BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Learning about science is a hands-on experience since inquiry-based science instruction was introduced in the township’s elementary schools this fall, and teachers say the kids love it. Mary Kay McMillin Early Childhood Center Principal Ann Corley-Hand told the Board of Education all about it at the board’s Jan. 5 meeting.
She said, “Students are not blank slates upon which knowledge is etched. They come to learning situations with already formulated knowledge, ideas and understandings. This previous knowledge is the raw material for the new knowledge they will create. The focus is on student constructed learning as opposed to teacher transmitted information.” In other words, the kids are doing experiments, discovering things for themselves instead of reading a text and listening to teacher lectures.
Teachers help students learn how to ask scientifically oriented questions and the students attempt to answer these questions through many types of hands-on investigations. The knowledge gained is both meaningful and relevant.
Corley-Hand said by engaging student’s multiple intelligences, more types of students are successful contributors and students are engaged on more than one level.
The question, “What is the moon?" led to moon craters, led to space exploration, led to Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon and viewing that film clip, led to why isn’t the flag waving on the moon, led to what do you do if your nose itches and you’re wearing a space helmet” and more, said third grade teacher Eli Quinonez. ‘They were so into what we were learning. There were open discussions. I just sat back and guided. It was a great lesson.” He heartily endorses the new curriculum.
“The focus is on student constructed learning,” said Corley-Hand. “Kids are testing their own hypothesis as opposed to teacher given information… There is a lot of collaborative work in groups. Everyone shares ideas and can learn from other people’s perceptions.”
She surveyed the fifth grade students, asking whether they like the way they are learning science this year as opposed to in the past. It’s “overwhelmingly better” from the students’ standpoint, she said.
“When kids are actively involved in their learning it becomes almost effortless, and that’s what we’re seeing across the board.”
She passed on the comment of one youngster, “I understand when the experiment is right in front of my face and it looks real.”
Fifth grade teacher Carla Pastore summed it up. “It’s all very hands on. The days of going home with chalk in my hair are gone. Now I go home with dirt and sand. It’s worth every bit of the planning… Text is great, but the level of questions received from students is incredible."