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Math and Science in Middle Schools The Elements of Student Success

A successful middle school classroom contains a teacher who is fully prepared to give their students the time and support they need to develop higher level and critical thinking skills, rigorous coursework that fits properly into a vertical alignment system, and students who are engaged in the material and making real-life connections – the last of which is crucial to mastering the subjects of math and science.

To talk about the influence that rigorous math and science courses can have on middle school students, we reached out to our STEM subject matter experts, Jonathan Edquid and Lynn Rogers, who have graciously provided their expert opinions on what they believe are the key elements for ensuring student success: early student engagement, vertical alignment in the classroom, and long term goal setting.

◾Engaging Students Early On
“There exists a decreasing trend in the number of domestic students choosing to enter and complete degrees in the STEM majors,” says Jonathan – and he’s right. Research shows that 38% of students who start a STEM major do not graduate with one. “If we are to address the decreasing number of students graduating in STEM fields,” Jonathan continues, “we must engage students as early as possible and work towards increasing their self-efficacy.”
One way of engaging students early on is by creating an environment that fosters higher level thinking and generates deep content knowledge. These are terms that are used quite a bit, but what do they actually mean and why are they relevant? According to Jonathan, higher level thinking is achieved when students are independently making decisions within the classroom. Deep content knowledge is gained when students are able to draw upon previous knowledge and make connections between old and new content. Both of these concepts are key components to a successful AP classroom; therefore, it’s up to middle school teachers to instill higher level thinking and deeper content knowledge within their classrooms before students advance to high school. In short, classrooms must be vertically aligned across years and levels of learning.

 ◾Vertical Alignment in the classroom
Why is it important to vertically align coursework for the student? NMSI experts say it’s incredibly important – especially in the formative years of middle school – so thatstudents “Can learn concepts in a cohesive manner. When teachers understand that learning occurs before the students come to their class, and that the learning process continues as students advance from one grade to the next, then teachers can work together to help their students achieve meaningful, long-term goals.”
Therefore, it’s not just a matter of making sure the student accomplishes a certain amount of tasks before moving on to the next grade level. It’s making sure they have the knowledge and support to successfully master the subject at hand, and teacher collaboration is the only way to ensure this success.

◾Setting Long-Term Goals
Developing long-term goals for student success is not an easy process. Doing so requires a high level of engagement and dedication from teachers across grades and disciplines, but it is something NMSI believes is vital to preparing students for college and their careers. However, there is some form of relief for teachers through implementation of the Common Core State Standards. “The Common Core emphasizes the interrelatedness of subjects and develops a framework with which the students can link new knowledge and skills with those learned previously,” says Jonathan. The Common Core is more than just a set of rules and standards. It is a framework for students and teachers, to help them be successful in the classroom.
Our NMSI experts gave a last bit of excellent advice:

◾“Remember that student engagement is linked to creating meaningful experiences and real world science connections.” In other words, make the subjects of math and science real to your students by making it fun and engaging. To help stir your imagination, Lynn shared some great ideas and resources that we would like to pass on to you:

◾Actions speak louder than words, right? PBS has a fantastic series of videos where STEM professionals challenge students to create their own robots, hovercrafts, and all sorts of other cool projects.

◾Kids also need people to look up to, and History Makers has some great interviews with minority STEM professionals. These stories could serve as inspiration for those students who may not have any STEM-related role models.

◾Request a professional in a STEM field – like an active NASA astronaut! –  to come talk to your students about having a career in STEM. It will paint a real life picture for them and hopefully inspire them to learn more!
You can check out some of our other posts on student engagement and creating awesome lesson plans to help you in your quest for creating an engaging classroom atmosphere. Remember that you have the ability to help positively change the lives of your students. Student success depends on that vertical alignment of instruction and support.
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