New program helps students appreciate science

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Students in Jane Leaven’s second grade classroom learn using the Ocean City School District’s new FOSS science program. Students in Jane Leaven’s second grade classroom learn using the Ocean City School District’s new FOSS science program. OCEAN CITY — A hands-on, interactive science program was a big hit at the Ocean City Primary School this year.

Looking to revamp the program to meet new state guidelines, the district turned to the FOSS science program, which is a research-based curriculum developed at the University of California at Berkeley that replaces a textbook with a science kit. The goal is to better prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century.

“The kids love it, they love science,” Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said. “They get really excited. This program has really sparked an interest in science. It lights them up.”

Children, she said, are naturally inquisitive. The program helps explain the world around them.

“Children always want to know ‘Why?’” she said. “It’s, ‘Why, why, why, how, how, how, what, what, what? Why is the sky blue? Why is the grass green?’ You want those questions; you want them to want to know the answers. This makes them ask the questions. It stimulates learning, and it’s had a big impact on our students.”

The program, she said, has created hundreds of reading enthusiasts.

“They look at the bugs and they say, ‘Oh wow, I want to learn more!’ They see fish, rocks, weather, whatever and they think, ‘Oh, this is cool!’ It answers their natural questions and makes them want to see more. They want to learn more, they can’t read enough about what they are learning.

“Science helps them to be better readers,” she said. “I can’t say enough good things about this program. We have always had science, but this year we increased their exposure and with this program, they’re really learning a lot.”

The hands-on rather than textbook approach made a huge difference. Taylor likened it to learning to play baseball or learning to dance from reading a book.

“You have to do it, the children learn by doing, not reading about someone else doing,” she said. By doing, children gain a better understanding of the how and why, and want to know more.

The science kits come in a big plastic tub; everything needed is contained in the tub, the lesson, the objectives, a how-to guide and the requisite materials. Teachers roll it out and the children eat it up, Taylor said.

“It’s been a great year for science, and that has helped the students in every other area,” she said.

“This has been an exciting adventure,” second grade teacher Jane Leavens said of the instructional units on insects and plants.

Her students, she said, have been busy observing, recording observations in science journals and measuring and comparing, activities she said are similar to real scientific inquiry.

Karin Stanton, who teaches multiple disabled students in kindergarten and first grade, said her students, who face numerous challenges, are completely enthralled with science.

“It’s opened up a whole new world for my students,” she said. “They are so actively engaged in the lesson. The program takes a multi-sensory approach. It’s visual, it’s touching and it uses a lot of language. They develop communication skills.  It’s rich in new terminology; they learn new words that they would not have otherwise. They learned so much by doing.

“We sit back and watch them, they chit chat amongst themselves. We hear real, meaningful chit-chat. They’re broadening their vocabulary and communicating. It’s really very exciting, and it’s really sweet to watch them exploring their environment.”

Stanton’s students have a pet fish in the classroom named Belle. They have also have snails, Jennifer and Caesar. 

“We took the students on a field trip to the beach, and they were looking for Belle to be in the water, they were looking for snails, the whole world of science was right there for them,” Stanton said. “They asked if we could bring Belle along with us.”

She said a trip to the Cape May County Zoo was far more meaningful than it might have been otherwise because the students had learned so much about the animals and their habitats beforehand.

“They were looking at the animals, their hooves and beaks, and they knew so much. It was like everything coming to life for them,” she said. “They look at the world in a whole new way. Their parents are telling me that they come home and talk about science. It’s been the highlight of our classroom this year that’s for sure.”

“It’s a great thinking program. I can propose different scenarios and ask them what they think about it. I’m considering making some little white lab coats for the kids over the summer. They really believe that they are scientists, so they might as well have lab coats; then they can be the real scientists they think they are.”

Stanton said the program is “wonderful” for students of all abilities.

“The program inspires the students, and that inspiration turns into reading and writing,” she said. Stanton said she stills sees them checking out the typical “Scooby Doo,” “Star Wars” and “Sponge Bob” books, but along with those are science books, and for that she is grateful.

“It’s just a wonderful program, it’s opened up a world for my kids that you can’t imagine,” she said. “To see them so actively engaged in science, it’s just incredible.”

To learn more about FOSS, see www.fossweb.com.


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