A 21st Century Spring is here!
Spring is here and the end is near! Yes that is how I feel when it comes to school and getting to the finish line and wrapping this school year up. With 70 to 80 percent of the curriculum having now been employed in the classroom, I can take a long retrospective view of what has been achieved this year and begin to rationalize the legitimacy of implementing a models-based approach to learning.
For decades, as an educator, my thinking has evolved with respect to “best practice” and the means to produce the most effective learning environment for my students. Since my inaugural day, as a certified high school teacher, I have researched and implemented progressive curricular reforms addressing the urgency to meet diverse educational needs of students.
Since the mid 1990’s, I have developed a legacy of educational initiatives reflecting advocated reform measures in science education. Each passing decade has brought more strident approaches to learning based upon experiences that students bring with them into the classroom and acknowledging new learning models developed from research-based educational psychology.
As a new science teacher, back in the 1990’s, my focus was upon getting the tools of learning (labs, scientific probes and conceptually-based models) into the hands of students in the science classroom. Hands-on experiences for students was the battle cry for teachers on the frontlines of science education. Long hours were put in to the development and orchestration of science labs helping to make concepts more concrete for students. Less textbook memorization, less lecture presentations, and more hands-on experiences for students in science was the progressive way to teach science.
At the end of the 20th century and into the beginning of the 21st century inquiry-based models for learning science was ushered into the science curriculum. This new emphasis in science education stressed a pedagogy of getting students more intrinsically involved with the process of doing science, asking questions and exploring outcomes in greater depth. Inquiry-based learning defined the progressive educational initiatives put forth by science teachers across America. National Science Foundation’s development of new standards for learning science was held up as a guidepost helping teachers bring forth learning models requiring deeper thinking and increased motivation to understand science as a process and not as merely memorized facts. Students realized that science is both a dynamic process and an evidence-based endeavor.
Project Based Models of Learning (PBL) began to surface, with vigor, as the first decade of the new century unfolded. Citing the development and establishment of Next Generation Science Standards along with the need to educate students to be critical thinkers and problem-solvers; the focus has turned to increasing students’ ability to learn, gather and analyze information, work cooperatively and present rational evidence-based arguments regarding findings. This is an education model that is not only cross-disciplinary, but requires the utilization of multiple talents, abilities and skills. It is a holistic approach to achieving learning outcomes that help learners adapt and be successful when dealing with changing conditions that bring forth new challenges to deal with in their lives.
Science educators are a pragmatic lot. We recognize the education needs of our students yet we are diligent in the development of “best practices” which are research-based and that lend well to the diversity of learning we find embedded in our classrooms. Upon reflection, after 7 months of working to increase learning in the science classroom, I am more convinced than ever of the need to transform how students learn into problem solving ventures.
I find that when doing projects such as optimizing engineering designs or projects related to the improving the quality of soil mediums, or projects related to understanding carbon dioxide’s contribution to the warming of the atmosphere, students show greater motivation for learning and exhibit a deeper understanding of concepts in science.
PBL models for science education is the progressive venue that science teachers can utilize to develop effective and meaningful learning opportunities for their students, while addressing multiple challenges we now face in the classroom. This new model for science education gives teachers a great opportunity, as professionals, to remain viable as facilitators and providers of projects for teams of students to succeed within our schools in the 21st century.