Interactive tools and textbooks proposed to drive sixth-12th grade science curriculum home

• Each science teacher would be given a classroom set of Chromebooks


by Jim Boyle


Students in Ena Rasmussen’s seventh-grade life science class are studying skulls this week that are on loan from the Science Museum of Minnesota

The junior paleontologists are using the inquiry method to make observations about these animal skulls. It’s one of many ways science teachers in the Elk River Area School District are ramping up the interactive nature of their classrooms.

If the Elk River Area School Board approves a proposal for the newest science curriculum adoption, interactive teaching methods will increase exponentially.

Educators, after studying curriculum and the best methods for delivering it, are recommending each science teacher in sixth through 12th grade have a set of Chromebooks for students to use when they’re in class.

Chromebooks will mean scientific discoveries made this year will be put in digital textbooks by the time students start their next school year.

Having online textbooks will also allow students to make connections with current events that answer the questions they are asking.

The online components will also have the ability to read to students — in more than one language. Students will have access to learning science anywhere they have online access.

Teachers note students will be able to work at their own pace and students who finish early can be challenged with additional assignments.

Textbooks will still be used, too, but they are also changing to become more portable and interactive.

At the middle school level, students will work out of paper textbooks that are broken into units for ease of bringing them home and even write in them.

Interactive digital lessons will be paired with what students do in the paper texts.

There will also be increased connectivity between students and teachers with the use of Google Docs.

The proposed adoption will cost the Elk River Area School District $1.45 million, including $545,000 for the Chromebooks. Each high school teacher will need about 40 and each middle school teacher will need about 36.

There’s also another $638,000 for other resource materials.

Vernier Probeware is proposed for high school science classrooms at a cost of $145,000, while $17,000 worth of document cameras are proposed for the middle schools. Another $109,000 is proposed to cover the cost of Labware.

Curriculum specialists Gretchen Fisher and Mary Alberts along with a host of science teachers were at the March 24 meeting to make their pitch.

“We feel like this (proposal) emphasizes hands-on learning, and it reaches all students with the 21st century skills they will need,” Fisher said.

Twenty-two teachers from across the district sat on the curriculum review panel that began its work 1 1/2 years ago. There are 45 science teachers district-wide who teach about 7,000 students in grades six through 12.

Science educators are working to create scientifically literate citizens who are able to ask, find or determine answers to questions they may come across and be able to describe, explain and predict the things they observe.

Other goals for students include:

•Reading with understanding popular press, daily papers and conversations with other people.

•Identify scientific issues, not just local but global.

•Evaluate the quality of information they come across.

Rasmussen told board members she is excited about the potential curriculum adoption.

“It is so much more than a textbook,” she told members of the School Board.

Rasmussen piloted the paper textbooks, which are broken down into modules and allow students to make notes in them and draw diagrams. She found them to be engaging.

The next step is to have Chromebooks available to facilitate further learning. These will include digital lessons with moving parts and the ability to tell students when they are right or wrong on an answer, Rasmussen said.

The Elk River Area School Board will vote on the science curriculum proposal at its April 14 meeting at Elk River City Hall.