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FOSS Collaboration in Chicago, Illinois: The Early Elementary Science Partnership (E2SP)

Karen Mendelow Nelson, FOSS Curriculum Specialist
September 01, 2010 | FOSS Partnerships

Top image: E2SP second-grade grade teachers discuss class room strategies for the FOSS Balance and Motion Module.

Due to an invigorating new collaboration, the 2009–2010 school year was a productive year for implementing FOSS in nine Chicago Public School District elementary schools. The Early Elementary Science Partnership (E2SP) began this last year between the Chicago Public Schools, The Field Museum, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago Children's Museum, The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago (as evaluator).

E2SP aspires to take FOSS teaching beyond the first level of just using FOSS materials. The groups involved are working together to build a superior cadre of leaders by training teachers in intensive science teaching methods. At the same time, with connections to Chicago community science, cultural, and educational resources, students and teachers receive extended science experiences with FOSS content during trainings, school visits, and field trips. This innovative partnership has just completed its first year of work, generously supported by the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust and the Polk Bros. Foundation. Building on last year's success, the partnership will continue its work with the first cohort of schools in the 2010–2011 school year while planning for scale–up in the third year.

Linda Carter, Chicago Public Schools Citywide Science Facilitator/K–5 Science Specialist, explained that the pilot project has nine schools engaged in the program, involving all K–3 teachers per site. Over the school year, teachers attended museum and in-school trainings to further develop their FOSS teaching abilities, science content knowledge, and ability to use informal learning resources.


Teachers work on a flower dissection for the FOSS New Plants Module.

To enhance each school's capacity for teaching FOSS, one teacher at each site was selected to study in a leadership certificate program at Northwestern University. Through partial scholarships from Northwestern University and E2SP, teachers pay a reduced tuition. During the teacher-leader' two-year commitment, they attend university classes to unpack the state science standards and learn science inquiry methods and apply them to FOSS modules. To develop their leadership capabilities, teachers participate in various trainings in which they practice their skills. In order to examine their teaching practices and student learning from a deeper perspective, they record their own teaching in the classroom with flipcams to review and discuss with colleagues at the trainings.

The partnership between the project staff, school administrators, teachers, and students must be nurtured at many levels. The project staff from each partner institution meets every week to keep up involvement and to review and discuss project activities. Each partner museum developed lessons to cover two FOSS modules for grades K–3. Then museum educators collaborate with individual teachers and schools to help teach those units and support student learning.

Katie Murray, E2SP educator from Lincoln Park Zoo, supported the Animals Two by Two and the Structures of Life modules. The Lincoln Park Zoo educator modeled and reviewed lessons with teachers to solve any problems related to working with living organisms. Then she visited the classroom to help implement parts of the FOSS investigations and brought special biomaterials from the zoo into the classroom, like animal pelts, to enhance students' learning experience. When students visited the zoo, they used an ethogram, which is a tool zoo scientists use to study animal behavior.


A kindergarten teacher practices sorting organism cards during the professional development session at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Anne Marie Fayen, E2SP educator from The Field Museum, supported the implementation of the Earth Materials Module by providing teachers with additional geology samples and instructional support during the FOSS investigations. When students investigated in class, she helped them conduct tests to determine the properties of rocks and minerals. During The Field Museum field trip, students identified earth materials in various exhibitions and also examined the properties of minerals in The Field Museum's Grainger Hall of Gems.

Darrell Jones, E2SP educator from the Chicago Children's Museum, supported the implementation of the FOSS Balance and Motion module. At school, students built spinning tops, learned about tops from around the world, and predicted how long various tops would spin. On the field trip to the museum, students acted as "Force Detectives" by completing a treasure hunt in the WaterWays and Inventing Lab exhibitions where they identified and sketched examples of push, pull, and balance.

Lynn Arcuri, E2SP educator at The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, supported the FOSS New Plants Module. After students investigated the parts of a seed in class, they developed questions to be answered while exploring the museum's Elizabeth Plotnick Prairie and examined how seeds are dispersed.

The E2SP program meets the partner institutions' mission to improve science teaching and integrate informal learning with formal learning, as well as helps expand their visitorship. Each classroom participates in two field trips per year, structured to enhance the FOSS modules they're studying. For some students this is their first field trip experience visiting a local cultural/educational institution. E2SP funds pay for field trip buses for students. To inform families about learning opportunities in their local museums and zoo, E2SP distributes a flyer to highlight free museum days and upcoming programs.


A teacher and students investigate an exhibit at Field Museum Gems Hall.

Another integral part of the collaboration is the evaluation team from the University of Chicago's Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education, who develop evaluation methods to measure the programs integrity. At the completion of the two-year pilot, the partners will use evaluation documentation and project reporting to share success with other area schools that might want to participate in the E2SP program.

The Early Elementary Science Partnership collaborators have already observed successes in the program. E2SP teachers are improving their science knowledge and comfort with teaching FOSS. E2SP teachers now know how to utilize the city's cultural and science resources, strengthening the science teaching in their classrooms. E2SP students are thrilled about doing science and have enjoyed their field trips. Some students involved in the program were so excited about what they've been learning in science that they held a science celebration, where students toured other classrooms at the school to share their investigations. When teachers initiate that kind of happening on their own, that is also a measure of success.

For further information about the project, contact Sandra Aponte at