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Suggested Citation:"Spokane, Washington." 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 146
Suggested Citation:"Spokane, Washington." 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 147
Suggested Citation:"Spokane, Washington." 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 148
Suggested Citation:"Spokane, Washington." 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 149
Suggested Citation:"Spokane, Washington." 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 150
Suggested Citation:"Spokane, Washington." 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 151
Suggested Citation:"Spokane, Washington." 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 152

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Spohane, Washington A City School District Struggles to Put the Pieces Together Spokane is a socioeconomically diverse community located in the eastern part of Washington State, close to the Idaho border. The school district has 35 el- ementary schools (K-6J and 800 elementary school teachers, and it serves 1 7, 850 elementary school students. The population of the district is largely Caucasian, with some Native Ameracans, Asians, and African Americans. The impetus for reform in Spokane District 81 came from school ad- ministrators within the district. The district's major focus to date has been on curriculum selection, professional development, and science materials support. The district has a module-based, inquiry-centered science curricu- lum, and the majority of the distr~ct's teachers have been involved in profes- sional development activities. The district has established a science materials support center, bet it has been difficult to organize and maintain the center. Do the same creatures live in the little Spokane River as in the pond near my house?" asked a fifth-grader in Lorna Spear's class in Spokane's School District 81. "How can we find out?" This question emergent from work on the module Microworlds, a Science and Technology for Children life science unit in the dis- trict's new inquiry-centered science program. The philosophy be- hind the inquiry-centerecl approach is that as much as possible, children's interests and questions drive classroom cliscussions. In response to that question, Spear organized a series of field trips to try to find out what kinds of organisms live in rivers and ponds. The class collectec! specimens at both sites en cl took them 146

Spokane, Washington back to the classroom, where they examined them under a micro- scope. They cliscovered that different organisms live in different bodies of water, and they concluded that this was largely due to the unique characteristics of each river and pond. Spear, a lead teacher in Spokane's science program, believes that children need freedom to learn, so throughout the day, she gives them many choices. As a result, children spend time working in groups and alone, reading, and conducting scientific investiga- tions. Spear has found that "children are more self-initiated and creative without my intervention." "All types of learning are welcome in my classroom," explains Spear. "Another little boy was interested in exploring how the earth started spinning. We brainstormed about the problem in class. Then I encouraged him to go home and read about it. He came back to class with the same explanation that astronomers have come up with that the big bang set everything in motion and gravity creates the pull among planets." Planning the Science Program Learning experiences like these become possible when a school district makes the commitment to implement an inquiry-centered program. Under the direction of Science Coordinator Scott Stow- ell, Spokane's science program is now entering its seventh year. Stowell and his colleagues used much of the information gatherer! at the 1989 National Science Resources Center Elementary Sci- ence Leadership Institute to develop a comprehensive K-6 science action plan. The first phase of the plan called for an in-depth curriculum review and development process. According to teacher lane Gorder-Harrison, the Leadership Institute made it "crystal clear" that a kit-based program was the best approach. The science com- mittee spent long hours wrestling with the topics to be covered in the curriculum, getting input from teachers, en cl developing a comprehensive curriculum matrix made up of life science, physi- cal science, en cl earth science strands, with special emphasis on en- vironmental issues and technology. Once the strands were estab- lished, the district invited representatives from many companies to visit en cl present their products. The district piloted many mod 147

Inquiry-Centered Science in Practice ules, rejected some, accepted others, en c! ultimately filled in the curriculum matrix with modules from several national companies as well as some developed at the district level. - Professiona' Deve~opment Activities As the modules were being selected, Spokane's professional devel- opment program also began to take shape. In June 1992, the dis- trict en cl its partners, Eastern Washington University and Partners- at-Large, a coalition of business, industry, and government agencies, receiver! a five-year National Science Foundation Teacher Enhancement Grant. Stowell en cl Robert Gibbs, a physi- cist from Eastern Washington University, were named co-directors of the grant. The following month, Stowell and Gibbs held the clistrict's first summer institute for lead teachers. The institute lasted four weeks and provided professional development activities for 75 dis- trict teachers en cl 20 teachers from private schools. The institute's sessions were conducted jointly by classroom teachers and univer- sity scientists. The participating teachers now make up the cadre of lead teachers, who, along with school principals, work with teachers new to inquiry-centerecl science. For the first three years of the project, typical staff develop ment consisted of either two 10-hour sessions of intensive study of two modules or attendance at the 30-hour summer institute. The fact that teachers were given a choice proved to be popular with teachers and a real strength of the program. In both settings, teach- ers worked in groups and progressed through the lessons in a mocl- ule, just as their students would clot Instructors modeled appropri- ate instructional strategies, such as implementing the learning cycle and asking different kinds of questions. The summer institute also explored other issues related to science education reform, in- cluding learning theory and assessment. Teachers appreciated the presence of knowledgeable university scientists and the opportuni- ty to ask questions and learn more about the subject matter. During the summer of 1993, 15 elementary schools sent 93 teachers to the second summer institute, where lead teachers con- ducted many of the gracle-leve] workshops. Gorcler-Harrison, one of the summer institute instructors, recalls that "teachers start to 148

Spokane, Washington act like kicis; they can't keep their hands off the materials." The teachers' interest and enthusiasm soon spread to educators in schools not yet involved in the program. In fact, interest in the school district was so high that the re- maining 20 schools in the district requested that they be brought into the program the following year instead of being phased in over a two-year period as originally planned. The administrators agreed. Science Materials Support The Critical Element The decision to grant the schools' request was to create unfore- seen problems in another area of the program the science mate- rials support center. Indeed, creating a workable materials support center is one of the real challenges facing school districts engaged in reform. A district such as Spokane, which serves 800 elementary school teachers, must supply kits to the schools, refurbish them, keep track of inventory, and pick the kits up on time. Although dis- trict leaders made every effort to plan up front and to consider every detail in the structuring of the program, sometimes circum- stances make implementation difficult. "Bringing in 20 schools in one year was too much," says Stow- ell. 'We clicin't have the space we needed or the personnel to serve that many schools. All the details need to be thought out carefully in advance." The problems fell into several categories. One was space. A warehouse formerly used to store textbooks had been designated to house the kits. But the textbooks had not been removed in a timely fashion, so there wasn't enough room for the kits. The rea- son this situation arose can be traced to some of the challenges in- herent in the process of planning and implementing a massive re- form effort. 'We had some changes in personnel," Stowell says. "I had been working closely with the assistant superintendent on this proj- ect, but he retired. New indivicluals came on board who were not familiar with the logistical support that was neecled. They were very supportive, but I guess I didn't articulate all the details clear- ly enough for them during the transition. As a result, the pace of moving the oIcl textbooks out was not quick enough." 149

Inquiry-Centered Science in Practice The jurisdiction for the science materials support center did not fall solely under Stowell's supervision, which compounded the problem. While Stowell coordinated the scheduling of the science kits, another department was responsible for operations at the sci- ence materials support center. So the issue became one of com- municating the need to that office and solving the problem in col- laboration with key inclivicluals from other departments within the school district. Problem Solving Is the Key At this point, the district movect into a problem-solving mode. It hacl commissioner! a study of the materials support center in the sum- mer of 1994 to obtain all the information neecled to get it up and running. Using the study's report as a guide, the district brought in Rob,vn Norwood, an experienced manager, to supervise the center. 'We completely reorganized the space," she says. 'We took the books off the shelves and made room for the kits. Once we had room to see what supplies we haci, we could see what supplies we neecled to order." To keep track of the vast number of supplies, from beakers to bottles, wires to bells, tuning forks to rallies, the staff at the materi- als center developed an inventory sheet. The inventory sheet en- surecl that the kits would be ready when the teachers needed them. Along with keeping track of the inventory, Norwood en cl Stowell developed a workable pickup and delivery schedule. In- stead of having all the kits cleliverec! on an eight-week cycle, Stow- ell put them on six-, seven-, and eight-week cycles. That way, the staff at the center could refurbish one group of kits while another group was out with the teachers. The schedule also carefully de- lineated which teachers were to receive kits during specific time periocls. With the inventory and schedule in place, Norwood then tackled the issue of routing. Using the district's delivery system, she developed a routing system where geographical quadrants were served on a Monday-Thursday and Tuesday-Friday rotation system. Teachers who had requested kits knew exactly when to ex- pect them and where to pick them up. Implementing this sched- ule kept the kits moving through the system smoothly. 150

Spokane, Washington Spokane's experience underscores how critical a science ma- terials center is to the success of the science program. There are many details to attend to, and it is easy to overlook one or two es- sential ones. When that happens, it doesn't take long for problems to occur. The key to success is a well-thought-out plan and strong management at the science materials support center. - Mov~ng For~ware With the science materials support center problems under con- trol, science program staff are looking forward to a smooth road ahead. The teachers, too, have had additional time to fine-tune the skills they acquired during the professional development pro- grams. The lead teachers as well as classroom teachers have been given the option of participating in advanced workshops. Also, a subcommittee consisting of the original lead teachers has begun to identify the essential learning goals for each module and to cor- relate them with the goals defined in state en cl national standards. Many teachers, however, are still struggling to learn the ba- sics. Co-Director Gibbs observed that much of the initial training focused on "nitty-gritty" issues of materials management, class- room management, and understanding the activities in the mod- ules. Few teachers have reached the "expert" level, where they are able to modify the modules, integrate them with other parts of the curriculum, and bring in other materials to enhance the kits. A1- though react teacher Lorna Spear agrees, she also notes that the program "has given teachers support and more time to talk to one another." Fostering collegial relationships among teachers is one of the goals of the project and provides a way for teachers to grow professionally. At this point, however, Gibbs says that "we have been able to bring most of our teachers to the level of mechanical use. That shouldn't be perceives! as negative. What it means is that we are teaching science significantly better than we were before." 151

Inquiry-Centered Science in Practice The implementation process needs to be planned carefully. The pace of implementation should not accelerate beyond the school district's capacity to meet the needs of the teachers who will be participating in the program. The establishment of a well-functioning science materials support center is critical. Teachers can't teach inquiry-centered science without all of the necessary materials. Science program staff must be realistic about the goals of the pro- fessional development program. Most teachers will need to pass through a period of"mechanical use" before they master all the fine points of inquiry-centered science teaching. 152 .. :.: ....: .. ,,' .,:, ~ ..'. '. $#~##:.''..'.~

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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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