It stands to reason that the more time a student spends learning a subject, the better that student will perform on tests of that subject matter. A recently-released report from the National Center on Time & Learning erases any doubt about it — where science is concerned, at least.
Five case studies look at public schools, including the Matthew J. Kuss Middle School, in Fall River, MA, where the school day was extended by 100 minutes per day beginning in the ’06-’07 school year. Science learning benefited from the lengthened school day, and so did the students’ performance on the science portion of the MCAS.
Supported with funding from the Noyce Foundation, the report, “The Power of More Time to Deepen Inquiry and Engagement,” lists “key successful practices” identified across the five case-study schools. It concludes, “Without fundamentally restructuring the school calendar—particularly at the elementary and middle school levels—to add more learning time and prioritizing science during that time, most American students will simply not spend enough time to become either proficient in, or excited about, science.”
Marlborough High School’s early-college program, called STEM, integrates project-based learning and problem-solving for real-world applications across all subjects. Marlborough is the first of six school districts in Massachusetts to implement the STEM program. As part of it, juniors and seniors can take up to 16 college credits at Framingham State University.
Even veteran educators are putting research into practice and testing the merits of inquiry-based approaches to learning versus lecture-style teaching. At George Washington University, for example, physics professor William Briscoe — a professor for 35 years — took an apprehensive leap into inquiry learning, using small group discussions and hands-on activities to teach his introductory physics class. He noticed that the average grade students in that class received on the first test he administered were 10% higher than those of students in his lecture courses.
Some food for thought: With the current emphasis on the high value of STEM skills for the workplace of the future, some feel that the importance of adding liberal arts to the mix can be lost. At the World Entrepreneurship Forum held in Singapore yesterday everyone from Lockheed Martin’s chief technology to the Senator-Mayor of Lyon, France highlighted the importance of offering learners an environment that fosters creativity.
With the goal of getting young students inspired by and excited about learning STEM subjects, a new project in Arizona, Engineers Serving Education, has the ambitious goal of reaching nearly 10,000 elementary and middle school students over the next year.
The project, spearheaded by Arizona State University, taps the expertise of faculty members from ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “By combining the technical expertise and resources of the Schools of Engineering with the educational expertise and resources of the Teachers College, we will make a significant impact on the teachers of tomorrow as well as current teachers who are serving as mentors to our student teachers,” said Nancy Perry, assistant dean of Teachers College. “Ideally those mentor teachers will share the engineering-based learning tools with their colleagues and spread the impact of the project even further.”
According to author Annie Murphy Paul (“Origins“), growing up in the digital age means that many of today’s children are spending too little time tinkering. “Research in the science of learning shows that hands-on building projects help young people conceptualize ideas and understand issues in greater depth,” she writes. Giving children the time and space to play and figure things out for themselves is an important part of setting them up to become young adults who have the capacity to do the kind of thinking that is needed for success in STEM courses and careers.
York Regional Academy Regional Charter School is a breeding ground for future science fair competitors. Currently serving grades K-2, the school has plans to grow to serve students through grade 12. Following an International Baccalaureate program, the school is inquiry-based, with the students guiding instruction.
Lori Smolleck, assistant professor of education, at Bucknell University, emphasizes the use of inquiry-based teaching to promote critical thinking in science education. “Teaching science as inquiry encourages students to ask their own questions and find their own answers based on evidence,” she says. “This may take a bit longer, but the rewards associated with increased student motivation and interest, as well as the resulting depth of understanding and the acquisition of sophisticated knowledge of scientific content, are well worth the extra time.”
We knew it all along: Engaging teaching methods can make a difference for students! A new report written by Cary Sneider of Portland State University, titled “Reversing the Swing from Science: Implications from a Century of Research,” looks at a wide variety of research for insights into how to build and maintain interest in STEM among students.
Beginning with John Dewey’s 1913 essay, “Interest and Effort in Education,” the report examines deductive research conducted over the past century to arrive at several conclusions. Among them: Attitudes are malleable, and a variety of interventions have the potential to increase student’s engagement in STEM activities, courses, and careers. Furthermore, the report concludes that, while young people like science, they do not necessarily enjoy it in school. Teachers, teaching methods, and curriculum are key to student engagement.
An enjoyable and fascinating read, which can be found here.