"What is the purpose of our experiment?" asked Bush Elementary School teacher Tiffany MacCallum to a group of fourth-grade Advanced Learning Program students. "Why are we making rock candy?"
"So we can watch the crystals form?" responded a student.
"Is that your hypothesis that crystals will form? Do you remember talking about metamorphosis? What do you think will happen when we mix sugar with cold water? Do you think it will dissolve? What if we put sugar in warm water?"
Jamestown Public School fifth-graders Summer Dracup, Sharlenn La and Veronica Hansen react to their “volcano” exploding during an Advanced Learning Program unit on Natural Disasters with Gina Hess.
"I think it will dissolve quicker in warm water," said another student. "We will see a metamorphosis, a change in the form of the sugar."
"So our purpose of the experiment isn't to make rock candy, it is to watch and observe the change in the sugar. Let's get all our materials together and remember to document all of your scientific procedures on your sheets as you go through the experiment as we know scientists must be consistent and precise."
MacCallum is one of eight teachers leading inquiry-based science curriculum, after school, in the Jamestown Advanced Learning Program (ALP).
"Inquiry-based learning was new to all of the students, even though they are advanced learners," said MacCallum. "We conducted many experiments including designing and constructing a 3-D edible model of the interior of the Earth. Per the Common Core reading standards, students extensively read rigorous and technical informational text to begin each lesson."
The ALP program had two, six-week sessions during the school year, one in the fall, which focused on social studies topics, and a science session that just recently completed. Students met twice a week for six weeks with two experiments per lesson. Fourth-graders learned about "Rocks and Minerals" with MacCallum and Lisa Certo-Card, fifth grade studied "Forces in Nature" with Gina Hess, Jen Cronin and Ashley Keiser, and sixth grade delved into "Ecology and the Environment" with Stacy Monroe, Sheri Brandes and Lina Scoma.
"The Common Core Learning Standards are incorporated into the ALP science curriculum," said Jefferson Middle School ALP teacher Gina Hess. "One standard students focused on is citing textual evidence. Prior to the experimentation of each natural disaster, students researched the topic and responded to higher-level questions through graphic organizers and journal writing. In addition, students were drawing conclusions, as well as, creating hypotheses prior to experimentation. Each lesson was also based on the principle of teaching the "five Es" of the science classroom - engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate. ALP is a fantastic opportunity to infuse additional science and social studies curriculum to reinforce the Common Core Standards, as well as, enriching students with topics that they may not experience during their regular school day."
Student-led experiments were a big hit.
"I really liked doing the experiments and using the Scientific Method," said Jefferson Middle School fifth-grader Veronica Hansen. "I didn't know that tsunamis could be created from meteors and asteroids. I think it's really good to have a program like this so we have interesting things to do after school to challenge us."
As part of the ecology and the environment lessons, Brandes' students created oil spills in cake pans complete with feathers to replicate birds being affected by an industry disaster.
"We covered everything ecology and the environment," said Brandes. "We looked at industry and how they affect the environment, water pollution, natural resources and renewable and non-renewable resources. Each lesson included a student-led experiment and an in-depth discussion or writing on the topic. Students could really relate to this topic, and the hands-on experiments really bring the subject matter to life."