A Teacher’s Perspective

By Allison Brill

Picture a room full of first and second graders. They are having indoor recess, which means that the room is full of energy and chatter. Their bodies are constantly in motion; hands grabbing materials, mouths delivering ideas, feet rushing from one end of the room to the other. To the unfocused eye, this may seem rather ordinary. Some may consider the atmosphere chaotic.

“Ms. Brill! Ms. Brill! You have to come see this!”

My students brought me to the carpet to demonstrate their creation: a six-foot functional zipline  that could transport the class toy chicken. As they explained their process of proposing ideas, gathering and testing materials, and conducting multiple trials, I was struck by how their play incorporated much of the engineering design process: Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, and Improve. They explained that the zipline functioned as an inclined plane (the first simple machine we had studied at the beginning of our unit in STEM) and used the force of gravity to move the chicken from its starting position.

STEM has become a buzzword in the field of education in recent years. A 2005 report released by the National Academy of Sciences elaborated that the creation of jobs (both within and outside of STEM professions) depends on technological and scientific innovation. Now the question remains: how do we teach the next generation of innovators?

At Feynman School, our science program is…

  • accessible to students with a variety of strengths, including spatial ability. Students with spatial ability risk being overlooked by programming that focuses primarily on mathematical or verbal abilities. They particularly benefit from curriculum that incorporates creative problem-solving. Considering that a high level of spatial ability has been linked to successful careers in engineering, mathematics, and the sciences, we want to encourage students to develop those talents.
  • relevant to students’lives: past, present, and future. Scientific literacy is essential in modern society, whether or not one works in a STEM field. We interact with technology that is constantly evolving in a country that tends to politicize scientific research. Our goal is to train students to think critically and creatively about their experiences in order to make the world a better place.
  • centered on the nature of science, in addition to core content. Scientific discovery is more than a shallow, predetermined activity; it is a collaborative and creative endeavor. Students are given room to fail and reevaluate their methods, exactly as scientists do in the real world.

Day after day, my students prove to me the benefits of a science-focused curriculum. They apply resilience, critical and creative thinking, and passion to every arena. Whether their goal is to cure cancer or to move a stuffed toy from one end of the room to the other, I find joy in helping them grow as young practicing professionals in STEM fields.