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STEM Update

Survey: Districts Need Vision for Teaching Science, Math

With the Next Generation Science Standards coming soon, elementary school teachers need more preparation to effectively teach complex STEM subjects, according to the fifth National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education, released in February. While about 80 percent of elementary teachers feel very well prepared to teach reading/language arts and math, less than half feel very well prepared to teach science, and only 4 percent are prepared for engineering, the nearly 7,800 respondents nationwide reported.

Further, only one in five classes in K3 receive science instruction every day, while reading/language arts and math dominate daily class time.

Elementary school teachers are expected to be experts in many fields, says Eric Banilower, senior researcher at Horizon Research, Inc. and director of the project, which was funded by the National Science Foundation. Many teachers do not major in science, or take intensive college science courses, the survey found. And science is not tested on standardized high-stakes exams in many states, Banilower adds.

To combat this, administrators should ensure there is “a common and explicit vision and understanding of what effective math and science teaching looks like,” with aligned policies and practices, Banilower says. This includes curriculum resources, instructional materials, assessment policies, and professional development.

Many districts are hiring science specialists at the elementary level, he adds, to take the burden off teachers. Others are establishing partnerships with community STEM resources, such as universities and businesses, which can provide experts to help tie math and science content to real-world applications.

To read the report, visit