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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, critical thinking and healthy decision-making. Moreover, these skills correlate to the health of the nation’s economy, as it relies on a workforce proficient in math and science. With the long-standing reality that U.S. students lag far behind other countries in math and science, it is essential that schools address this disparity in early learning.

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. It also brings the effects of wonder and engagement with the world, such as marveling over the enormity of a dinosaur or learning to comprehend the physics of flight.

Building on Prior Learning

Evidence suggests that basic addition and subtraction are innate abilities for children. Math concepts 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, as process and theory expand into more complex arenas. Helping students build these skills early on will help their math comprehension and their overall academic performance for the long term.

Science Learning Applies to Everyday Life

Likewise, early science education equips students with fundamental skills to navigate the subject throughout school and beyond. According to the U.S. Department of Education, it’s important for the young to be “prepared to bring knowledge and skill to solve problems, make sense of information, and know how to gather and evaluate evidence to make decisions.”

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 much curiosity and 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 can 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 Teaching Elementary and Junior High Mathematics and 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.

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