(STEM News is provided on Local Tech Wire through a collaborative effort with the NC STEM Community Collaborative, MCNC, and the North Carolina Science, Mathematics and Technology Center (SMT Center). To submit story ideas, please email LTW Editor Rick Smith rsmith@wral.com or Noah Garrett noah@thinkngc.com.)

By Russ Campbell, SMT Center

RALEIGH, N.C. – John Calnon, a fifth-grade math and science teacher in Raleigh, has been teaching the Motion and Design Science Kit for the past three years. But, he’s still looking to improve the lesson.

“I want to make sure I’m using my time appropriately,” he said.

Despite school being closed for summer vacation, elementary teachers from Wilson County were back in the classroom in mid-June. A week-long training course in implementing new methods of teaching science took place at Jones Elementary School in Wilson.

The purpose of the kit-based curriculum is to make “science more meaningful,” said Kitty Lou Smith of the in Washington D.C. Founded jointly by the National Academies of Science and the Smithsonian Institute, the NSRC advocates for improving science education in the U.S. and abroad.

According to the recently released , a preliminary report from a committee of the National Research Council, children are born investigators; studying, thinking, and building internal models of the world around them. Science is an extension of this natural curiosity to systematic investigation of the material world and the development of a body of knowledge and practices.

Science education is not just a process of acquiring a body of static knowledge, the report continued. It also includes developing the ability to use tools, ranging from microscopes and rulers to computers and test tubes, and the ability to build and explain models, make predictions, and conduct scientific inquiry. Just as reading, writing, and mathematics involve the performance of complex practices, so does science.

“The kits provide something to work from,” said Calnon. “They provide structure, especially for new teachers.”

Calnon discovered during his first year that he was not correctly using the kits. He would use the material but not to the extent the kit intended. He simply did not have the training.

“I’d get all the stuff out and do the experiments but had nothing to back it up,” he said. “So the kids would miss all the concepts.”

After attending training sessions, he found that he was more focused and was able to gear the lessons towards the standard course of study. “It made a little more sense after that,” he explained.

Lara Coley, a first-year teacher out of UNC-Wilmington, learned about using scientific kits while she was in college. Prior to working at Jones Elementary, she found science lessons still revolved around vocabulary and reading. When she came to Jones and started using the kits, she found the students much more engaged.

“This is my first year teaching the Motion and Design Kit and I enjoyed it,” Coley said. “I liked watching the kids put the pieces together. It’s amazing the vocabulary they have from prior experiences.”

Addressing students at the personal level of their own experience has been shown to be an effective teaching method. However, students are not the only ones that learn through experience.

As John Calnon discovered, learning by experience makes a big difference.

“All the stuff was new to me,” Calnon closed. “The kids are seeing it for the first time too, so you have to help them make sense of it so they have an idea of what they’re doing.”

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