Vast quantities of time and money are spent on traditional science labs. Too often, they don't really help students to understand science. Sometimes, they're simply dull.
Too little time is spent discussing what happened with the lab investigations because of multiple stresses on classroom time -- high-stakes test preparation, overloaded learning standards, and, yes, time spent in labs.
With increasing access to the Internet, you can now have students do labs after school -- in libraries or at home. That lab time in school turns into lab discussion time -- the labs are "flipped."
Several states have rules about labs in courses and specifically disallow any sort of virtual lab. Some limit virtual lab experiences in other ways. These rules react to the initial wave of animated simulations that threatened to supplant traditional labs. Today, technology has advanced sufficiently that you CAN have real experiments with interactive data collection online.
That's the key. You can flip your science labs if --
1. The online labs contain real-world scientific experiments, not faked and not just the data.
2. Students must take their own individual data point by point and work with that data.
3. The system prepares students, provides background and support information, requires students to make their own predictions beforehand, and provides adequate opportunity for reflection and thought about the experiments and data collected.
Cloud-based systems can do this with the use of highly interactive technologies with videos of experiments. Prerecorded real experiments provide the kernel from which such a system can grow.
One school with a 60% poverty rate has already implemented such a system. Their pass rate on the Regents science exams rocketed from 50% t0 66% in just 12 months, a one-third improvement.
We're not just in the 21st century (a very arbitrary designation), we're in the information and communication age. We should be using the tools of this age effectively in education. The above is one way to use them to help with learning science.