By Elizabeth Allan, NSTA President-Elect, and Kevin Anderson, President, Council of State Science Supervisors
Posted on 2020-05-19
Over the last few months, school districts across the country have been thrown into turmoil as teachers, parents, and administrators grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic that shut schools down almost overnight and led to a new and uncharted path for providing education to millions of students, with new challenges for equitably meeting the needs of all students.
As leaders of the National Science Teaching Association and the Council of State Science Supervisors, we are amazed at how well—and how quickly—educators of science have adapted to this new normal. We applaud those who are teaching our students for their dedication and creativity as they adjust to remote learning.
We are concerned about the many challenges that our teachers will face this fall. In many areas of the country, educators and students are still contending with home connectivity issues, and schools are struggling to provide students with devices to access distance learning instruction. Too many schools lack options beyond paper packets or must rely on instructional practices that do not move beyond content delivery. The resulting inequality of digital access, and effective science learning in general, is something that is not acceptable and must be remedied.
To address the anticipated shortfalls in state and local budgets, it is imperative that continued emergency funding be provided to K–12 schools to support the health and safety of students and the continuity of their learning. Notably, it is projected that an estimated 20% loss in combined state and local revenues could lead to nearly 300,000 teachers being laid off from schools nationwide.
When the academic year begins, schools will likely look dramatically different, with face coverings, partial remote learning, and socially distanced classrooms (how will collaboration and lab experiences look with desks placed 6 feet apart to maintain safe distances between students and teachers/staff?). Many schools are planning to shrink class sizes, which means finding a way to have high-quality science teachers in these smaller classes and meet the needs of all students.
For example, some schools and teachers are creatively planning for strategies such as staggered class time and/or blended learning that would involve students rotating between online learning and in-person learning on certain days of the week to limit contact.
Science and STEM teachers face unique challenges in addressing these issues:
As teachers move to new interaction modalities between them and their students, school systems will have to invest in additional professional learning to enable educators to effectively do the following in a hybrid or distance-based environment:
School leaders also need support to address the future of Science and STEM learning, including
In this unprecedented schooling environment, educators and other science/STEM education leaders need further professional supports in both instructional design and effective structures for learning. Without this learning, it will be difficult to maintain student growth in critical areas of science and STEM education. Future-readiness requires students who can connect learning across disciplines to understand and solve real-world problems. Traditional methods of instruction cannot be readily applied to new circumstances to accomplish this essential goal; innovation is essential.
Elizabeth “Beth” Allan, Ph.D., is president-elect of the National Science Teaching Association. Allan is currently Professor of Biology and Coordinator of the Secondary Science Education program at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Oklahoma.
Kevin J. B. Anderson, Ph.D., is the Science Education Consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, for which he also helps lead STEM education efforts. He has researched effective STEM instruction and school change, and taught middle school science and mathematics.