Why on earth is elementary science getting such short shrift in the 21st century?
As my father’s mother said one day, “Out of sight, out of mind.” I think that this may be a clue to the reason that elementary science has somehow lost its former place of glory. Science class time (and social studies) were made to take a back seat to reading and math instruction. No one probably intended for them to get quite so lost in the shuffle, but they did. And, anyway, if anyone really thought much about it, it was just elementary science. (Not my opinion, mind you.)
I doubt if the powers that be (would that be the powers that were?) back in 2002 ever imagined that directing teachers to hold back on science instruction would be the start of such a prolonged dry spell. Who could have imagined that the pressures of No Child Left Behind would become the compulsion of Race-to-the-Top? Who would have predicted that so much time, fretting, and attention would be lavished on just reading and math–to the exclusion of the two other core subjects: science and social studies? Not to mention the lack of attention that writing instruction has gotten since the DSTP test of writing went by the wayside.
Do not get me wrong. Reading is the key to learning. Math is equally important. Both of these skill areas must be mastered by our young students–actually, by 3rd grade, or else further progress may be seriously hampered. But, just as man does not live by bread alone, little Johnny does not thrive on words and numbers alone.
So, it is high time that we put our heads together to recognize the problem and come up with a reasonable, workable remedy that does not completely inundate teachers with yet another brand new mandate. I really, really want elementary teachers to work science back into their day or their week, to follow through with the instruction of the 3-4 kits that are assigned to each K-6 grade level, and to regain the confidence that they once had in the statewide science program. However, I want them involved in the planning–that is from jump street, not after someone else concocts a plan and presents it to teachers as a fait accompli.
Once upon a time, we had a Lead Science Teacher in every elementary and middle school in this state. That’s a lot of Lead Science Teachers. They were paid a stipend ($500, I think) to lead and to attend professional development and planning meetings. Some of them were kit trainers, as well. Is it possible that we could reinstate this kind of leadership team to help facilitate moving science back into the elementary curriculum?
Teacher would benefit from some appropriate professional development on enhancing reading and math instruction through their science programs. There once was coursework for teachers that modeled how to integrate reading skills within science instruction. The University of Delaware had a course one year, co-taught by Dr. Carol Vukelich and Danielle Ford. There were five years when a course called PLN7: Integrating Literacy & Science from the Penn Literacy Network (PLN–from the Graduate School of Education of the University of Pennsylvania) was offered in Red Clay and Colonial School Districts.
This would be/could be an important start. Consider the alternative. How can you expect to build a world-class STEM program with little understanding by so many school leaders about the marvels of a K-6 science instruction program that languishes but still exists?
Back to my grandmother. My boyfriend (now my husband ) and I were having lunch with her at the Columbus Inn. This had to be way back in June, 1968. We were at that particular restaurant because Grandmother Stevens (the name my mother gave her–they were never fond of each other) resided in a nearby nursing home after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer that would lead to her death a few months later. But, she was well enough to go out that summer day. And, she loved to go out. So, we picked her up; she paid. It was a lovely lunch. I seem to recall that we may have eaten out on a patio.
The topic of my going away to college came up during lunch. I would be leaving in August to go to college in Frederick, Maryland while Charles stayed near home at the University of Delaware. [I actually thought that it would be kind of cool to show up at college with a boyfriend]. My grandmother opined that it might be hard for Charles and me to stay in touch. Charles assured her that I would be, “Gone, but not forgotten.” Not usually one for quick or witty repartee, my grandmother did not miss a beat. “Out of sight; out of mind.”
She was an interesting woman. Olive Pleasant Willison. Not much personality. Quiet. Reserved. Not at all warm and fuzzy like my Nana. But, pleasant and generous. She had lived alone in Pittsburgh for years. She had been widowed back in 1933 when my dad was nine. So, it had been Olive and Gene (my Dad) for a good long time. I did not see her as often or for as long a stretch as I saw my other grandparents. Here’s what I remember about her. She baked fabulous brownies and would make me my very favorite dessert–tapioca pudding. She liked to eat, but she was not a particularly good cook. She loved to eat out, and she loved to go to the movies.
She took me to Ocean City, New Jersey every summer for about 4-5 years until I was 13 and old enough that I no longer wanted to go. She loved the beach. Here was this tall, skinny old lady out there on the sand every morning around 10:00 with a rented chair and umbrella. Lunch was around noon on the boardwalk–often a grilled Taylor Pork Roll Sandwich and a Birchbeer; then, back onto the beach. We would pack up around 3:00, and head back to the Hotel Hanscom on 8th Avenue, where she would bathe and take a nap. I was left to my own devices, as long as I did not leave the hotel. It was a swell gig. The movie theatre was down the boardwalk–not far from our hotel. I remember seeing “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Oceans Eleven.”
Unbelievably–the hotel is still there. It was opened in the twenties after a big fire in Ocean City. It was once a very classy hotel–second only to the Hotel Flanders. Now known as the Homestead Hotel–it is a condotel. Each room is now owned as a condominium and rented by the owner. Wild idea, but I guess it works.