Transforming science education

Posted on 24th Aug 2017 in Science, International Schools

Freda Husic and Vivian Lemanowski share 5 building blocks to begin the transformation and bring more students into STEM...

Creating competency in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) requires more than the adoption of technology in the classroom. It requires transformational change in science education.

There are two main drivers pushing the need to transform:

  • First, there is a call for students to be more scientifically literate and gain experience with the tools and practices of STEM. This includes building students’ information, communication, and technology (ICT) skills to unlock global opportunities for them as next generation professionals.
  • Second, the number of qualified STEM workers is in short supply to meet the number of STEM jobs.

Well-developed STEM skills better prepare today’s students and tomorrow’s skilled workers to compete in the global marketplace. STEM expertise is also an economic driver that develops flourishing knowledge economies. This allows nations to develop citizens who are prepared to tackle their most pressing issues — such as clean water, sustainable food supplies, rising energy demands, and the impact of climate change — and blaze trails that are unimaginable today.

5 Building Blocks for Science Education Transformation

Many international schools are ready to transform their science education programs to develop students’ STEM skills and bring more students into STEM careers. But where does one start?

Following are 5 building blocks to begin the process:


In every school, there must first be a vision for transformation – and a key part of that vision should include hands-on, inquiry-based science. A substantial body of research confirms the positive impact of inquiry-based instruction on students’ understanding as well as their motivation and interest in science.

Inquiry-based science helps students develop key college, career, and citizen readiness skills. With this approach, students gain the experience to approach any problem critically, gather and analyze data, and determine an outcome or solution. It stimulates students’ curiosity and gives them opportunities to build on prior knowledge and move to a new, deeper level of understanding. This enables students to develop ways of thinking, skill sets, and processes that allow them to acquire and use knowledge with confidence in STEM or any field or any area of life that benefits from an inquiring, curious mind.

By engaging in effective inquiry, students also develop research, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills, which are essential for career readiness.

Sustained Leadership

If science education transformation is to be effective, the vision must be accompanied by sustained leadership and guidance through the process. One of the most effective ways to achieve this change is to make it a team effort and involve school and community partners in supporting and carrying out the school’s vision.

Within the school, identify and develop teacher leaders who are capable of effectively training and mentoring teachers. Then set aside time for teacher leaders and teachers to collaborate to plan their instruction, share challenges and best practices, and leverage each other’s strengths.

Of course, changing the pedagogical approach from “stand and deliver” to an inquiry-based format does not happen overnight. It requires guidance and support. As such, it is crucial to provide teachers with the professional development, content, and technology to create an inquiry-based learning environment and build their confidence to deliver inquiry-based lessons.

Beyond classroom instruction, look for opportunities to extend students’ learning outside of regular school hours. Consider special events such as STEM Nights, Makers’ Faires, or Engineering Days. Visit or collaborate online with other international schools and share successes and lessons learned. Reach out to the local STEM community and build collaborative networks to ensure students are building the skills needed for college and careers. Partner with organizations to design educational or mentoring programs that encourage students to become involved in STEM.

Professional Development

Professional development is critical to managing the shift to inquiry-based learning. As such, teachers should be given opportunities to develop their technical, pedagogical, and content knowledge, and understand the relationship between these components.

To ease the transition, it is often helpful to begin with more highly structured inquiry activities and then move over time to open-ended investigations. Guidance should also be provided on ways to integrate inquiry activities within the flow of classroom science lessons, instead of having them be “separate” activities outside of the lesson.

Customized Content

The pedagogical transformation must also be supported with adaptable and localized content. This content could include curriculum that is aligned to a program’s standards, translated to a native language, or offers flexible formats for scaffolded instruction.


The last building block for transformation is technology. The use of technology tools for data collection, analysis, and visualization as part of inquiry-based science instruction has been also shown to deepen students’ understanding and engagement.

Sensor-based investigations, for example, provide extensive opportunities for students to develop scientific literacy through hands-on experiences using tools similar to those used by scientists and engineers. Tools such as sensors and data collection and analysis software can also reduce the time spent collecting data, so students can spend more time on inquiry and analysis. This also allows students to actually do science, rather than simply reading about it or trying to replicate experimental results.

In addition, new technologies such as wireless sensors are taking student exploration to new heights. By removing the clutter of cables, students can now conduct experiments such as phase changes, centripetal force, and long-term environmental studies that would have been costly or difficult before.

Preparing for the Future

By implementing the 5 building blocks for science education transformation today, schools can make significant strides toward the ultimate goal of having more students studying STEM, entering STEM careers, and prepared for life in a global economy.

Freda Husic, M.A., M.S., is the Director of Educational Solutions, and Vivian Lemanowski, M.Ed., is the International Market Manager for PASCO (, a global leader in 21st century science education.



Where does your school stand in its efforts to transform science education?

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