Science resource educator in the new budget - Supterintendents Corner

Science learning will be an area of focus for the Woodbridge School District in 2005-06, and both our BOE budget and our Capitol Projects requests reflect this emphasis. It is very important that we ensure students' science literacy in terms of their ability to make sense of and apply science ideas and methods. Our science curriculum has been revised to include themes and concepts guided by national and state standards and the recommendations of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AASA).

It is a sound and developmentally appropriate scope and sequence for the district's K-6 students. It is not one of simple recall of facts or definitions, but rather of finding connections among facts to build conceptual understandings, and apply critical thinking and inquiry skills to generate conclusions. It calls for uncovering misconceptions students have about science through engaging explorations that encourage students to refine their ideas. Very simply stated, it calls for doing science, not learning about science.

The regular classroom can and does accommodate some science activities. In it, students can describe and record daily weather conditions, and use certain tools to measure, describe and compare objects. They can explain the causes of day and night based on the earth's rotation on its axis. And in the classroom, rich discussions can be had about scientific ideas. The library media center and its numerous resources also support activities where students research information from books, magazines and the Internet.

However, the regular classroom can not accommodate the structuring of certain activities that require designing and conducting complicated investigations, identifying variables, and using sophisticated scientific tools, instruments and techniques to make observations and gather data. Students need appropriate space with appropriate materials to be able to deeply explore and investigate through experimentation and hypothesis-testing.

The regular classroom lacks capacity for students to dissolve materials in water, observe their ability to float, sink, conduct heat, and to describe the effect of heating on melting, evaporation, condensation, and freezing of liquids. The regular classroom lacks capacity for experiments with electricity in circuits, exploring the classification of substances and mixtures, and studying the effects of heating on movement of solids, liquids and gasses. All these activities demand a hands-on approach, specific materials readily available, and experimentation in a dedicated space.

In 2007, 5th grade students will be required to take Connecticut Mastery Tests in science. To give us a baseline of information about our students' readiness, third and fifth grade students took a simulation assessment last spring, including several performance tasks involving observations, measurement, classification, recording, graphing, interpreting data, making inferences, predicting, and drawing conclusions. Our students' lowest scores were on tasks involving physical science where skills of hands-on inquiry, hypothesis-testing, and conclusion-drawing were demanded. Results showed that higher order processing skills were weak. Whether there is a test coming or not, our students are capable of doing better. They need to be doing more science, and our lack of a dedicated space has delayed our ability to offer them the hands-on approach that our curriculum demands.

We are requesting a dedicated science resource teacher in our 2005-06 budget to work with and support classroom teachers in developing and leading science lab experiences aligned with our curriculum goals for students, give them practice in science experimentation, and improve their science literacy. We are also requesting in our Capital Projects budget renovation of one classroom to transform it into a science laboratory to provide the setting students need for hands-on science learning. The combination of these two curriculum initiatives will set a new course for improvement in the area of science, and help students reach the goals set forth for them in the district's science curriculum.

Dr. Marjorie Anctil is the Woodbridge Superintendent of Schools