Students in Ryan Phelps’ second-grade class at Harmony Elementary School cheered and scribbled on their worksheets as a computer played the croak of an American bullfrog.
The students were in the middle of a science lesson—something Milton elementary students are doing more of this year after a curriculum change.
Elementary schools didn’t have a set science standard before the district implemented the Next Generation Science Standards this year. Grades six through 12 have used the standards for three years, and district officials wanted to get the elementary schools on the same page.
Many teachers used to work science concepts into English and math lessons, while others set aside a block of time just for science. Now the district is focused on expanding science education to all students.
“We’re looking at building consistency across all of our K-3 schools so students have a similar amount of time on science and follow the same scope and sequence so when they head off to Northside, they’ve all had the same experience with science,” said Sarah Stuckey, Harmony Elementary School principal.
Students in kindergarten and first and second grades learn science visually through videos, images and real-life applications in a “multisensory” approach, Stuckey said.
In third grade, they start a more textbook-based study of science. Topics include problem-solving, technical writing in science, sequencing, and cause-and-effect.
“Science has always been important, and we’ve always taught it, but we’re beefing things up where we’re providing more of a curriculum and more materials for them (teachers) to provide more hands-on experiences with the students,” Stuckey said.
Ryan Ruggles, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, said the change comes as education has shifted in recent years.
Years ago, schools pulled back on science and social studies because state testing focused more on English and math, he said. Both science and social studies have gotten renewed focus recently.
Interim Superintendent Rich Dahman agreed.
“Those areas were never gone, but they weren’t a focus for a while,” Dahman said. “In school districts and at the state level, we’ve been waiting for an update to the science standards for a while, so part of this is driven by changes to science standards.”
Teachers are being trained on the new curriculum, Dahman said. Oct. 7 is a teacher development day, and some time will be devoted to the science curriculum and planning next steps.
The transition is going smoothly, Ruggles said. Both he and Dahman think a stronger emphasis on science will better prepare students for the future.
“The two biggest things employers are looking for in their new employees are creativity and collaboration, and those are two things that come out of this curriculum,” Ruggles said.
A school district science and engineering fair is planned for January. As Harmony students spend more time around the subject, Stuckey hopes their excitement grows.
“I think it’s going well,” she said. “The thing that’s helped the most is the passion students are showing toward science. It’s an exciting subject for students, and they really enjoy it and look forward to it.”
The students in Ryan Phelps’ class demonstrated that excitement as they learned to distinguish between the bullfrog’s croak and the spring peeper’s chirp. The district hopes that enthusiasm for learning about science continues through the school year.