- Teaching and Learning
As we look back on 2020 thus far, we know that this year will be remembered for many reasons – certainly, our experiences managing through a pandemic will be at the top. COVID-19 has brought to the forefront the importance of science, including medicine and data science. We’ve also continued to hear about the science of climate change, and we just recently witnessed SpaceX's second crewed mission this year!
Indeed, science is important. And, for educators, this is an area deserving of strong focus, including for elementary and middle school students.
There is no doubt that the United States has had a leaky pipeline spanning from K-12 education to careers in the STEM fields for some time. In fact, in 2018, the STEM Education Strategic Plan was published, establishing a federal strategy for the next five years. The plan is based on a vision for a future where all Americans will have lifelong access to STEM education, with the US being the global leader in STEM literacy, innovation, and employment.
That is quite a task, and it begins with young children. We want our students to learn how to solve problems, understand data, use evidence to guide decisions, and be literate in science and technology, whether or not they pursue those fields. Science is the perfect discipline for learning just these skills and putting them into practice.
Parents should consider and learn about the science curriculum at their child’s school. Is the program aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), established through a collaboration between state educators, the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)?
Elementary school students should have opportunities to experience challenges through inquiry-based, hands-on investigations of real-world phenomena. Lessons designed to tap into students’ natural curiosity about the world around them are most meaningful and inspiring. At The Independence School, we take advantage of our 90-acre campus to bring relevance to instruction by utilizing the natural areas surrounding our school.
As students move through the elementary and middle school grade levels, they should have opportunities to connect the focused subject areas of science, math, engineering, and technology (STEM education). Both the scientific method and the engineering design process can be learned. Imagine students grappling with questions like the following:
- Why is this phenomena occurring?
- Which solution is best to solve a problem?
- How can designs be improved?
- How do engineers improve existing technologies to increase their benefits, decrease risks, or meet societal demands?
Today, a strong science curriculum can include the school's use of digital technology bringing experiences to students not normally accessible outside of professional labs or fieldwork. Simulations can be interactive and spark discussion. Let’s inspire our future STEM professionals and help prevent the leak from school to careers in science.
Bernadette Gilmore is the Director of Academic Innovation at Independence, having previously served as Director of Academics & Curriculum, Head of Lower School, and a Kindergarten teacher during her more than two decades with the school. She is also a team member of the Independence School's Center for Wellness, Innovation, and Learning (CWIL™).