Partnership to Improve Student Achievement in Physical Science: Integrating STEM Approaches
Science and engineering education are seen as promising vehicles to promote 21st century skills in K-12 classrooms because they are not only a body of accepted knowledge, but also involve processes that lead to knowledge. In our program, 42 Grade 3-8 science teachers in 11 elementary and middle schools throughout N.J. are taking part in a professional development program that uses science inquiry and engineering design to foster specific 21st century skills of their students. Our partnership includes three universities with specialization in the sciences, engineering, and education; the state’s department of education; a national science education center; and twelve K-12 school districts throughout the state. Teachers are currently participating in 15-credit hours of graduate content courses in physical and earth sciences, four professional development workshops, and monthly classroom support visits in 2010-2012 school years.
The goals of our program are: (1) to increase teachers’ content knowledge in physical and earth sciences, (2) to help teachers implement inquiry-based science and engineering lessons, and (3) to enhance teachers’ ability to design learning environments that foster students’ 21st century skills. Preliminary findings based on the pre- and post- tests in the Energy Production and Consumption Course showed that teachers improved, on average, their knowledge of chemistry concepts by 18.4%. We also found a number of changes in the teachers’ knowledge and ability to foster 21st century skills: (a) in using the engineering design and science investigations to foster certain skills like critical thinking and problem solving, and (b) design student-centered lessons.