The 1994-95 Christa McAuliffe Fellowship was awarded to Catherine R. Ney to develop an innovative, interdisciplinary program that promotes mathematical, scientific, and technological literacy in all elementary students.
This project is developed out of need. National studies indicate that: half of our elementary students dislike math and science by third grade; only one of three elementary science teachers meets National Science Teachers Association standards; and the average science class period lasts only eighteen minutes at the primary grades and twenty-nine minutes at the upper grades. Reform is needed. Math, science, and technology are those tools that can better prepare all children to deal with daily-living problems and ready them for future careers. These areas need to be an "integral" part of the elementary curriculum--not separated into isolated subjects. By using children's literature to bridge math, science, and technology activities, students and teachers become comfortable with their roles in the learning process. When the anxiety that has hindered learning in the past is eliminated, challenges of the 21st century can be met.
Through the use of year-long theme modules (Construction/Level K, Communication/Level 1, Connections/Level 2, Community/Level 3, Exploration/Level 4, and Survival/Level 5), elementary students learn through an inquiry process to generate solutions to real-life problems. These themes follow the National guidelines of learning suggested for math and science in the elementary grades. Themes progress from primary to intermediate levels as children's literature focus changes from simple picture to multi-chapter books and are appropriate for Grades K through 5.
This project engages children in the problem-solving process, utilizes the teacher as facilitator, encourages cooperative learning, and provides children with opportunities to share their solutions. Each activity begins with children's literature as an lead-in to the problem-solving situation. Then children are immediately, actively engaged in the critical-thinking process in order to solve a problem. Each activity is self-contained. That is, the activity will: 1). start with a well-known literature selection; 2). introduce a problem-solving situation; 3). provide objectives, materials, and processes necessary to its solution; 4). assess students' outcomes; and 5). use interdisciplinary learning activities (ILAs) across the curriculum using a series of WEBs (semantic maps). These activities were designed for teachers, whether novice or experienced, to use with all students. Students' inquiry investigations spring from the need to solve a problem. Inexpensive materials ( such as clay, tongue depressors, paper fasteners, foil) are readily available to teachers. Throughout the activities, students are taught to document their work in folios (record-keeping logs). Three-pronged folios can be purchased for that purpose from wholesale stores as a place to draw designs, record data, and graph results. For example, Hutchin's (1987) book, Rosie's Walk, may be used with early-childhood aged students to build a "Structure" and solve a predator problem. The problem-solving situation reads: "Rosie, the hen (prey), needs your help to feel safe from the fox. You can help Rosie by building a way to catch the fox." Young children can record their original designs in the folios and/or use a computer graphics program to illustrate designs. From there, students can work together in teams of two-to-four to design a live trap to capture the fox (predator). Teams can test and present their fox traps to the group, children can be the judge of the best trap designs, and plans to release predators to the wild can be discussed. The teacher promotes students' learning by facilitating the problem-solving process and by using the WEBs to make cross-curricular connections into other subject areas. For example, the class may discuss health concerns associated with predators and prey, predict where Rosie may walk to next, sing a familiar tune, identify predator/prey relationships in nature, count and arrange objects Rosie passed on her walk, rewrite the story from the fox's point of view, invent a live trap, play a predator/prey game, or discuss hunting and gathering practices of Native American people. The teacher/facilitator does not have to spend hours of preparation time gathering materials and interdisciplinary learning activities--the ILAsand WEBs detail that information. The teacher chooses which activities to incorporate.
The goal, "to promote math, science, and technology literacy" will be achieved when students and teachers work cooperatively to generate solutions to learning problems that are relevant to their everyday lives. This early exposure to math, science, and technology education can provide our children with the opportunity to choose future careers in our complex society.
The prototype for UNITES titled ,"Structures: Science and Technology for Young Children," is on the Internet. "Structures" was awarded the 1993 Virginia Public Education Network's (VA PEN's) Telecommunication Grant for Early Childhood by the Virginia Department of Education. Thirteen "Structures"activities are available via the Internet upon request to the National Public Telecommunications Network (NPTN) affiliate Academy One. To obtain "Structures," telnet to "nptn.org". Login as "visitor" and go to the Science Center on the main menu. Send activities and WEBs directly to your e-mail address. A special discussion group has been established with the author, Catherine Ney, as the moderator. There, educators can share their experiences using the activities and discuss the effectiveness of various science, math, and technology education connections in elementary schools.
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