A new report out by WestEd this week says that California elementary teachers are having a hard time fitting in science instruction. With increased attention, accountability, and assessments in English and math, science – they say – has fallen by the wayside. School days are dominated by remedial courses for English and math to push students to grade level, and funding is more often diverted to those two subjects, rather than to lab supplies or dissecting kits.
Forty percent of the elementary teachers surveyed in this WestEd report said that they spend no more than one hour on science instruction per week, and 60 percent of districts reported that they have no staff members dedicated to elementary science.
But California’s not the only state.
“It does confirm things we have seen in K-12 classrooms across the nation,” Dr. Francis Eberle, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, told me this week. He referred to a 2008 report that showed “substantial decreases” in science instructional time at the elementary level: half of all districts cut science classes by at least 75 minutes per week.
“I don’t think schools realize that by teaching a high-quality science program, both literacy and math will increase more” than by not including a science program. Science, he says, provides opportunities to develop vocabulary, write, and compute math problems, so students are applying math and English concepts in a science context.
Science is also an important subject because it develops critical thinking skills and presents several opportunities for interactive, hands-on learning. There’s a particular spotlight on this subject as well, as universities and employers across the nation work to attract more qualified applicants in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields. To do that, elementary schools can help by stirring interest in youngsters still curious and excited about the world around them.
“It all begins in elementary,” he said. “Science is really an understanding of the world around you. It provides you with a different kind of disposition.”
Do you agree? Do you teach in an elementary school? How much time can you dedicate to science each week? If it’s not enough, what would enable you to provide more science instruction? (training, time, resources, space, etc.)
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