The study of science is about asking questions. By that virtue alone, young children should be awash in science learning, given their constant probing of how the world around them works.
Yet in schools both in the United States and abroad, science learning in elementary and middle schools is often given short shrift, with more intensive, exploratory science offered only in the high school years. However, in Mexico, as a result of a long-term collaboration between the Smithsonian and a science-education nonprofit, science education has started to make a substantial shift and embraced the country’s youngest learners.
Mexican science education nonprofit INNOVEC has been working with the Smithsonian Science Education Center to adapt an innovative science curriculum, developed by the Smithsonian Science Education Center, for use in Mexico’s kindergarten through middle school grades. The units range widely in subject matter: electricity, insect lifecycles, food science, and the science of sound. Teachers are trained in the use of the physical objects that now accompany these lessons as well as how to talk to their students about science to encourage questioning and collaboration. After the success of a small-scale pilot program in 1995, INNOVEC was created in 2002 to scale up the use of the curriculum in schools across the country, and to coordinate the additional training and support that teachers would need to successfully bring these lessons to their classrooms.
Today, over 30,000 teachers in 11 states have been trained to use the curriculum, reaching nearly 500,000 students across the country. The Smithsonian continues to work with its partners at INNOVEC to develop additional educational materials and support ongoing leadership training through workshops in the United States and Mexico.
Students seem to relish the hands-on learning they’re being exposed to—what kid doesn’t enjoy watching a caterpillar transform into a butterfly, or seeing what’s really in that sample of dirt beneath a microscope? But the ultimate benefit to them may be an even more valuable long-term intangible: As these young learners learn together to be critical observers, questioners, experimenters and researchers, they are laying the foundation for a whole new generation of collaborative thinkers in Mexico.