Why does soap make bubbles? Why do we get goosebumps? Can a turtle live outside of its shell? How do you become a great inventor?
Young learners in the Fergus Falls Public Schools are challenged to approach science through curiosity and inquiry, and these are a few examples of topics they might explore in order to form scientific knowledge and skills. Science instruction is shifting from a relatively passive model to one of active investigation; rather than seeing experiments performed by their teachers, students are asking their own research questions, conducting investigations, recording their observations, using evidence and reasoning to form arguments, and communicating their findings with others.
In 2019, a committee of stakeholders from all corners of the state came together to revise Minnesota’s K-12 Academic Standards in Science. The result is a guiding document that, in large part, resembles the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) which were formed in response to research and recommendations published by the National Research Council’s A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (2012). The new standards go beyond students’ understanding of core ideas to place emphasis on their active participation in scientific and engineering practices. Additionally, students are taught to recognize and replicate concepts and strategies that extend throughout the sciences and into other disciplines (math, language arts, etc.), such as “cause and effect”, “patterns”, and “systems”. Rather than teaching these concepts in isolation, instruction in several content areas better equips students to form connections and to build competence in applying strategies both in their classrooms and in authentic contexts.
What impact does this have on our community? Well, if you happen to know a kindergartner, first-, or second-grader in our public schools, you may hear that they can actually fit inside a blue whale’s heart or that “Mystery Doug” visits their classroom (virtually) every week to investigate a new science question or concept. Students in grades three through five may share their experiences conducting weather investigations with their Full Option Science System (FOSS) curriculum or by getting outside and exploring nature at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center. And finally, students in grades six through twelve may find increased focus and purpose in their science classes – as instructional activities are implemented to allow them to witness and experience phenomena in order to create research questions and drive learning investigations. Science is, after all, both a process and a growing body of knowledge. And the next generation of leaders in the Fergus Falls Public Schools is quickly acclimating to the routines and norms of the science community. They are learning what it means to observe like scientists, to write like scientists, and to contribute like scientists. Albert Einstein encouraged his own students to never stop questioning. How can engineers solve problems affecting the availability of clean water? … biologists prevent the extinction of species? … epidemiologists develop cures to debilitating diseases? … astrophysicists unlock the secrets of how the universe works? To all of our young learners in Fergus Falls: stay curious. “Go as far as you can, young scientists. The world needs you badly.” –E.O. Wilson (American biologist, naturalist, and author)