It was the type of moment every educator lives for. As I walked around the room, the genuine fascination and the sparking of ideas were almost palpable. My pupils were in the thick of extracting DNA from a strawberry, and I heard one say that her mind was being blown by the day’s activity. As a professor of engineering, I always thrill to the sounds of my students’ excitement over the concepts we’re learning in class — but this particular satisfaction ran deeper.

After all, the subjects of my instruction that day were not undergraduates or any younger; they were all science teachers themselves. The techniques and activities we were teaching to the group soon could be igniting similar excitement in the minds of hundreds of middle-schoolers.

The Next Generation Science Standards were published in 2013 after a multi-state effort to define the skills K-12 students need to master before graduating so they can thrive in today’s in-demand jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (which together comprise STEM).

In Louisiana, where I live and teach, this is the first school year in which K-12 students will be tested according to our state’s new science standards (largely modeled on the NGSS). This represents Louisiana’s first update to the standards in 20 years, and necessitates some major changes to science classrooms. Rather than encouraging students to memorize a host of facts, the new standards prioritize firsthand data-gathering, critical thinking, investigation and collaboration. As science classrooms shift to mimic something more like mini-laboratories, science teachers need to do some shifting of their own.

The new standards are, without a doubt, a significant improvement upon those they replace. But it’s also true that they present a real problem for many of the teachers expected to teach to them: They demand a transformation in classroom culture, require the purchase of new classroom materials and the development of new lesson plans, and ask teachers to sharply revise how they conceive of their own roles in the classroom. What’s more, a significant proportion of teachers have been left to navigate this choppy transition with minimal support, leaving many of them feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.

There’s one message we’ve received loud and clear since we began inviting teachers to campus for our STEM workshops: This type of professional development should be considered an expected — and therefore compensated — part of an educator’s job.

Click here to read the full story in The Hill (January 19, 2019)


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