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Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District (1997)

Chapter: 7. Establishing a Science Materials Support Center

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Suggested Citation:"7. Establishing a Science Materials Support Center." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
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Page 89
Suggested Citation:"7. Establishing a Science Materials Support Center." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 90
Suggested Citation:"7. Establishing a Science Materials Support Center." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 91
Suggested Citation:"7. Establishing a Science Materials Support Center." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 92
Suggested Citation:"7. Establishing a Science Materials Support Center." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 93
Suggested Citation:"7. Establishing a Science Materials Support Center." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 94
Suggested Citation:"7. Establishing a Science Materials Support Center." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 95
Suggested Citation:"7. Establishing a Science Materials Support Center." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 96
Suggested Citation:"7. Establishing a Science Materials Support Center." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 97
Suggested Citation:"7. Establishing a Science Materials Support Center." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 98
Suggested Citation:"7. Establishing a Science Materials Support Center." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 99

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Establishing a Science Matenais Support Center If you want to encourage elementary school teachers to teach science through inquiry, you have to provide them with the light stu~at the right time. You have to give teachers a cleat they can't refuse. Larry Small, "Science Materials Support," ~ 992 l o teach inquiry-centered sci- ence modules, the teacher needs all the "stuff' of science con- tainers, scales, chemicals, and living organisms. These materials make science inviting to children and bring them into the world of scientists and how they work. In the past, teachers often had the responsibility of gathering the materials outlined in the teacher's guide to teach inquiry-cen- tered science. This did not prove to be realistic or efficient, be- cause few elementary teachers had the time or the expertise to do this job well. Experience has shown that science will be taught more effectively if science materials are managed by the school dis- trict en cl made available to teachers when they need them. The 89

The Nuts and Bolts of Change most effective way for a school district to do this is to create a sci- ence materials support center. The purpose of such a center is to provide all the materials teachers need! to teach inquiry-centered science modules in "ready-to-use" condition. Although the idea is simple, implement- ing it is not. The manager of a materials support center must con- sider myriac! details to ensure that elementary science teachers re- ceive what they need when they need it. Issues that must be considered inclucle how to manage large quantities of materials, replenish kits that have been depleted of consumable supplies, keep the inventory of hundreds of items up to ciate, order new supplies from the most economical sources, and ensure that the kits arrive in the classroom on schedule. Although there are other ways to support teachers with sci- ence materials, the most efficient and cost-effective approach is to establish a central science materials center that is operated by the school district. Many school districts engaged in reform have clis- coverec3 the importance of this critical element. George Hein, con- sultant for the National Science Resources Center's Elementary Science Leadership Institute program, en cl Carol Baldassari and Laura Hudson fount! that most districts that sent teams to the Leadership Institutes between 1989 anti 1995 recognized the im- portance of establishing a materials support center and are taking steps to ensure that this element is in place. Larry Small, the former science coordinator of School Dis- trict 54 in Schaumburg, Illinois, founded one of the first success- ful central materials support centers. He recounts from his own ex- perience why a central materials center is so effective: In the early development of our system, the materials were purchased by central warehouse personnel and sent to the in- dividual schools for storage in the school's science "closet." The audiovisual materials were housed in each school's li brary or resource center. Some science units were contained in one box. Other units used baking soda, vinegar, soda straws, and other common grocery store items. These items were purchased and stocked on the shelf of each school's sci- ence closet. About midway through the first year of the new program, the boxed unit had been used by one or two teach 90

Establishing a Science Matenals Support Center ers. Once the consumables had been used up, the science unit did not get taught. The units that needed materials not contained in this box but on the closet shelf had an even worse record of use. These units were never taught at all.2 A central materials support center can solve most of the prom lems that Small describes. Through central coordination across the district, important tasks such as purchasing materials, keeping track of inventory, sorting and packaging items, assembling kits, distributing kits to classrooms, and refurbishing them for reuse can be accomplished efficiently. Because there are so many benefits to this approach, the em- phasis of this chapter will be on describing how to set up a science materials support center for a school district. The discussion be- gins with issues that need to be considered in planning a materials support center and then focuses on expenses associated with start- ing and maintaining the materials support center. Some school districts, such as those that are very small or that cannot afford to set up a centralized system or those that are man- aged by a site-based approach, may wish to consider other ways to provide teachers with the science materials they need. Therefore, the chapter concludes with a description of alternative types of sci- ence materials support systems. Planning a Science Materials Support Center The establishment of a systemwicle science materials center should be one element of the district's overall strategic plan. Plans for set- ting up the materials center must begin early in the program, when the first curriculum modules are being selected. As in all aspects of establishing the science program, it makes sense to start small, cir- culating only a few modules to a few schools. If procedures are es- tablished on a small scale, the materials center will be better pre- pared to expand to handle more modules and more schools. Because of the complexity of the tasks and procedures involved, es- tablishing an efficient materials center will take between three and five years. Maintaining the center will be an ongoing effort. The issues that need to be addressed are practical. For exam- ple, where is the materials center going to be housed? How much 91

The Nuts and Bolts of Change Workers pack science kits at the science materials support center in Montgomery County, Maryland. space will be needed? Who will staff the facility? Is there money in the budget for a separate staff, or will current staff members, such as the science coordinator and his or her administrative assistant, have to assume aciclitional responsibilities? These issues are ex- plored in more cletai! below. Space For a large school district, processing science kits requires a large space, such as a warehouse or an unused school building. A single room in a school building or the corner of a districtwide resource center will not be sufficient. Small school districts, on the other hantl, may find that one or two rooms in a school building are suf- ficient. Ideally, the materials center will be in a large space close to an outside entrance that can be used for receiving shipments of materials and for moving science kits in and out of the building. Despite careful planning, space has proven to be a problem in many school districts. For example, Montgomery County Pub- lic Schools, in Maryland, moved its center three times before the 92

Establishing a Science Matenals Support Center district found the right space. Spokane District 81 in Spokane, Washington, encountered another kind of problem related to space. The warehouse designated to store kits had formerly been used to store textbooks. Much to the dismay of science program coordinators, there was not enough room in the warehouse for the science kits because the textbooks hadn't been removed in time. Program designers must anticipate the possibility of road- blocks such as these, which can cause major setbacks in program implementation. Management In many school districts, responsibility for the science program is shared by many players. For example, one office may be responsi- ble for scheduling kit deliveries, while another office is in charge of day-to-day operations. To establish a well-functioning center, these offices must be able to communicate and solve problems together. Staffing Most materials support centers begin with a small staff perhaps a manager and one full-time staff member or a few part-time em- ployees. Identifying a strong manager is crucial, because that per- son must oversee operations: ensuring that the inventory is being kept up-to-date, that the kits are ready to go out on time, and that pickup and delivery take place according to schedule. As more teachers begin using inquiry-centered science modules, additional part-time employees may be necessary. Some large school districts, which may package as many as 3,000 science kits a year, have called on high school students and senior citizens to work during peak processing seasons. Both of these strategies have worked well. Inventory Keeping track of the inventory and updating materials lists for the science kits is part of the work of the materials center. The more specific the lists, the better. Detailed lists help staff become aware of what they have in stock, what items are being depleted, and what they need to reorder. Most school districts have established formal procedures to ensure that supplies are reordered and re- ceived before they are needed. 93

The Nuts and Bolts of Change Packaging Preparing the kits for clelivery is highly labor-intensive. At designatecl times of the year, staff needs to be available to prepare the kits for the teachers. Some districts may decide to manufacture the kits them- selves; others focus on refurbishing science kits that have been pur- chased from commercial suppliers. In either case, the school district must be aware of its needs and plan ways to meet them well in advance. Scheduling The schedule serves two functions: It specifies the date for the deliv- ery and pickup of science kits for teachers and the time the kits will be at the center for refurbishing. Districts have developed different scheduling strategies. One strategy that has been used effectively is placing science kits on a nine-week schedule and sending them out according to subject area. This means that schools participating in the program receive all the life and earth science kits at about the same time and must be ready to return them at the end of nine weeks. During the nine weeks that the life and earth science kits are in the schools, the materials support center can refurbish the physi- cal science kits so that they are really to go out at the beginning of the next nine-week cycle. Teachers are responsible for preparing the kits for pickup and knowing where the designated pickup point is. Deiiverly The plan must cover how the kits will be transported from the sci- ence materials center to the schools. Some districts use the ser- vices established for delivering multimeclia materials and other supplies to schools for the science kits. Other materials centers have created their own delivery systems. Each district needs to con- sider which option best suits its needs. Service All teachers must fee] confident that their materials will be ready when they need them. When teachers need additional materials or encounter unanticipated problems, they need to be confident that someone at the district level is responsible for supporting them. In addition, teachers with materials problems need to be able to ask react teachers in their school to help them. 94

Establishing a Science Matenals Support Center Need for Special Handling Procedures It is important that the materials support center have a plan for re- ceiving and maintaining the animals and plants used in the mod- ules. The materials center should also assist teachers by developing guiclelines for maintaining living organisms in the classroom. Safety Staff at the materials center should be aware of basic safety pre- cautions, such as providing goggles for students who will be work- ing with chemicals, even common ones such as salt and baking soda, and not using seeds that have been treated with fungicides or pesticides. Guidelines on recommended safety precautions should also be providecl to teachers. Cost-Sav~ng Measures Multiple Uses of Kits In planning the materials support center, school administrators must prepare realistic, cost-effective budgets. Operating a materi- als support center does cost money. Districts must be prepared to invest in the science materials for the kits, but once they make that commitment, they can save money by using each kit several times each year en cl relying on cost-saving measures when purchasing consumable materials. To understand why using a kit at least twice during the school year keeps costs down, consider the following example. Let's as- sume that a kit costs $400. If 30 students, or one class, use that kit, the cost per student is $13.33. If you take that same $400 kit and spend $100 to refurbish it, the total cost of the kit increases to $500, but two classes, or 60 students, can use it. This means that the cost of the kit per stuclent decreases from $13.33 to $S.33. And if the kit is used three times, refurbishment costs $200, but because 90 students can use it, per capita costs drop to $6.66. Refurbishing Costs Many factors contribute to refurbishing costs. In figuring out these expenses, the materials support center staff needs to consider per- sonnel costs, costs for consumable items such as chemicals and bat 95

The Nuts and Bolts of Change series, and costs for lost or broken nonconsumable materials, such as graduated cylinders and hand lenses. The two biggest operating expenses for a materials support center are staff and replacing consumable and nonconsumable items. To keep personnel costs down, many programs have a bare- bones staff and rely on volunteers for aciclitional help. Over time, however, as the program grows and more kits are circulating throughout the system, more staff will be necessary. There are many ways for the materials center to save money in replacing both consumable and nonconsumable items. Staff can purchase raw materials directly from manufacturers or whole- sale clistributors. Although such materials must be bought in bulk, purchasing items in this way leads to tremendous cost savings. Working with more than one supplier for each item or kit and ne- gotiating the best price through a hid process can also save large amounts of money. Through the bid process, districts may find local suppliers who can provide better service at a lower price than national outlets. Some materials centers have discovered that a local hardware or garden supply store can supply certain items, such as potting soil and aquarium gravel, through special orders. Local stores may also offer free delivery. Finally, staff at science materials centers can be creative in their search for inexpensive materials. In acldition to local tele- phone (directories, many centers have found it useful to consult The Thomas Register of American Manufacturers, a multivolume set of books that contains more than 50,000 product and service head- ings. This register may be available at the school district purchas- ing office. Other Types of Materials Centers Although experience has revealed that for the average school clis- trict, establishing a districtwide science materials center is the most effective way to supply materials, there are other options. The list that follows identifies some alternate strategies that have been used to supply materials to inquiry-centered science programs. These approaches may be especially suitable for small districts that can't afford to establish their own centralized system or for dis- tricts that have adopted a site-based management system. 96

Establishing a Science Materials Support Center Consortium-Based System A consortium of school districts may decide to operate a science materials center as a cooperative venture. Consortium programs generally charge participating districts a fee based on the number of teachers and schools that will be served. For example, the cen- ter in Huntsville, Alabama, charges participating school districts a flat fee of $300 per teacher per year, as well as an adclitional fee (about $6) per student for refurbishing. Other consortia, such as the Einstein Project, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, charge a $100 rental fee each time a kit is used. Consortia have the advantage of quan- tity purchasing discounts. Small districts may find the consortium approach useful, especially if a neighboring district has already es- tablished a materials center. Site-Based System This is a system in which all of the materials needed to teach sci- ence at all gracle levels are stored in one designates! location with- in a school building. Storage space may be set aside in the school's resource center or a storeroom. A few schools have fully equipped science labs where teachers can hold their science classes. Site- based organization has the advantage of ensuring that materials are accessible to teachers throughout the school year. However, problems can occur if maintaining the materials is seen as a teacher's responsibility. If only one kit is provided for each gracle level, teachers must share the kit en cl someone must accept re- sponsibility for refurbishing it. Scheduling the use of the materials and ordering replacement items can become burclensome. Ciassroom-Based System In this system, each classroom has all the supplies and print mate- rials needed for the curriculum. Such a system allows teachers flex- ibility in scheduling when the science units will be taught through- out the year, because all the materials are always at hand. This approach also has major disadvantages. Teachers may have trouble finding space in their classrooms to store the kits. They may not have the time to keep careful inventory records so that sufficient supplies can be maintained, or they may not realize the impor- tance of reordering supplies in a timely fashion. Finally, there is a 97

The Nuts and Bolts of Change danger that the expense of maintaining materials will fall to the in- clivicual teachers committee to teaching by inquiry. In the past, these problems often resulted in the abandonment of inquiry-cen- tered science programs. Where to Go for Information For more information about how to establish a materials center, your district may want to contact the Association of Science Mate- rials Centers (ASMC), c/o Science and Social Sciences Resource Specialist, Mesa Public Schools, 143 South Alma School Road, Mesa, AZ 85120-1096, or call (602) 898-7815. ASMC members meet annually to share information about the design of science teaching apparatus, sources of supply, and strategies for reducing the cost of . . . . . . 1nqulry-centered science Instruction. Issues to consider in planning a materials support center include space, personnel, inventory systems, delivery, refurbishing, and cost. The most efficient way to supply materials to schools is through a districtwide science materials center.This approach minimizes costs and ensures that materials needed to teach science arrive in the classroom on time, in a"ready-to-use" condition. In some cases, other approaches may be useful.The consortium ap- proach may be particularly helpful for small districts, while the site- based and classroom systems may be the only options in districts where there is no financial or political support for establishing a sci- ence materials center. However, there is no evidence that these sys- tems can be successfully maintained over time. 98

Establishing a Science Matenals Support Center For Further Reading Harlen, W. 1989. Developing Scaence in the Primary Classroom. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann Educational Books, Inc. Lapp, D. M. 1980. "The Need for Teacher Support Systems. " The National Elemen- tary Principal January 61-66. Loucks-Horsley, S., R. Kapitan, M. D. Carlson, P. I. Kuerbis, R. C. Clark, G. M. Melle, T. P. Sachse, and E. Walton. 1990. Elementary School Scaence for the 'pus. Andover, Mass.: The NETWORK, Inc., and Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Small, L. 1992. "Science Materials Support," unpublished white paper by former science supervisor for Schaumburg, Ill. The This Register ofAm~rican Manufacture. New York: Thomas Publishing Comparly. 99

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Remember the first time you planted a seed and watched it sprout? Or explored how a magnet attracted a nail? If these questions bring back memories of joy and wonder, then you understand the idea behind inquiry-based science--an approach to science education that challenges children to ask questions, solve problems, and develop scientific skills as well as gain knowledge. Inquiry-based science is based on research and experience, both of which confirm that children learn science best when they engage in hands-on science activities rather than read from a textbook.

The recent National Science Education Standards prepared by the National Research Council call for a revolution in science education. They stress that the science taught must be based on active inquiry and that science should become a core activity in every grade, starting in kindergarten. This easy-to-read and practical book shows how to bring about the changes recommended in the standards. It provides guidelines for planning and implementing an inquiry-based science program in any school district.

The book is divided into three parts. "Building a Foundation for Change," presents a rationale for inquiry-based science and describes how teaching through inquiry supports the way children naturally learn. It concludes with basic guidelines for planning a program.

School administrators, teachers, and parents will be especially interested in the second part, "The Nuts and Bolts of Change." This section describes the five building blocks of an elementary science program:

  • Community and administrative support.
  • A developmentally appropriate curriculum.
  • Opportunities for professional development.
  • Materials support.
  • Appropriate assessment tools.

Together, these five elements provide a working model of how to implement hands-on science.

The third part, "Inquiry-Centered Science in Practice," presents profiles of the successful inquiry-based science programs in districts nationwide. These profiles show how the principles of hands-on science can be adapted to different school settings.

If you want to improve the way science is taught in the elementary schools in your community, Science for All Children is an indispensable resource.

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