K-12 STEM Teaching and Learning
For decades, the Smithsonian Science Education Center has been a national and global leader in providing curriculum, STEM literacy, digital media, professional development, and leadership development in support of authentic, interactive inquiry-based K-12 STEM education. The Smithsonian Science Education Center was jointly founded in 1985 by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Academy of Sciences. As the only formal science education unit of the Smithsonian Institution, we are nationally and internationally recognized for the quality and impact of our education programs. These programs include our comprehensive K-8, research-based science curriculum programs: Smithsonian Science for the Classroom™ and Science and Technology Concepts™ Middle School. We have impacted all 50 of the United States and supported the systemic needs of schools, districts, states, and Ministries of Education across 43 countries through our proven Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform (LASER) model.
We recognize that authentic and interactive inquiry-based K-12 science education must be relevant and valued to students’ and teachers’ lives. It must capture how the content and practices are inextricably connected for all learners. The days of “teaching and learning” science are gone. Teachers are now being asked to create experiences where those students “figure out” the science content and practices through sense-making and connecting their work to the world outside their classroom. This model for science education is three-dimensional learning and assessment. The three dimensions are disciplinary core ideas (DCIs), science and engineering practices (SEPs), and crosscutting concepts (CCCs). We want our students to think and act like real scientists and engineers. Scientists explain and make predictions about the natural world, and engineers solve problems. Students will need to use DCIs, SEPs, and CCCs all at once to do what scientists and engineers do.
"We want our students to think and act like real scientists and engineers."
STEM Literacy Series
Each curriculum module promotes the integration of literacy into the learning of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to give students the lens that reading, writing, speaking, and listening focus and clarify thinking. Enhanced learning using the tools of technology—digital assets, videos, games, and apps—helps students visualize processes and relationships that are too small or large to study easily in a classroom setting. Our STEM literacy series and extension activities help ensure the cross-disciplinary nature of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) by integrating engineering, reading, math, history, culture, and the arts into the science classroom.
Digital assets such as videos, games, and apps bring Smithsonian science and research into the science classroom and extend our comprehensive curricular offerings. Our digital assets bring real-world phenomena that are too large, too small, too far away, or too complex into the hands of children everywhere. We develop meaningfully digital experiences to enhance learning while recognizing that there is tremendous variation in access to technology across classrooms in the United States and internationally.
In addition to curriculum, STEM literacy, and digital media resources, we offer professional development that supports educators to implement authentic STEM experiences within the classroom. Our professional development workshops and courses offer opportunities for educators, administrators, caregivers, and other stakeholders aspiring to transform science and STEM education. Professional development resources are available both virtually and in person and cover a variety of topics from delving into student understanding to increasing science content knowledge in educators through authentic behind-the-scenes experiences at the Smithsonian.
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We want our teachers, schools, districts and communities to support this charge because we know that curriculum is just one piece to the puzzle. We developed the LASER (Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform) model to describe the full infrastructure necessary for improving and sustaining high-quality science education in a school or district: a research-based curriculum, teacher professional development, materials support, administrative and community support, and appropriate assessment. This is challenging, so SSEC coordinates a variety of leadership development events to spread knowledge of best practices, develop leaders, convene teams, assist them in developing strategic plans. We also provide teacher professional development opportunities, including some workshops specifically tailored to using our curriculum and others more broadly targeted at developing pedagogical and subject matter expertise in the teaching and learning of science and engineering. Research shows that teachers and students using the LASER model leads to measurably higher student achievement in science.
Our development process for curriculum, professional development, and leadership development is responsive to these needs and grounded in a research-based approach. Findings from literature directly inform the development of Smithsonian Science for the Classroom and our Professional Development and Leadership Development offerings. We also believe strongly in field-testing and iteratively refining our products before and after publication. Finally, we know that this approach works because research shows that our curriculum has an impact on students who are typically the most underserved in science—English Language Learners, students with disabilities, students who are economically disadvantaged, and females.