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community schools

Publish Date: 1/30/2007

Enlarge
Skyler Wray looks at the roots in her group’s terrarium during Nancy Ferraro’s fourth-grade science class
at Burlington Elementary.  
Times-Call/Lewis Geyer

Class in the box
Science kits supply elementary learning

 LONGMONT — In a nondescript building at 2929 Clover Basin Drive, Jackie Delier and Wanda Jele make science happen. Or, more accurately, they make science possible to happen in the hands of St. Vrain Valley School District teachers and students.

Delier and Jele work in the school district’s Science to Go Center, a laboratory of sorts where the materials and equipment needed to cover topics in the elementary science curriculum, from circuits to solar systems, are assembled according to district standards.

“The elementaries in our district have no textbooks for science. This is our science,” Delier said of the science kit program, which began about 20 years ago.

Delier said the district is in the midst of a five-year plan to update some science kits and eliminate those that are obsolete. She estimated that the science kits cover about 90 topics, many of which have multiple copies.

Most kits address science curriculum standards for pre- kindergarten to fifth grade, but a few kits, such as “Wisconsin Flat Plants,” are available to any level through 12th grade.

Kits can contain items such as seeds; Styrofoam cups; crickets; hot-water bottles; fertilized eggs; “chemicals” like baking soda, salt and sugar; and relevant books and transparencies.

Some kits have up to three storage totes full of materials. Science kits are requested by teachers through a computer system and are delivered by warehouse staff to every school each morning, Delier said.

“We try to keep each tote under 45 to 50 pounds,” she said, adding that teachers can use kits for as little as five days or more than a month.

Some totes are labeled with warnings if they contain allergens, like fertilizers or peanuts, and tools, such as small knives, so teachers can address safety issues with students and parents beforehand, Delier said.

“I took science from a textbook. You know what I learned? Zero, because there was zero interest,” Delier said. “The reality is the kids get more than just science. They get math and reading and so much more. They get to experience it.”

The overhaul of science-kit topics will address gaps in the curriculum, especially in areas of earth science, said Jeremy LaCrosse, science coordinator for the St. Vrain Valley School District.

A committee of a dozen teachers and principals is setting this criteria for the overhaul, which includes finding more connections into math and writing areas, he said.

“The key in using the science kits as a vehicle is so teachers can integrate math and reading,” LaCrosse said. “This gives (students) an avenue to want to do more reading and want to do more writing. And that’s what we want for science.”

Burlington Elementary science teacher Nancy Ferraro, who collaborated on the Science to Go program at its inception, said studies show children learn more when the activities are hands-on and inquiry-based.

“They’re the ones asking, ‘What is this?’ and ‘Why is this happening?’” she said last week as her fourth-graders observed and recorded the growth patterns of seeds from the science kit “The Web of Life,” which covers food chains, the flow of energy and predator-prey relationships.

“Hopefully, by the end of next week, we’ll add crickets and see how much of the plants they eat,” she said. “And then we’ll add anole lizards, and suddenly we won’t have very many crickets, and the kids will have to figure out why.”

Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-684-5274, or by e-mail at msidwell@times-call.com.

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