12.9.14: New science curriculum engages students in real-life learning
12.9.14: New science curriculum engages students in real-life learning
Posted on 12/09/2014

Being a young scientist has never been so much fun.


That’s how students and teachers across the district are describing a new “Interactive Science” elementary science curriculum for kindergarten through sixth grade.


The new science materials teach real-world science concepts through hands-on learning, computer and video technology, and related nonfiction books leveled by reading ability.


There are also colorful vocabulary flashcards and interactive texts with vivid photography and space for students to write notes or draw diagrams directly onto the pages.


“The new curriculum provides many opportunities for our young scientists to learn about and practice being scientists themselves,” said Jennifer Iverson, a second-grade teacher at Pope Elementary.


Iverson continued, “They are challenged along the way to put their science skills to the test through inquiry (asking questions), observing, predicting, explaining, and making conclusions.”


During a recent science lesson, Iverson showed second graders an Interactive Science short video about how fruits and vegetables are sorted in a market.


She then asked students to work in small groups to observe and sort objects — in this case paper squares, triangles, rectangles, and circles — by classifications such as color, shape, and size.


While sorting objects, students also learned that scientists often work in teams to make observations and classify objects, Iverson said.


But second grader Kailee Bolen said she learned something even more exciting.


“I learned that when I grow up I want to be a scientist,” she said. “This is fun.”


Meeting state learning standards


The district replaced its elementary science curriculum this year to better prepare students to be successful in school and in post-secondary education and careers, said Christine Moloney, director of instructional leadership.


Interactive Science also aligns with state Common Core learning standards and “Next Generation Science Standards” — new national science standards adopted a year ago that are beginning to be incorporated into school curricula across the country, she said.


Puyallup’s newest science materials are also infused with more lessons in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and can be understood by a wide spectrum of learning styles and abilities.


“We want to provide our students with a curriculum that allows them to explore their curiosities with deep, critical thinking and problem-solving strategies that will prepare them for the world that awaits them,” said Pope Elementary teacher Stephanie Haegele.


Haegele led a 20-member elementary science cadre of teachers and district leadership that participated last year in the curriculum adoption process.


Books, videos, and experiments


Nonfiction books called “leveled readers” are available to support every chapter in the student textbook.


There are different books written on the same subject to reach students who are reading below level, on level, and above level. Others are written, including some in Spanish, for students who need English Language Learner support.


“First graders tend to gravitate toward and love to read nonfiction,” said Pam Saleen, first-grade teacher at Edgerton Elementary. “Having the leveled nonfiction readers is a great bonus we have not seen before in our science curriculum.”


Every aspect of the new Interactive Science curriculum is engaging, ranging from books students can write in to video clips of real-life events that students can relate to and be inspired to learn more about, Moloney said.


A video series that supports the texts features a group of young adults who go on different adventures to explain scientific concepts. Each one incorporates music with the key ideas.


In one, an actor goes scuba diving off the Florida Keys to show coral and the difference between living and nonliving creatures. Another video shows an actor sandboarding near the ocean to illustrate the meaning of force and motion, including gravity and friction.


The Interactive Science “textbook” is a large student workbook filled with full-color photos and brightly colored charts and images.


“My students love writing in their books,” said Sarah Meeker, a sixth-grade teacher at Brouillet Elementary. “They can highlight the key concepts, write notes in the margins, and assess their understanding all in one place.”


There are also video clips that support each lesson and an online technology feature that allows students to expand their learning on computers in class and at home. Students who are absent can also use the online technology to make up work, including labs.


Teachers report students especially like a 60-second “Got It” video that reviews key points in a lesson.


Emie Mann, a third grader at Fruitland Elementary, said, “What I like most about science is the 60-second videos because at the end of it they say, ‘Got it? Sure you do!’”


Northwood Elementary Principal Melanie Helle said she and her staff are also excited about the video clips. “We like how the clips emphasize the science vocabulary that the students are learning about. It’s a great program that gets students excited about science!”


Interactive Science structures each lesson by the “5E learning cycle” — engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate.


While originally intended for kindergarten through grade five, the district added two sixth-grade learning modules — Astronomy and Space Science, and Ecology and the Environment — to help prepare students for what they will learn in junior high science.


The Astronomy and Space Science module, for example, includes lessons about gravity and motion, the solar system, the science of rockets, the scale of the universe, and star systems and galaxies.


Ecology and the Environment includes lessons on ecosystems and biomes, forests and fisheries, waste disposal and recycling, and renewable sources of energy.


Students also are exposed to numerous experiments using materials contained in lab science kits stored year-round in all classrooms. Larger lab items, such as microscopes or weights, are combined in one kit that is shared at each school.


In past years, district science kits traveled throughout the elementary schools on a rotating basis.


“They only had the science kits for a limited amount of time, and if there were schedule changes due to things like assemblies or snow days, teachers would lose instructional time that couldn’t always be made up,” said Brouillet Elementary Principal Nancy Strobel.


As with other science curricula used in past years, students will be growing plants and observing live creatures such as mealworms, pill bugs, and caterpillars.


Daniel Shin, for one, can’t wait. Shin is a third-grade scientist at Fruitland Elementary.


“I like using the science tools like the microscopes because we can see closer and discover new things,” he said.