LabLearner: The Complete Solution
Unlike most every other alternative, LabLearner offers a complete solution to Science and STEM education. Everything from installation of a complete PreK-8 teaching lab, professional development, entire nine-year curriculum, web supplements, and all assessments are included. In addition, personal and dedicated customer service assures new schools that they have not simply made a purchase, but rather have entered into a collaboration with a group of scientists and educators who profoundly care about the education of their students.
There is so much depth to the LabLearner system of science education that one simply has to experience it to understand its full power. With each passing year of increased familiarity and proficiency with LabLearner, educators almost universally find that it has more depth, logical design, and neurocognitive underpinnings than was anticipated at the time of purchase. And what’s wrong with pleasant surprises? Below are examples of just a few of the extra quality and value that is available with every LabLearner program.
BrainSTEM Professional Development
Over the past decade, LabLearner has developed highly organized and innovative teacher professional development programs. The name BrainSTEMTM was chosen to accentuate the two aspects of the program, namely a blend of both STEM education content and skills, and a neurocognitive overall approach. An overview of LabLearner’s BrainSTEM philosophy and cognitive underpinnings was recently included in a book published by NCEA8.
In overview, BrainSTEM professional development is organized into four sections that include a blend of referenced recent research in the neurocognitive sciences and practical classroom applications. While each BrainSTEM professional development offering is customized for each individual school district based on their goals and current involvement in STEM education, the key conceptual components may be considered as follows:
Session One: Neurocognitive Underpinnings
• The Neurosurgeon’s View of the Brain (anatomical and physiological aspects of the human nervous system that are relevant to educators)
• The Educator’s View of the Brain (introduction to LabLearner’s Information Processing Model)
Session Two: Cognitive Spiraling and Level of Instruction
• Starting with Science (understanding the fundamental importance of science and mathematics in STEM education)
• Spiraling: Building the Science Curriculum with Previous Knowledge (applying information processing concepts to STEM curriculum development)
• Concept Development Through Hands-On Experiences (understanding the neurocognitive advantages of hands-on approaches to science instruction)
• What Does Hands-On Science Look Like? (specific classroom practices and pedagogy used in excellent hands-on science programs)
Session Three: STEM Domain Perspective and Curriculum Integration
• Understanding STEM Components (understanding the technology, engineering and mathematics aspects of a well-integrated and effective STEM curriculum)
• Viewing the Entire Curriculum in Terms of STEM (involvement and integration of additional academic domains, such as language arts, social studies, art, and religion into the STEM curriculum to establish rigorous science-based STEAM and STREAM programs)
Session Four: Bringing it All Together
• Building the STEM Curriculum (practical, detailed, systematic steps to use in creating a robust STEM curriculum)
• Assessing in the STEM Curriculum (mechanisms that can be used to assess both student performance and overall STEM program success and continuous improvement)
One important aspect of BrainSTEM philosophy and professional development is the concept of rolling-out a full STEM, STEAM or STREAM curriculum in a highly organized manner over a period of years. Figure 7 highlights a simple four-year STEM implementation sequence. Additional academic domains leading to STEAM and STREAM curricula can also be incorporated in a similar, multi-year system of roll-out. The overarching concept and logic behind multi-year STEM curriculum implementation is that it is simply too overwhelming for teachers to make the necessary curricular changes and participate in adequate focused professional development all at once. Attempting to dump an entire STEM curriculum all at once results in either extremely shallow curricular changes on the one hand or unreasonable stress on the teaching staff – both of which virtually assure weak curriculum and non-compliance. The success of a meaningful STEM initiative necessitates solid teacher commitment and support. A teaching staff that is overwhelmed or undertrained will result in the failure of even the best STEM curriculum.
A major concern of both parents and public policy markers relates to the preparation of students for STEM careers. The sheer number of current STEM careers is enormous. A recent list of STEM careers compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education is shown in Appendix A. As one can imagine, this list will change on an annual basis as new discoveries and technologies are developed and new STEM careers evolve. In fact, it is essential that we recognize that today’s list of STEM careers will most likely look completely different than the same list compiled when today’s kindergarteners leave college. In addition, the list presented in Appendix A does not include technical-related careers that also require critical thinking, mathematics, and other STEM education components. These include insurance actuaries, accountants, financial advisors and analysts, architects, marketing and advertising analysts, financial managers, cost estimators, and so on.
Since anything short of a crystal ball will not provide us with a definitive list of future STEM careers, today’s educators must think in terms of preparing their students for anything the future may hold in the STEM domain. To do so, there are two essential features that all existing or developing STEM curricula should contain.
1. First, a future-thinking STEM curriculum must be built upon a very solid foundation of rigorous science and mathematics. This is because, regardless of the details of future STEM career trends, we can be sure that basic science concepts and skills, along with solid mathematics conceptual understanding and skills will be required. Therefore, insisting that STEM education accentuates the primary importance of science and mathematics is indispensable.
2. The second essential feature of existing or developing STEM curricula is the constant exposure of STEM students to real-world applications of STEM education. Students need to know that what they learn in STEM is not detached from everyday reality. In the most practical sense, students need to know that real people make real livings applying fundamental STEM concepts in their jobs. Many students express total surprise to learn that many “grown-ups” make their living doing things that are similar to what they do in their own STEM classes.
The LabLearner PreK-8 curriculum has numerous features to provide such real-world connections and solid mathematics and science instruction. First, references to specific types of jobs and careers are embedded at pertinent junctures in essentially all LabLearner units. For example, LabLearner middle school students are told about career options that are related to their lessons and experiments on a weekly basis.
The second, and much more effective feature that provides meaningful, real-world connections is unique to LabLearner. This is the LabLearner Performance Assessments discussed earlier. Each LabLearner CELL from third through eighth grade ends with a performance assessment that requires the hands-on solution of a problem related to the unit that has just been completed. Whenever possible, the problems are stated in a manner that places the student in a role-playing position of a real STEM professional. These include acting as engineers, forensic investigators, physicians, detectives, chemists, physicists, explorers, R&D scientists, lab technicians, inventors, and so on. Such roll-playing is performed in cooperative groups and is graded. Thus, LabLearner Performance Assessments give students a chance to not only learn about, but actually experience, many dozens of STEM careers, using authentic STEM equipment and skills. The cognitive advantage of the LabLearner approach is extremely powerful. There is simply no better way to learn.
Correlation with English Language Arts and Mathematics
Science is a universal language. The relationship between the pressure and volume of a gas (Boyle’s Law) is the same in Asia as it is in North America, Africa, or anywhere else on Earth. However, in order to discuss this relationship, we need to be able to communicate effectively to one another. Without communication, the ability to conduct research, create discoveries, and understand scientific concepts is a moot point.
While there is the temptation to isolate or quarantine science as a domain separate from language arts and mathematics, doing so creates an artificial and unreal atmosphere. Scientists readily communicate research and concepts through reading, writing, oral and visual presentations, and through mathematical formulas and concepts. Likewise, we should expect our students to engage in science in a way that incorporates language arts and mathematic content, skills, and processes.
Students should be able to communicate their hypotheses, predictions, results, and conclusions effectively and to read procedures and protocols. They should see mathematics as a way of communicating and understanding science. Too often students view mathematics in science as something that makes science harder to understand, when in actuality mathematics makes it easier to understand science concepts. Take, for example, the concept of work. We use the word “work” in a variety of ways in everyday life, but what do we mean by work scientifically? What affects work? If we consider the simple equation: Work = Force X Distance, we see that there are only two things that affect work – the force exerted on an object and the distance the object moves. The use of mathematical formulas makes science easier to understand.
Since its inception, the LabLearner program has served as a vehicle for the acquisition of language arts and mathematical skills. The LabLearner curriculum has met with great success when used in schools with significant “English as a second language” student populations because hands-on science externalizes science concepts. Science content in LabLearner is not exclusively language-drive, but rather involves all of the senses to promote understanding. For example, LabLearner has performed extensive analysis of the correlation between LabLearner science and the Common Core State Standards for both Mathematics and ELA. This high degree of congruence is used in LabLearner schools across the U.S. as a truly integrated curriculum delivery system.
Good seeds grow into healthy plants, and plants perform the single most important chemical reaction on Earth – photosynthesis (below). Each plant takes the waste product of animal respiration (carbon dioxide), adds water, and produces the sugar glucose and the essential gas oxygen. Based on this important reaction, life on Earth thrives.
However, for photosynthesis to occur, light must also be provided. A simple experiment of placing a paper bag over a plant will shut down photosynthesis and no further growth will occur – no more sugar, no more oxygen. The plant stops growing and dies.
In a sense, LabLearner catalyzes an important reaction as well. It helps convert students’ and teachers’ attitudes about science. It transforms science from a dreaded, irrelevant, and boring subject, to one that creates science lovers, deeper thinkers, and smarter citizens. LabLearner can provide the light to make this happen!