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FOSS Science in Pocatello, Idaho

Bridget Flynn, science teacher, Jefferson Elementary School, Pocatello, Idaho
September 22, 2016 | FOSS in Schools

Student and thermometer

A student reads a thermometer as a part of the FOSS Weather on Earth Module

What if I told you that that science did not have to be taught as an isolated subject? That you could integrate science as part of your English language arts (ELA) time? Or as part of your mathematics block? That is exactly how I use my FOSS Weather on Earth Module in my fourth-grade classroom.

How will Naya Nuki be affected by the weather on her journey home? What do we want to know about weather? These are just a few questions that I ask my fourth graders as we begin our study of Earth's weather. Concurrently, they are reading Naya Nuki: Shoshoni Girl Who Ran (1983) by Kenneth Thomasma as part of Idaho's history and as a vehicle to ELA skills. Students quickly turn to talk with partners or small groups. They discuss and argue as they write questions, predictions, and observations in science notebooks. When we stop to share, I add their queries and content words to anchor charts in our room. What season is Naya Nuki travelling in? What is the difference between weather and climate? What's in the air? What will happen if it's too hot or too cold (temperature)? Later, they will collaborate to complete hands-on experiments—both inside and outside—as the weather unit progresses.

Jefferson Elementary is a K–5 Title I school (high poverty) in Pocatello, Idaho. We have approximately 400 students, with three classes per grade level. Our staff is committed to delivering engaging lessons as a way to motivate our students to be involved in their learning. Naya Nuki is engaging because the students have so many connections to the title character's story. She is their age, and they can imagine themselves in her shoes. She is kidnapped, then escapes, and bravely makes her way home, all on her own! Students are also locally connected since Pocatello is only 20 minutes from Fort Hall, site of the Shoshone- Bannock Indian Reservation. When we tie the study of weather to our reading and writing and history, we tap into the best motivator of all: curiosity!

Students are naturally curious about the weather since it's happening right outside all the time. It is also simple to integrate weather with history. What affect did weather have on wars? If the weather had been different could it have changed the outcome? How did the weather impact Naya Nuki's journey? Did climate influence the Native Americans' culture (food, shelter, clothing)? Does it influence our culture now? What kind of weather challenges did pioneers experience on the Oregon Trail? With little or no prompting, students will come up with focus questions they are eager to research.

Jefferson's fourth grade was able to purchase the FOSS Weather on Earth Module, with enough materials for three classes, through a classroom makeover grant from Idaho National Laboratories. Additionally, an outdoor weather station was installed and connected to school computers. This allows us to view live and historical weather data from right outside our door.

[Jefferson Elementary School]

Jefferson Elementary School during a winter storm

FOSS differs from traditional science primarily in the quality, and quantity, of experiments (or investigations, as FOSS calls them). Virtually every lesson has a simple, yet significant, experiment that adds to the development of specific science concepts. Each lesson includes a focus question and opportunities for students to construct knowledge through discussions, writing, and observations. After two or three opportunities for hands on explorations, students are presented with a short reading. The provided FOSS Science Resources book is concise and especially engaging as it directly relates to investigations recently completed by students. I also HIGHLY appreciate that FOSS includes resources for science notebooks such as, procedures for experiments, and copies of questions to answer. Another useful resource is the online component, which includes videos and interactive whiteboard flipcharts for each lesson.

We've found it very effective to use FOSS by integrating it with ELA and math standards (in our case, Common Core State Standards). In my class, students are expected to interact with the text, applying the Reading for Information standards. We summarize, annotate, look for evidence, make inferences, and even compare with other informational or fiction texts about weather. FOSS is also perfect for applying Measurement and Data math standards. Many of the investigations call for learners to gather and organize data. These data can then be translated as a graph or chart, or even a written summary. We also used data from the weather station for various math tasks and to compare to student observations.

Our FOSS Weather on Earth Module made it possible for Jefferson's fourth graders to learn about their weather, in our town, and at our school. It helped them understand the effects that weather might have on the real journeys of the pioneers, and how it might be part of plot in fiction. It opened their eyes to new career ideas, especially after a meteorologist from a local television station visited our class. In the future, I plan to extend our learning by allowing students to choose a research topic that goes beyond our usual scope. Learning goals that are self-generated will be even more engaging. Students could study the weather of other countries, or even planets! They could explore climate change or extreme weather events. What fourth grader wouldn't love to research tornadoes or dust storms on Mars?

Bridget Flynn teaches science to all three fourth-grade classes at Jefferson Elementary in Pocatello, Idaho. She has taught fourth and fifth grade for eight years.