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.
Close to fifty Mountain View fourth graders are tramping through a county park in the hills above their town. They’re chasing after lizards, examining woodpecker holes and throwing twigs into speedy streams. It looks awesomely fun. But it’s supposed to be more than just fun. It’s supposed to be science class. Tour Guides from a non-profit called Environmental Volunteers are leading small groups of kids through the park. John Seyfarth’s group stops to smell the sage.
Seyfarth: Take a good sniff, OK? So can anybody guess why we call it cologne or cowboy cologne?
This trip is part of a year-long curriculum called “Science by Nature.” It was created by a group of environmental science non-profits. The non-profit leaders say they know the kids are benefiting, but it can be hard to measure the value of a field trip. Bob Power of the Santa Clara Audubon Society:
Power: Part of me doesn’t care whether we quantify it or not. I think we’re doing the right thing and I know our programs are good. On the other hand, it would be great to say: It’s quantifiable. It’s in this report. It’s scientifically valid.
Now, the program’s funders have commissioned an independent study to help them figure out if Science by Nature has quantifiable result on standardized test scores. But test scores aren’t the only thing teachers are watching. Erma Hammond is a second grade teacher in Los Angeles where a similar program is offered. She’s found that her students’ enthusiasm for science is paying off…in writing.
Hammond: Every year second graders have to write a friendly letter.
This year students wrote about what they learned during a field trip to the Desert Dome.
Hammond: The letters were incredible. So, actually that standard has been met by half of the class already with just that one experience. … They’re not just parroting what the teacher said to write, they’re coming up with their own way of saying things.
The teachers in Mountain View weren’t surprised to hear this. When their students wrote thank you notes to Environmental Volunteers they showed the same excitement and attention to detail. To wit:
Daniela Gloucester: Dear John, Thank you so much for telling us all about the wild plants and animals.
Lupita Villanueva Arisa: It was great, but the ones I liked the most was the woodpecker’s holes in the tree and the stream how it sounds.
Kai Jennings: I also liked the creek because we got to throw sticks and try to skip rocks.
Gloucester: I think it’s awesome that the nickname for sage is cowboy cologne.
Jennings: My favorite part was when we climbed the hill, because we got to see a great view when we got to the top.
Brian Gonzalez: PS Thank you for letting us touch the dead owl.
The kids’ letters make it clear that hands-on science learning has an impact. Their excitement about their experiences is even spilling over into other academic subjects. If this fall’s study shows the program can make a difference on high-stakes standardized tests, organizers hope it will convince other districts to adopt similar projects.