As academic institutions strive to create stimulating learning environments where students embrace the “sciences” to become critical thinkers and ecologically productive citizens, more and more employers are recognizing they have an essential role in helping to define qualified employees for the future workforce, but several steps in between need to happen in the educational system to help bring this new cadre of scientific literates to fruition.
School district leaders and campus administrators must take the helm and realize that science instruction must be a priority for a sustainable society. Because science understanding is not assessed as frequently as math and reading—and often left out of funding calculations—its importance has been woefully negated, and our workforce is suffering from lack of qualified science-literate candidates. Even more dismal is the rarity of science-literate candidates from underrepresented populations in the global schema. This is not just about ethnicity or low socioeconomic status, but also about access, now more than ever.
Although I continue to witness our society’s wavering commitment to the belief that all students are capable of science learning and pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), I also see teachers who want to reach all students regardless of race and seek professional development from organizations such as NSTA to improve their pedagogy. What I do not see is an influx of campus administrators seeking opportunities to develop their capacity in science education to support their teachers.
As educators and humans in general, we tend to focus on and assist in areas in which we are strong, confident, and successful. When math or science is discussed, the common comments are “I was not good at that,” or “Those subjects scare me.” Many adults believe science and math are difficult subjects and transfer those beliefs to their children at an early age, inadvertently laying the foundation for barriers for their children. Combined with the negative reinforcement of little or poor experiences with science engagement, they are creating a formula for STEM evasion.
We need what I call “Administrators of Advocacy” to join the charge of science for all. This initiative can only happen by changing the mindset around STEM implementation, integration, and involvement. STEM is not just about exposing students to science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM equates to the enhancement of our students’ skills when these disciplines are practiced:
Science = Critical Thinking
Technology = Engagement
Engineering = Application
Math = Processing
I hope every teacher strives to help their students acquire these attributes. I believe this goal is attainable if campus administrators don’t hide from their own fears of science education.
Administrators of Advocacy can
• Support teachers with funding for supplies and by providing a safe environment to conduct activities.
• Take interest in the science classroom. The constant emphasis on math and reading devalues other subjects. Science can enhance all the learning skills students need to develop. With emphasis on nonfiction reading, writing, problem solving, and critical thinking, along with the use of technology to engage students, a focus on science can increase student achievement.
• Empower teachers to take risks in the classroom. This is vital because opportunities “for all” come with exposure. A science-competent mindset is necessary if we want all students to experience science education. There should be no boundaries to learning based on ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or gender. All children are curious, and it is up to administrators and teachers to keep their inquisitiveness alive.
• Monitor for good science instruction. If teachers realize that administrators expect hands-on activities and opportunities for inquiry, then they are more likely to present all students with a rigorous curriculum of fundamental science understanding that will help all of our students excel in academia and the workforce.
So let us as administrators exert ourselves fully to establish opportunities for our teachers to help students strive to excel in science education, once and “for all.”
Sharon Delesbore, PhD, is a campus administrator at the Ferndell Henry Center for Learning in the Fort Bend Independent School District in Sugar Land, Texas. As an avid science advocate, Delesbore serves as president of the Association for Multicultural Science Education and chair of NSTA’s Alliance of Affiliates.
This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of NSTA Reports, the member newspaper of the National Science Teachers Association. Each month, NSTA members receive NSTA Reports, featuring news on science education, the association, and more. Not a member? Learn how NSTA can help you become the best science teacher you can be.
The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.