Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hot topic: Science in elementary school

An SF K Files visitor asked me to start the following thread:
Which public elementary schools do a good job teaching science? And does anyone have any first-hand knowledge re: Spring Valley (supposedly a "Science Magnet" school)? Also, people on this blog have mentioned Grattan as having a good science program. It would be great to hear about other schools as well.

36 comments:

  1. Grattan, by repute, has a great science program. Which it should have, being next to UCSF and having a lot of UCSF parents.

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  2. I posted on another thread more details about Grattan's science instruction. But, I just want to clarify, that while we have a lot of sciencey parents due to our proximity to UCSF, it's our teachers and principal that have placed the extra effort of science. The parents are supportive no doubt, and we do have a science committee but they are not the key. I absolutely believe strong science programs like ours can be replicated anywhere the staff believes it's important.

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  3. I read that Sunnyside has a "focus on science" but have not been able to find any information about what this entails. If anyone in the know would care to comment, I'd appreciate it.

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  4. Hi 7:04, Parent from Grattan,

    I'm copying your post from the other thread, as I think it exemplifies what constitutes a great elementary science program in a school:

    ""So, which public elementary schools do a good job teaching science (they can't all be bad)?"

    I will second Grattan. We do have a lot of ucsf parents, but we don't really tap that the way we could. We're working on it. Science teaching however is viewed as an integral part of the curriculum, way above and beyond the garden/natural science program.

    To offer concrete examples: The CA standard in K is something like the scientific process. Our K class did a lot with light and shadows. Our K kept a science journal in which he would ask a question, conduct research the try to find the answer, drew pictures of his experiments to show his work and then try to write the answer. It wasn't so much about right or wrong, but about the process.

    In 1st grade the teachers did many experiments using the FOSS kits about the different types of matter. They seemed to focus on learning terminology a bit too much for my tastes, but there was lots of experimental components as well.

    In 2nd grade,he moved on to more complicated experiments about sound, electricity and magnets and other stuff. Again the emphasis seemed to be on having the students make guesses about why something happened or how something worked and then conduct experiments to confirm their thoughts and then use that knowledge to make the materials do something else.

    Clearly I am not a scientist! But I can recognize my child's engagement with the material and it looked to me like they were expanding their minds through the material rather than just blindly following a set of instructions.

    I know Grattan is not longer a hidden gem like it was when we got in. There is however a lot on movement on that waitlist.

    My advice on finding a hidden Gem... Strong principal who has a good relationship with her teachers and a staff with a range of new and old teachers. Parents are important, but the core vision has to come from a unified staff."

    This give me an idea of what is possible and I appreciate you taking the time to post it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Alvarado, which is also not a hidden gem by now, teaches science throughout the K-5 years. They used to have a dedicated science teacher, but lost funding for it as the demographics changed....but still, here are some examples of projects:

    * ant farms
    * composting experiments
    * trips to recycling, garbage, and sewage plants
    * boat trip on the Bay to observe wildlife and conduct experiments
    * electricity and basic circuitry
    * solar system
    * study of rocks (kids love this)
    * dissecting barn owl regurgitated hairballs (what are those called? I am not a scientist)
    * experiments with balls and slides--friction, angles
    * experiments with gravity
    * use of Foss kits

    and more....there is always something going on. not as "daily" as reading and math, but at least once a week.

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  6. Lawton also focuses on science and I think it has a relationship with the Academy of Science....can anyone comment on this?

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  7. Thanks for the comments about the Alvarado science program. I love the hairball dissection. Ohh, and the solar system!

    And of course, as mentioned on another blog, Alvarado does a great job of teaching math.

    Someone mentioned that Alvarado teaches the Mayan counting system to the kids, which I always thought would be a great way to teach different base systems. It is a base twenty system, unlike our counting system which is base 10. I guess the Mayans either wore sandals or bare feet, because they used both their hands and feet to count (of course, our system uses finger counting alone.)

    There are some pretty good wiki pages on the Mayan counting system, if anybody is interested. Check out Maya Math or Mayan Math.

    Unlike our system, which carries after 9, 19, 29, 99, 999, etc. the Mayan system has two carries, the first on every fifth count, and the second on every 20th count.

    The Mayans seemed to have discovered zero by about two thousand years ago. A true zero appeared in our base 10 counting system (the decimal Hindu-Arabic counting system) about 1500 years ago.

    The concept of carrying isn't difficult, but as we know, it is absolutely essential that kids get this concept so that they can do the basic arithmetic operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

    As a kid, I kind of found learning these operations boring, and I wish that someone had explained the history behind it and that the carry came from the fact that we only have ten fingers.

    If we'd had twelve fingers, we would have had a base 12 system . . . or maybe a base 20 system if we'd worn sandals all the time.

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  8. Find a school that has gone through the SFUSD WISE program. It is (Working to Improve Science).The 4th and 5th grade teachers at these schools did years of week long workshops in the summer and development throughout the year. There have been statistics showing they've improved tremendously.

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  9. I believe they're called "owl pellets." :)

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  10. I recently heard the principal of New Traditions speak and even though it's an arts-focused school, she spoke at length about the school's partnership with USF and San Francisco State in which students come and teach science modules to the children.

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  11. San Francisco State is also partnering with Aptos Middle School science teachers, bringing them experimental modules (and teaching help) they wouldn't have access to otherwise.

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  12. re sf public school science:

    my kid just today brought home a cool scale drawing of the solar system's planets, with the sun and then mercury, venus, earth and mars clustered together on one end and the gaseous planets strung out as far as one meter to the other end. very cool in showing relative distance--we think the sun is so far away from earth but it is really very, very, very far away from jupiter, saturn, et al. he included the asteroid belt and other fun stuff, and colored them all beautifully too. we hung it up on his bedroom wall.

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  13. "I read that Sunnyside has a "focus on science" but have not been able to find any information about what this entails. If anyone in the know would care to comment, I'd appreciate it."

    I was looking over the greatschools demographic and test results data for this school. While is does appear that there is a slight improvement in the math performance at the school in the last year or so, there seems to be an odd split in the results for girls and boys. The girls have much stronger results than the boys.

    I know you were asking about the science program. If they have a "focus on science" program, it doesn't seem to be reflected in their test results yet.

    Sounds like it would be worth a visit, but ask some hard questions.

    Overall, the test results in this school are quite low, and if you're struggling with basic things like language comprehension, you're going to have trouble in other subjects as well.

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  14. "I believe they're called "owl pellets." :)"

    A while back, they had a weekend program at Henry Coe State Park, which is just south of San Jose. They dissected coyote poop to show what coyotes eat.

    By the way, for anyone who is interested, Henry Coe Park is having Tarantula day there tomorrow. It is about a two and a half hour drive south of here.

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  15. "I recently heard the principal of New Traditions speak and even though it's an arts-focused school, she spoke at length about the school's partnership with USF and San Francisco State in which students come and teach science modules to the children."

    Sounds like a principal to watch. I notice that the grade 2 class was 85% profficient in math last year. Wow!

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  16. "re sf public school science:

    my kid just today brought home a cool scale drawing of the solar system's planets, with the sun and then mercury, venus, earth and mars clustered together on one end and the gaseous planets strung out as far as one meter to the other end. very cool in showing relative distance--we think the sun is so far away from earth but it is really very, very, very far away from jupiter, saturn, et al. he included the asteroid belt and other fun stuff, and colored them all beautifully too. we hung it up on his bedroom wall."

    Thank you for telling us about that. It is a huge universe! How fragile and precious and tiny our world is!

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  17. Someone asked a few days back about schools in the city that do a good job of teaching math and science that are not overrun with applicants.

    I haven't made an exhaustive list, but have focused on the southern half of the city. I am not including Yick Wo or Argonne, for instance.

    In the southern half of the city, the ones we all seem to know about are:

    Grattan, Alvarado, Clarendon, Lawton, West Portal, Miraloma and Sunset.

    There seem to be some other schools on the horizon. I would definitely check out:

    E R Taylor, Commodore Sloat, Rosa Parks (strong in math), Jose Ortega and New Traditions.

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  18. 2:41

    I agree about asking questions, especially if you are really interested in something specific like math and science curricula and achievement. Just wanted to point out that Sunnyside is in turnaround mode, and as I understand it kids aren't tested in science (CST) until 5th grade, so it may not be possible to judge the current program on results of upper grade tests. So your advice to ask questions is all the more important, I suppose. Talk to current parents about this would be my advice.

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  19. If any one was interested in the Tarantula Fest at Henry Coe Park, it is next weekend, not this weekend, as posted earlier.

    Here is the link:

    http://www.coepark.org/tfest.html

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  20. I'm curious about Spring Valley too? Anyone tour this school or know anything about it? I think it is a neighborhood school (as opposed to an alternative school), but I've also seen it listed as a "science magnet school." The description on the SFUSD website sounds interesting (see below) and it gets high marks on the Great Schools website (though many people note the high amount of homework). Could it be a hidden gem???

    "Do you want your child to be smarter? Spring Valley specializes in improving intelligent behavior, high level thinking/problem solving skills, and personal responsibility. Children are involved in appropriate decision making and help run the school by taking on some "jobs" so that teachers spend more time teaching. We fully expect that our learning at the cutting edge and gives our students an advantage as they prepare for the unknown future. A solid foundation of all educational subject matter, especially the language arts, communications and math, are offered. Creativity is fostered by a rich arts program: dance (S.F. Ballet), music/choir, quilting, fiber arts, ceramics, murals, drama and more through artists-in-residence and talented teachers. Computer/media technology in a wide range of high tech tools is used to implement learning and express creativity. Other programs include: *English Plus Chinese or Spanish, GATE, Conflict Resolution, motor skills, and many special projects.

    Accelerated Learning is crucial and children are taught learning-to-learn strategies while homework is offered all year long (week-ends, vacations, summer) to extend lifelong learning. School is the "home for the mind" where all of us are expected to use our brains to learn continuously and live harmoniously. Fifth graders spend one week at an environmental camp. Field studies are conducted at Bay Area sites and museums. Parents and families go on trips to the Lawrence Hall of Science & our U.C. Berkeley, for example. Parent involvement is valued. Resourceful staff members are leaders in science, language arts, other aspects of education, and have received awards for outstanding service. Spring Valley received awards from California as a Distinguished School and from the U.S. Office of Education for Excellence in Education."

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  21. Are there any other strong science schools in the central, north and western parts of the city?

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  22. The FOSS kits are standard district curriculum, right? and even if that's all the schools used it would be better than nothing. They are actually pretty OK, I think. Are there some schools that don't use them at all?

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  23. "Are there any other strong science schools in the central, north and western parts of the city?"

    Yes, absolutely. But as I don't live on that side of the city, I am not familiar enough with them to comment.

    I know a parent who sent there child to Yick Wo who loved it. They said it had a really strong academic curriculum. I don't know specifically about science teaching there. Same with Lilienthal, Argonne, and Robert Louis Stevenson. They are quite well known as good schools, but I haven't toured them or heard any parents talk about them.

    There are many others. If you know of a school you think has a great science program that I haven't mentioned, please let us know about it.

    Can anyone in the North and West side of the city comment?

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  24. "The FOSS kits are standard district curriculum, right? and even if that's all the schools used it would be better than nothing. They are actually pretty OK, I think. Are there some schools that don't use them at all?"

    It would be very hard to know if there are schools that DON'T use the FOSS kits. Generally, the schools have experienced a withdrawal of funding to train teachers to teach science in the last ten years.

    You can read about that unfortunate situation here:

    http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12739&page=R1

    Many teachers may not have the training to convey the material in the FOSS kits to the students.

    I would definitely agree with the suggestion of an earlier post:

    "Find a school that has gone through the SFUSD WISE program. It is (Working to Improve Science).The 4th and 5th grade teachers at these schools did years of week long workshops in the summer and development throughout the year. There have been statistics showing they've improved tremendously."

    I am not a teacher or district employee, just a mom with a background in science, so I don't know what the district curriculum is.

    The California curriculum is the gold standard for math and science teaching, in my opinion. If the public schools were able to teach the Cal curriculum, we would all be in great shape.

    The California curriculum does not specifically mention FOSS kits. I personally think the FOSS kits are great, but to teach the California curriculum, other material and pedagogy would be required as well. For the record, here is a link to the California K-12 science curriculum:

    http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/documents/sciencestnd.pdf

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  25. Sorry.

    The cal curriculum link got lopped off. Here it is again:

    http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/
    documents/sciencestnd.pdf

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  26. Strategies for teaching science to African American Students.

    I came across this great discussion paper. We might all want to have a look at this, in the interest of being able to advocate for appropriate science teaching of African American children.

    Many of the points suggested also might apply to the teaching of science to girls and other non tradition students of science.

    http://www.as.wvu.edu/~equity/
    african.html

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  27. Just want to second the person who mentioned Spring Valley Elementary School.

    The description of the school sounds like they are using a Montessori approach.

    I believe it would be worth a look.

    It is in an interesting location, right downtown on Jackson Street.

    Thank you for telling us about this school.

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  28. This is off topic, regarding the lottery. If anyone is interested in a feature rich website about climate change, climate modelling and the Berkeley Scientist, Inez Fung, check out:

    http://www.iwaswondering.org/
    inez_homepage.html

    I think that kids as young as eight could enjoy it.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Someone asked this question earlier about FOSS kits:

    "The FOSS kits are standard district curriculum, right? and even if that's all the schools used it would be better than nothing. They are actually pretty OK, I think. Are there some schools that don't use them at all?"

    Yes, they are very OK! Again, I don't know if all schools use them.

    The K-5 FOSS kits cover all of the California science curriculum, if all of them are used, according to Linda De Lucchi, the FOSS Co-Director at the Lawrence Hall of Science (where the FOSS program was developed.)

    Here is the link describing the kits and the program:

    http://www.lhs.berkeley.edu/
    education/programs/foss

    The Lawrence Hall of Science FOSS program does provide professional development for teachers in the use of the kits. They can be contacted at:

    foss@berkeley.edu

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  30. Thanks for the info on FOSS. Seems to me that any parent concerned about a lack of science in his or her school has a great place to start!

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  31. Wanted to add a comment re: the FOSS kits and whether some schools DON'T use them.

    When we toured Jefferson, they repeated several times that they have PTA volunteers who are specifically dedicated to replenishing the FOSS kits. The admin seemed very proud of that fact and, when questioned, went on to explain that teachers have evidently developed a negative opinion of the kits due to the fact that they're so often missing components after each use. It's such a hassle that the teachers evidently just give up on using them after a few tries.

    I bring this up b/c it's something you might want to suggest to your PTA, wherever you may eventually find yourself.

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  33. Thanks for the tip, Levitra would be a fascinating elementary school science project!

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