Friday, February 16, 2007
Teachers use many strategies to spark learning in science
"It's really amazing how much science goes on here," said Carlisle School Science Coordinator and kindergarten teacher Mimi Chandler when she described the science program to the Carlisle School Committee on February 7. The curriculum includes Earth and Space Science, Life Science, Physical Science, Technology and Engineering.
Chandler explained that students in the lower grades rotate to different teachers for science, so that one teacher presents the same science unit to all classes in that grade. This allows teachers to concentrate their preparation and become experts on specific topics, and allows all the students in that grade to get the same high level of instruction on each topic.
Gene Stamell's third graders study the life cycle of salmon as a way to develop skills in observation. They raise the salmon from eggs to grown fish in a large tank in the classroom, learning many lessons in the process. The students are reponsible for a variety of life-sustaining jobs such as feeding the fish, checking the water temperature and balancing the acidity of the water. If all goes well, the fish are released in June into a New Hampshire tributary that empties into the Atlantic.
This spring the Massachusetts Horticultural Society's "Plantmobile" will come to school to support fourth-grade studies on the life cycle of plants. The Plantmobile is a van outfitted as a traveling plant science workshop that provides hands-on educational programs for children in grades K-12. Fourth graders will also study human nutrition.
Sixth graders have been using an interactive science animation program involving solar eclipses, seasons and phases of the moon. Eighth graders are researching global warming and critiquing solutions to environmental issues.
Engineering and technology units have been added to bring the curriculum in line with the Massachusetts Frameworks and to begin preparing students for the new high school MCAS Science Test. Successful completion of this exam will become a high school graduation requirement starting in 2010.
Students start learning engineering concepts early. This year's kindergartners learned about design concepts they could incorporate as they each constructed a mailbox for valentines. An engineer came to speak to the class about the engineering process of design, build, test and redesign.
Volunteer experts aid learning
Chandler is building a list of people with various engineering backgrounds who would consider coming into class to talk about their specific areas of expertise when they overlap with the curriculum. Community members are invited to contact her if they are interested in volunteering.
Chandler is also working with the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF) to arrange walks for teachers, to build their knowledge of conservation lands and trails in Carlisle.
Some teachers are taking advantage of the Pre-College Engineering for Teachers (PCET) Program. This summer workshop is a professional program for K-12 teachers sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The workshop introduces teachers to different strategies for incorporating engineering design into their classrooms. The workshops are given at Tufts University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and University of Massachusetts in Lowell.
Carlisle School Committee chair Nicole Burkel asked how STEP, the Science, Technology and Engineering after-school program, can be integrated into the classroom. Chandler said this was done very well with the electronics kits that were bought by the CEF and used by several STEP sessions. They are now being used in the third grade to aid in teaching electricity. Chandler noted that the integration is done best when the STEP session material overlaps with the curriculum. STEP offers classes in a variety of areas of science and engineering.
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