Systems Approach to Learning

What are the tools that best facilitate learning science? A curriculum, experiments, videos, software, and a knowledgeable teacher are core elements of quality science education. We believe these elements must work together as an integrated learning system. Experiments and apparatus provide engagement and experience with new concepts. Curriculum shapes the experience into retained knowledge and skills. The process is guided by the skills of the teacher. Our vision at Ergopedia is to design each element in the system so well that, together, the whole is truly greater than the sum of the parts.

Teacher training

What a teacher knows and can do is the single largest determinant of what a student learns. This was the primary conclusion of the National Academy study on learning. Tom Hsu and Manos Chaniotakis have personally trained more than 15,000 teachers in workshops across America since 1991. To support face-to-face training, Ergopedia has produced more than a hundred professional development videos, including 96 episodes for the New York Public Schools in 2009. We work extensively with organizations such as the East Bay Educational Collaborative in Rhode Island and the Texas Regional Collaboratives.

Deep content knowledge

Science, engineering, and technology encompass an incredibly diverse body of knowledge and skills. Our core team includes five Ph.D.s in science and engineering, but we also understand that knowing and teaching are different. Our depth of knowledge is tempered by decades of teaching experience. It takes deep knowledge and teaching ability to make difficult concepts understandable without introducing misconceptions that have to be unlearned later. Ergopedia’s team also has a deep base of experience in engineering and technology. We have done electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, chemical engineering, software engineering, and even nuclear engineering. We have worked for Xerox, Kodak, ThermoElectron, and DuPont. Our own companies have taken products through the complete engineering cycle: from design and prototype through production.

Curriculum design principles

Our philosophy of curriculum design is based on Bybee's learning cycle model. We engage student's curiosity by creating experiences. For example, is there a difference when you shine red, blue, or green light on glow-in-the-dark plastic? There is a difference. The red will not cause the plastic to glow—no matter how bright the light—while even a dim blue light causes a glow. Why does this happen?

The answer to that question is what makes the quantum theory of light understandable and meaningful to the novice student. We believe that students build understanding by starting from questions and then learning to answer them through direct experience with phenomena of nature. This is the guided inquiry process of learning.

Animation and visualization

Scientific knowledge is often abstract and can be difficult for students to wrap their minds around. Animation is an extraordinarily powerful tool for making concepts real for students. Take the explanation of temperature as an example. Molecules are always in frenetic, jostling motion. In a solid, such as ice, water molecules cannot change places with their neighbors. In a liquid, such as water, molecules are about the same distance apart but have enough energy to exchange places–which is why liquids flow. In a gas, such as steam, molecules are widely separated from each other and moving very fast. Compare the static illustrations with the animations and you can see the power of learning that motion and sound can add to the static text of a traditional printed book. Ergopedia has produced hundreds of high-quality scientific animations covering life sciences, earth and space sciences, physics, chemistry, and engineering.

Motion of particles in a solid Motion of particles in a liquid Motion of particles in a gas

Video curriculum

Video is a powerful tool for learning; science-themed entertainment such as the Discovery Channel, however, is not curriculum. For example, you cannot pass a physics test just by watching documentaries about physics. Ergopedia’s expertise is in producing video curriculum that includes mathematics, scientific vocabulary, problem-solving tutorials, and assessment. Our video will help you understand physics so well that you can ace the test. We understand the science and have developed a pedagogical approach to video that is uniquely suited to curriculum. With ten years experience producing educational video, our workflow and technology has been honed to the point where high production-value programming is very economical. We keep control of all aspects of the process: writing, shooting, editing, and final delivery in web and DVD formats. We have our own studio with multiple HD cameras, professional sets, green-screen capability, and direct-to-disk video capture using Final Cut Pro®.

Equipment for learning

Science is something you DO and doing science requires specialized equipment that is rugged, accurate, and easy to use. Ruggedness and ease-of-use are especially important. A colleague once exclaimed that the only device that takes as much abuse as science equipment in a classroom is a pay phone in a downtown city! Of course, pay phones are virtually extinct today, but good science apparatus is, thankfully, still in high demand.


We have designed many pieces of learning apparatus including the Lab-Master and the ErgoBot. The Lab-Master is a complete chemistry system with a RGB spectrophotometer and a test tube heater than can boil 20 mL of water in 2 minutes. The ErgoBot has sensors that provide real-time measurement of position, velocity, and acceleration. Its on-board drive system can navigate mazes, thereby challenging students to use vectors. Powerful LabVIEW software provides simple, no-setup control with virtual instruments preloaded for each investigation.

HTML5 technology

Our HTML5 electronic book technology runs on every platform, from the fastest PC to the most basic tablet or smart phone. Any browser that supports HTML5 can access our entire range of functionality from read-aloud, to video, animations, interactive simulations, and assessments. No installed software is required–none!–not even a Flash® player. Cross-curricular connections to mathematics, technology, engineering, and science are ubiquitous and easy to navigate. Embedded videos and animations are content-rich and designed to be part of the curriculum–not tacked-on eye candy. For districts with special requirements, our database-driven technology builds books on-the-fly and can customize a book to meet specific local academic standards.

Of course, Ergopedia also produces outstanding printed books! Textbooks are absolutely necessary because equity legislation requires schools to provide curriculum that meets all academic standards to all students regardless of their access to technology. Our database-driven technology ensures that the printed page and the e-Book page share identical content. Our expanding paragraph and animation technology, however, allow the e-Book to expand as far as the student wants to go on any topic–but instantly returning to a concise easy-to-skim version for review. You don’t have to look at the expanding paragraphs, but if something catches your interest you can read more just when you want to.

A unique feature of our technology is that you don't need an internet connection to use our e-Books! Our encapsulated HTML means schools can confidently distribute a fully-functional, multimedia-enhanced curriculum that we guarantee has no links to pernicious content. We created this option because the technology implementation barriers faced by schools are enormous and unlikely to change very soon. In many schools or districts IT support amounts to a single person supporting 200+ computers. While more than 2/3 of American households have broadband access, it is rare to find a classroom teacher with a reliable, in-class internet connection. Schools rely on textbooks not because they are fantastic educational tools, but because page 125 is the same today as it was yesterday (and will be the same tomorrow). Our HTML5 technology provides the highest level of consistency and reliability available in a fully-functioning multimedia curriculum.

Decades of experience

Ergopedia's founders have been in education for more than twenty years, both in the classroom and out. Dr. Tom Hsu and Dr. Manos Chaniotakis have written and illustrated 8 published textbook programs for middle grades, high school, and college with a combined circulation of more than 400,000 copies. Hands-on lab apparatus they created includes the CPO Timer, designed by Hsu in 1994, of which 35,000 units are used by high school students every day, year after year. The Lab-Master, developed by Hsu and Chaniotakis in 2008, allows chemistry students to do first-class experiments without bunsen burners, fume hoods, or toxic chemicals. Recognized for innovation and dedication to science teaching, Hsu was recognized for leadership by the Texas Science Summit in 2000. In 2007, the National Governor’s Association (NGA) selected Hsu’s Physics, A First Course and Hsu and Chaniotakis’ A Natural Approach to Chemistry as the exemplary models of inquiry-based curricula recommended for a national science curriculum pilot study in Rhode Island.

Business of education

Education presents a complex set of challenges not found in consumer-oriented businesses. On the sales and marketing side, Ergopedia’s founders have experience in all aspects of the education market–including basal textbooks and associated ancillary materials, which are the largest segment. Some states, such as Texas (an Ergopedia client), adopt textbooks statewide every 8-10 years. Other states, such as Massachusetts, allow districts to choose curriculum whenever and however they see fit. Each state or district uses its own, disparate criteria—in addition to academic standards—to judge the suitability of a product.

Supplemental materials, including apparatus and technology, are another segment of the market. Supplemental materials are often purchased through catalog distributors through “state contracts” that obligate schools to buy from a specific catalog for a pre-negotiated discount. Marketing and selling of curriculum occurs primarily through sales force contacts and presentations at state and local conventions. Ergopedia has distribution contracts with two established educational publishers: CPO Science, a division of School Specialties, LLC; and Lab-Aids, Inc., the publisher of A Natural Approach to Chemistry. Both have catalogs and employ approximately 20 full-time sales people.

In terms of manufacturing, Ergopedia has direct-to-press relationships with major printers, including Quad Graphics and R. R. Donnelly. We have printed many NASTA-spec textbooks. Ergopedia also has relationships with contract manufacturers for apparatus, as well as with distributors of teaching equipment.