As a high school science teacher, Edward Keller wanted to do everything in his power to help his students fall in love with science. However, because of his school’s lack of resources, it was challenging to provide engaging science labs for his oversized classes each week. Edward brainstormed solutions with Dr. Harry Keller and began developing engaging, interactive experiment videos that could be accessed online.
Two decades later, with the help of Jayne Keller, Smart Science Education (Smart Science) virtual labs are being utilized (and praised!) by schools and colleges across the country. In this interview, Edward shares the Smart Science mission, as well as how their labs are revolutionizing traditional science education.
What first sparked your love for science?
From memories I have as a child, science was always an emphasis in my life. I grew up in rural central Massachusetts and spent my free time running through the woods, learning about all the different plants and animals I could find. I pretended to be a chemist, mixing strange berries and flowers together, and dreaming of what I could conjure up with my concoctions.
My brilliant parents, both of whom have strong science and education backgrounds, would drive us into the city every Sunday to see the exhibits at the Boston Museum of Science (and sometimes a youth symphony in the afternoon). My dad took every opportunity to explain exactly how the wonders of these places worked in perfect detail, but he did so in an accessible way that I could understand at five or six years old. Those days gave me an understanding of how the world worked and a special tool kit that scientists develop — learning to reason and inquire into everything around us. This early exposure has lasted and thrived with me my whole life!
Who would you say is the ‘typical’ Smart Science client?
We work with a wide spectrum of school settings for grades 3-12, as well as institutions of higher education. This includes virtual learning programs, urban school districts that lack hands-on lab equipment in their schools, or community colleges where non-science majors aren’t given priority to use the science lab facilities. Our goal is to provide anyone and everyone with the same or better experience online as other students are getting in person.
During COVID, we grew our school subscriber count by leaps and bounds, and legislation was passed in several large states, such as New York and California, allowing virtual labs to be permanently used for lab seat time in high schools. Online learning is mainstream now, and we are ready for it.
What can you tell us about your teaching team that is able to cover such a wide breadth of grades and needs?
Our content team has learned the needs of students from many grade levels over our 20+-year history. In the beginning, we specialized in high school physics and chemistry, as our founders (myself and Dr. Harry Keller) had a background in these sciences. Then, through interacting and assessing the needs of our client schools, we were able to learn what would work in other sciences and at other grade levels. I’ve personally spent over 300 weeks of professional time inside classrooms, observing science teachers using the platform and using that feedback to craft and improve our content.
A Brooklyn high school compared the AP biology exam scores of one class that used your virtual labs with scores from another class that did not. At the end of the year, the class using Smart Science had double the pass rate on the AP biology exam. What is it about Smart Science that helped make that leap?
For the students using the traditional science curriculum, the main issue was one that is typical of hands-on science labs — they can only be done once without requiring more time and money. Digital resources like Smart Science, if designed well, can allow those students to revisit the labs in AP science classes many times to ensure mastery. The AP tests are very specific about the need for mastering those labs, so we helped the students accomplish that in a cost-effective and accessible manner.
What can you tell us about the one-on-one coaching and professional development support that Smart Science provides for its clients?
Smart Science aims to ensure that every school and teacher feels comfortable implementing our virtual labs with their students. Professional development is a first step for all subscribed schools to help their staff get up to speed — what are the labs, how do they work, and how should they be implemented in the classroom? Video tutorials are also supplied to schools and teachers. Then, if needed, schools can purchase one-on-one coaching to get the most out of the platform. Data analysis tools are also explained so teachers can assess if and where they may need to revisit important topics with their students.
We also produce “Ed Talks,” a monthly webinar series where I share my experience and expertise for how to best teach science in spite of all the challenges in the modern school environment. I discuss best practices and effective strategies, as well as why science education is so vital to every student’s success.
Are there also Smart Science options available for special education and English language learners?
Smart Science has been successfully implemented in SPED and ELL classrooms for over 10 years in schools and across the country. Accessibility has always been a cornerstone of our philosophy. With AI-based language translation, we have over 100 languages available for students to use. With built-in screen reading and a science vocabulary list, all students are able to comfortably access our labs.
How has DKS been able to support your mission to improve science education?
DKS has been vital to the growth and exposure of our platform. We are now able to reach many more schools, school districts, and teachers who vitally need access to high-quality science lab experiences, but cannot afford to build new physical science lab facilities. The branding and marketing DKS provides has been such a blessing. We cannot wait to see what else we can accomplish together!
Want Smart Science in your school?