The past few decades have seen a substantial increase in the United States public education system focusing more on science, technology, engineering, and mathmatics (STEM) in efforts to keep the United States competitive on the global stage. What started with the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 was ramped up in the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, pushing American schools to increase their efforts to have a STEM-based science curriculum for their students.
By Melissa Anderson
In the Langdon Area School District (LASD), K-12 Instructional Strategist Kathy Rueger and elementary teacher Alison Podhradsky worked with the school board to update the science curriculum within the Langdon Area Elementary school. The two explained that the science curriculum, at the time, used textbooks from 2010 which follows a step-by-step approach versus the next generation science standards that encourage inquiry and focus more on hands-on learning rather than lecture.
The students gained their information strictly from reading about a concept. The new generation of instruction allows for students to use all of their senses to learn. Not only will they read about it, but they will be able to dig deeper with experiments that were not offered by the past curriculum.
“When going through my master’s degree, which focused on STEM, I used our previous curriculum a lot for assignments. When looking at it I understood why science was becoming less desirable,” Podhradsky explained. “The content was dry, and it only offered one experiment per chapter.”
To begin the search for a new curriculum, a science committee was created. The committee spent their meetings discussing what they wanted the new curriculum to look like and what was currently available to schools.
LASD Superintendent Daren Christianson suggested LabLearner as a “fantastic, hands-on, experienced-based science curriculum that reinforces every lesson with hands-on application of the scientific method”. Christianson shared that with this particular STEM program, students would develop skills in the lab to reinforce their knowledge of the science concepts and develop a level of comfort doing labs that other curriculums do not support.
“Mr. Christianson brought up LabLearner because he has had it in previous schools. After Kathy and I were able to go to another school and observe it, we were sold!” Podhradsky said.
Thanks to a donation from the Langdon Area School District Foundation, which covered half the cost for the new lab, the board approved the purchase and implementation.
“We are so grateful that the Foundation was able to purchase half the cost of our school’s new lab,” Podhradsky said.
Podhradsky was named the lead science instructor for the room. Christianson sited that because Podradhsky is a great, young teacher with a strong background in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) she will do a great job of implementing this new curriculum. One of the benefits of LabLearner is that every grade within the school, from Kindergarten to 6th, can learn from it.
“I, myself, love math and science, and I want to instill that love into as many children as possible. I believe this lab will open up the possibility of that.” Podhradsky shared.
LabLearner was one of the first programs to teach using a “spiraling curriculum”. Rather than having isolated categories like biology, chemistry, or physics, LabLearner has a spiraling curriculum where scientific concepts build upon each other, year after year. The experiments within LabLearner were designed to have essential scientific themes “spiral” throughout a students elementary education.
“I believe STEM is so important because we are seeing a shift in these generations where a lot of children are able to retain information better by actually getting their hands ‘dirty’,” Podhradsky stated.
She continued explaining that this curriculum will allow students to dig deeper into a concept rather than just reading about it, completing a worksheet, and taking a test. Each topic involves three or more “investigations” to help deepen understanding. This building upon new information leads to the creation of permanent new memories. The more extensively new information is processed, the better it will be remembered.
“The lab will allow students to explore to find answers. I think this will impact students in a way that if they are struggling with any concept, not just science, that they will be comfortable looking for the answer,” Podhradsky said.
The design of the lab also assists in other areas of study. The skills used within the lab range from mathematical, reading, and writing to critical thinking and fine motor skills, providing additional educational benefits. The lab provides over 60 core experience learning labs that will give students the opportunity to use microscopes, beakers, balances, and many more science-based tools.
“We want kids to love science,” Podhradsky shared.
The LabLearner lab included all furniture, science equipment and storage necessary to run the program. The in-school laboratory is complete with research-grade science equipment and supplies, all set up by the company. The expected cost for the program was estimated at $42,000 with a yearly cost of approxmiately $10,000 for materials. The program would be set to have younger students utilizing it two to three days a week and older students four to five.