Challenges in Science Education

David Thornburg, founder and director of the Thornburg Center for Space Exploration has written an excellent paper on the current state of science education.  In it, he identifies five challenges that science educators in the U.S. face and offers suggestions to address, and perhaps reform, what he believes to be gaps in the educational system.

According to Thornburg, the biggest issues facing science educators today are:

  1. a shortage of qualified teachers;
  2. a curriculum that depicts science and scientists as “devoid of … human passion”;
  3. a reluctance to embrace a “hands on” approach to science teaching;
  4. a dated, “question and answer” approach which relies heavily on memorization (as opposed to research and independent knowledge-seeking) and
  5. a failure to connect science with topics that are relevant to students.

Here in Canada, educators face similar challenges.  A 2010 study by IPSOS Reid, for example, indicates that 78% of Canadian youths aged 12 to 13 express a “high level” of interest in science education.  These numbers fall sharply as students progress through the school system; by the time they reach 17 years of age, only 58% have maintained an enthusiasm for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.

There are many factors that can contribute to a declining interest in science with age.  The study clearly indicates a need for educators to re-assess their current STEM-based curriculum for relevancy.

It has been demonstrated that students tend to thrive in a hands-on, technology-based environment, many educators – and curriculums – have been slow to adopt electronic teaching aids.  Thornburg urges educators to provide students with tools that will enable them to explore science in a creative, hands-on manner.

“Innovative educators have always made connections between science and other topics,” Thornburg says.

“The power of treating the STEM subjects in an integrated fashion strengthens the understanding of each of them … as [teachers] look at these challenges, and identify more … I hope [they] will think about ways to address them.”

Click here to read Thornburg’s article.





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