Let’s get on with it
(“Cracking the Nut” part 2)
At the start of the winter semester with wind chills hovering below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, science education in School District U46 erupted into squealing enthusiasm as hundreds of elementary, middle school and high school students descended upon the Gail Borden Library in Downtown Elgin, Illinois for an evening of interactive science events and challenges. The U46 Science EXPO is the start of a renewed effort by science educators to drive home STEM Educational Initiatives and change the course of math and science experiences for students.
As part of this effort to bring the experience of scientific discovery to the students attending, I helped to implement an engineering challenge that would test the fortitude and resolve of students to achieve a goal. Students were given prototype gliders with the mission to make adjustments to the wings of gliders that result in creating an excellent flyer. With the enthusiasm and support of their peers, parents and teachers, these children strived to fine tune the gliders with scant experience, but with the resolve to achieve.
During the challenge, grade school and middle school students repeatedly flew gliders off a launch table given specific initial conditions, with the task and responsibility to readjust the wing position to help improve flight performance. This science experience was about gauging performance, obtaining immediate feedback, working under the scrutiny of peers and achieving the self-satisfaction of successful flights. It was a wonderful experience for the children. It was doing science. Inquiry-based science and engineering is about letting yourself get caught up in the process of experimentation, trying out new ideas and always keeping the goal in mind!
Children as young as 6 years old were sailing aircraft over 30 feet down the flight path! Soon student innovation produced “double winged” aircraft, which held out hope for greater distance and the prestige of being remarkably different! Openness, collaboration, reflective thought, creativity and innovation were some of the problem solving attributes on display as the kids’ marshaled their efforts to be successful.
Harnessing such enthusiasm in a learning environment is the challenge for educators in the new science paradigm. The Next Generation Science Standards are explicit in the intent for teachers to develop these same attributes, as witnessed within these students at the Science EXPO, and bring the same opportunity for all students in the classroom. The excitement I witnessed by the kids was contagious and refreshing. I was cheering them on just like their peers and their Moms and Dads. This is learning science within the support of a community of stakeholders relishing their vested interest. It is the way of future science education and we, as science educators, now need to get on with it.