Data-Driven Continuous Improvement
It seems intuitive that assessing and improving science and STEM education programs should be done scientifically. How can we hope to have our students develop a firm grasp of STEM concepts and analytic and critical thinking skills without ourselves practicing these attributes in designing, assessing, and improving the STEM curriculum? Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t practice what we preach.
Too often curricular and programmatic decisions are made with vague impressions of how things “seem” to be going or anecdotal evidence with little grounding in basic statistics or experimental design. To alleviate this problem and bring more certainty to decision-making, we must begin with the collection of the proper amount of data and be able to analyze it in a practical and meaningful manner.
To this end, LabLearner proposes to work with the Diocese of Brooklyn in customizing and implementing a rigorous assessment and continuous improvement protocol.
LabLearner already includes statically valid assessment tools in all of our programs. As one example, formal Pre- and Post-tests demonstrate, on an individual basis, the exact increase in student achievement for each and every unit from kindergarten through eighth grade. Thus, at any point in a student’s elementary and middle school education, educators can know exactly what conceptual and cognitive gains are made by each and every student.
We propose to work with administrators and teachers to collect and analyze large amounts of data to ascertain trends and identify potential issues in STEM implementation over time (longitudinally) across the entire Diocese. Such information and its analysis will provide informed guidance to help teachers and schools involved in STEM education obtain the best student outcomes possible. Outcomes that improve over time. Consequently, the efficacy of everything from the impact of structured community partnerships to specific teacher professional development needs can be based on good, solid data and clear scientific thinking.
Critical Thinking and Cognitive Development
The importance and positive impact of high-quality STEM education should go well beyond simply the content and skills learned from the individual domains of science, technology, engineering, and math in the curriculum. Particularly when using experiential, hands-on pedagogy, the interrelationship between and logical mingling of these conjoined domains necessitates the need for, and therefore the development of, higher levels of cognitive processing. We should be able to measure and monitor gains in this sphere just as we do technical and scientific content understanding by formal testing of students or skill development in the lab.
Quality STEM education should help develop student executive functions and critical thinking (for background on executive functions see Neuropedagogy). Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have shown that similar brain structures are involved in both mathematical and scientific thinking and critical thinking and execution functions. Consequently, bringing high caliber STEM curriculum and hands-on science experiences to students can help them develop both critical thinking and other problem-solving skills.
Critical thinking is of paramount importance in today’s professional world and is only likely to become more important in the future. It is one of the most import skills in modern culture, society, and commerce. As a result, we suggest, as a component of this proposal, to collaborate with our colleagues at The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine departments of Radiology and Neuroscience in designing and implementing grade-level executive functions and critical thinking assessments and studies as a component of our collaboration with the Diocese of Brooklyn. With such tools, we will be able to determine directly and quantitatively the impact of LabLearner STEM interventions on the cognitive development and thinking skills of all students involved in the program.
LabLearner research director, Dr. Keith Verner, is formally a full professor of Pediatrics and Cellular and Molecular Physiology at PSU College of Medicine and Chief of Developmental Pediatrics and Learning. He continues this line of work primarily with his colleague Dr. Paul Eslinger, Professor of Neurology at the medical school and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Social Neuroscience. Dr. Eslinger will collaborate with LabLearner in this aspect of the proposal.
A recent short public talk by Drs. Verner and Eslinger, briefly highlighting the impact of education on fluid intelligence, executive functions, and critical thinking is shown below.
We highly recommend that a coordinated approach to assessment and data-driven continuous improvement be a component of the Diocese of Brooklyn’s STEM initiative. This system should be interactive and integrated with existing Diocese-wide data systems.
The time to initiate this aspect of the Diocese’s STEM initiative is now so that baseline information from new LabLearner schools can meaningfully be integrated into the database and used for future formative and summative programmatic assessments. LabLearner proposes to work with Diocese administrators and data/technology personnel to get a robust assessment and data-driven continuous improvement system in place.
Carol Grugan, LabLearner Teacher
There are so many good things to say about LabLearner Science. However, the “ahs”, the “ohs” and the other squeals of delight that come from the students during our labs, let us know that these student scientists have grasped another important science concept. Hands-on learning has proved exciting and productive!
Geralyn Arcieri, LabLearner Teacher
The LabLearner curriculum is awesome; however, when I first experienced the LabLearner training sessions, I wasn’t too sure if this is what we were looking for at St. Bernadette Catholic Academy. With much trepidation, in September we launched this new program in a fully equipped lab. That first week totally blew my mind! Students who never used microscopes were jumping in and using them like pros. Everything I taught them was being retained! This was due in part to all the hands-on experiences they were gaining! 5th Grade learned terms such as wet mount, dry mount, etc. When it came time to do the performance assessment, the students in grades 3-5 sailed through them. All you could overhear was that this was the best test they had ever taken! 3rd grade learned so much about electricity and some of their parents who are electricians were so impressed with what their little ones were learning. My 4th graders were acting like true future doctors in the Human Body cell and my 5th graders were so proud to find out where they came from in their Genetics cell!
Dan, LabLearner Grade 8 Student
I enjoy going to lab because every Monday morning when I remember that it’s pre-lab day, I get excited to learn how and what we are going to discover in the next day’s lab class.
Sheena Byrnes, LabLearner Teacher
LabLearner is an incredible program for the students in my school. We used it for the first time last year and it had a huge impact on both the students and myself. I was able to teach Science in a way that I was never able to before because I finally had equipment that allowed the students to reach their full potential. Students came in asking to go to the lab every day and loved being there. They enjoyed everything from wearing the lab coats to using equipment and materials most students don’t see until high school or college.
We had our annual Science fair in May and students came up with ideas that were more advanced than they were in the past. They were asking to borrow things from the lab to complete their projects. We had a very successful year in Science and the LabLearner program was the main reason why. I am excited to use it again this year and I would highly recommend it to other schools.
Gary, LabLearner Kindergarten Student
I like pouring stuff into beakers.
Michelle Nitsche, LabLearner Principal
The LabLearner curriculum has helped our students develop critical thinking skills. The weekly labs build upon previous concepts learned in each investigation and challenge students to work collaboratively to “think outside the box”. The LabLearner curriculum also does a great job with providing students with hands on, real world STEM experiences.
Mike Ward, LabLearner Teacher
I have gotten a lot of positive feedback from Nativity students who are/were in high school and have/had a better foundation for the specialized science classes there. I really believe in the value of the program. Students who have gone through LabLearner here tend to do very well in high school. They tell me so.
Brian Palmer, LabLearner Principal
I have noticed in students writing and presentations outside of science the use of science vocabulary. For example, one student was sharing her story about marshmallows in her hot chocolate. She used the word buoyant to describe her marshmallows. She more than likely would not have used that word in her writing had it not been for the LabLearner curriculum.
Isabelle, LabLearner Kindergarten Student
I like pouring and holding. I like coloring in our lab books.
Kathleen Kenney, LabLearner Teacher
My students enjoy using the LabLearner program because every child can be involved in the construction of the demonstration, recording information, and analyzing the results. I am happy to see that they are more focused on the science tasks than they had been in past years. My students ask thoughtful questions in response to what happens during the investigations. I can see them mentally putting 2 and 2 together while they try to connect each investigation to the last one. The fact that LabLearner investigations spiral and constantly reinforce concepts with each lesson is great! It’s like a built in review! The material is sometimes complicated and presents concepts on a higher level than my students are used to, but the program also lets the children learn the information step-by-step. They’re not just reading about the scientific principles; they’re witnessing them firsthand.
Devin, LabLearner Grade 7 Student
My older sister is taking freshman biology, and we are learning about some of the same things in seventh grade. LabLearner makes me feel smart.
Kathy Buscemi, LabLearner Principal
Saint Bernard Catholic Academy loves it’s LabLearner STEM Lab. From our 3 year old in Jr. PreK to our 8th graders, the students look forward to their time in the lab. The teachers love the layout of the workbooks. Material is presented in a very easy to follow, logical manner. The students are well prepared intellectually for the discovery part of the lesson in the lab.
Caterina Cuoco, LabLearner Teacher
Every LabLearner investigation gives the students a better understanding of what is focused on during the hands-on lab as the vocabulary words for each lesson beforehand are a great key in preparation. Each unit allows a good understanding of the main topics covered, which relate to daily life. Evidence has shown the students have scored high in each assessment for every lab lesson, which is based on the visuals, lab results and understanding of each investigation.
Paige, LabLearner Grade 5 Student
I like the science lab because we get to work with partners and we get to use a lot of cool science stuff.
Mary Basile, LabLearner Principal
St. Clare Catholic Academy introduced Lablearner to both the students and the parents in September 2017. It was very exciting for the students to be able to utilize the state-of-the-art science lab. Students enjoyed learning science by “doing.”
Many expressed that this program changes the way science is taught and learned. Students learn so much from one another. Our students worked together gathering information, experimenting and solving problems. It was evident that conversations were taking place, students began listening and respecting each others ideas and the feeling of accomplishment were had by all. Our students look at science in a whole different way. We look forward to another year with this program.
Ann DiNovis, LabLearner Teacher
Two of our 7th graders placed high in a competition called “You be the Chemist.” Most other schools in the area had been preparing for this contest since September, but OMPH only found out about it in January. I credit LabLearner with how well our two 7th grades did in the contest because they are in the lab every week and doing a lot of chemistry. One student came in third and is eligible to go to the state competition at Penn State. The other came in fourth and is the alternate for states.
My middle school students are using lab equipment that was only available to me in high school or college. They are making wet mount slides using cross-sectioning and latitudinal sectioning. They can focus a microscope, and even magnify 1000 times using the oil immersion lens on our compound light microscopes. Because of the program, my students know how to measure. They can use graduated cylinders, rulers, triple beam balances, spring scales. They have a lot of practice graphing, and understand the difference between the dependent and independent variables, and where they belong on a graph.
Sasha, LabLearner Grade 8 Student
LabLearner makes me feel like a real scientist. Rather than having answers given to me by a teacher or textbook, my lab partners and I run through experimental procedures using real equipment to collect data. After analyzing the data, we discover the answers to questions. It’s the best way to learn!
Linda Milewski, LabLearner Principal
Blessed Trinity introduced LabLearner to their students in grades Pre-K to eight over four years ago. This research-based program has definitely changed the overall student opinion of Science. Just a few short years ago; the majority of students did not enjoy Science class. With this hands-on approach our students are interested in Science and eager to learn. Standardized test scores have shown a positive increase in student scores. I strongly believe that this increase is due to the LabLearner program.
Jacqueline Edelmann, LabLearner Teacher
This is our fourth year using the LabLearner program at The Academy of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Our grades have steadily improved both during the school year and on standardized tests.
This indicates to me that LabLearner not only delivers content knowledge, but it also delivers the skills to comprehend and analyze any scientific information presented in standardized tests. Students know how to read data tables, interpret graphs, and analyze experimental procedures and results. It is challenging, and they rise to the challenge.
Sarah Paquette, LabLearner Teacher
We are nurturing the next generation of scientists. Students need to know how their learning is relevant; why it matters. For each LabLearner CELL students work through, they develop a list of possible STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers that use the concepts they are learning about in lab.
Sr. Mary Sue Carwile, LabLearner Principal
One of the greatest strengths of the LabLearner program is its emphasis on meta-cognitive skills. Saint James students do not just absorb content, but rather think about the process and reflect on their learning at every step of the scientific method. This is in keeping with the LabLearner’s Information Processing Model and spiral curriculum that sets out to continually address critical scientific themes across elementary and middle school grades. The depth of material that each unit reaches and the emphasis placed on critical thinking, active instruction, and prior learning, in keeping with the educational philosophy of Saint James and the IHM sisters, make the science curriculum authentic and enriching for all students.
Erin Jakowenko, LabLearner Teacher
LabLearner has been a real game-changer for our students and we couldn’t be happier or more pleased that we brought the program to our school. From day one of the program, it caught our students’ attention. They were focused and driven. They worked together towards a common goal. They became the scientists leading the class and discussions, smoothly performing the labs and continuing with the performance assessments.
I have not seen such a genuine interest in exploring our world as I have with LabLearner. The students are engaged and on task and have begun to think deeper about core concepts and utilize those higher-order thinking skills we so desperately seek as educators. I can honestly say it’s because of the structure of the program and the thorough explanation of concepts that has brought such a depth of knowledge to our students. I am so grateful that I teach in a school that uses the LabLearner program!
Jackie Smith, LabLearner Teacher
I use the LabLearner program in grades 7 and 8. The students love going into the lab once a week to explore the concepts learned. When we de-briefed at the end of the year, the students shared that they prefer the hands-on aspects of LabLearner much better than the science program used in the lower grades. When alumni return to visit our elementary school, they always share that they feel prepared in high school for all the science classes due to the rigor of the LabLearner program and the regular use of varied lab equipment. Also, the math connection is strong and practical. I watch my science students use algebra skills that they never thought they would use and become proficient in graphing the data.
Stephanie Collins, LabLearner Teacher
I would like to express my many thanks and overwhelming awe with this program. I have thoroughly enjoyed every aspect, from implementation to daily lessons. You definitely have a winner.
I have been teaching for over 27 years and I was surprised how much my students didn’t know. LabLearner has opened my eyes as well as my students’ eyes. I don’t know how I ever got along teaching without LabLearner. I LOVE this program!!!
Sheila Korynta, LabLearner Teacher
I have to let you know that our substitute teachers really enjoy coming into the lab to work with their students!! Amazing, huh? The substitute teachers appreciate that I set up the lab materials for them and they can proceed without any concerns. They know that our kids are SO LUCKY to have the LabLearner program here at Midway Public Schools in North Dakota!!!
Sarah Rae, LabLearner Teacher
One of my favorite aspects of LabLearner is the availability of the staff for any questions I have about the curriculum–whether it’s about the content, materials, procedure, or otherwise. Every time I’ve called, I’ve received prompt and thorough replies. It’s so wonderful to be able to depend on that kind of customer service!