced the name Chem101 with Aktiv Chemistry to minimize confusion.

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