The Conversation About Raising Science Achievement in Boston

At a recent panel discussion hosted by the Boston Foundation, local leaders from science education and industry convened to discuss results from a report on Massachusetts students’ performance in science over the last decade. Several critical themes emerged, and as we reflected on these themes, we began to consider how digital technologies can support the efforts of public schools, non-profits, and the biotech industry in raising science achievement outcomes in the city of Boston.

Getting it Right: Progress and Problems in Raising Science Achievement in Boston found that citywide, Boston Public School students are not scoring at proficient or advanced levels in state science exams. And while Massachusetts remains near the top in national math and ELA scores, this is not the case in science. These results sparked candid conversation–not only about how to improve Boston students’ state MCAS exam scores, but also how to ignite a sense of wonder in students, and how to help educators and scientists build equitable, effective partnerships for improving science learning outcomes. Meanwhile, what does all this mean for digital technologies like LabXchange, which aims to accelerate the learning of biology and biotechnology by facilitating discovery and an authentic experience of the scientific process? Getting It Right: Progress and Problems in Raising Science Achievement in Boston raised a number of themes that are central to LabXchange’s mission: fostering creativity through real-life contexts, empowering educators and complementing the state exam curriculum through hands-on learning opportunities, and building impactful, cross-institutional partnerships for collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Dana Brown, principal of Dearborn STEM Academy

Dana Brown, principal of Dearborn STEM Academy

Moving beyond state exams, panelists soon began highlighting the need to expand the learning ecosystem and bring science to life through real-world, real-life contexts. Dana Brown, principal of Dearborn STEM Academy, observed that science still hasn’t been embedded into the DNA of many schools. Ioannis Miaoulis, outgoing president of the Boston Museum of Science, offered an example of how an educator can innovate in the classroom: instead of teaching the water cycle through a poster, they could instead share an engaging story about a young girl in India seeking to save a turtle from polluted water. With LabXchange, we hope to help inspire and replicate dynamic learning experiences by offering access to visually engaging, cutting-edge content, and allowing users to transform the content into unique learning pathways with additional context around specific learning objectives or geolocal perspectives.

Every single day, noted Travis McCready of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, something happens here in Massachusetts to change our fundamental knowledge about science. In order to stay current, ignite interest, and sustain engagement, both schools and industry need to offer hands-on opportunities for students to experience science. Educators also benefit from the opportunity to engage with the field; through professional development workshops or lab externships, they gain a deeper connection to the subjects they teach. Industry gains as well: Dr. Melodie Knowlton, head of the Learning Lab at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, shared how meaningful it is for Vertex staff to see school buses pulling up at their facility and to share their work with students and teachers. LabXchange hopes to be part of the movement to increase experiential learning opportunities. While LabXchange is a digital platform, teachers are helping to co-develop the platform and design the resources they want and need; they will not only have access to a vast content library, but also to in-person and virtual professional development workshops. LabXchange also plans to support learners on their journey to becoming scientists through pathways, virtual experiments, and simulations. These interactive features on will give learners their first introduction to lab fundamentals and help them prepare for real-life lab experiences in school or research settings.

Dr. Melodie Knowlton, head of the Learning Lab at Vertex Pharmaceuticals

To improve science learning outcomes, both institutional support and partnerships that break down silos are necessary. Dana Brown commented that while educators are typically trained to not take risks, “we need to take more risks in education.” Administrators need to support educators who want to provide opportunities for informal learning that complements the state exam curriculum. LabXchange hopes to assist by serving as an exciting and innovative new resource that also offers clear alignment and support for teaching state exam curricula. Meanwhile, McCready asked, “how do you create a tether between the classroom and industry?” LabXchange recognizes that convening partners from across a range of institutions and sectors is vital for building an extensive, high-quality resource for learners and educators alike. We are working to connect with organizations across Harvard, the U.S., and worldwide, to gain access to new and exciting content and to ensure the inclusion of diverse ideas and perspectives on our platform.

According to Charles Grandson of Boston Public Schools, “science education is an uphill battle.” In the effort to strengthen local and national efforts to support the next generation of scientists, there is clearly a need for new approaches and place for edtech products both inside and outside of the classroom. Through our innovative model for science learning, LabXchange looks forward to playing a role in these efforts within the Greater Boston area and beyond.

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