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New STEM Resources Banish the Boring


Supported by Ontario’s Ministry of Education, Perimeter has released four new educational resources aimed at students in Grades 5 to 8.

There’s a big difference between reading a recipe and baking a cake. In the mess of doing, the experience comes alive.
 
It’s the same with science education, says Greg Ryerson, a Grade 7 and 8 science teacher at Crescent School in Toronto: “Science is dreadfully boring if it’s out of a textbook.”
 
To help Ryerson and hundreds of teachers like him, Perimeter Institute recently released four extensive educational resources designed to inspire and engage students in Grades 5 through 8 with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects.
 
The result of a four-year, $2.95-million grant from Ontario’s Ministry of Education, announced last November, the resources link directly to the Ontario curriculum and aim to not just teach science, but help students develop their communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking skills.
 
“Science is so much more than just a body of facts and knowledge,” said Greg Dick, Perimeter’s Director of Educational Outreach. “It truly is a process, and the skills involved are broadly applicable. These four incredible resources encourage students to ask questions and think deeply about the world around them. And, from working with educators, we understood how important it was that teachers be able to use the resources immediately with their students.”
 
The project extends Perimeter’s successful Educational Outreach efforts, which reach 3,000 teachers annually through the Institute’s Teacher Network, and a million high-school students worldwide through in-class resources.
 
By bringing modern science lessons into elementary and middle school, Perimeter and the Ministry of Education aim to empower Ontario youth, encourage science exploration, and sharpen problem-solving skills.
 
Developed and tested by classroom educators and scientists, each resource contains approximately two weeks’ worth of hands-on, inquiry-based activities as well as feedback and assessment components, all of which can be modified to individual classroom needs. They are available as free digital downloads, or “eModules,” in English and French, and each eModule tackles a different science topic.
 
At the Grade 5 level, “It Does Matter” examines physical and chemical changes and encourages students to assess the impacts of industrial production on society and the environment. “Mission Possible” challenges Grade 6 students to research technologies and survival strategies while creating a mission plan to go to the moon or Mars. Climate change and heat processes are investigated in the Grade 7 module, “Temperature Rising.” And in “Automated for the Future,” Grade 8 students are introduced to coding and automated systems.
 
The resources made their debut at the Science Teachers’ Association of Ontario (STAO) conference in November, where eModule lead authors Ashley Kozak and Kevin Reid led workshops for teachers highlighting interactive student activities.
 
Ryerson sometimes struggles to find resources for lessons that are both engaging to students and have curriculum connections. He attended the workshop “Turn Up the Heat on Structures,” hoping to find material he could share with his classes.
 
“I really want there to be a lot of hands-on activities that are relevant and useful, with ideas that are beyond what everyone has already done before. That’s key,” he said.
 
The new resources also lighten the planning load on busy teachers. “I like that the resources are all gathered in one place, into units that are structured and put together by people who are educators,” Ryerson said. “They have assessment built in, they have feedback built in, and they have a logical progression, all of which is really helpful.”
 
Scott Gillespie, who teaches Grade 7 and 8 math and science at James W. Hill Public School in Oakville, liked that the lessons were grade-specific and ready to use. “The resources looked useful and developed for the classroom,” he said. “And free – which is always good!”
 
Student feedback from classroom testing conducted before the eModule release was positive. In one activity, Grade 8 students at Edna Staebler Public School in Waterloo were challenged to build a unique working model of a personal transportation vehicle by using their knowledge of systems and simple machines.
 
“I enjoyed it,” said one student. “It allows you to be flexible. It doesn’t restrict you – and so it makes it possible to really think outside the box, even unintentionally.”
 
Another liked getting hands-on to learn: “If I were to just memorize facts and then take a quiz, I wouldn’t have my head wrapped around this topic.”
 
With the support of the Ministry of Education grant, Perimeter has also updated and expanded “Career Moves: Skills for the Journey,” a popular resource designed to help students develop the essential skills needed for career success. The updated resource is aligned to “Creating Pathways to Success,” Ontario’s education and career/life planning guidelines for students in Kindergarten to Grade 12, and is linked to the Ontario Curriculum for Grades 9 and 10.
 
The next phase of the grant will support the creation of eight more resources to support secondary school educators.
 
“Through this collaboration, we are going to empower today’s youth with the scientific skills that they will need to meet the challenges of the future. The best way to do that is to support teachers,” said Dick.
 
 
− Stephanie Keating
 

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About Perimeter Institute

Perimeter Institute is the world’s largest research hub devoted to theoretical physics. The independent Institute was founded in 1999 to foster breakthroughs in the fundamental understanding of our universe, from the smallest particles to the entire cosmos. Research at Perimeter is motivated by the understanding that fundamental science advances human knowledge and catalyzes innovation, and that today’s theoretical physics is tomorrow’s technology. Located in the Region of Waterloo, the not-for-profit Institute is a unique public-private endeavour, including the Governments of Ontario and Canada, that enables cutting-edge research, trains the next generation of scientific pioneers, and shares the power of physics through award-winning educational outreach and public engagement. 
 

http://www.perimeterinstitute.ca/

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“Science is so much more than just a body of facts and knowledge. It truly is a process, and the skills involved are broadly applicable.”

 

− Greg Dick, Perimeter Director of Educational Outreach