Science can get neglected in the early grades when the focus is on reading and math. Now environmental education non-profits are banding together to change that.
Lillian Mongeau reports that programs Santa Clara County and Los Angeles are providing a year-long science curriculum at little to no cost to districts.
Perez: OK here comes the first animal. Oh! A tortoise.
Next the kids meet a snake, then a scorpion, then…
Students: Ah! Wow! Eww!
Perez: It’s a Madagascar hissing cockroach. It has a large fancy name. Can we say that? Madagascar, Hissing, Cockroach. Just by listening to the name.
Today is the beginning of a 3-day program that will include a field trip and another classroom visit. That used to be all that was on offer, but now Children’s Nature Institute is teaming up with three other non-profits to provide students with an entire year of science programming. They’re calling it “Digging Deeper.” Environmental Educator Melanie Bowerman says having multiple organizations involved means having multiple teaching methods available.
Bowerman: You’re finding the child most receptive to doing art programs or most receptive to visualizing the animals and touching the animals.
This collaborative approach is working well in L.A., but it didn’t start here. The first program in California to launch an initiative like this was in Santa Clara County.
Bob Power: The idea was to provide more than just one program per year per child.
Bob Power of the Santa Clara County Audubon Society.
Power: One field trip and one visit from a special organization and everybody’s happy. Everybody has a good day, but we stepped back at some point and said, “Is that really the most effective way to deliver environmental education?”
They decided it wasn’t. So several non-profits that teach science to kids got together to teach more science to more kids. They explained their model, called “Science by Nature,” to the folks in L.A., who created “Digging Deeper.” Power wants the program to grow.
Power: We’d like to be able tell this story to other school districts, to other environmental organizations who would be interested in what we’re doing.
This year, the Santa Clara collaborative is working with the school district in Mountain View to provide all fourth and fifth graders with a steady diet of natural sciences. Fourth grade teacher Margie Wysocki loves it.
Wysocki: With our standards that are ramping up with No Child Left Behind, with all of those things, it makes it increasingly harder to teach science.
Wysocki says programs like Science by Nature make teaching science easier. Plus, it’s hands on.
Wysocki: With this program, the kids are able to go out, to get their feet and hands wet, touch the worm, be creeped out by the worm and then realize it’s all OK.
Kelly Decker, executive director of Children’s Nature Institute and leader of the L.A. program, says the kind of public-private partnerships her agency is forging with L.A. schools represent educational reform at it’s most innovative.
Decker: Hopefully it will lead to changing the nature of what we think education should look like and could look like in this country. Because we are in a crisis.
Decker thinks part of the solution to that crisis is to have non-profits like hers pick up the slack. Already, she says, her non-profit is having conversations with the district about how to offer the “Digging Deeper” curriculum to more public school kids. The kids, she says, who need this solution the most.
Next week: Lillian Mongeau continues this story with a look at how environmental education projects hope to assess their affects on student achievement.