The night crawlers twisted and wriggled under the kindergarten teachers’ scrutiny.
Erika Hernandez and Shelbi Westra had just pulled a pair of fat earthworms from a Styrofoam cup brimming with the creatures in a conference room at the Cherry Creek School District’s Instructional Support Facility (ISF) in Centennial. The pair used wooden popsicle sticks to draw the worms out of the dirt onto paper plates. As the two teachers from Arrowhead and Aspen Crossing elementary schools poked and prodded, Jen Christianson was on hand to pose a steady stream of questions about the animals’ size, color and makeup.
“Can you guess why the worms might be given the name ‘night crawlers’?” demanded Christianson, herself a kindergarten teacher at Ponderosa Elementary School. “What are the differences between redworms and night crawlers?"
Hernandez and Westra played the dutiful roles of students, thoughtfully answering questions that will likely pop up in their own classrooms with the beginning of the 2014-15 school year. The pair weren’t the only teachers to reverse roles during the daylong session at ISF on Aug. 4. Dozens of K-5 teachers from buildings across the district reported to take firsthand lessons during the Full Option Science System (FOSS) training session.
The FOSS event connected science teachers from all grades with tactile and practical science lessons. Teachers examined earthworms, they broke apart soil samples, they watched as instructors used simple vials and syringes to illustrate the physics and mechanics of air.
“The idea is about having kids experience science to learn science,” said John Eyolfson, K-12 science coordinator for the district. “Kids go through different investigations to learn how concepts come together.”
The district provides all the materials to science teachers throughout the district, he added.
“We are providing the resources. We deliver every consumable and every durable product that the teachers need to teach science in Cherry Creek,” he said. “That’s new.”
Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley developed the FOSS curriculum in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and Eyolfson said the system has become a more and more critical part of science instruction at Cherry Creek during the past five years. The students’ role in the curriculum is only a part of the whole approach, he added. The training session on Aug. 4 connected new and newly relocated teachers with an increasingly important part of the district’s approach to science.
“We’re getting teachers ready for the new school year,” Eyolfson said. “Teachers are learning through the FOSS experience from a highly qualified trainer who is an actual teacher in the Cherry Creek School District.”
Downstairs from the night crawler demonstration, third-grade teachers took part in an immersive lesson about landforms, rocks and soil. They worked with soil samples to glean lessons about erosion and weathering in the Centennial State. Laura Arndt, a science teacher from Antelope Ridge, said her work with older students was just as gratifying as her day job teaching elementary school students.
“I love working with adults. It’s actually one of my favorite things to do,” Arndt said. “It’s fun seeing the teachers who haven’t used hands-on materials have their eyes opened. A lot of teachers say, ‘If science had been taught like this when I was a kid, I would have loved it.’ To me, it’s fun to see teachers have that a-ha moment.
“If they’re excited, the kids will be excited,” she added.
The immersive, hand-on dynamic was hard to miss in training session after training session. Kathryn Eyolfson, a fourth-grade science teacher from Coyote Hills Elementary, led her peers through a lesson about lunar phases using a flashlight, a miniature globe and a mini-moon. Sarah Bowers, a teacher at Village East Elementary, used colored water, syringes and glass vials to illustrate how water can be used to show that air can take up space.
Such demonstrations are at the heart of the FOSS curriculum. Students start with a focus questions and draw on immersive materials to discover the answers. Such tactile curriculum represents the forefront of teaching science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.
“Having kids answer a focus question and then apply their learning is an extremely important aspect of how they learn science today,” John Eyolfson said. “In the past, they might have been told about science. This is about learning through experience.”
That dynamic isn’t only for the students. Any science teacher in the district has to keep up on a field that is constantly changing and evolving. The FOSS curriculum help instructors keep up with those updates.
“It is being a lifelong learner and learning alongside the kids,” Eyolfson said. “We offer courses and classes throughout the year … We do not expect teachers to be out there on their own.”
For more information about FOSS materials and distribution through the district, click here.
-- Posted Aug. 13, 2014