Website review by Christie Thomas, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2015

Smithsonian Science Education Center

Teacher-geared site outlines steps for innovative science instruction

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K–10 This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Subjects & Skills
Science

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Pros: "Good Thinking" videos addressing student misconceptions and education best practices are absolute gems; watch and learn.

Cons: Educators with whom the site's vision resonates will still need to do a lot of legwork; concrete details such as samples or time lines are notably missing.

Bottom Line: Use the SSEC's site as a stop on your changing-science-instruction path; just be prepared to reach out to them for constructive details.

Most science teachers will find the Good Thinking video series meaningful. The series presents findings in a light, un-ruffling way, and they're easy to absorb whether you find them validating or transformative. Consider using these in the department or within your own PLN. Try the Explore the Research link for related readings, though you'll need to plan conversation prompts on your own. You'll also need to determine how to apply your takeaways to your local situation. Using the site's plan for implementing inquiry practices will require hitting the Contact Us button, as will attempting to participate in any advertised PD events. If the site's suggestions match your goals, send a note with a few initial questions.

The kid-facing games are fun, age-appropriate options that will work for concrete reinforcement or review (for example, matching animals and habitats). They could also be solid additions to your list of "links for extra time," though generally they're not worthy of whole-class activity time.

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The Smithsonian's Science Education Center (SSEC) site is a teacher-facing resource that features the SSEC's vision for schools or districts wishing to change current science practices to inquiry-based instruction. From the home page, the main menu bar sends visitors to Our Method, which provides general information and explains the programs LASER model for changing science education. The Getting Started link then outlines a four-step plan to move an educational entity to an inquiry-rich program. Through Curriculum & Resources, visitors find thumbnails of the program's own science workbooks and kits (for purchase through Carolina Biological) and short videos coordinating with the curriculum's teacher guides. Other links, such as Training & Services and Our Results, share further programmatic overviews.

The secondary menu, at the very top of the home page, provides resources that stand alone. The STEMvisions Blog provides interesting content and education-related articles, and the Game Center offers six science games, an app, and an ebook geared toward kids.

Other standouts include:

  • The Learning Science Through Inquiry visual powerfully motivates instructional change by personalizing STEM career data and connecting it to education.
  • The 15 Good Thinking teacher PD videos can be found through the Curriculum & Resources link or accessed all together. Colorful and humorous, they superbly highlight student misconceptions (think: plant food) and clarify teacher best practices (for example, debunking learning styles).

The SSEC offers a rationale and a procedural outline for shifting science instruction within schools, districts, and even states to an inquiry-based approach. Leadership and expertise are surely available through the SSEC, but site visitors must reach out to the developers directly to gather details and specific supports. Concrete information such as cost, sample documents, or possible time lines are all absent from the site; even "Our Results" are vague. Changing teacher practices -– as in individual or organization-wide -– is already a daunting undertaking; providing more specifics online would remove a major obstacle. 

Colorful animation and age-appropriate tasks within the few kid-geared resources will engage and provide some learning. But students won't deeply understand a topic better, and some misconceptions are even affirmed (the Insects ebook describes bees as "creating energy"). Overall, this site is definitely worth a look, but it'll require a heavier lift for teachers to truly transform their science teaching practice.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

The site is easy to navigate with powerful visuals. Funny, vibrant teacher PD videos shed light on student misconceptions and share best practices. Science games for kids aren't numerous, but high-quality animation makes them enjoyable.

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

Overview-level info on STEM education and inquiry may help teachers wanting to change their practice. "Good Thinking" PD videos superbly support science educators, but the fun games for kids don't all reflect deep learning.

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

The site outlines curriculum, PD, and networks needed to change science instruction. Still, implementable tasks, cost, and other specifics aren't listed. Also, student games are missing instructional guides and classroom tips.


Common Sense reviewer
Christie Thomas Classroom teacher

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