If you think your eighth grader's homework is hard now, Dave Csintyan and Colorado Springs, Colo.-based organization See the Change USA want to make it even harder. Well, not so much harder as more challenging and engaging. See the Change USA advocates introducing physics into the middle-school curriculum to foster an interest in science and engineering, and has developed a Web-based series of coursework, activities and teaching aids to facilitate their mission.
“The U.S., unlike other industrialized countries, does not introduce physics in middle school. We don't expose students to physics until the upper high school grades and, in most cases, it's an elective course. Physics is a fundamental science and a big part of how things work,” says Dave Csintyan, CEO and co-founder of See the Change. “Middle school is the age when the intellectual curiosity is at its peak. They're at the point in their development when they can start synthesizing various inputs. Physics builds those critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, and physics builds upon other disciplines, such as English and math.”
A New Teaching Model
Csintyan partnered with Dr. Anatoliy Glushchenko, professor of physics at the University of Colorado - Colorado Springs, to establish See the Change USA in 2012. Today, the nonprofit organization works with 18 schools across Colorado and in New Mexico – reaching some 4,500 students and training more than 40 teachers. Teachers can download lesson plans, worksheets, handouts, labs, homework, quizzes and tests from the organization's cloud-based platform. The group also hosts a live, biweekly training session for teachers led by the staff physicist.
“Our program provides state-of-the-art curriculum, teacher development and support, and our materials are organized in a way that supports rigor, deep critical thinking and opportunities for true inquiry-based learning,” says Kathleen Gobos, vice president of Marketing & Communications. “We design our materials with the students' and teachers' needs in mind. Any teacher, independent of his previous teaching and educational background, is able to become an expert and excel at teaching physics with minimum preparation required.”
Csintyan says one of the more tangible results of the program is the “multiplier effect” on overall student achievement.
“Teachers, administrators, and parents are seeing their students' lives change before their eyes in terms of performance and intellectual curiosity,” he says. “We have anecdotal evidence of kids starting the program a grade level behind and leaving the program a grade level ahead. There's something very special going on, and that's what makes it worthwhile.”
Connecting the Dots
As a former president and CEO of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, Csintyan is quick to point out the program's impact as an economic development agent.
“This isn't just about what happens in the classroom; it's about what happens in the communities. There's been tremendous buy-in from businesses and economic development organizations that see this as an opportunity for their community to build a workforce that's competitive in the future. We've had businesses sponsor the program in schools. They guest lecture in the classroom. They host the kids on field trips and help explain how what kids are learning gets put to practical use,” Csintyan says. “And businesses looking to relocate to Colorado Springs will have homegrown talent with critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.”