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Top 3 Trends in Science Curriculum from CAST 2018

Top 3 Trends in Science Curriculum from CAST 2018

In November, several of Edmentum’s science curriculum developers had the privilege of attending the Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching (CAST) 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas. Edmentum team members mingled with and learned from over 6,000 educators and science advocates over the course of three days. Participants attended breakout sessions presented by educators who generously shared innovative strategies for conveying scientific concepts to students. Every session was valuable in its own way, but here are the top three concepts weighing heavily on the minds of science educators:

1. Visual Literacy: The first big trend covered at CAST in science classrooms today is the push for visual literacy. More and more, students are asked to analyze scientific information in images, tables, and graphs. One presenter at the conference explained that science educators should not ask students, “Did you look at the picture?” Instead, teachers should ask, “Did you read the picture?” 

Teachers often assume that visuals are self-explanatory. In the same way that reading teachers model how to read and analyze text, science educators feel the need to model how to read and analyze visuals with their students. Students need to be taught how to analyze an image. This is especially important given the increasing number of visuals (e.g., images, models, graphs, and data tables) on students’ state science exams. Enhancing students’ visual literacy can be done by asking them to access their prior knowledge about the content in the visual, label their observations, and then write their conclusions about the scientific concepts based on their analysis. 

2. Hands-On STEM and Engineering: STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is an interdisciplinary and applied approach to learning that educates students in each of these four subject areas. Educators enjoy the real-world context it brings to the classroom, and students love the additional opportunities it provides for hands-on learning experiences.

Because not all schools have access to STEM tools, such as 3D printers and programable robots, there were a lot of teachers in search of STEM projects and curriculum that leveraged everyday, common materials. For example, in one of our sessions, we were placed in groups and tasked to construct a structure that could withstand the greatest amount of force using only: five drinking straws, a limited amount of duct tape, and a limited amount of string. In building and testing each group’s structure, we learned to improve prototypes, collect data, and formulate scientific conclusions, all the while learning the scientific principles behind different types of forces. Given the level of engagement and in-depth content understanding acquired through this one simple task, it’s no wonder that more and more districts and states across all grade levels are emphasizing STEM and engineering practices.

3. Technology Innovation: The third trend covered at CAST in all classrooms, not just science classrooms, is the push for innovative technology for the students to interact with as frequently as possible. Virtual reality can give students access to fully immersive, engaging, interactive, authentic, relevant, and motivating content at all grade levels. For example, virtual reality worlds can provide a safe space for students to practice potentially dangerous experiments. And, with the ability to record virtual labs, students and educators can look back on what worked and what didn't so that students can truly learn from their mistakes.

The biggest hinderance for most teachers when incorporating virtual reality in their classrooms is the steep learning curve of understanding how to design these virtual worlds. Plus, the financial backing of their schools is an issue. However, there are many different preexisting virtual worlds out there available through YouTube VR (with VR180 and 360 videos) and the Google Expeditions app, in which teachers can allow students to manipulate the screen and their environment from their computer or mobile devices. When a bit more money is available for educators, tech such as VR gloves by Oculus and higher-end VR headsets are amazing ways for students to really dive into their virtual worlds that can be created in the EON Reality experience or via Blender.  

Each of these trends is at the forefront of our minds as we continue to develop innovative curricula across all our products. But, perhaps the most rewarding experiences we encountered were the smiles and excitement we received from current customers who were ecstatic to be sitting next to or riding in an elevator with the people responsible for creating content and curricula that have helped to transform their students’ educational experiences. Thank you to all the educators who presented and learned alongside us at CAST 2018. We’re already looking forward to next year’s conference!

Want to see how the Curriculum team is staying on top of the latest trends in science education? Learn more about our brand-new chemistry course or our partnership with Ward’s Science!