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February 21, 2013

Choosing science

Science curriculum boosts learning

From identifying fabrics to making up their own telegraphic code, students at Logansport’s elementary schools are taking science into their own hands.

About three years in to the school district’s Indiana Science Curriculum, educators are seeing a greater love of science among their students as well as higher test scores. The curriculum places an emphasis on hands-on science learning, with students learning the scientific method and inquisitive skills.

Under the curriculum, students in kindergarten through fifth grade receive kits that cover the state-mandated four major areas of science: life science, physical science, earth science and science technology and engineering. However, unlike past curricula, every lesson plan in the kits includes a focus question and hands-on investigation.

For example, in Mrs. Hamm’s Kindergarten class at Fairview Elementary, students were asked “How are fabrics different?” To answer the question, the students picked out different pieces of fabric while learning about the properties that make each fabric absorb or repel water.

In higher grades, like Miss Erickson’s fifth-grade class, students helped build circuits that could be used to make long-distance telegraphs.

These activities help foster cooperative learning, rather than instruction just by the teacher, according to Michael Miller, elementary science coach for the corporation.

“It’s a student-first model,” Miller said.

The curriculum started out as a pilot program at Fairview Elementary from 2010 to 2011. The pilot was expanded to the three other elementary schools the next school year, with the 2012 to 2013 school year being the first full year the curriculum is in place.  

Because the program helps engage all students, Miller said they’ve noticed a marked difference in ISTEP test scores as well student appreciation of science.  

“It’s been phenomenal,” Miller said.

Using scores from Fairview Elementary School, Miller said they saw an 11 percent improvement in scores alone after two years of the program.

It has also been helping boost scores among English Language Learners and free and reduced lunch students.

“Another thing they’re looking at in our district is closing that achievement gap,” Miller said.

Elizabeth Lopasser, principal of Columbia Elementary School, attributed that increase to the interactive lessons.

“Regardless of student need, anytime that a student is reading writing, listening, speaking, and doing you’re going to make a better connection,” Lopasser said. “With this program, we’re actually doing all of these things.

Miller said they’ve also seen improvements in other areas like English and Math.

For Jackie Danhauser, curriculum and program development coordinator, one of the clearest signs of success for the program is that science is no longer just fit in to the school day, but rather requested by the students.

“That speaks volumes,” Danhauser said.

Chris Hess, principal at Fairview Elementary School, said the curriculum is making her students love science, which wasn’t usually the case in the past.

“Most kids will tell you that science is one of their favorite subjects,” Hess said.

She said that enjoyment of science could help prepare the students for careers in the field.

“I would not want another science curriculum in my building right now,” Hess said.

The curriculum is also benefiting teachers, according to Rita McLochlin, Landis Elementary School Principal. The kits include all materials for the projects, so the teachers do not have to go out and find materials for science learning, as they had to in the past.

“Everything comes all in one package,” McLoughlin said.

The curriculum materials come out of the school textbook fund, but teaching training and Miller’s salary come out of a math and science partnership grant with Purdue University. The University helps provide teacher training for the curriculum.

The curriculum will remain in the Logansport School Corporation until 2017, when the curriculum will be decided on again.

Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or caitlin.huston@pharostribune.com.

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