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My Early STEM Years, K-6

By Suzan Mullane.

As an educator in the Anchorage School District, I spent part of my teaching tenure, with grades K-6th. Great memories, particularly science memories! But I admit I was spoiled. I had the opportunity and luxury to use the FOSS Science System developed by The University of California, Berkley. Anchorage School District (ASD) had purchased science kits for all elementary grades decades ago; however, we had help from the National Science Foundation. Ahh yes, a grant.

ASD’s FOSS kits have been replenished over the years, but they’re now on their 3rd decade! Whether kindergartners were experiencing items that float or 5th graders were experimenting with electricity, it was an apparent to me in my early years of teaching that young students CRAVED hands-on science activities. The kits were well-organized, with cross-curriculum activities, but mostly they were engaging and just plain fun! Science kits became the highlight of the year second only to field trips. What was also fascinating was how the kits fostered language skills given the inquiry-based approach in cooperative groups settings. Over the years, I have seen many of my former students leave elementary and excel in their math and science classes and are now practicing nurses, engineers and physicians. I give that credit to the kits. Hands-on, inquiry based, with meaningful math, reading, writing and even interdisciplinary art activities. It doesn’t get richer than that!

As we look towards STEM initiatives in schools with the new Common Core Curriculum, it’s paramount that we build the motivation and confidence to teach rigorous science in the early grades. No money for science kits? Build your own with a co-teacher and grow the kits with relevant interdisciplinary materials as you solicit your local PTA; or, try submitting a grant proposal. Sometimes, just talking to your principal is enough in the wake of Common Core. Developmentally appropriate kits, STEM materials, are an ‘easy sell’ right now. If your school is near an oil company or IBM, ask them to become a school business science partner. They’d be proud! Even whole schools can collaborate with their communities and pull together materials to create kits while storing them in a central location. What a terrific way to spend a community in-service day. Who knows, you might even meet a guest speaker or two!

FOSS introduction video (16 MB)


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