Torrance Education Foundation (TEF) is proud to partner with Torrance Unified School District in the pioneering project to bring Next Generation Science Standards into Torrance Elementary Classrooms.
This ground-breaking project, ultimately serving all 10,000 Pre-Kindergarten through Fifth Grade elementary school students enrolled each year in TUSD, represents the fulfillment of a long-held goal identified by both parents and educators as among our community’s highest priorities for our children.
Torrance Education Foundation is seeking investors for the Science Laboratory Project who share our commitment to ensuring our children have all the resources to excel in school, career and life.
About the Project
Torrance Unified School District (TUSD) has been committed to STEM education for Torrance students for the past two decades. Superintendent Dr. George Mannon likes to say that TUSD has been focused on STEM since before “STEM” existed – in other words, before the acronym came into popular usage. Science, technology, engineering and math are enduring pillars of a TUSD education.
In 2014, and for more than three years prior, TUSD and a coalition of citizens and community groups worked to successfully pass several school improvement bond measures. Bond T, passed in November 2014, included funds to construct seventeen new dedicated Science Laboratory Classrooms, one on each of TUSD’s elementary campuses.
The bond funding was intended to pay for design and construction, including site preparation, plumbing and electrical, ventilation and HVAC, and permanent building fixtures. However, because bond funds were restricted by law to capital expenditures, the cost of outfitting the classrooms with the tools and equipment teachers and students need for study and exploration were not included.
Torrance Education Foundation has pledged to secure the funds – approximately $41,000 per laboratory – to provide the tools and equipment that will complete each new lab.
The project, which began in the 2015/2016 academic year, has three phases:
Phase I Four schools: Carr, Edison, Lincoln, Yukon $164,000 PAID
Phase II Six schools: Adams, Anza, Arlington, Arnold, $246,000 Due June 2018
Phase III Seven schools: Fern, Hickory, Riviera, Seaside, $287,000 Due* December 2018
Towers, Walteria, Wood
Phase I was funded by the investment of lead donor Robinson Helicopter ($100,000), as well as major support from Northrop Grumman ($40,000), a personal gift ($10,000) from Congressman Ted Lieu and his wife, Mrs. Betty Lieu, and a grant from AirProducts Company ($5,000). TEF provided the balance of Phase I funding from other sources.
Why Elementary Science Labs?
Torrance Unified School District endeavors to be open and responsive to the priorities of its community. For many years, two high priority items topped the list of TUSD’s citizen committee for school planning: High School Auditoriums and Science Laboratories. These priorities formed the core of the school bonds effort, reflecting the expressed wishes of parents and community members for improving Torrance schools.
Launching a process for developing and constructing Science Laboratories at elementary schools did not come without its hurdles. Early in the planning stages, TUSD planners discovered that only one other school district in the state of California – Irvine – had preceded them in taking concrete steps toward establishing elementary science labs. This meant that, not only was there no tested roadmap to follow, but the state regulatory and approval authorities were also determining key factors and developing their process in real time.
Planning a laboratory teaching environment for our youngest students came with some considerations, particularly safety and storage, that differed from existing protocols for students of middle school and high school ages who better understand potential hazards. The approvals process at the state level, too, had to be adjusted to encompass these considerations. All involved were committed to creating a laboratory setting where parents could be confident their young students would be well-supervised and safe from undue dangers or risks.
Phase I, the pilot round construction which brought the first four Science Labs online, has just concluded. Labs at Carr, Edison, Lincoln and Yukon Elementary Schools are now fully operational. Compounded by delays caused by the very wet 2016/2017 winter season, the full cycle of planning, constructing, and equipping the Phase I labs, along with orienting and training teachers to effectively use and maintain the facility, required a full year longer than the original timeline.
Phase II construction on the next six campuses is now underway. Completion of these labs is forecast for June 2018. The final seven labs are scheduled to roll in over the following six to nine months, with the cautiously ambitious goal of bringing all 10,000 TUSD elementary students into an interactive Science Lab learning environment by 2019.
Next Generation Science Standards in the Elementary setting
The introduction of laboratory-based, interactive, hands-on, collaborative learning for very young students reflects a paradigm shift in science education. Enlightened inquiry and guided exploration is replacing the tradition model of classroom instruction in science. In place of reading, lecture and observation – mostly passive learning – this new approach to teaching concepts of science reflects a new focus on capturing and channeling children’s natural curiosity about the world around them.
Science instruction in a laboratory setting has been the norm in High Schools and most Middle Schools for decades. With the introduction of lab learning at the elementary level, students will begin at the earliest ages to take ownership of their investigation. Instead of being told how something works, they are invited and encouraged to consider how and why for themselves, and to actively engage in the appropriate tasks to discover the answer. What do we want to know? Where do we start? What can we see, touch, hear, smell? Are there things we already know that help us understand? What will happen if we do something ourselves?
The goals of introducing NGSS in an elementary setting reach beyond implementing a shift in techniques of teaching and methods of learning. These new approaches to exploring the natural world form the basis for teaching our youngest children a whole new conceptual approach to understanding, based in personal experience and focused on problem-solving.
In the traditional progression from elementary to middle school, students were asked to switch essentially overnight from being receptive learners to investigative and self-motivated learners. The new approach will instead allow students to develop self-motivated learning habits from their first years in the classroom. Replacing rote learning and desk study with guided inquiry launches students on a path to seeking knowledge purposefully, relishing discovery, and investing their intellect in solving problems.
Additional impacts for girls of early science exploration
For very young learners, science is the gateway to what becomes the study of STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – disciplines. Children’s innate curiosity about the natural world leads to questions that require the development of skills and knowledge (technology, engineering, math) to find answers. As skills and knowledge build, new questions arise and children’s individual aptitudes begin to emerge. The elementary student advancing through six years of progressively more in-depth science instruction in a laboratory environment learns how the other STEM disciplines interact with one another, shaping experiences and understanding. Application of learning to the real-world gives STEM studies a relevance that passive learning often fails to reveal.
A further outcome of early science instruction and the early identification of aptitudes in STEM disciplines can be particularly important for girls. Ample evidence exists showing that historically, as adolescence arrives, markedly larger numbers of girls lose interest in STEM subjects. For a complex array of social and cultural reasons, girls’ attention to STEM study often diminishes in the pre-teen and teen years, and frequently never returns. The loss of bright minds from these subject areas, ever more essential to academic and employment success in the 21st century, is an abiding challenge for educators, as well as for the companies that will eventually be our students’ employers.
New evidence has shown that the early introduction of science experimentation can positively impact the percentage of girl students who continue to enjoy and apply themselves to STEM in adolescence. Again, multiple factors incorporated in STEM studies impact students, including the rewards of collaboration, the leveling of social and cultural values, the norming of relationships within diverse groups of students, as well as the philosophy of placing more value on inquiry and exploration than on “getting it right”, i.e., reducing performance anxiety. These and other factors, when introduced in the early elementary years before pre-adolescence takes hold, are now identified as leading to progressively fewer numbers of girls falling away from hard science in their later school years.
Investment in Student Achievement
Success in mastering STEM disciplines is crucial to student achievement today. Torrance Unified School District is among the first few district in California to adopt, prepare for and implement Next Generation Science Standards for students. With the introduction of Science Laboratories for elementary grades, TUSD is leading the way for educators statewide and nationally, accepting the challenge of preparing Torrance students from the earliest age to thrive in the rapidly developing 21st century world.
To become an investor in the Science Laboratory project, or for more information about the TEF STEM Initiative, please contact Susan Swinburne, Executive Director: SusanS@TorranceEducationFoundation.org.