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EIS Promotes Science for All

In Southeast San Diego, science and innovation were an important part of the curriculum long before STEM


In 1964, teacher Tom Watts started a science club in his Kennedy Elementary School classroom to ensure equity in the pursuit of innovation. That science club quickly grew and within five years, Watts expanded the program to an abandoned house, creating the Elementary Institute of Science, which has since been a fount of science, technology, engineering, and math education in Southeast San Diego.

While the world has evolved in the last 54 years, the mission and methods for teaching STEM have remained constant at EIS. “What’s interesting is what hasn’t changed,” says Jim Stone, the institute’s executive director. “In a sense, Tom was ahead of his time.” Watts employed a hands-on, interdisciplinary approach to STEM. “It was about mixing up the topics and using inquiry-based techniques, because science is a process of discovery.”

Currently, a big push in education is the Next Generation Science Standards, an effort to create common benchmarks and principles for STEM curricula in states across the country. A key tenet of those standards is teaching the subject matter using the practices of scientists and engineers, so that “science begins to make sense and allows students to apply the material.”

“EIS has always realized that science is best learned by doing,” Stone says. “We look at science as something to be done.” He explains that EIS takes that hands-on approach seriously and is committed to ensuring each student receives 25 hours of “inquiry-based” instruction.

Elementary Institute of Science

Over the years, both the quantity and quality of EIS’s STEM offerings drew students from around the city to its lavender building at the corner of Market Street and Euclid Avenue. Recently, it has redoubled its efforts to provide free or low-cost STEM education to students in Southeast San Diego, training the next generation of scientists in this diverse and historically underserved community as part of a larger push to ensure the local innovation economy becomes more inclusive.

As Stone so proudly puts it, “In many ways, the world of STEM education has finally caught up with Tom Watts.” 

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