According to educational specialist Jenny Taylor, the research is clear: too few students currently have access to a high-quality science curriculum and too few teachers have the supports necessary to ensure that students are building science knowledge and understanding from their earliest school experiences.
“Unfortunately, in the earliest grades, a child’s curiosity is rarely fostered through a coherent, high-quality science curriculum,” Taylor pointed out. “Science instruction for young learners too often consists of disparate activities that don’t help students build lasting knowledge and can lead them to disengage from science.”
In addition, elementary school teachers often feel unprepared to teach science, and given the pressures on math and English language arts instruction, science instruction is too easily squeezed out of the instructional day. That’s something the Louisiana Department of Education is looking to change with help from the team within Louisiana Tech University’s SciTEC division and SCILS Region 8 LaSTEM Center.
“The Department is excited to announce a new, high-quality science curriculum for grades K-5 that will be piloted in school systems throughout the state during the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 school years,” said Molly Talbot, a DOE K-12 Science Specialist. “The OpenSciEd K-5 pilot is part of an effort to increase statewide access and opportunity for students to engage with high-quality science instructional materials aligned to the Louisiana Student Standards for Science. This work would not be possible without the support of educational partners such as Tech’s College of Education and Human Sciences, who, among others, have served to support pilot teachers by providing professional learning and through-unit implementation support.”
Louisiana Tech was the northern site for the state’s training of pilot districts, hosting teachers and leadership teams from Caldwell and Vernon parishes over the three-day professional development. The training featured immersion in anchoring phenomena routines, unpacking standards, construction of unit storylines and development of assessment plans. For SCILS Assistant Director Missy Wooley, it was both exciting and inspiring to see the teachers as they geared up for the new curriculum challenge.
“We realize this is new territory for these elementary teachers and can’t express enough what a fantastic job they did in embracing the opportunity and digging into the process,” Wooley said. “They embody the pioneer spirit of going into uncharted waters and recognize that the true winners in all this will be their students.”
A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) highlights the current inequities in science instruction and reveals that far too few students have access to high-quality science instruction. The lack of high-quality instructional time for science is also made clear by recent data from Horizon Research, which shows that nationwide, elementary school students spend only 20 minutes a day on science instruction. With the new OpenSciEd pilot, Louisiana is on track to break that cycle.
“Upon completion of the materials, Louisiana will have its first high-quality pilot spanning grades K-12,” Talbot continued. “Additionally, participating pilot teachers will have the opportunity to represent Louisiana and help shape the curriculum’s design by field testing and providing feedback on the units.”
The instructional routines suggested in the curriculum help students think about science in different ways to build content knowledge, deepen their understanding, and develop critical thinking skills. Dr. Lindsey Keith-Vincent sees the university’s partnership with the DOE as a means to further impact students across the state.
“Our team is fortunate to have symbiotic relationships with district partners around the state,” the Associate Dean for Research, Outreach and Innovation in Tech’s College of Education and Human Sciences shared. “As we seek to learn more about how we can better serve district partners, they simultaneously learn more about our creative and competent faculty and staff that can help them co-construct solutions and develop and implement professional growth and development opportunities. The recent science-focused professional development sessions held in our Boulware IDEA Place are excellent examples of such synergies that ultimately help us all better serve our learners in Louisiana.”
For more information about this high-quality pilot, please contact STEM@la.gov.