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Lawrence Hall of Science backs innovative childhood education program

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APRIL 25, 2016

While children’s enthusiastic first encounters with nature are dubbed as “play,” educators from the Lawrence Hall of Science see an opportunity for nurturing investigative thought — and hope future educators will join in the fun.

At a special White House event Thursday, Ellen Blinderman, director of early childhood projects at the Lawrence Hall of Science, introduced an undergraduate course on creative ways to teach children science and mathematics. The course was devised by a partnership between the LHS and Los Medanos Community College, according to an LHS press release.

“(Educators) don’t need a background in math and science themselves to help kids discover and build their understanding,” Blinderman said.

After three years of preparation, an online template of the three-unit course will become available for numerous other universities to use, according to Blinderman.  “The dream,” Blinderman said, “is for community colleges across the nation to adopt the course.”

The course will teach future educators in the same manner that those educators will later teach children — using hands-on exploration. Blinderman said invigorating educators’ own interest in science will make them more comfortable teaching the material in class.

According to campus education professor Michael Ranney, elementary school teachers have prioritized meeting math and language standards at the expense of teaching science. The course is one of several efforts by various organizations to bolster classroom science discussion.

The course would also attempt to mitigate a dearth of science-based education classes offered by community colleges in California, according to Blinderman.

Adam Frost, an LHS marketing specialist, said community colleges are “one of the largest venues” for future educators to kickstart their careers in early childhood education.

According to Blinderman, however, educators who have personally had negative experiences with science could pass those sentiments on to their students.

Dermot Donnelly, an assistant chemistry professor at California State University, Fresno, notes that teachers may even feel unqualified to teach material if they aren’t “experts” on it.

“We’re used to the traditional model where the teacher is at the top of the room talking down to students, but a lot of teachers realize that they should be co-inquirers with their students,” Donnelly said.

Blinderman said that because many community college students are non-native English speakers, emphasizing hands-on teaching over textbook usage might remove the “barrier” they feel toward teaching science concepts.

Ranney said centering instruction on children’s specific interests, which would be determined by surveying both students and parents, could boost classroom zeal about science.

“A fundamental feeling of empathy is really important in curriculum design,” Ranney said, adding that educators should place special emphasis on teaching what children “find fascinating.”

Kimberly Nielsen covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected].

APRIL 25, 2016