The Arizona Science Lab is Improving Education In Arizona
Education research by the ASL team for grades 4-8 led us to a paper by the Helios Education Foundation, the largest nonprofit organization serving Arizona and Florida focused solely on education.
The Foundation published a paper: “HELIOS EDUCATION FOUNDATION THEORY OF CHANGE: Transition Years (Grades 5-12).” The entire paper can be found at: http://www.helios.org/pdf/Helios-Transition-Years-Theory-of-Change-04-2009.pdf. This position paper outlines the belief of Helios that education improves lives and strengthens communities. The Arizona Science Lab believes this paper lays out the fundamental truths of the basic issues that exist today for the school education system in Arizona. Accordingly, ASL has aligned their program with the focus points of this paper. To quote briefly from this paper:
Improving Education in Arizona
Using the “Our Focus” points of the paper as a reference, ASL offers the following initiatives to advance education in Arizona:
1. Increasing Curriculum Rigor and Relevance with an Emphasis on STEM Education
- “We will work to improve middle and high school science and math curriculum, with an emphasis on grades 5-10, while increasing its relevance for students in achieving their personal and professional goals, meeting postsecondary education requirements and addressing 21st Century needs.”
- This is one of several “raison d’être” for ASL and our workshops are all designed to teach the students the science and math they SHOULD be learning at their grade level irrespective of the current Arizona Education standards.
- We are also supporting the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) on the review and comments of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) being prepared by Achieve. The current drafts are better than the Arizona Standards but still quite deplorable, with large sections of basic but critically important life science, chemistry, physics, etc. not being included and the use of math positively discouraged at any grade level. Additionally, the middle school grades are lumped together, as are the high school grades, so there is no granularity to guide the grade teachers. Overall, our conclusion is that no students will be prepared to transition from middle school to high school if following these NGSS as they currently stand.
- But actually managing to get any substantial changes made in the NGSS would seem to be an impossible task given all the Achieve bureaucracy and pride of ownership involved, so we are currently promoting with ADE, who share our concerns, the idea of Arizona simply using the NGSS as a reference and developing a set of State Standards that include all the missing material, are split into individual grade levels, and clearly define what the students are to be taught at each grade level, similar to the previously released and excellent Common Core Math Standards. These would be a sort of “supplement” to the NGSS if you will. The ASL will be very actively involved in any such endeavor.
2. Creating and Sustaining a Pipeline of Quality STEM Educators –
- “We will work to enhance the skills and expertise of educators who are currently teaching math and science while cultivating a pipeline of teachers specialized in the STEM content areas. We will seek opportunities to attract and retain talented professionals to teach in these areas, especially in under-resourced schools.”
- As is also noted in this paper: “It is also estimated that almost 50% of math and science teachers who are currently in the classroom are not qualified or certified to teach the subjects.” This is also ASL’s own observation over the past four years the ASL has been operating and it is a sad and dispiriting commentary on the state of education in AZ.
- Therefore, we have created a Teacher In Service Program (TISP) workshop for science teachers to specifically teach them the science and math they need to know in order to teach grade 4 thru 9 students. This is an enhancement of the “TISP” program we have conducted each year, generally during the summer break, for various teacher associations and schools. The focus of that earlier program was on training science teachers on how to teach science from an engineering perspective.
- This June we ran this revised TISP session for science teachers over two days in our facility. The new emphasis on teaching them science and math they need to know and on using project-based learning techniques to motivate students has resulted in a very successful session program with a good response and feedback from the participating teachers. Most of them were from Title 1 schools in Apache Junction, Washington, Tempe District 3, Phoenix Union, Peoria Unified. We now plan on offering it regularly in the Christmas break, the Spring break and Summer break, but the actual math and science taught would be different in each of the three sessions and would only repeat as a block from year to year.
3. Cultivating Strong Middle and High School Leadership –
- “We will work to attract, prepare and retain highly effective leadership within middle and high schools by enhancing their ability to increase student success and academic achievement as well as foster a postsecondary education supportive environment among families and students.”
- This is not a focus we can impact directly since it is very much the responsibility of the schools and the school districts.
- However, we can provide part of the necessary subject training in math and science and project-based learning for the teachers as discussed in the preceding focus point.
4. Fostering Personal Growth, Character Development and College Readiness –
- “We will support the success of middle and high school students through academically aligned programs and initiatives that also strengthen social development, foster personal growth and aid in character development. Helios will strive to create a college-going culture to increase college readiness and access to postsecondary opportunities and pathways for students.”
- All of our student workshops include a wrap-up session when we discuss future career choices and what studies are involved in achieving them, and run a student question and ASL answer session on studies and careers. We emphasize the importance of all students, whatever their interest (science, medicine, art, literature, music, car mechanics, construction, nursing, etc., etc.), doing the research to identify a career that will allow them to indulge their interests and the studies necessary to achieve that career. The latter could be a vocational college, community college, university, and so on but we stress that a high school diploma is no longer sufficient for anything but the most basic service industry job -- -- further college studies are an absolute necessity today.
- The principle objective of the ASL workshop program is to stimulate a latent interest in studying a STEM subject and ultimately pursuing a career in a STEM subject, thus leading to an increase in the percentage of students taking ACT, SAT and PSAT standardized tests and demonstrating academic progress.
5. Improving Family and Community Engagement in Student Success –
- “We will work to actively engage families and communities in the success of our students by educating them about their role in challenging students, providing consistent encouragement and support, and helping them navigate the school system.”
- Any school sending classes to ASL has to engage chaperones to help the teacher during the field trip. ASL encourages the school to use the parents for this task and we then insist they become engaged as “project supporters” during the experimentation and construction project phases of the workshop, helping the ASL volunteer staff to guide the students. However, we also insist that each parent work with a group of students other than their own child or children! The parents also sit through the lecture and demonstrations, so they learn what their children are learning, and can also ask questions of the ASL staff during the wrap-up session. Many of the parents tell us they have learned a lot themselves and leave with a clearer understanding of what their children need to know, and are thus in a better position to help and guide them in the future.