Build more science time in and out of the classroom

On our hikes together, my curious 5-year-old son collects rocks and brings them home to organize in various jars by color and shape. As educators and outdoor enthusiasts, my wife and I encourage his geologic exploration.

Tapping into natural curiosity like my son’s is what makes science the perfect tool to engage children in critical thinking and a lifelong love of learning.

Science has taken a back seat in recent years in the elementary classroom to the “core” subjects: math and English. An unintended consequence of the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, which sought to build more accountability in public schools, was the increased focus on student testing in math and English, shifting classroom instructional time away from the sciences, social studies, and even the arts and physical education. A recent Vital Signs report shows less than 1.7 hours per week of science is taught in elementary classrooms in Nevada.

In Northern Nevada, with the recent arrival of the big tech companies like Switch and Tesla, it is critical to focus on preparing our youth now for the tremendous growth in knowledge-based careers. Clearly, there is need to increase access to high-quality, impactful educational opportunities for youth in our community.

Here’s the good news: Science and engineering are the perfect vehicles to teach interdisciplinary lessons, so we can have strong science education in the classroom without taking time away from the core subjects. Additionally, in 2014 the Nevada Department of Education adopted a new set of academic standards for science edducation. This adoption was based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a set of K-12 benchmarks for science education in the classroom. The standards have been adopted in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Locally, Sierra Nevada Journeys has been taking a lead on designing and delivering student programming and teacher training grounded in the NGSS.

If you have children in your life or teachers in your family, you may have heard of Sierra Nevada Journeys, a local nonprofit founded in 2006 on a simple premise: to build the next generation of citizens, scientists and stewards through hands-on science education. We’ve created unique educational programming to help teachers build more science time in and out of the classroom. We have an excellent team of credentialed teachers that design and deliver fun, high-impact elementary programs that take place in the classroom, on overnight trips to our Grizzly Creek Ranch campus, and on one-day field trips to local natural areas. Armed with our mission to deliver innovative outdoor, science-based education programs for youth to develop critical thinking skills and to inspire natural resource stewardship, Sierra Nevada Journeys programming affects more than 15,000 Nevada students and 400 teachers annually.

Whether it’s rocks, or beavers, or bugs, or earthquakes, science offers so many ways to engage the curiosity of young people. Why not take advantage of that to increase the quality of all of our children’s educational experience?

Sean Hill is the director of education for Sierra Nevada Journeys.