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Tucson Rotarians Create Audiotapes of FOSS Science Stories

Sharyn Chesser, Science Resource Center, Tucson Unified School District
March 10, 2003 | FOSS and the Community

Getting the community involved in local schools is recommended in many education journals as a way to increase student success. It isn't always easy, but it is truly amazing what happens when it works!

Rotary International is a worldwide organization of business and professional leaders who provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world. Rotary International encourages community projects and literacy in its 164 countries. In November 2002 Rotarians from District 5500 (49 clubs in Southern Arizona) created a literacy service project to benefit children in grades K–2 who are emerging or non-readers, as well as children who speak limited English. Rotarians were asked to borrow short, grade-appropriate books from teachers and record themselves reading the books. Students could listen to the recording and follow along in the book, employing a common reading intervention strategy.

Tucson Unified School District has used FOSS as its adopted science curriculum since the early 1990s. The David T. Smith Science Resource Center includes FOSS Science Stories in the kits provided to teachers. Teachers love receiving the nonfiction materials, but they know some children struggle to read them. The opportunity to have recorded FOSS Science Stories available for students was timely. The FOSS Project at the University of California gave permission to have the stories read and recorded by Rotarians for this special project, and Fabric, New Plants, and Air and Weather were chosen for the pilots. In the Arizona AIMS (Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards) test, reading nonfiction is tested in third grade, so focusing on grades K–2 seemed like the perfect fit.

Rotarians and their families were thrilled to record the stories. Not only did they enjoy the opportunity to serve, but they also learned about the local science curriculum. Knowing this effort would help children put large smiles on their faces. One Rotarian said she had fun picturing the children's faces as they listened. An attorney exclaimed it felt good to do something meaningful for children and teachers.

At first the tapes were used in classrooms where teachers had identified the need during grade-level conversations, part of the DESERT Project (NSF systemic change grant). The teachers realized community members made the recordings and appreciated the support. Mary Bies, a first-grade teacher at Reynolds Elementary who used a New Plants Science Stories tape, offered, "I loved it! It made a great independent activity for a listening center. I felt it was very effective for follow-up and reinforcement." Librarians also became interested. One librarian was thrilled to share the tapes with first- and second-grade students who were emerging readers.

Rotarians have expressed the desire to continue the effort in Tucson on an as-needed basis. TUSD Science Resource Center will expand the recordings to include Pebbles, Sand and Silt; Balance and Motion; and Solids and Liquids Science Stories. Just consider the greater conceptual understanding students will gain from the hands-on science investigations when they can read and talk about the nonfiction books. The beauty of this project is that it is simple and sustainable. Community leaders gain insight into the local science curriculum and have the opportunity to support education in their community.