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Suggested Citation:"Huntsville, Alabama." 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 164
Suggested Citation:"Huntsville, Alabama." 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 165
Suggested Citation:"Huntsville, Alabama." 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 166
Suggested Citation:"Huntsville, Alabama." 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 167
Suggested Citation:"Huntsville, Alabama." 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 168
Suggested Citation:"Huntsville, Alabama." 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 169
Suggested Citation:"Huntsville, Alabama." 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 170

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Huntsville, Alabama A University-Schoo' District Partnership Creates a Multidistrict Program Step by Step The Hands-on Activity Science Program is a joint venture of the Universi- ty of Alabama at Huntsville and the following seven local school districts: Athens, Decatur; Fort Payne, Huntsville, Madison County, Morgan Coun- ty, and Scottsboro. A total of S9 elementary schools, 1,665 teachers, and 41,S50 students participate in the science program. Planners of the Huntsville program have emphasized curriculum se- [ection, professional development, and materials support. A module-based inquiry-centered science curriculum is in place, and program coordinators have worked hard to cultivate a cadre of leader master teachers. A consor- tium-based materials support center serving the seven participating school districts has also been established. John Wright has had an eclectic career. A scientist, university professor, and former college presi- dent, he now has a new calling. As project investigator of the Hands-on Activity Science Program (HASP), a joint venture of the University of Alabama at Huntsville and seven school districts, Wright is a crusader in the nationwide effort to bring inquiry-cen- terec! science to elementary school children. Fortunately, the project has received lots of help. HASP began as a partnership with the local chamber of commerce, the Marshall Space Flight Center, and the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Representatives from each of these groups met with school representatives to determine how they could improve the quaTit,v of precollege science education. The project received an 164

Huntsville, Alabama initial boost when it obtained an Industry/School Partnership Grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1990. The collaboration was further strengthened by the formation of the In- stitute for Science Education, also in 1990. The institute is housed . . at the university. The institute operates uncler the premise that the university will share its resources as part of its commitment to improving pre- college science education. As Frank Franz, president of the Uni- versity of Alabama at Huntsville, explains, "The Institute for Sci- ence Education provides a linkage between the university and K-12 education. The science program offers an important public service en c! engages the university with the community." As an experienced administrator, Wright brings to the reform movement essential leadership qualities that enable him to build on a strong base of community and administrative support. "I was comfortable talking to superintendents and corporate executives," recalls Wright. "And we called the state Department of Education when we needed their support." A Vision for Science Education Reform The reason superintendents and state education officials found the HASP team so persuasive was that its members had articulated a vision for science education reform. Attendance at the 1991 Na- tional Science Resources Center (NSRC) Elementary Science Leadership Institute was of key importance in the development of this vision. Knowledge acquired at the Institute irrevocably changed the course of Huntsville's program. The Institute, Wright recalls, helped the team "reformulate and crystallize" its thinking. As a result, the team reevaluated some key parts of its action plan. 'We originally saw hands-on science in- struction as a way to supplement our science curriculum," Wright recalls. But the experience convinced Wright and his colleagues that effective science reform would require replacing the existing curriculum with an inquiry-centered science program. The decision to change to an inquiry-centered program also meant another important step: developing a moclule-based cur- riculum program. Before they attended the NSRC's Leadership In- stitute, Wright and his colleagues *om Huntsville were not aware

Inquiry-Centered Science in Practice that modules were available in the marketplace. In fact, they hac3 assumer! that they would have to create the modules themselves. 'bile hac3 already arranged for teams of scientists and teachers to begin working," recalls Arlene Childers, HASP associate clirec- tor. But after reviewing materials at the Institute, the team went home and spent the year assisting school districts as they piloted modules in local classrooms. The program is now built around a combination of modules from the Science and Technology for Children (STC) program, Insights, and the Full Option Science System (FOSS) program. Establishing the Materials Center While teachers were developing the program's curriculum matrix, HASP team members were working on another key component of an effective elementary science program: a central materials center. To determine the most effective way to begin, the HASP team in- volved both teachers and engineers in the planning process. Teach- ers visited a materials center in Mesa, Arizona, and a team of engi- neers and teachers conducted a study on the best way to distribute and refurbish the materials. The consensus from both groups was that a central system was the most efficient way to deal with the ma- terials component of HASP's elementary science program. - To implement this recommendation, HASP started a materi- als center in the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce building; later, the center moved to the university. While the university provided the space, Huntsville and Madison County agreed to use their dis- tricts' transportation systems to deliver moclules to the schools. With that partnership in place, HASP adopted a consortium model. The program charges participating school districts approx- imately $6 per stuclent per year to refurbish the kits. In aciclition, each participating school district pays a flat fee of $300 per teacher per year; this money is used to builcl the inventory of modules. This system has been highly successful. The consortium has worked so well that five additional school districts- Decatur, Athens, Fort Payne, Scottsboro, en cl Morgan Counties have oinecl since the materials center opener! in 1991. "Establishing a materials center is a critical element that people may wish to ig- nore," says Wright. " But it is crucial to the success of the program." 166

Huntsville, Alabama Creating a Cadre of Leader Master Teachers As in many school districts engaged in reform throughout the coun- try, professional development is a key element in HASP's elemen- tary science program. HASP has enjoyed continuous support from NSF for its professional development programs. Between 1993 and 1995, HASP had a Teacher Enhancement Grant. The goal of this project was to train 126 Leader Master Teachers (LMTs) who wouIcl assume leadership roles in their schools. The teachers' training took place at a three-week summer institute and at sessions conducted midway through the teaching of a module. Topics coverer! at the training sessions included classroom management, science content related to the selected modules, constructivist learning theory and the learning cycle, and the use of questioning strategies designed to evelop higher-order thinking skills. 'We had our first training in The Life Cycle of Butterflies, which created excitement for both teachers anti kids," says Joy Drummoncl, a second-grade LMT in the Huntsville City Schools. "The kids were beside themselves, they loved it so much. Their enthusiasm captured the teachers' imaginations and made them excited as well." In the early clays of the program, familiarizing the teachers with the modules en cl generating excitement were the chief prior- ities. Tereasa Rollings, science coordinator from Madison Count,v Schools and one of the original teacher trainers, recalls, 'When the first group of teachers came to the initial training session, many lacked science content knowlecige. They were particularly anxious about the physical science modules." Time and experience with the modules have helped ease their concerns. After receiving intensive training, teachers have become much more comfortable teaching inquiry-centeret1 sci- ence. Rollings notes that "teachers are using the new questioning strategies and the four-stage learning cycle in other areas of the curriculum. They have become used to chilclren moving around the classroom en c! working together in cooperative groups. And teachers are discovering that integrating science with language arts and other curriculum areas gives them enough time to teach all the subjects." Pam Patrick, an LMT at the kindergarten level in the Huntsville City Schools, uses science as the driving force in the 167

Inquiry-Centered Science in Practice overall curriculum. While her students studied the FOSS module Wood, they also read about trees en cl animals that live in the forest and discussed the work lumberjacks do. They even managed to talk about Smoky the Bear and the importance of protecting trees from forest fires. But Patrick's all-time favorite experience with this module came at the encI of the year. She bubbles over with enthusiasm as she describes how the module's final activity created a memorable conclusion to her students' kindergarten clays: "At the end of the module, after studying different kinds of wood and their charac- teristics, the children applied what they had learned to make wood sculptures. We showecl them how to hammer, and they would still be hammering if we hadn't gotten out of school. When all the sculptures were completed, we invited parents and the rest of the school to come see them. The fifth-graders complained that the kindergarten children got to do all the fun stuff." Yet in Patrick's school, older children have opportunities to show off, too. After fourth-graclers finish building their flashlights during the STC Electric Circuits module, they come to the kinder- garten class to show them how they work. In these ways, HASP has fostered communication among the different grade levels in the building. ~ The Struggle to Become Leaders In addition to becoming proficient science teachers, HASP also ex- pects the LMTs to become leaders in their own schools. Most schools have two or three LMTs, from K-l, grades 2-3, en cl grades (6. While most teachers find leading their peers to be a chal- lenge, Drummond and her fellow LMTs have discovered two strategies that bring success working closely with their principal and planning carefully. "Our principal was supportive, and she showed her support by giving us faculty meeting time five or six times a year to give pre- sentations on inquiry-centered science," says Drummond. 'We also made ourselves available during the year to answer the teach- ers' questions." Yet even with this support, Drummond admits that "teaching teachers is hard.... At first, the teachers dicln't want to go through 168

Huntsville, Alabama the whole moclule. They thought that doing one or two activities was enough." With more experience, however, teachers have come to see that the way to build a concept is by working through the whole module. And by completing all the modules each year at each grade level, teachers help children gain a strong foundation . . In science. Patrick had a less positive experience. 'We encountered re- sistance from the teachers," she says. "l think that was partially be- cause we came on too strong at first. We gave teachers too much information too fast. The result was overload, and a desire on the part of their teachers to go back to their rooms and shut the door." To try to rectify the situation, Patrick and her colleagues backed off during the 199195 school year and clecided not to ini- tiate any faculty discussions, though Patrick clid continue to answer questions and help with materials problems. This approach seemed to work better. By the end of the school year, more than '75 percent of the teachers were using the modules. 'We learn and go as we can," says Patrick. "It is clear that the program has macle a big difference in chiTciren's attitudes about science." Future PIans for HASP In 1995, HASP received a Local Systemic Change Initiative (LSCT) grant from NSF. Under it, HASP will work with five additional school districts and build on the experience gained over the past two years. Participating school districts will select teachers and re- lease them from their teaching responsibilities for a period of time so that they can work with the Institute for Science Education ant! train all the teachers in their districts. The program will further ex- pand the number of school-based leaders. While retaining successful components from the first grant, HASP has modified the program on the basis of the experiences of the past two years. For example, HASP learned that two years wasn't enough time to complete the neeclec! reform. The LSCI will allow five years for professional development. Other realizations include the importance of cultivating teachers as leaders and the need to train principals so that they, too, can be advocates for the program. 169

Inquiry-Centered Science in Practice "This is a rapidly changing field," says Wright. 'me believe that HASP has demonstrated its utility, but it is a living mode! that improves through experience." .! A strong base of community support from local business and in- dustry, local academic institutions, and the chamber of commerce can be extremely helpful. Teachers implementing reform activities need to be given adminis- trative support. In many instances, principals may need training to help them understand the importance of identifying lead teachers who can collaborate with teachers new to inquiry-centered science. School districts should periodically revise their plans, incorporating the"lessons learned" into the program. 170

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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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