“STEM education is most successful when students develop personal connections with the ideas and excitement of STEM (science, technology, education, mathematics) fields.”
– President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (Sept. 2010)
Improving science and math education is a national priority. Our national success – as well as that of Silicon Valley’s – has been based in large part on our leadership in STEM fields. Continued success will depend on the next generation’s ability to solve 21st Century challenges in such areas as energy, health and environmental protection. Additionally, the success of today’s youth depends on being able to make informed choices in an increasingly technological world. Despite our historical achievements, the United States lags behind considerable other nations in STEM education at the elementary and secondary levels today. As reported by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (Sept. 2010), US students’ performance in science consistently rank in the middle of the pack or lower internationally.
It is important to note that the problem is just not a lack of proficiency among American students; there is also a lack of interest… Even schools that are generally successful often fall short in STEM fields. Schools often lack teachers who know how to teach science and mathematics effectively, and who know and love their subject well enough to inspire their students. Teachers lack adequate support, including appropriate professional development as well as interesting and intriguing curricula… As a result, too many American students conclude early in their education that STEM subjects are boring, too difficult, or unwelcoming, leaving them ill-prepared to meet the challenges that will face their generation, their country, and the world.
In test scores released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress this week, California ranks the lowest, along with Mississippi, in fourth grade science scores. California, the home of Silicon Valley, has not ignored its slipping student achievement scores. In an effort to establish consistent science education, the California Board of Education adopted 52 curriculum standards in 1998 that stipulate the sequence of topics and concepts that teachers must cover at every K-12 grade level for every science thread taught: physical science, life science, earth science, and scientific investigation. These concepts build on each other from one grade level to the next.
However, simply having science standards does not guarantee a quality education, as the past 13 years since they were adopted have demonstrated. Teachers must have professional development support, time and tools to meet the standards in effective and creative ways that will engage and motivate students. Alan Friedman, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, further noted correlations between students who score better and factors such as whether their science classes regularly do hands-on activities. Unfortunately, most of today’s K-8 teachers are not science specialists and can benefit from professional development, coaching and mentoring to teach the range of science topics in the curriculum. Instructional support tools that can assist teachers in engaging students in required science topics often cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, making them unaffordable for many schools in this today’s tight budget environment. The state’s current budget meltdown will only exacerbate this, and disproportionately limit teachers’ and students’ access to instructional tools in lower income school districts.
RAFT opened its doors in 1995 to help teachers create engaging learning environments using affordable hands-on teaching approaches. Since then, this award winning nonprofit organization has created hundreds of idea sheets and prepackaged classroom activity kits that are mapped to curriculum standards. Underwritten by grant and donor support and largely constructed from corporations’ donated surplus materials, kits for up to 20 students generally cost under $5.00. RAFT also provides professional development support and one-on-one mentoring as well as workshops to assist educators in using hands-on teaching approaches and refreshing or expanding subject expertise in science, math and other subject areas.
Today’s announcement marks the realization of RAFT’s goal to offer affordable hands-on education activities that map to each of California’s 52 current State science standards. These activities will carry over as the new National Core standards that California adopted in August, 2010 are implemented. “We have created curriculum support tools for educators that provide engaging hands-on activities for each and every one of California’s science standards,” said Greg Brown, Director of Education for RAFT. “RAFT activities are affordable, which will allow teachers to inspire and motivate students at all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum and reduce the achievement gap. Being transportable to the national standards will make these tools valuable both today and in the future.”
Now that the science curriculum is completed, RAFT is systematically analyzing math standards and supplementing what is offered today with additional idea sheets and packaged activity kits that will complete the K-8 math curriculum.
Idea sheets for all of the required science topics (and more) are on RAFT’s website at www.RAFT.net. Pre-packaged activity kits for many of these science activities are available at RAFT Distribution Centers in Redwood City and San Jose.