Students and Teachers in This NY School District Find Success with Smithsonian Science for the Classroom

Holly Baldwin is a professional development provider who specializes in elementary science education for OCM BOCES—an organization that supports more than 20 school districts in New York through their science program. Baldwin works directly with teachers to provide professional development on the Smithsonian Science for the Classroom program (SSftC).

The science program started with a “slow and steady" rollout by adding one new unit per year at every grade level. To introduce teachers to the new curriculum, OCM BOCES embedded a standard introduction to their training that allowed teachers to experience the modules and “really bring out the ‘three dimensions’.”

The three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) include practice, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas.

“At the elementary level, it’s closely [sic] aligned to the NGSS,” Baldwin said. “That’s why we used the Smithsonian curriculum—because they met all of our standards.”

Teachers learned how to use the curriculum materials to help shift its implementation into a storyline approach with a focus on phenomena.

During the trainings, educators “talk about the shifts in teacher facilitation and students’ conceptual understanding and then work through those materials through the eyes of students so that teachers understand the changes.”

Before switching to Smithsonian Science for the Classroom, OCM BOCES used a kit-based science program that did not align to the standards. “We definitely needed to switch to a new curriculum,” Baldwin said.

One of the most common compliments they receive about the new curriculum is the integration of literacy and math within the units. Teachers are “very happy” with the supplementary readings, geared towards a variety of learning needs, including low- or on-level students and Spanish speakers.

The units also feature digital components, which according to Baldwin, have been pivotal as teachers adjusted to distance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“{Teaching during the pandemic} has been tricky, however we’ve gotten some great feedback on teachers responding to the new digital resources on Carolina Science Online,” she said. “The new demonstration videos have been well received to push out to remote learning students.”

The Smithsonian Science Education Center and Carolina Biological, publisher of SSftC, partnered to make the Smithsonian Science Stories literacy series free and open access during the pandemic. According to Baldwin, this partnership benefited teachers and students who did not have Carolina accounts.

"It helped kindergarten through grade 2 students the most by avoiding multiple logins on various platforms," Baldwin said. “They could just take the link, get the reader and go.”

Implementing Smithsonian Science for the Classroom also caused a shift in how science was taught, according to Baldwin. Using a coherent storyline and phenomenon-based learning approach gave students the opportunity to express their observations while allowing teachers to address misconceptions. This is a big difference from other science programs they’ve used in the past, she said.

“Just because we’ve read about an ecosystem doesn’t mean we’ve checked all of our boxes in giving students an opportunity to explore that concept,” she said.

When asked how Smithsonian Science for the Classroom might inspire future approaches to science education, Baldwin said that the curriculum reinforces that “science is not one and done” and the showcasing of various STEM careers has been well received.

The successful implementation of Smithsonian Science for the Classroom isn’t just limited to the teaching experience.

“I know that the students enjoy the opportunity to express their thinking in different ways, and that I’m not just looking for the right answer,” she said. “I’m looking to see what they’re thinking.”

The engineering models have “hands down been a big hit” among students as they build and construct objects for a real purpose. Baldwin said modules like How Can We Stop Soil From Washing Away? or How Can We Send a Message Using Sound? are always successful because students are able to get their hands dirty, apply what they’ve learned to their own lives, and learn how to problem solve.

Learn how you can bring Smithsonian Science for the Classroom to your school here: https://ssec.si.edu/smithsonian-science-for-the-classroom.