Administrators at MIT frequently poll the students, asking one simple question: How would you rather spend your time studying? According to Richard Larson, a professor and director of the Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals at MIT, one option’s always remained at the bottom of the list: In a lecture hall.
“Large lecture halls are not compelling,” Larson says, claiming the days of “chalk and talk” are severely outdated.
Teachers need a new way to reach their students, which is why Larson helped create MIT Blossoms, an open education platform that provides math and science video lessons to high school students. Designed not to replace the lecture hall, but rather enhance it, MIT Blossoms forces students to think outside the box and shows the relevance of science, engineering and math to their everyday lives.
The program can currently be found in classrooms here and abroad, being used in Jordan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and — soon — Malaysia. In Saudi Arabia, alone, the MIT Blossoms team has trained 400 Saudi high school STEM teachers, helping them bring an education to their students that’s both engaging and interactive.
Each video runs on, what the team calls, a “Teaching Duet.” Although there’s a “guest teacher” on the video, each film is designed to be watched in short, five-minute segments, allowing the in-class teacher to ask his or her students questions and run through various exercises. After each exercise is complete, teachers can turn the video back on for another segment.
Larson says the pedagogy has attracted those in developing countries, where computers have been largely ignored for two major reasons: 1) Because teachers know their students know more about technology than they do, and 2) Because computers are often established to be separate from the classroom. To use a computer, teachers often needed to communicate in a lab with their students, turning their role into something “ambiguous, at best.” Through MIT Blossoms, teachers can utilize computers, but also keep their students active in conversation.
So far, 75 videos are available online, providing content that’s fun and easy to understand. Take the quadratic equation, for example. MIT Blossoms encourages it’s “hip to be squared,” but also shows the students how they can apply the quadratic equation to real life.
“We are getting a lot of positive reinforcement that this is the way to go,” Larson says, admitting he hopes the numbers behind MIT Blossoms can soon catch up to that of Khan Academy, another open education platform centered on STEM, created by MIT alum Salman Khan. What Larson hopes will help stand them apart is the in-class, “active learning,” as opposed to the lectures done by Khan that force students to sit solely in front of a computer.