It is important for young learners to establish a solid foundation in math and science. In addition to the inherent pleasure students can find exploring these subjects and the self-confidence built by mastery, this essential academic preparation opens doors to financial literacy, STEM career paths and healthy decision-making.
Elementary students benefit from quality math and science education across a variety of measures, and the impact of that enrichment is demonstrated both in terms of subject-specific and general learning, immediately and over time. Math and science learning in early childhood correlates over the long term with school readiness and academic achievement, in addition to the more immediate effects of wonder and engagement with the world.
Building on Prior Learning
Math concepts in particular often build on earlier skills, observable through two distinct pathways. In the first case, early skills often reappear later as subroutine components to accomplish more complicated skills. It is hardly news that arithmetic underpins algebra. In the second, what's known as "transfer of learning," understanding a given principle can make it easier to learn a different principle.
Transfer of learning has been demonstrated repeatedly in early childhood education studies. For example, understanding numbers on a number line then makes it easier to learn simple addition. Early mastery of a mathematical skill then sets the stage to incorporate that knowledge competently later on, as process and theory expand into more complex arenas.
Science Learning Applies to Everyday Life
Likewise, early science education equips students with fundamental skills to navigate the subject throughout school and beyond.
Skills in measurement and comparison not only contribute to science literacy, but they also build capacity across the curriculum. Process skills like observing, investigating, describing, predicting and experimenting aren't just vital to scientific thinking, but contribute broadly to academic achievement across the board. What students learn in the classroom has applications in the kitchen, the garden, the garage and the rest of the physical world.
These subjects also lend themselves to new forms of investigation in the classroom. Project-based learning gives students opportunities to solve problems, work cooperatively, experiment and explore. Hands-on learning connects theory and practice while reinforcing practical applications. These are skills elementary students will hone, refine and add to as they continue their education and topics and methods become increasingly sophisticated. The curiosity and creativity they develop will help sustain attention, grit and perseverance to attend to problems and work out solutions.
Learning to Cultivate Understanding
Young learners have so many questions about the world and how it works. Math and science education provides a framework for how to find answers. Math models phenomena and relationships in our observable environment, while articulating concepts from the intuitive to the obscure. Science gives deep attention to the quality and interaction of the things that surround us. Understanding those relationships has applications in the arts, policy and civic life. Preparing students to understand math and science gives them tools to understand, analyze and impact the communities where they live.
Elementary Teachers Play a Key Role
Teachers of elementary students help shape the attitudes those students will carry forward into their math and science education, and those teachers have the opportunity to cultivate a love of these subjects while pre-empting beliefs that math is hard or not everyone can do science.
The National Science Foundation's Science and Engineering Indicators 2014 report finds, "Teacher quality is one of the most important factors influencing student learning. Students' achievement in mathematics and science depends in part on their access to high-quality instruction in those subjects."
Teachers interested in the subject can learn more through the online courses EDU 6503: Teaching Elementary and Junior High Mathematics and EDU 6540: Project-Based Science Curriculum in the Mississippi College online M.Ed. in Elementary Education program.
Learn more about the MC online M.Ed. in Elementary Education program.
Sources:National Science Foundation: Chapter 1: Elementary and Secondary Mathematics and Science Education
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