Posted 8/04/15 (Tue)
By Nicky Ouellet
In addition to a freshly remodeled school building, students at Central Elementary School will have a new science curriculum on the first day of school.
For the first time, Tioga elementary students will have a dedicated science teacher and conduct hands-on experiments in a new laboratory classroom.
LabLearner incorporates math and literacy standards into investigative projects and is expected to help students improve standardized test scores.
With one teacher focusing solely on science standards, classroom teachers will have more time for dedicated math and ELA instruction.
“That’s another big bonus to having a science curriculum,” said Principal Tim Schaffer.
Schaffer said teachers and school board members alike were drawn to the hands-on and writing aspects of LabLearner, which received overwhelming support in a teacher vote over two other textbook curriculums.
At just over $40,000, the curriculum and lab equipment cost the school about as much as a new textbook set.
A representative from LabLearner was at the school last week amid the remodel construction to set up the new lab classroom and train K-6 teachers how to use the new curriculum.
Seated on stools around shiny black lab tables, they ran through a year’s worth of science instruction in one day. Mass, volume and density, balanced and unbalanced forces, and how to use a microscope were the experiments of the day.
A closet at the back of the room holds everything from glass beakers to colorful scales to boxes of sand. There is even a set of lab coats. Everything is ready for the first day of school.
“It’s a big transition, it’s a whole new environment for you and your students,” Scott Oste, regional account manager for LabLearner, said to the teachers.
Oste coached them through LabLearner’s preset units, called CELLS, which focus on broad scientific concepts. For example, first graders will spend five weeks studying the properties of liquids and solids. Third graders will learn about electricity and the solar system. Sixth graders will use microscopes and explore density.
Each CELL unit is broken down into four to six investigations, a three-day sequence of group-based work that centers around a laboratory experiment.
Students will spend the first class period of the week preparing for the lab, one day conducting the lab experiment and a third reflecting on the lab. Class will typically run 45 to 60 minutes, but some classes will meet for 90 minutes.
For third grade and older, each CELL is followed by an assessment to help the teacher judge whether students are ready to move on to the next concept.
In place of a textbook, students will keep a Student Data Record -- basically a lab booklet where they write observations and answer prompts.
ELA and math instruction that align with school-adopted Common Core State Standards are written into the curriculum. Science instruction aligns Next Generation Science Standards.
In the past, science was snuck in whenever teachers could make time for it, and most of it was based on textbook instruction. LabLearner relies more on lecture and investigative learning.
“I think they’ll take a lot more away from it than reading in a textbook,” said Nikki Holte, who will take over as Central’s science teacher.
For Holte, returning to science after teaching multi-subject fifth grade is an exciting yet natural shift. She studied forensic science before working toward her teaching degree.
The new curriculum allows for experiential, hands-on learning, something Holte hopes will instill in her students the same love and excitement she feels for the subject.
“They learn by doing,” she said. “I hope they keep that love with them and carry it on.”
Holte will spend the next few weeks before school starts on Aug. 19 familiarizing herself with the lessons and equipment.
Until then, she hopes students seek out science with their parents in the last fleeting days of summer.
“You don’t just have to do science in school,” she said. “It’s all around you. You should always be looking to do science.”