NGSS Represents an Ideal Opportunity for Senior Scientists to Help Teachers Bring Real-World Science into the Classroom

[Eds.: Thanks to Robert Thomas of Scientific Writing Solutions, and AAAS SSE Volunteer, for today's guest blog post.]

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is an ambitious project led by the National Research Council (NRC), National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and Achieve Inc. to change the way science is being taught in our public schools. Based on A Framework for K-12 Science Education, which was developed by the National Academy of Sciences in 2011, NGSS identifies the key scientific ideas and practices all students should learn by the end of high school. These new standards will also provide an important opportunity not only to improve science education but also to enhance student achievement, as well as reflecting a new vision for American science education. There are many aspects to the NGSS, but one of the key components is that it should introduce students to science as it’s applied in the real-world, as demonstrated by a quote from Conceptual Shifts in the Next Generation Science Standards:

K–12 Science Education Should Reflect the Real World Interconnections in Science: The framework is designed to help realize a vision for education in the sciences and engineering in which students, over multiple years of school, actively engage in scientific and engineering practices and apply crosscutting concepts to deepen their understanding of the core ideas in these fields.

There are many ways to achieve these real-world connections, but one approach is to bring retired scientists into the classroom to support teachers on a volunteer basis. They can significantly enhance learning and provide motivation for students to pursue scientific careers. These volunteer programs are gaining a great deal of momentum and are proving that someone who has spent their entire professional life working in a specialized field of science or engineering can make a significant impact on students and teachers by demonstrating that STEM subjects are interesting and fun to learn.

One such volunteer program, established in 2005 by AAAS through its affiliate organization, is the Senior Scientists and Engineers (SSE), which puts retired scientists, engineers and physicians back into the classrooms of public schools in the greater Washington, D.C., area. This is achieved by asking each volunteer to commit to participating for an entire school year, dedicating 4-8 hours of their time a week. The program currently has almost 80 active volunteers enhancing the scientific learning experience for many students in a number of elementary, middle, and high schools.

There are also similar, well-established programs in other parts of the country. For example RE-SEED, which is part of the Center for STEM Education at Northeastern University, has over 80 active volunteers assisting K-12 science teachers in the greater Boston area. Another program, called TOPS, run by the San Joaquin County Office of Education, has almost 50 volunteers working in elementary schools in 5 counties in Northern California.

Even though these programs initially involved retirees, they are also attracting younger scientists whose companies or institutions are sympathetic to their employees volunteering in local schools. This widens the pool of knowledgeable volunteers available to help enhance STEM activities in K-12 schools. The specific activities are developed jointly with the teachers they are assigned to and are dependent on the needs of the teacher, combined with the expertise and comfort level of the volunteer.

So if you are at a stage of your life that allows you to volunteer a few hours a week for the school year, or you are an educator who would like to bring an experienced scientist or engineer into your classroom, please contact the AAAS Senior Scientists at sse@aaas.org to see if there is a STEM volunteer program near you. There is no question that programs like the ones described here can make a huge impact in helping our children find a real passion for science.

pHOTO BY tIM scredit: Robert Thomas.



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