For Loyola High School students, it’s impossible to know exactly where today’s science class will be held. Today, it’s in the middle of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. Student filmmakers are taking footage of the biological diversity, which will be used to inspire a cross-curriculum science project called Fiskabur that will combine the physics of sound, with math, art, and design.
Physics teacher Craig Bouma is one of the key teachers facilitating this STEAM project, which fully integrates art and music with the Physics First (PF) sequence of math and science curriculum. The PF program, which was implemented by Bouma, combines the IAT’s Active Physics sequencing during 9th grade and the Active Chemistry sequencing for 10th grade with results that have far exceeded Bouma’s expectations:
In just over four years, science graduation rates have increased, SAT scores have improved, and freshman are testing higher on the Physics CST than their senior-level traditionally-taught counterparts.
But, it’s not as easy as you think. Bouma and his associates, with encouragement and support from STEM pioneer (and recent IAT board of directors inductee) Dr. Arthur Eisenkraft, have developed this rich, NGSS-standards-based sequencing with no lack of blood, sweat, and tears. Their hope? That the incredible benefits of their program can be shared in such a way that science teachers worldwide can better build the scientists and thinkers of the future.
Active Curriculum Drives a Whopping 20-Point SAT Bump
Here’s where the big bet pays off. The project-based and inquiry-based curriculum has led to significant increases in student retention and scores on standardized tests. In a paper recently submitted to the National Science Teachers Association‘s Exemplary Science (“A Story of Modernization and Recommended STEM Education,” Bouma, et al.), Bouma showed compelling evidence that the PF curriculum led to a 150% increase in four-year science graduates and an AP science enrollment increase from 33 to 50%.
Even more intriguing was the effect the hands-on, inquiry-based programs had on standardized test results. Bouma’s research showed that 9th grade students involved in the “active” method of learning physics scored higher (61.4%) on the Physics CST than typical 11th-grade and 12th-grade students following a traditional curriculum (56.8%). In addition, those involved in the PF program scored an amazing 21.4 points higher on the SAT than those in the traditional program.
PBL Means Deep Knowledge and Lasting Impressions
Although the scores are a surprise, it is a very pleasant one. Bouma is pleased to have results to encourage those naysayers who think the Physics First approach was too aggressive for high school Freshman.
“Parents seemed initially struck by ‘physics phobia’ and expressed concern about students being able to do sophisticated mathematics,” stated Bouma in his Exemplary Science submission. “They thought that ‘real’ physics required sophisticated mathematics and should be in the 12th grade.”
Now, as students in the Physics First curriculum create musical instruments based on the physics of sound and code algorithmic loops to create background music, physics has become an artistic and cross-curricular endeavor. And many students see project-based learning as an integral part of the attraction.
“Our teachers may not cover the whole book, but we now go into greater depth,” explained one PF student. “I feel like it will stick with us. We’ll pretty much remember this stuff for the rest of our lives.”
Active Science to Dominate Education Landscape
Throughout Bouma’s research and curriculum deployment, he often reflects on the great minds that helped support the design of his project-based, inquiry-based Physics First program. Although the framework for the Active Physics and Active Chemistry were all the hard work of IAT, the Active Physics curriculum was also guided by one of the most influential STEM education pioneers, Dr. Arthur Eisenkraft.
With IAT’s curriculum, and with the help of Eisenkraft, and many others, Bouma was able to not only develop a system that would engage students and raise test scores, but that would also exceed the NGSS in terms of student outcomes – creating better thinkers that could potentially succeed in any field.
Notes Bouma enthusiastically, “A coherent high school curriculum, like Physics First, that emphasizes skills and attitudes, and utilizes inquiry-methods and projects that incorporate engineering, technology, and mathematics, is on a path to meet the new NGSS and prepare STEM literate citizens for the 21st Century.”
Conclusion: From the Shoulders of Giants, a New World Is Born
What is the secret of creating the kind of risk-taking STEM environment that drives students to truly love learning? Bouma believes the answer is all about focusing on the students and bringing science into the new century.
“Loyola provides one story of change that created a learning environment that was ‘student centered, knowledge centered, assessment centered, and community centered.’ Reforming antiquated science curricula and instructional methods is a vital issue for educators, administrators who care about advancing STEM education and scientific literacy for all students.”
As schools like Loyola work to incorporate cross-curricular and artistic elements into their project-based and inquiry-based science classrooms, students of all interests and skill levels will find themselves being excited about this “new” science. Subsequently, the potential benefits are staggering. Active science doesn’t just create a generation of potential scientists: it creates the innovators, artists, collaborators, and problem-solvers of the future.
Download Craig Bouma’s full report, A Story of Modernization and Recommended STEM Education, HERE.
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