FlashyScience – taking science experiments out of the laboratory.

Screenshot from FlashyScienceThe difficulties of teaching science subjects in schools are well known. The cost of equipment needed to perform even the most basic experiments is often beyond the budgets of schools, meaning that science lessons can end up being based around textbooks and theory, with perhaps the occasional teacher demonstration thrown in. It’s little wonder that students turn their backs on these subjects without fully understanding what they are really like.

Two academics from the University of Sheffield have come up with a solution that they hope will reverse this trend without exhausting schools’ budgets.

FlashyScience (www.flashyscience.com) is a suite of virtual experiments devised by Dr Julian Dean and Professor Dan Allwood of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at The University of Sheffield. Launched earlier this week, FlashyScience allows school students to run science and engineering experiments online, repeating them as often as they like to maximise their learning potential.

As they revisit experiments, students control the experimental parameters, taking control of the selection, collection and analysis of data, thereby gaining an understanding of why things happen, and what the theory actually means.

Dan Allwood and Julian Dean with FlashyScience"We’ve worked closely with a number of schools and teachers to make sure that the experiments on offer are relevant to the A Level curriculum", says Dr Dean. "However, we have also developed them in such a way that they can be used by younger students to help them engage with science and experimentation at an early age, or by older students who want to explore concepts more deeply."

"The platform has already generated a lot of interest", adds Professor Allwood. "We have more than 5,000 students from the Baghdad Institute of Technology in Iraq already using the site to run virtual experiments in class, and the feedback has been incredible. We’re giving students the opportunity to learn in a way that would have been unheard of just 18 months ago."

A further benefit of the system is that experiments aren’t just restricted to the laboratory. They can be set as homework, with students performing follow-up experiments at home to help consolidate their learning.

FlashyScience currently comprises of six experiments across the areas of physics, measurement, materials and electronics, with others in development. Each experiment is supported with teaching resources, background relevance a host of questions that teachers and students can use.