An alternative to textbooks in science

“Textbooks, ladies and gentlemen, are dead”, wrote Daniel Pikler, our Head of Education just a few weeks ago. Danny’s point was that young audiences are used to consuming information via a different medium — a social, digital, multi-media rich one that make traditional printed textbooks seem outdated and irrelevant.

For the past couple of years, Stile and our awesome partners over at the award-winning Cosmos Magazine have been working to increase the relevance of science education, both in terms of content as well as delivery. Why? We wanted to reignite the curiosity of young learners who have been opting out of STEM disciplines in secondary school.

Looking around, we were pretty disappointed with the quality of science learning resources in general. They were largely textbook driven, and even if the textbooks were available in a digital format, they still felt as dated as the books themselves. There were some great online resources, but they only covered specific topics, or only provided the coverage in say, video format — by no means a complete learning resource. We knew we could do better.

Enter Cosmos Lessons — A comprehensive collection of interactive, engaging science lessons built on Stile’s e-learning platform.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve been experimenting with both the content and delivery of science resources into classrooms around the world. We’ve engaged teachers, students, scientists, academics, artists, animators and curriculum writers, and though an iterative process, have built and improved our lessons and technology. This has been a seriously eye-opening process that has taken us on a journey we never would have expected at the start of the project.

So what did we learn? Well for one thing, there are some pretty core principles in building next-generation learning resources:

  1. Relevance. Learning is fun and interesting when it is relevant to your daily life. It is mind blowing how much ‘stuff’ taught in schools simply isn’t relevance-lead, that is, you don’t understand why on earth you’re learning it. If you don’t perceive the relevance, you’re pretty likely to be disengaged — not a recipe for learning! Cosmos Lessons are relevant by design: every lesson in our science collection is based on a recent article in Cosmos Magazine, bringing the real-world relevance of science into the classroom. By the way, we’re updating and adding to our collection monthly, not every three years like a traditional science textbook.
  2. Modern delivery. Every piece of information you need today is at your fingertips on your internet-connected laptop, smartphone or tablet. These tools are ubiquitous — there are more phones in Australia than people. News and ideas are socialised, discussed and debated online. Students rightly expect that their school learning resources are the same, not in a heavy, out-of-date book. Cosmos Lessons effectively combines a textbook, workbook and collaboration tools into one modern online space, accessible by students and teachers anywhere, at any time, on any device.
  3. Pedagogical rigour. We’ve seen too many resources on the internet, and indeed in textbooks, that simply lack proper scaffolding and especially lack higher-order thinking tasks. If we are earnest about preparing students for real-world problem solving, simple ‘recall’ won’t cut it — it has to be about applied thinking. This is obvious to many educators, but so many resources lack this rigour. Our lessons are written by teachers, and scaffolded from lower- to higher-order thinking. As it turns out, writing great higher-order thinking questions is time consuming… but we do it anyway. To ensure quality, the lessons are closely reviewed by our expert advisory panel.
  4. Multi-modal. It often takes multiple different presentations of a concept for us to truely understand it; perhaps you learn certain concepts better from video or demonstration than you do from text, or for others, you need to actually practice solving a particular maths problem for it to sink in. Often, the varied repetition of a concept through different modes of delivery is what ultimately leads to deep learning. Cosmos Lessons embraces this multi-modality, both in content delivery and questioning, much of which is made possible by the flexibility of Stile’s platform.
  5. Completely customisable. Every classroom is different, so it is critical that teachers are able to edit any part of the lesson — the content, multimedia, or questions, to best cater to the unique needs of their cohort. Perhaps there is a local example, say, the ecology of a local river system that would be even more relevant to your students — as a teacher, you should have the freedom to include it. Our science lessons, like all lessons in the Stile platform, can be tweaked and modified by simple ‘drag and drop’ tools.

These principles are core to how we built, and how we continuously improve, both Cosmos Lessons and Stile.

We’re incredibly proud that in a very short period of time over 300 schools (12% of Australian secondary schools) have joined our community. From humble beginnings, the interactive Cosmos Lessons collection has become substantial, with 78 units covering core topics for years 7–10 science. Every single one of those units is relevant by default — based on cutting-edge science as reported by Cosmos Magazine. And to make life easier for our comrades on the front-lines, all lessons are curriculum aligned.

We’re on a mission to re-engage young learners in science, so we’re not stopping here. Not only will we continue with our monthly releases of new units, but we’re also committed to obsessively improving both our lessons and the technology that powers them.

Keen to road test Cosmos Lessons at your school? Drop us a line!