A Tale of Two Rivers: FOSS Arrives in a Large City and a Small School!

Marilyn Roode Decker and Paul Hickman, CESAME, Northeastern University, Boston, MA
March 12, 1998 | FOSS in Schools

Top image: Map downloaded from TIGER Map Service, a project sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

In 1996 the Full Option Science System (FOSS) was showcased and offered as one of the exemplary curricula for CESAME's (Center for the Enhancement of Science and Mathematics Education) Statewide Implementation Program in Massachusetts. We received pre-proposals from four sites from which two were selected for support this school year. One of these, Fall River, is a city of about 90,000 in southeastern Massachusetts on the Taunton River with 30 elementary schools and almost 7000 students. The other, the Swift River School is a single preschool through 6th grade elementary school in north central Massachusetts. It serves the rural towns of Wendell and New Salem with about 230 students. While it might seem that these two sites have little in common, there are at least two things that unite them. Both have strong teams of teachers, parents and administrators committed to improving how science is taught and learned. And both are working to make FOSS part of their K-6 science programs.

Fall River's Story

Fall River began its hands-on science initiative in 1989 after attending an NSRC (National Science Resources Center) Elementary Science Leadership Institute. The school district team put together a program from materials that were available at the time, kits from the Boston Museum of Science, materials from other districts and teacher-developed materials. They created a district-wide materials center, a resource library, a strong community outreach program and a cadre of well-trained lead teachers. A review of the curriculum in 1995, however, revealed areas of weakness in the program. Since the greatest need was for physical science materials, Fall River submitted a proposal to CESAME and received a grant to implement the physical science strand of FOSS.

Pam Tickle, the Elementary Science Staff Developer, arranged for Sheila Dunston, an experienced FOSS user from New York City to provide initial training sessions. Lead teachers attended the FOSS awareness institute at a regional NSTA meeting and a series of presentations by Dr. Larry Lowery on the Biological Basis of Thinking and Learning; Developing the Case for Hands-on Science; and Asking Effective Questions. These lead teachers will help to shape the ongoing professional development for the 293 teachers involved in FOSS implementation. The project will impact over 6500 students including a great number who are economically disadvantaged.

Swift River's Story

This story started as Swift River School's Science Frameworks Study Committee was working to eliminate gaps and duplications in the school's preschool through 6th grade science units. The committee saw the need for a unifying vision to tie the units together. The school's principal, Leonard Strauss, attended a CESAME Showcase and wondered if adoption of FOSS might appeal to the committee, especially since funding and support were available through SIP (Statewide Implementation Program). Paul Hickman from CESAME brought a representative sample of FOSS materials to a "release time" meeting of the committee for their review. Subsequently they agreed to apply for SIP funding.

Their plan was to implement two new FOSS units at each multi-grade level (Pre-K, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6) the first year with two more units in year two. Different units would be taught every other year. Steve Murray, an experienced FOSS trainer from Holyoke, led the five day summer professional development. Released time has been provided for teachers to meet and discuss the implementation during the school year. The school's new principal, Christine Lewis, was able to "hit the ground running." With a strong team of teacher leaders in place, the FOSS implementation is on schedule in spite of a change in administration. All of the school's 230 students are doing science, and their teachers are experiencing the advantages of using carefully developed and researched instructional materials.

Six districts from all corners of Massachusetts have submitted proposals to implement FOSS in this years SIP funding cycle! Once sites are selected, CESAME will work with FOSS developers and trainers to design a leadership institute for next summer. CESAME is looking foward to a continuing close relationship with the FOSS development team as we work to scale-up our efforts to New England through our pending NSF funded IMPACT project.

Marilyn Roode Decker ( and Paul Hickman ( work at CESAME, The Center for the Enhancement of Science and Mathematics Education at Northeastern University in Boston.