This 5-year project is involved with developing an inquiry-based, hands-on science program for all the elementary schools in the Seattle Public School District. The purpose is to provide a high-quality science program for all Seattle elementary students where they learn through inquiry and investigation. To achieve this goal, the project is preparing all teachers to conduct inquiry-based, hands-on science in the classroom as well as providing them professional support.
The school district serves approximately 23,000 K-5 elementary students. Seattle's public school district is ethnically diverse consisting of 25% Asian, 22.7% African American, 7.5% Chicano/Latino and 3.2% Native American. Of these, 14.4% are Limited English Proficiency students. Free or reduced-price lunches are received by 42.2% of all elementary students. Teachers, administrators and parents must work together to ensure that the needs of every student are met.
A strength of this project is the partnerships established between the teachers and practicing scientists from the Boeing Company, the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. These partnerships are designed to enhance the teachers' knowledge of inquiry-based, hands-on science and to familarize scientists with K-6 instructional materials. In addition, the volunteer scientists become advocates within the community on the nature and importance of science for all children.
The teacher training is based on a pilot program, research on four existing projects around the country and intensive input from teachers in the School District. Teachers receive training in small grade level groups led by a skilled resource teacher/ practicing scientist team. The training also includes school-year in-service training and year-round classroom support.
In the summer institutes, teachers explore science kits, share insights, work cooperatively to solve problems, incorporate technology into their lessons and put into use the pedagogical approaches they will use in the classroom. During the following school year. Teachers attend two full-day in-services and four half-day training sessions that enable them to share and evaluate their experiences with the kits. A second summer institute completes the formal training. At the end of the two years, teachers have received 100 hours minimum of professional development and will know how to implement inquiry-based science in the classroom. The goal is to provide this enhancement to all teachers in the area schools. Subsequently, full time resource teachers continue to support these teachers in the classroom and with in-service days. Scientists also work with teachers and students in the classroom, as needed.
Another strength is the active involvement of administrators, parents and the local community. The principals receive extensive content training and are responsible for providing school leadership, communicating with parents and generating enthusiasm among the teachers. The parents' support is generated through the Family Science Program that includes an open house for parents where scientists and students teach the parents about science. This program gains support and an appreciation for hands-on, inquiry-based science from families and community members who participate. The community is involved throughout the project in many capacities such as: showing real life connections to the science, mobilizing resources and fostering long term continuance of the project.