NSTA President Patricia Simmons
With the advent of the Next Generation Science Standards, the Framework for K–12 Science Education, and other numerous reports on the state of science education issued by the National Research Council and other stakeholders, we are at a pivotal moment in science education. It is the time for us to identify and take on the grand challenges facing us. Much as the engineering profession has identified major ideas and goals to guide their work (Grand Challenges for Engineering, National Academy of Engineering, 2008. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC, www.engineeringchallenges.org), it is time for us to consolidate our efforts and mobilize resources toward making certain every student has an excellent science education.
To begin this conversation, I offer a “grand challenge” to science educators to continue this professional conversation: Every teacher of science should prepare to lead at the local, national, and global level by
- teaching with the most innovative methods and materials to maximize student learning;
- appreciating science and understanding the role of science in society and ethical citizenship;
- engaging in regular, sustained, cutting-edge professional development to continue their lifelong learning and enhance their leadership skills;
- participating in professional associations and strengthening their professional networks;
- designing and implementing creative and innovative teaching and problem solving for their science students;
- reflecting on and improving their performance by adapting to changes in the learning environment;
- using research about learning to drive how science is taught and implementing student and teacher assessments appropriately; and
- making a difference in the lives of our students and their families by advocating strongly for the importance of science and the profession of science teaching.
If we ask our students to describe an outstanding teacher, they articulate very clearly the attributes: First and foremost among their comments is “my teacher cares about me as a person and takes an interest in me.” If we review the literature or recall individuals recognized as outstanding educators, we see these teachers are lauded for their strong leadership skills, ability to work in teams, management of changing learning environments, effectiveness in diverse and multicultural environments, good decision-making, and communication with students, their families, and the community in support of education. These qualities show they are innovative, creative, adaptable, and continuously engaged in learning while critically assessing teaching performance in response to student learning. One of the most important attributes outstanding teachers embody is the ability to use and translate research about how people learn into meaningful and relevant science learning. For example, as we continually update our knowledge base regarding human learning, it is essential that educators use this information to construct science lessons and activities that enable all students to learn and understand science concepts and problem-solve. Open-ended problem-solving skills, analytical skills, and the integration of these two skills areas enable teachers to provide relevant learning scenarios for their students. In reviewing the recommendations issued by many of the recent reports on workforce development, these kinds of skills, knowledge areas, and qualities will be essential for the future science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce as well as for STEM literacy.
The key question posed by many individuals is “where are the resources to respond to these kinds of challenges?” Many school systems have reduced their budget for professional development, and unfortunately, as we hear from our elementary school colleagues, many systems do not encourage their teachers to teach science. It is clear resources may not return to prior levels for some time. This presents us with a unique challenge: How do we mobilize support for the teaching and learning of science? There are several ways to respond to this question. One way is to resign ourselves to the status quo and wait for “things to turn around.” Another response is to demand support at federal, state, and local levels to fully fund the implementation of outstanding science teaching. A third possible way is to use our creativity to determine unique ways to garner support. For example, enterprising science teachers have realized they can write proposals for special projects to local businesses; many times they are very successful in receiving full support. Businesses often are very willing to support teachers and education because of the direct tie in the community; however, we must connect with these businesses and not wait for them to come to the school. If businesses cannot award funds, they will many times provide mentor scientists or STEM professionals to work in schools or act as on-call advisors for science fair projects or other special projects. Pockets of such well-developed and thriving partnerships are popping up in all areas across the United States. With internet access, students and teachers in one part of the country can connect with space scientists at the other end of the continent. As educators, we are challenged to be more resourceful in locating and using resources, be it funding resources or people resources or teaching resources. One of the most important resources for learning about the pockets of innovation and excellence around the country, as well as national trends in science education, is NSTA. Rather than re-inventing wheels on a continual basis, we should be learning about the successes each of us has had and sharing our expertise and knowledge with one another.
I challenge each of us to begin the conversation about the grand challenges confronting science education. The first question for NSTA is “what would it really take to turn this challenge into a success for every teacher of science?” I look forward to our conversation.