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Champions of Change: Hands On Science

Cristobal Herrera of the Miami Herald

As a high school science teacher in South Florida, I have noticed fewer and fewer American students majoring in science and engineering in our American colleges and universities.  I see this lack of interest in STEM education as both a threat to our national security and democracy.  I've also noticed that most American students begin a daily science education at the middle school level at which point most of these children have negative preconceived notions that science is too difficult.  Students in elementary schools do not receive science instruction on a daily basis.  I've inquired only to find that the majority of elementary school teachers have only had one science education methods course making them feel inadequate to teach science.  Elementary students beginning in kindergarten must be taught physics, chemistry, and biology every day through a hands-on, inquiry-based approach.  We must first require that elementary education programs across all colleges and universities require more than two science education methods and more importantly, that we teach these future educators how to integrate science into their daily reading, writing, and math lessons.  It is extremely important that students in grade K through 2 are immersed in a rich environment with science vocabulary terms.  The more exposure to such terminology, the better for future years. 

Plus: Fun Science Toys for Kids

After teaching for more than 20 years to a majority of students that do not have full command of the English language, I have learned that most students learn by doing.  I always say that 20 years in the future, my former students will probably not remember one of my "great" lectures, but they will definitely remember that frog they dissected.  Elementary-aged children are born curious, asking questions about the world around them.  They learn by touching and doing.  At this age, we MUST provide them experiences that require these young minds to collaborate with each other as they attempt to solve a problem. 

Plus: Science for Girls: How to Encourage Her Interest

When I first started teaching, I went to my local library and found science experiment books.  I made copies of simple experiments that used materials that could be found in any home or purchased inexpensively at our local supermarkets or hardware stores.  I gave each of my students a different lab activity and instructed them to find the materials and prepare to present the demonstration to their peers.  I called it "Science in a Shoebox"!  Each student had between 3 to 5 minutes to stand in front of their classmates to teach them about their experiment.  All the materials were to be kept in a shoebox and they were required to decorate their box.  As each student presented, the rest of the class kept a journal and I required that they write one scientific fact about each presentation.   This sparked the idea of my Science Roadshows.  I teach my Science National Honor Society students a total of 8 different hands-on activities. ; Each year, we travel to elementary schools in our community to present a science night.  Elementary students along with their families attend this evening and go through four different science activities that teach physics, chemistry, or biological concepts.  The activities are presented in a ziploc bag that contains all the materials necessary to demonstrate the scientific concept.  I call these "Benchmarks in a Baggie"!  The high school students run each activity instructing the elementary children that they have between 10 to 15 minutes to work with their families in their attempt to make something that will demonstrate the required science.  Elementary students have FUN while learning, parents are learning that science can be easy and can be done inexpensively at home, and elementary teachers see that they can teach science at any primary level.  The elementary students prefer to learn from the high school students which in turn has many of my high school students want to become future teachers! 

Plus: Fun Science Experiments for Kids

Wow, learning can be fun!  It's all how anything is taught.  I love teaching!!

This post was originally written for the White House Champions of Change series.

As a mother of three, a wife, a science teacher, an administrator, a college professor, a tennis coach, a sponsor of Future Educators of America and Science National Honor Society and Girl Scout leader, 2011 Florida delegate Dr. Marilyn Zaragoza is an achiever, successfully balancing many different hats.