Hands-on Science Program Hailed As Winning Formula

County Idea Reaches 100,000th Student In Nation

June 05, 1991|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — In the classroom, first-grade students were learning about symmetry,bending paper letters to determine whether the halves were similar in form.

Outside the classroom, educators were bubbling about theseWilliam Winchester Elementary students learning math concepts -- integrated in a science curriculum.

"You're always hearing that kids aren't achieving in math and science," said Dean A. Wood, professor of education at Hood College

in Frederick. "These kids are actually getting it. Teachers are applying it at concrete levels."

For Hood and other educators, the math lesson has been just one of the selling points of Carroll's hands-on science program, which was written and developed by teachers a decadeago. The program involves children in direct laboratory experiences both in the classroom and outdoors.

Yesterday, Carroll and other educators -- such as Wood, who helps schools implement the nationally recognized program -- celebrated the program's reaching its 100,000thstudent by returning to William Winchester, one of the first schoolsto use the hands-on approach.

The program reached its 100,000th student when the Allegany County Board of Education, which had adoptedthe unit earlier, expanded the lessons to include third- and fourth-graders.

"It is a wonderful coincidence that a program developed by Maryland teachers and adopted by schools across the country would reach its 100,000th student in another Maryland school," said Gary Dunkleberger, director of curriculum and staff development.

The program had its beginnings in 1981, when a task force of teachers met to upgrade the elementary science program from a Friday afternoon activity to a hands-on lesson. A pilot program was launched in Carroll schools, and the unit was rewritten to the lesson it is today.

More than 1,000 public and private schools in 35 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the program, according to county school officials.

The program's adoption by districts across the nation has resulted from a partnership Carroll has formed with Hood College and the National Diffusion Network, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Education and which sponsors exemplary programs across the nation.

"It has really mushroomed," said Bettie Bohr, a second-grade teacher at William Winchester who helped write the program. "I'm surprised by how much it has grown."

Bohr recalled that when she and other teachers began writing the unit, students were using science textbooks that did not yet have "rockets off the ground."

With the adoption of the program, those textbooks went by the wayside.

"You can actually see the enthusiasm in students," said Patricia S. Dorsey, William Winchester principal. "It's much more exciting for them than turning pages in a textbook."

Initially, the hands-on science program prompted concerns about classroom management and planning time for teachers. Both concerns were moot, though, Bohr said.

As educators watched Bohr's students during the hands-on science unit, the noise level was louder than usual and students roamed freely around the classroom, but they busied themselves with art and other activities tolearn about frogs.

Brad Yohe, Carroll's supervisor of science, said one of the reasons for the program's success has been its integration of other academics.

The hands-on science program is "not content-specific" but involves math, such as the symmetry lesson, and language arts, he said.

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