MSU researchers “revolutionizing” the way science is taught

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – When the need for skilled workers and critical thinkers is more crucial than ever, Michigan State University researchers are designing a way to make science exciting and interesting to students of all backgrounds and ages.

“Young people love Star Wars and science-related fantasies, but in science class they are distracted and daydream about anything except the subject matter that one day may help those science fantasies become real,” says Barbara Schneider, John A. Hannah University Distinguished Chair and renowned sociologist.

Over the past 50 years as the industrial era shifted to the information age, assembly lines run by people are being replaced with robotic technology. This shift creates demand for students to get involved in science, technology, engineering and math.

“Technology and science have made a huge difference in our lives, especially in the types of jobs created now,” Schneider says. “We’re in a time where we need to concentrate on what we should be teaching young people today in schools.”

Twelfth-grade science scores have remained unchanged since 1995, according to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study.

“Scientists always wonder, ‘Why is this happening?’ or engineers ask, ‘How can I make something better?'” says Joe Krajcik, Lappan-Phillips Professor of Science Education.

The curriculum being taught in schools for the past 30 years is no longer effective for our global society.

Krajcik, recognized internationally for his achievements in science education, led development of the Next Generation Science Standards.

Scientists and science educators at MSU’s CREATE for STEM Institute are developing innovative approaches to STEM from kindergarten to the undergraduate collegiate level.

The institute’s new curriculum centers on project-based learning. Students build models, collect and analyze data and test theories just like real scientists do, says Krajcik, who is the director of the CREATE for STEM Institute.

The materials have been translated into Spanish and are being tested in a California school a mile from the Mexican border. Additionally, materials have been distributed and tested in large urban areas including Detroit and Los Angeles, and also in rural, poor areas. Often the children that come from those areas don’t go further in school, and that’s a real inequity, says Krajcik.

The new curriculum is also a change from the traditional way teachers work in the classroom.

“I feel more like a conductor of a symphony as opposed to just a person who has all the knowledge,” says Danita Byrd, a science teacher at Mann Elementary in Detroit.

CREATE for STEM is testing its new curriculum through two research projects.

The first, a $3.6 million National Science Foundation grant, involves 70 high schools and 7,000 students.

“It’s hard for many of us to interpret something that we’re just reading out of a book,” says Deja Thomas, senior at East English Village Preparatory Academy in Detroit.

“It’s more interactive with other people and more projects,” says Larenz Nelson, also a senior at East English High School

“My interest in chemistry has gone up from one to a 100,000,” says Sophia Brandt, junior at Harper Creek High School.

The second project designs, develops and tests materials for third graders. The project is funded by the George Lucas Educational Foundation.

“CREATE for STEM is about all children, no matter what background they come from,” says Krajcik. “We’re working to help those kids develop the intellectual skills needed to live in our science- and technology-based world.”

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