Members of our Science Design Team had a chance to connect with a group from our community representing the field of science in higher education, non-profit organizations, government, and business. The purpose of the connect time was to spark a conversation to better understand how our community members engage in science in their daily lives and how they believe education should support youth in the learning of scientific concepts and practice.
Here is who we met with and what we learned:
Zach Shelley Program Director of the Big Thompson Watershed Forum is in charge of monitoring the water quality on the Big Thompson River and ensuring the health of the watershed. The science strands that are included in his work include chemistry, physics, environmental engineering, life science, environmental science and earth science.
To be successful in his field, it is important to have hands-on technology skills, a working knowledge of the equipment used to test and analyze the water quality, background knowledge in a wide range of science disciplines and critical thinking skills to effectiely analyze and understand the results of his findings. Graphing skills, trend analysis, and statistics are all vital components of his work. When the data has been gathered and analyzed, Zach must present his findings and recommendations to his stakeholders, the board of directors and government agencies.
The implications for science education is to ensure the integration of literacy, mathematics, and collaborative skills in science instruction. Science education should also focus on modeling, looking for patterns and trends, and applying that information to make connections or address problems that may affect the community.
Joe Chaplin, City of Loveland Stormwater and Engineering – We learned that Joe is very active throughout community engaging in partnerships and outreach. For example, he is responsible for coordinating the Water Festival for 5th graders, Spring Clean-up for the Thompson River, other events to spread the message of “Good Housekeeping” and environmental stewardship. In terms of what his hunches are about what students need to understand about science, he mentioned several things. His big ideas were around creating change through P-12 education and social responsibility, so that families receive the message about environmental stewardship from their children in our schools. He spoke of how interconnected scientific fields are, explaining how healthy watersheds are connected to clean air, and wetlands are connected to environmental biology. He also differentiated causal factors, such as polluted runoff finding its way into the storm systems contaminating our water supply, versus correlations that students need to understand, such as the function and locations of flood planes in order to make thoughtful decisions about where they buy their homes as adults. The implications for the P-12 system and beyond are that our curriculum should have an over-all theme of connectivity, critical thinking, problem-solving, and common sense. Working to instill pride and ownership in students’ work, helping them see tasks as on-going and related to one another, instead of click-&-go, and teaching them to avoid slip-shod workmanship will better equip our students for success in the real world.
Dr. Nathan Balasubramanian, Director of Accountability and Accreditation, Thompson School District – Nathan has taught science, technology, and engineering across three continents. He has a distinguished history of researching, designing, and implementing highly acclaimed assessment and instructional models. He publishes peer-reviewed articles and presents papers to advance research goals and engineer educational excellence. In our discussion with Dr. B. we discussed the necessity of identifying what knowledge students come into class with as well as what would be the next step of what to bring them up to the expected outcome level of the course. Dr. B recommended several research based approaches to help accomplish this goal including:
- The Facet Based Approach to Science Education
- LEAPS – Learning progressions in science
- Science Idea Project
He talked about “Thinking Like a Scientist” and “Thinking Like an Engineer” He noted the importance of students being able to make a claim and support it with evidence. We discussed the importance of testing and measuring in two aspects: How will we test and measure what students know and how will students test and measure their ideas or hypotheses in science. The implications for us as science educators are to ensure that we provide opportunities for students to apply and use the knowledge they gain, ensure that students need to know foundational concepts in order to do higher level thinking, and work to create a balance between “factoid learning” and critical thinking. Kids need to be able to think, articulate, and reason.
Ray Tshillard, Director and District 6 Consultant of Poudre Learning Center – His perspective on what science looks like in his world is relevance, inquiry based and nature of science. Nature of science refers to problem solving and critical thinking. As a child, his recollection of his mom telling him “get outside and don’t come back until dinner” sparked a passion for him wanting to read more in depth to discover answers to his scientific wonderings. The implications for the P-12 science education system, through his lens, is to make certain students are able to think conceptually. As educators we need to help students develop process skills, which includes collecting data, analyzing, making observations and communicating the results. Technology should be infused throughout the process skills in science. Hands on experiments and activities are catalysts to the comprehension of key science concepts. Teachers should reach out to community members for support to help implement these ideas. As educators, something to ponder, is how do we continue and encourage kids to ask questions. We also need to be mindful of our local and regional surroundings as learning resources.
Chris Romero, Lead Faculty at Front Range Community College in Natural and Environmental Science - Dr. Romero teaches General Biology, in his world he asks his students to focus on Critical Analysis. He believes they need to know how to collect and analyze data in a meaningful manner. Science Literacy is another important focus. Since Dr. Romero’s area is biology, to him literacy is more than just comprehension; it is application to public policy implementation, environmental issues, public speaking and writing about science topics and issues. He uses collaborative learning, models, labs and lectures to help implement these two important concepts. The implications for our P-12 ducation system are varied. We must work to ensure students have analytical skills. He is concerned that our students demand instant gratification, they seem to expect to get the answer and move on to another concept or topic quickly. There is a high degree of frustration when the answer is not forthcoming and the students need to analyze the information. We must work to ensure that students are critical, comprehending readers. He finds that too often students do not understand that scientists need to go through a process to gain understanding. Instead they read the materials, compartmentalize the information and do not make the connections with their prior knowledge. The last implication is the need for students to understand the process and nature of science. Students often do not understand what science can and cannot do. Science is a process of thought. The question that needs to be asked is “What is science really about?” For example, what is a hypothesis versus a theory? He works to engage students in this process through cooperative/collaborative learning; hands on models; discussions; and case studies.
Trudy Trimbath, Environmental Specialist Thompson School District – Trudi has worked for Thompson for the last 5 years. Previous to this, she worked at HP for a number of years. She engages in science work every day. Some examples are the radon tests which must be conducted of the school prior to 18 months after schools are built. She must understand the contaminants that are in the air and the effects on students. She regularly conducts air quality tests to make sure students are learning in a safe environment. She needs to understand the effects of heavy metals and other chemicals and she uses data from nurses about student symptoms that might be arising and they analyze it do determine whether it’s related to food preparation, building risks (cleaning procedures), weather, etc. The implications to our students are vast. She believes all students should have a strong foundation in biology, chemistry, and physiology. Chemistry is crucial to those in her field because one must analyze chemicals and their effects on the human body. Math skills are also needed. She uses math and science to help her analyze various aspects of water quality, its discharge rates and contaminants in particles per million. She feels it’s important for students to be able to appy what they learn to real life problems. Leadership and problem solving skills are a must in order for a smooth transition into the real world as these help students troubleshoot and work in an ever-changing environment. And, writing skills are crucial for effective communication between staff.
Thomas Ligon, Owner/Inventor ARC Science simulations – Tom is the creator if the OmniGlobe. He used his physics and engineering background to create the OmniGlobe. There was a lot of computer programing involved in the process. He has hired outside people for content knowledge such as geologists and artists and machinists as fabricators. Tom has had to be an entrepreneur and a problem solver and his best employees have also been great problem solvers and critical thinkers. From his perspective, science should be engaging and apply to the real world. Students should have competence, confidence, and pride in what they do. Science should encompass the learners’ natural curiosity and meet their hands on needs and create when possible. The implications for us as P-12 science teachers are to ensure that science instruction be balanced and interdisciplinary with a global perspective. Tom believes that science is about problem solving and critical thinking; looking at a ways to do things better and more efficiently and solving everyday real word problems.