Science the World

Creating STEM Modules and STEM Comics for Teachers Everywhere

About Science The World: STEM Research

This is what Science The World is all about:

Who may participate?

We are specifically looking for involvement from any science teacher of any level of K-12. Ideally, these teachers are interested in using new curricula and are willing to try different approaches to the same core concepts they are familiar with.

However, a major aspect of improving science education for younger students is helping them grasp the potential applications of what they are studying. To that extent, current research can be modified to form some component of modules the students will experience. If you think your work could be a good fit, we would certainly be interested in learning about it and working with you.

Non-scientists are welcome as well if you have an interest in testing the complexity of experimental instructions and simplicity of experimental designs.

Why focus on STEM?

The statistic is a little startling when you consider the current focus on science: only 1 in every 10 college degrees is in a STEM field. Other statistics focusing on demographics are disheartening as well: women represent 46 percent of the labor force, but only 10.8 percent of U.S. engineers; minorities make up 34 percent of U.S. population, but only 12 percent of undergraduate engineering degrees.

Further, while several organizations are solely focused on improving STEM education across the country, others are no longer available. GK-12 Fellowships provided by the National Science Foundation no longer exist, and other budget cuts have also limited the amount of support to engineering education researchers.

Nonetheless, the effort clearly needs to be made - studies have shown that students can lose interest in science early on, so the subject matter must be made more applicable and personal in order for students to maintain their interest even as the concepts become more difficult.

So why focus on the entire K-12 grade range, and not zoom in on a smaller group?

This is one of the main aspects of Science The World: an effort to develop structured experiments that will better connect scientific concepts and understanding over a student's entire education. Jerome Bruner's A Process of Education recognized that "grasping the structure of a subject is understanding it in a way that permits many other things to be related to it meaningfully. To learn structure, in short, is to learn how things are related." Further, Bruner pointed out that good teaching that emphasizes structure is extremely valuable for less able students - thus helping them to achieve at a higher level - which then helps support the idea that we can best help students work towards their future by providing "specific applicability to tasks that are highly similar to those we originally learned to perform".

What this means is that if we develop experiments that are similar in nature for multiple levels of students - grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12 - but base each set of experiments on introducing different concepts or different complexities, students will be better able to understand and relate to the material. At the same time, creating a strong initial experiment would then allow for its branching out to application in many different subjects, thus providing structure for the students and increased usefulness for teachers.

You can visualize the structured experiments providing a core set of knowledge that students can build off of in all directions to meet their particular interest, as well. Thus, starting early with young students best helps to form that core that they can use to relate to higher concepts as well as builds a structure they can rely on. Like so:

Can you provide an example?

For an example of a single module, here is a detailed written description with assessment of a friction and lubrication module developed and designed as part of a GK-12 Fellowship. The actual information provided to teachers and students would be far more streamlined.

For a specific example of a structured experiment, consider this simplifed groundwater remediation module:

- Grades K-2: Students pour water into several pots containing soil and seeds, and collect the water that filters through to the bottom of the pot. Water introduced would be either clean, dirty (containing soil, sand, and/or dirt), or contaminated (simple food coloring). Students could then recognize that the water would be filtered to some degree by passing through the soil, and could compare the effect on the plant life based on how well the plants sprouted and grew.
- Grades 3-5: A similar experiment would be conducted, but with different types of ground layers beneath the surface, potentially including sand, wood, rocks, and clay. Students would be exposed to the effects of different filtration materials. Students could also determine the effect of volume if thicker ground layers were used between samples.
- Grades 6-8: Water used in the systems would now contain a range of non-toxic chemicals, effectively introducing pollution, the effect of pH, and the need to develop separations for materials. The pH would be controlled using vinegar and baking soda to make the water more acidic or basic, while a distinct color change could be produced by dissolving lignin (a common wastewater product in pulp and paper industry). Remediation material systems would also be introduced at this stage, including paper filters and activated carbon.
- Grades 9-12: Students would now explore and attempt to build a simple water treatment system utilizing packed beds and/or flocculation with basic chemicals like carbon, alum, or magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts). The concepts of conductivity and turbidity and their effects on flora and fauna would also be introduced.

How does inquiry-based learning have an impact?

Inquiry-based learning is a form of active learning that allows students to better experience science as professional scientists would. While general instructions are provided for their study to guide them, many of the properties or features that the students conduct their experiments on are chosen by themselves. This increases their personal involvement in their study and helps introduce a sense of the open possibilities that science presents.

Why focus on K-12, and not a smaller age range of students?

Much of the current research being done now on the university level is certainly most directly relatable to high school physics, chemistry, biology, or other science classes, based on the difficulty level and concepts being discussed. However, making similar experiments for lower age ranges will help strengthen students' interest in science at earlier ages, and reproducing the experiments at different levels with new focuses will allow for students to build off core concepts and make higher level information more relatable and readily grasped.

What is the cost?

Science The World is not currently reliant on any grant and is strictly self-funded. We are aware that it may be expensive to revamp any experiment or to procure the materials necessary to develop a new module. In consideration of this limitation, we will specifically attempt to design cheap and cost-effective curricula that can be readily purchased and/or assembled by all teachers. Any lesson plans, discussion outlines, experimental procedures, or other learning materials that do not require shipping will be provided free of charge - some physical equipment may require purchasing, but this will also be minimal.

Who are the members of Science The World?

Student members include undergraduate and graduate chemical engineering researchers with strong backgrounds in chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics, and engineering. Professors involved have experience in scientific as well as education research.

What is the timeline for involvement?

Group members are currently working on new curricula for teachers to use. As assessment will be necessary to allow for further improvement, and to better construct connected experiments, long-term collaborations are certainly desirable. If you are interested in getting involved, please either fill out the application form or send us an email.