President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign, announced last year, calls for increased literacy in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) for all students. Increased STEM literacy means increased understanding of key scientific concepts, increased familiarity with technology and its applications, and increased exposure to the experimental process. As one of the world’s most popular museums, our stories of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are engaging and relevant to old and young visitors alike. Just spend a day counting the number of school groups and young families ooh-ing and aah-ing over our exhibits! To all our staff and visitors, it’s obvious that the National Air and Space Museum is a key component of President Obama’s goals to inform, challenge, and inspire students through STEM education. One exciting way we are able to support STEM education in the DC Public Schools is through the Science in Pre-K Program, funded by PNC Bank’s Grow Up Great With Science program. Now starting its second year, Science in Pre-K provides professional development to DCPS preschool teachers to support teaching science through exploration and problem solving.
A core component of the Science in Pre-K program is giving teachers opportunities to explore science concepts themselves, before they introduce these ideas to their students. Too often teachers are asked to implement science units before they themselves are familiar with the material, particularly with early childhood and elementary teachers, who often don’t have strong science backgrounds. Early childhood staff met with teachers at the museum seven times during the school year for full-day science inquiry sessions. Teachers explored using the same materials their students used. Additionally, significant time was spent discussing the scientific concepts and theories behind their observations and discoveries.
Back in the classroom, 3- and 4-year-olds made connections between their daily science explorations and the bigger picture at the National Air and Space Museum. For example, during a recent unit on the properties of water, students explored water movement in their classrooms with tubes and water wheels. During their field trip at the National Air and Space Museum, students heard the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first airplane making connections between how water flows and how air flows – and, how early airplanes used propellers to help them fly. Connections like these, between the classroom and museums, are not only fun but critical in exciting teachers about STEM education – and children about STEM subjects. With the Science in Pre-K program at the National Air and Space Museum, teachers are equipped to inspire and instruct a new generation of scientists and engineers!