Science Expeditionary Force (SEF)
The tools our children will need to survive in the coming century are imagination and creativity, along with a healthy dose of analytical and deductive reasoning.1 It is not knowledge that will be the most important “tool” in the new millennium, but how they gain and apply that knowledge. The recently released "Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2003,” an international student assessment conducted in 15 countries and released on December 14, 2004, tells us that American fourth-graders are doing no better in science than they did in 1995. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for 2000 states that “fourth- and eighth-graders scores remain stable since 1996, while scores for high school seniors decline.” Ten years have passed and there has been no progress in teaching science to our youngest learners. Why should we care if six-year olds grasp scientific concepts? The answer is simple: because future innovations in science, technology, engineering, defense, national security, and a whole lot more could be at stake.
The following quote, dated January 12, 2005, is from Dr. Joanne Vasquez, a member of the National Science Board, the oversight body for the National Science Foundation:
Science instruction has come to a dismal halt or been severely curtailed in far too many elementary classrooms across the United States. While we do not argue that these subjects (reading and math) are also important, science, like all subjects, requires a developmental building of conceptual understanding that must start in kindergarten. Yet many students reach the intermediate and middle grades with little or no science instruction, and if they receive any, it happened when the teacher could squeeze it in.
To effectively improve elementary science, it has to be taught at the elementary level. Schools and administrators need to value the science education they offer, and they must provide quality professional development, mentoring, and resources to our elementary teachers. This will be vital if as a nation we want to truly see students achieve in science.
Consider Moores Law.2 Today we are living in an exponential growth phase in technology that is DIRECTLY affecting society. Our society is also changing at an exponential pace by making exponential changes in everyday items.3 This generation of children (our children) are going to see change in the way we live like never before. Were now dealing with an accelerated rate of change - change that is happening not only quickly but also pervasively. In fact, things are happening so quickly that its hard to understand whats going on, or even recognize all of the implications.4 To be prepared, this generation must have three things:
(1) A great imagination. Today we cant even imagine the next "cool" thing in 20 years. The following quote, by futurist visionary Daniel H. Pink, explains that the future “belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind. Until recently, the abilities that led to success in school, work, and business were characteristic of the left hemisphere. They were the sorts of linear, logical, analytical talents measured by SATs and deployed by CPAs. Today, those capabilities are still necessary. But theyre no longer sufficient. In a world upended by outsourcing, deluged with data, and choked with choices, the abilities that matter most are now closer in spirit to the specialties of the right hemisphere - artistry, empathy, seeing the big picture, and pursuing the transcendent.”5 Scientists now believe that there are 11 dimensions (String or M Theory). Can many of us even imagine 11 dimensions? Albert Einstein, a true visionary, said that, "imagination is more important than knowledge." Today that statement has even more meaning for the future of our children.
(2) Comfort with all technology. Our children need to be comfortable with technological change. Science and technology should be seen as fun, not scary. The technology must be available to schools for children to feel comfortable with it! If we are to build excitement and comfort in learning science and technology, it will most easily and effectively happen at the elementary school level where children are learning all the basic tools of lifelong learning - math, science, reading, and writing. As the National Academy of Science puts it, “perhaps the greatest needs (at the elementary school level) are to encourage positive attitudes toward science and develop science process skills, such as experimenting, measuring, observing, and drawing conclusions.”6 The National Science Education Standards states that; “An understanding of science makes it possible for everyone to share in the richness and excitement of comprehending the natural world.”7
(3) A higher ability in deductive and analytical reasoning by using inquiry and problem based learning. Imagination and comfort with technology are only part of the answer. Inquiry based learning is a lifelong process of acquiring and expanding knowledge, skills, and dispositions to foster well-being. Its about the decisions you make and the problems you solve in everyday life. From a hands-on experiment in elementary school, to considering whether to believe an infomercials gimmick, inquiry learning takes many forms. Imaginative inquiry learners choose to seek out new ideas and alternative perspectives. They embrace our changing, dynamic, information-rich society by keeping their senses active and their minds full of ideas. Much of this learning is self-directed. To be successful, the child or adult must have basic information inquiry knowledge, skills, imagination and dispositions. As Dr. Yogesh Malhotra from the BRINT Institute put it, “a scientist must indeed be freely imaginative and yet skeptical, creative and yet a critic.”Fifteen years ago the average number of career changes was about five. Today the number of career changes is around fifteen.8 What will it be ten years from now? Without some way to easily learn and adapt to these new technologies and careers, science (and a LOT more) in this country will suffer greatly.
Of all the things we can give our children, a great education is one of the best. The only way to a great education is when the parents are directly involved in the education. In order for points 1-3 (above) to be accomplished, change has to occur in our 150-year-old school bureaucracy. This change has to come from within the school itself, involving all of the students, teachers, community, and parents.
Why begin our expedition? The studies mentioned in the first paragraph, the performance on the Texas District Level Benchmark assessments given to second through fifth grade students each semester of the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 school years, and the 2004 Texas TAKS Science test indicate clearly that improvements needed to be made to the way in which we teach science.
In September 2004 SEF created a pilot program called Quite Unforgettable Extreme Science Time (QUEST) at Purple Sage Elementary School in Austin, Texas.9 QUEST is an educational series that combines imaginative and inquiry based hands-on science curriculum with two hours of teacher collaboration time. We do this by using volunteers (parents, teachers, community partners, etc.) to act as “teachers” while the school staff meets collaboratively. This program is aimed specifically at elementary school students, where excitement for science begins.
The QUEST program can be thought of as a mirror into each school or classrooms ability to support National Science Education Standards (NSES) and Texas (TEKS) science standards. According to data from the National Academy of Sciences10 the science resources available at most elementary schools will struggle, at best, to meet the requirements of National and State science standards.
A typical grade school may have enough basic supplies to do six limited lab stations (three or four students for each lab station) per experiment.11 That is only enough basic supplies and equipment for one classroom to do one science experiment one at a time. To allow a typical school with 500 students to do one science experiment all at the same time, a school would need enough basic supplies for 150 lab stations (500 divided by 4 students per station). QUEST can provide the materials to do six to eighteen science experiments for the entire school.
For an elementary school to replicate the QUEST program in each classroom it would require the need to rotate each class through the science lab (if one is available) one at a time, at 2 grades per day, 45 min each lab (30 minute lab, 15 min to move and clean-up) it would take 3 days to teach the whole school ONE lab. Based on that evidence, the QUEST Program does the equivalent of at least 9 days of science with each 2 hour QUEST Day. This means that the QUEST Day series will do the equivalent of 54 days of standards based, hands-on science in 12 hours (6 QUEST days at 2 hours each)! Besides this evidence, when was the last time any teacher had the opportunity to teach 12 hours of hands-on science experiments to their ENTIRE class at the same time?
After spending hundreds of hours bringing QUEST to life, we realized that QUEST could be implemented at other elementary campuses. What was needed was a non-profit organization that can effectively and efficiently implement this and other extremely cool and effective science programs for elementary schools; hence we created the Science Expeditionary Force.
Here is a list of proposed programs to be offered by SEF:
- QUEST Program - 12 hours of intense hands-on science for an entire school.
- Bring a Scientist to School - one day a week program that brings a SEF science teacher to school to teach a series of inquiry based experiments.
- Teaching Hands-on, Imaginative Science (THIS) - A program for elementary school teachers. THIS instructs teachers how to teach imaginative, inquiry, standards based science at their own school as opposed to sending a teacher to learn science in a seminar.
The SEF is about to embark on a journey, an expedition if you will, to bring intense, efficient, imaginative, standards based science programs that expand and improve current elementary school science curriculum. The Science Expeditionary Force will be the leader and guide on an amazing science expedition into the new millennium.
- “National Science Education Standards” NSF, 1996; http://www.nsrconline.org, NAEP
- Moores Law. Moores law states that the increase in complexity of microprocessors and other types of semiconductor integrated circuits will double every 18 months. History shows that so far this has been the case and in fact the observation made by Gordon Moore in 1965 has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- The Economist. “Digital Dilemmas” Jan 23rd, 2003.
- “From Gutenberg to Gates: Education in an On-line World”, Ian Jukes & Ted McCain, 2001
- “Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age” Daniel H. Pink, 2005
- “Science Education: Things You Need to Know Before Getting Involved” NAS, http://www.nas.edu/rise/chap1.htm
- “National Science Education Standards” NSF, 1996
- “Windows on the Future” Ian Jukes & Ted McCain, 2002
- Purple Sage Elementary School, RRISD, Austin, TX 78750. Phone (512) 428-3500; http://www.hillcountrynews.com/articles/2005/03/11/schools/schools02.txt
- “Resources Available for Teaching Elementary School Science” NAS, 1996
- Based on personnel audits of elementary schools, discussions with elementary school principals, teachers and school district executives.