The STEMscopes curriculum's pedagogical roots can be traced back to the Russian launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 and the ensuing space race. Coincidentally, STEMscopes is headquartered in the space flight capital of the United States, Houston, Texas. But what’s the connection between this 21st-century educational approach and the space race? Read on.

The curriculum is based on the 5E instructional model, originally developed by principal investigator Rodger Bybee and his team at BSCS Science Learning in 1987. Over the past three decades, the 5E model has been implemented widely for science instruction, refined continuously based on research and classroom experience, and increasingly validated by research assessing its effectiveness.

BSCS based the 5Es on an understanding of an earlier three-part learning cycle developed by Robert Karplus and Herbert Thier in the massive Science Curriculum Improvement Study (SCIS), which ran from 1962 to 1977. Funded in a nervous post-Sputnik America by the National Science Foundation, SCIS was one of a number of federally funded studies launched to counteract the perceived failure of the American education system to match the Soviets’ strong emphasis on science. Karplus and Thier’s work was unique in its commitment to foundational elementary science education. Further, it built a life sciences curriculum around the principle that children learn best through hands-on experiences with experiments, exploration of ideas, interpretation of what they observe, and ability to relate scientific concepts to the real world.

All of this will sound very familiar to anyone working with STEMscopes. The curriculum is rooted deeply in the BSCS 5E instructional model, which itself owes a debt to the revision of thought about science education after the Soviet success with Sputnik. But unlike the Cold War era objective to teach science solely in order to build a workforce of scientists, the STEMscopes curriculum seeks to apply the 5E model to build life skills, regardless of students’ career choices. These skills are applicable to science learning in later grades but also to general learning and life beyond academics: a sound approach to teaching problem-solving, the investigation of questions, evaluation of evidence, development of an explanation, and communication of findings.