MIT Program Seeks To Engage High School Students Using Video Content

MIT Program Seeks To Engage High School Students Using Video Content

contributed by Dr. Richard Larson

A group of teenagers shuffle into AP chemistry class at King Phillip High School in Wrentham, Massachusetts – just minutes away from the New England Patriots home field at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.  It’s been several weeks since the team’s big Super Bowl win in Houston, and the teacher begins class with a question, “Did the Patriots cheat by deflating air from footballs to gain an advantage?”

She hits play on a video lesson titled, “Temperature, Pressure and American Football:  An Introduction to Gay-Lussacs Law.” The students listen as Deflategate expert and MIT Mechanical Engineering Professor, John Leonard, explains the physical science behind the well-known football tampering case.

After this first short video segment, the baton is passed to the classroom teacher who guides students through an activity exploring and explaining the Deflategate phenomenon. What follows during this 50-minute lesson is a series of short video segments interspersed with challenging classroom break activities that encourage students to think and act like scientists.  Before the final bell rings, students are asked to analyze publicly available evidence and come to their own conclusion about what may or may not have happened.

See also: 40 Viewing Comprehension Strategies: Watching Videos Like You Read A Book

Why re-litigate Deflategate in a high school classroom – more than two years after the controversy started? The answer is simple. For these young students – the link between football and science could be the key to motivating them to pursue a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

That’s the concept behind the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) BLOSSOMS project, a program we started in 2008 with the primary goal of improving STEM education in secondary schools. The idea was that if we could show more young students how STEM subjects connect to the real world, then perhaps more would become engaged and interested in the field.

Clearly, we were onto something. A new study released just this past January found parents who talk with their high schoolers about the relevance of science and math can increase competency and career interest in STEM fields. The findings showed a significant difference in the number of elective, advanced math and science courses taken, such as calculus, statistics, and physics. Those same students were also more likely to have STEM career aspirations.

While parents may indeed be an untapped resource for sparking student interest in STEM, we believe we can also move the needle by encouraging more in-class teachers to show how STEM can apply to real world situations. That is what has motivated us to develop what is now an online repository of almost  200 shared interactive BLOSSOMS lessons, including the most recent Deflategate video. In the nine years since developing and implementing the program, we’ve witnessed firsthand how the lessons help get students engaged in STEM.

What has made BLOSSOMS so successful in our view is the fact that the lessons are designed to move teachers away from the scripted lecture format with its emphasis on memorization for tests to one that emphasizes active learning, problem-solving and critical thinking. Recent studies have shown students in science and math fields learn more and fail courses less when their instructors use more active forms of instruction.

But it is more than just avoiding lectures. BLOSSOMS videos also focus on posing intriguing questions with an element of surprise, such as “How do mosquitoes fly in the rain?” or “Will an ice cube melt faster in saltwater or freshwater?” or “Do my friends on Facebook have more friends than I do?” or “Is it possible for all the students in Lake Wobegon to be above average?”

These simple and not-so-simple math and science challenges have proven to be an effective way of getting students involved, absorbed in and committed to a lesson. They also show that STEM thinking can be fun, yet deep and creative, prompting students to draw on their fundamental knowledge. Indeed, the qualities of inquisitiveness, playfulness and willingness to speculate that BLOSSOMS video lessons encourage are all defining characteristics of future scientists.

That’s what makes ‘Deflategate’ such a great science lesson. It takes a well-known and highly controversial event and uses it not only to illustrate how the laws of physics apply in today’s world, but also teach students how mathematicians, scientists and engineers think. Like all BLOSSOMS lessons, the video is interspersed with breaks that allow teachers to lead their students in problem-solving activities that allow them to make their own conclusions about what may or may not have happened two years ago at Gillette Stadium.

We suggest that in-class teachers use BLOSSOMS lessons whenever possible with a given set of STEM materials. Indeed, the inquisitiveness, playfulness and willingness to speculate these lessons encourage are all defining characteristics of future scientists.

Richard Larson is Principal Investigator of the MIT BLOSSOMS Initiative. He is Mitsui Professor of Engineering Systems and Director of the Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals at MIT. He is also the Founder and Director of MIT LINC (Learning International Networks Consortium), an MIT-based international project that has held four international symposia and sponsored a number of initiatives in Africa, China and the Middle East. Professor Larson first became interested in technology-enabled education when in the early 1990’s he saw what a valuable addition it was to the education of his own children. From 1995 to 2002, he served as director of MIT’s Center for Advanced Educational Services (CAES) where he focused on bringing technology-enabled learning to students living on the traditional campus and to those living and working far from the university, often on different continents.

MIT Program Seeks To Engage High School Students Using Video Content