Early childhood science education is key to lifelong enthusiasm and success

Experts Say Use of Multimedia Materials Such as Waterford Early Math & ScienceTM

Boosts Students Interest and Scores

Mesa, Ariz. - Studies show that American students perform poorly on science and math when compared with their international counterparts. Colleges and employers are complaining that high school graduates are unprepared, and political and business leaders like President Bush and Bill Gates are calling for nationwide improvement.

While many experts focus attention on fixes to middle and high school programs, an alternative theory is gaining momentum. The problem, according to some experts, is a lack of meaningful instruction in the primary years, a situation exacerbated by few high-quality, engaging, and age-appropriate curriculum materials.  Creating an early enthusiasm for math and science, they say, is the key to building a strong foundation for lifelong interest and success in math and science among American children.

Barbara T. Bowman, president of Erikson Institute in Chicago, stated in "Policy Implications for Math, Science, and Technology in Early Childhood Education," that the "roots of later competence are established long before school age, and recent findings from neuroscience confirm the importance of the link between early experience and subsequent achievement."

Patti Bock, principal of Wheeler Elementary School in Speedway, Ind., is a believer in this theory and ahead of the curve when it comes to early childhood science. Wheeler Elementary serves its 270 students by providing the Waterford Early Math & ScienceTM (WEMS) program on 21 computers. Created by the nonprofit Waterford Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah, WEMS is one of the few comprehensive, multi-faceted programs available that helps young students master a range of concepts such as number sense, operations, measurement, geometry and patterns, the scientific process, life science, physical science, earth science and more, through a variety of engaging multimedia materials.

Principal Bock saw a demonstration of the Waterford program four years ago and liked the way it helps facilitate early understanding, interest in, and mastery of math and science concepts.  

Each level of the program provides music CDs and cassettes, videos and written materials, some of which students use at home. The take-home books include tools for parents, such as questions to aid understanding and suggestions for extending stories with hands-on experience.  "The real beauty of Waterford is that it lets children learn the way they learn best, through books, songs, engaging characters, hands-on activities, you name it, it reaches them," said Bock.

Indeed, recent studies indicate that a combination of classroom and computer-related activities may be the optimal curriculum solution. Young students who use software requiring exploration and problem solving in math and science display higher gains in intelligence, nonverbal skills, structural knowledge, long-term memory, complex manual dexterity, and self-esteem when compared to students who did not use computers or only used drill-and-practice software.

Shannan McNair, Ed.D., associate professor of Human Development and Child Studies at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. and author of a book called "Start Young! Early Childhood Science Activities" notes, "Evidence shows that children need hands-on material. Science is not intuitive; for children to believe, they have to see it happen."

Another educator who has seen the power of software in kindergarten through second grade classes is Craig K. Mills, principal of B. M. Williams Primary School in Chesapeake, Va.  Mills discovered the KnowledgeBox® digital learning system from Pearson Digital Learning through a former student's parent who had fallen in love with it.

"Four years ago, there were no textbooks that addressed the state's science standards for primary students," he says. "The lessons and multimedia materials in KnowledgeBox are aligned to state standards, but moreover, they reach our students in a way that traditional materials can't.  Our teachers use it to create complete, age-appropriate lesson plans that can be easily customized to meet individual student needs, a big bonus for the widely diverse levels of primary students."

In particular, the program's use of videos appeals to Mills. "Digital media brings science alive for the kids," he says. "Even though we live on the coast, some of our students have never been to the ocean. Through KnowledgeBox, they can experience it." The videos are appropriately short and, as Mills says, "teach the concept and move on." His teachers appreciate the program's flexibility; they can use the ready-made lessons or create new ones.

Best of all, students' test scores are improving. Since adopting the system in 2002, Mills has seen a steady rise in third grade students' scores on the state tests.  In 2004 his school met all indicators for Adequate Yearly Progress for the first time, and since then has made remarkable progress across all subject areas - including double-digit gains in science. 

Mills knows that KnowledgeBox is only one piece of the pie, but he is convinced that the software's engaging, age-appropriate content hooked kids in and put meaning to science. "You can talk all you want, but when they see it, it makes a much bigger impact, one that I believe will foster curiosity and interest throughout their school years and possibly, life," he said.

About Pearson Digital Learning

At Pearson Digital Learning our mission is to provide innovative, research-based digital learning solutions that elevate the art and science of teaching, and inspire children to reach their greatest potential. Reaching more than 20 million students annually, our products include: the SuccessMaker® Enterprise and NovaNET® educational courseware; and the KnowledgeBox® digital learning system. Pearson Digital Learning is also the exclusive distributor for the Waterford Early Reading ProgramTM and Waterford Early Math & ScienceTM, adaptive computer-based instruction developed by the Waterford Institute.

Pearson Digital Learning is part of Pearson Education, the world's leading integrated education company, which in turn is part of Pearson (NYSE: PSO) the international media company. More information can be found at: http://www.PearsonDigital.com.

Further information

Leslie Eicher
Eicher Communications
314-965-1776 or Leslie@EicherCommunications.com