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Monday, February 17, 2014




STEM EQUITY IN THE SCIENCE CLASSROOM


Today on this nation-wide Presidents Day Celebration, Chicago is again getting pounded with heavy snowfall, but inevitably these winter days on the calendar will melt away! The steady progression toward springtime has begun!  So has the drive to prepare for the final stages of the Earth Stewardship Project at Streamwood High School.

In the science classroom teams of girls work for days on harvesting vermicompost from worm farms, seeding plants and transferring grown plants into new soil mediums.  There is a whimsy of spring in the air and even the harsh reality of a late winter snowstorm cannot impede this feeling of change!

Teams of girls working together on long-term research projects helps provide a nucleus of intrinsic motivation that is fashioned into students’ performance and learned outcomes.  It is almost like turning a key in a car, students jump at the opportunity to work on concrete proposals and they seek to understand and try to lead the way into new ideas and new insights that is a direct result of their new experiences.  They are motivated to find ways to make the outcomes of these projects better and the designed goals of the projects match such aspirations. The process of working on projects provide these key important conditions that foster learning for female students:  Immediate feedback on their efforts, open discussion of new ideas, a chance to get involved, make mistakes, and continue to make effort to move forward on scientific investigations.  It is a great learning opportunity for the development of the skills and abilities needed to be successful in life.

Diverse teams of girls, 3 to 4 students to a group, seize this opportunity by gathering data, setting up new experimental methods, harvesting nutrients from worm farms and preparing new plants for experimentation.  The girls realize that they have a chance to show their potential by completing tasks at hand related to the scientific investigations.  They are clear with respect to the expectations, but they are challenged to add their own insights as to how to improve upon this effort.  There are strong elements of cooperation, openness to others and a sense of autonomy that helps to inspire and motivate these students to take on new challenges and initiatives by taking control of their own learning. 

In these long-term research science projects, the goals can sometimes become overarching.  It can be multifaceted, with the relevance of the project outcomes based upon knowledgeable and rational judgment.  The rigor of the effort that is put into the projects are directly related to the value students derive from them. This is a model of effective 21st century learning in the science classroom. It stirs the intrinsic motivation in all students, while engaging them in this process of doing science.  Science, as a course of study, has always had the distinct advantage of producing outcomes from projects that have real-world implications.  Working to improve life for all humanity is no small commitment.  It is a call to a vocation in life transcending the individual and seeks the betterment of all society.  Doing science can be a very noble calling for these young people looking for inspiring and fulfilling careers and lifestyles.

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