Collaboration Aims To Increase Passion For Science
A collaboration between professors from four colleges, including the College of Education and Human Development, is hoping to make a difference in the future of the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The project is part of a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, building on the national Maker’s Movement. 124 students from Neal Elementary’s 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes participated during the fall semester.
Research has shown that children in those grades start losing interest in science. Dr. Lynn M. Burlbaw, professor of culture, curriculum and instruction, says, combined with the 4th grade slump – the idea that 4th graders no longer learn to read, they read to learn – the idea is very concerning. This project’s goal is to get those students excited about science again by not just teaching skills, but having them complete tasks using those skills.
Dr. Burlbaw and his colleagues worked with teachers and the administration at Neal Elementary to align activities with the district’s curriculum.
“The whole idea is that they are learning science, language arts and writing,” said Dr. Burlbaw. “The thought is that, over a period of three years, their language will improve so they are no longer just talking about the light bulb, they are talking about the LED – using more scientific language.”
The hope is that, by engaging these students in these activities now, they will have a passion for the STEM field for the rest of their lives.
“If you believe in them and let them do it, you’d be surprised by what they can accomplish,” said Juanita Collins, principal of Neal Elementary. “My personal mission is for all students to leave here with a life plan. We promote self-efficacy and tell them there is nothing they can’t accomplish by exposing them to new learning experiences.”
During the spring semester, researchers met with the students one week each six weeks to work on these projects. Students worked with circuits to build eight projects including volcanoes, ice melting and even a cup robot.
Professors in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture are collaborating with professors in the College of Architecture, College of Liberal Arts and College of Engineering on this research. The expected outcome is that, over the course of three years, the students will see themselves as able to have an impact in the STEM field while also improving their writing skills and self-confidence.
“If we’re going to change things in the future and meet future needs, particularly through STEM, we’re going to have to have people who think they are capable of doing that,” said Dr. Burlbaw.
The Obama Administration has also recognized that need and has set a clear priority for STEM education. According to the Department of Education website, “within a decade, American students must move from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math.” President Obama has called on the nation to develop 100,000 STEM teachers during that time and he wants an additional one million students to graduate college with STEM majors.
For Dr. Burlbaw, the push starts in the early elementary grades with projects like Making the Maker. “We know that going out and recruiting juniors and seniors in high school to go into STEM fields is kind of foolish in that they have to begin learning the science and mathematics in upper elementary or middle grades,” said Dr. Burlbaw. “They’re not going to be prepared to do it in college and they can’t afford two years of remedial work to get where they need to be as freshmen. If we get these younger kids involved they will start to see themselves fitting into the STEM field in college.”
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