Creative Inquiry

Project Spotlights

Teaching to Learn: Improving Science & Math Education for Kids

It's a typical school day: students sit at their desks, keep a close eye on the clock, scribble notes, and try to stay awake. After the lecture ends, how much information will be retained? Will the students even care about the topics discussed? Perhaps a more hands-on approach might give the information the power to stick. A Creative Inquiry led by Dr. Neil Calkin, Dr. Nicole Bannister Sinwell and Dr. Cassie Quigley plans on adapting a learning method from India and integrating it into South Carolina schools as a way to improve STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education.

This project, from the mathematical science and teacher education departments, looks at applying the Agastya method of learning to formal and informal STEM education. STEM topics are a major focus of many schools and government programs. According to a 2006 study by the United States National Academies (which include the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council), STEM education in the United States appears to be declining. Therefore, figuring out how to encourage learning in these fields could reverse this trend. An increase of interest in STEM topics is crucial for developing future engineers and scientists.

Currently, there is a lack of informal education; children learn topics formally in school, but not in an engaging or applicable method. In lower grades, teachers may even feel unqualified or uncomfortable teaching certain topics. Some for-profit programs exist for informal learning, but they tend to be expensive, which excludes a wide array of students.

The Agastya Foundation is a movement in India founded by entrepreneurs, educators, and teachers aiming to revitalize India's primary and secondary education using an affordable model that can be utilized in a variety of settings. Dr. Calkin uses a learning pyramid to describe the method: people only remember 5% of lectures and 10% of what is read, which is how most STEM classes are taught. People will remember 50% of what they see and hear, 70% of what they discuss with others, 80% of what they experience, and 90% of what they teach. Based on this pyramid, the Agastya method begins with teachers showing students how to complete basic science experiments. These students in turn teach other students how to perform these experiments. In some instances, a school will have a "Science Day" where students demonstrate what they learned to their parents.

The Creative Inquiry team is working to provide hands-on experience. Team member Mary-Kate Spillane describes it as a "science experiment bookmobile" traveling to different schools to teach experiments. The team will explain to the students how and why experiments work. A week later, these students will teach other children at a science day. "The light in their faces was beautiful to behold," remarks Dr. Calkin about similar Science Days he saw in India. The team has spent the last two semesters planning and getting permission from schools to test this program, and finally began at Pendleton Elementary in May 2012.