Monday, May 10, 2010

Strengthening Science Education in Primary and Elementary Education

There was an interesting study released by Wheelock College (Wheelock Study) regarding improving science education in at the pre K-6 level. As usual when I read this study, the article in the news was not accurate. It had a narrow focus, making the illogical premise that pre-K science was the sole focus of the study. We suddenly were trying to create MIT geniuses in the preschool. This in fact was not the focus of the study. It looked at Pre-K-6 science, math, and technology improvement.

In fact, there are practical issues surrounding how preschool can involve more engagement with science and math, but hardly the physics and chemistry labs needing to be built at preschools across the country as the article I had seen implied. This was more in line with what I had come to expect from Wheelock’s philosophy of education. Studies aside, it has been my experience that suggestions tend to stay within the college or university’s comfort zone. They rarely stray far when making suggestions for improvements.

The best idea from this study is one that is not new. Preschool and elementary teachers require better math and science training. When I was teaching, I paid out of pocket for several additional courses in science education. Science, unlike math and elementary reading just does not get the same attention for training and materials for educators to utilize in providing students with learning opportunities. Teachers need additional training, not just in core content, but also in better strategies to teach science. This study failed to address what we already know, while we have discovered multiple ways of teaching reading and even math to reach learners with different abilities and learning styles, science still lags behind in differentiation.

Another suggestion that bothered me when I taught and still bothers colleagues today is that we need to spend more time on science even though states have mandated blocks for reading and math. Do any of the people writing these studies read a clock? I sat on a committee to rewrite our town science curriculum across the elementary grade system so we would meet state standards and not duplicate efforts. The biggest issue we had was how much material we had to cover and how little time we had in the day to cover it. We used science material as reading material. We combined math and social studies where possible with science to maximize our time. However, at the end of the day there are only so many minutes of teaching time. Once you carve out specials and maximum blocks for mandated math and reading, just where will this mandated science time come? I have no objection to more science. Kids always were interested and I hated taking away the time to explore and learn the material that this study rightly says they need to know. I am sure I am not the only teacher who has read this study and asked where in the day would you like me to add this?

This is why homeschooling has become so appealing since I have left teaching. I love helping homeschoolers work on curriculum. I have come to appreciate the flexibility and valuable TIME to explore subjects that we lack in public school.

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