Since September 2010, PNC has awarded $4.5 million in grants to four of Chicago’s premier institutions to enhance science education for underserved students in preschool programs operated by Chicago Public Schools and the Big Shoulders Fund. The initiative leverages the expertise of the Adler Planetarium, The Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry and Shedd Aquarium. This marks the first time these four organizations have come together to work collaboratively on science learning for early childhood students.
These organizations have provided educational sessions, classroom materials and in-classroom coaching, enabling teachers to become more confident using science in the classroom. Teachers have noticed that their students’ enjoyment, sense of wonder and use of science has increased since the initiative began. As one participant said, “I learned that science is everywhere. I now use science on a daily basis and have encouraged children and families to use science also.”
The grants also made it possible for the Shedd Aquarium to develop the PNC Early Science Learning digital badging program, which gives teachers online access to activities that focus on best practices, strategies and resources for inquiry-based science in the early learning classroom. To earn a badge in the Early Science Learning program, teachers must demonstrate that they have mastered the skills or knowledge encompassed in the activities.
Peer exchanges are an important aspect of the digital badging program. Participants are encouraged to participate in an online forum with their colleagues.
“This program also requires you to connect with other educators and reach out to the community, which is very helpful since we get a chance to exchange ideas and learn from each other,” remarked one participant.
Additionally, the initiative has provided science equipment to nearly 40 classrooms and allowed the member organizations to host family science events and educational family field trips. PNC employees volunteered to assist museum and school staff during these events.
An independent evaluation of the initiative indicates there have been larger gains in children’s science knowledge and skills in classrooms participating in the program than in comparison classrooms. In total, more than 1,000 children are expected to benefit from the programming funded by this grant.