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Sunday Science: Changing Science Standards - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Sunday Science: Changing Science Standards

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HARTFORD, Vt. - Every science lesson in Suzan Locke's first-grade class at White River School starts in a circle away from their desks or textbooks.

"Can anybody tell me why you didn't choose some of them?" asks teacher Suzan Locke.

They're talking about plants. The class before, students circled which of the items on a list they thought were plants.

"At first I thought the cactus was a plant, but then I was like, cactuses are in the desert, and deserts don't have much water," says one student.

"Oh, and that's why you think it isn't a plant, because there's not a lot of water," Locke says.

"I disagree with Kyle because in the desert when it rains, the cactus absorbs the water and stores it in there and drinks little bits like every day," says another student.

 "Okay, so it might be something for us to look into and see if it's a plant," says Locke.

Discussions like these are part of an effort to integrate the new Common Core English and Language Arts skills into science learning. Locke is a science teacher leader for the Hartford School District, charged with helping educators adapt to new curriculum requirements. She says these conversations are popular among students because they get the chance to talk about each others' ideas in a relaxed environment. But it also helps her figure out what she needs to teach.

"I was trying to get a sense of what do they already know and what are those misunderstandings or misconceptions that they have around plants," she says.

Then after the discussion, it's back to the desks for some reading.

"Some leaves turn during the day, some seem to follow the sun in the sky," reads Locke. "I wonder why."

The picture book gives these students words they can use to describe leaves, because the next part of this lesson is hands-on.

"I have three different kinds of leaves for you to look at," Locke tells the class.

These young scientists draw what they see, looking closely and paying attention to details in the leaves.

"What do you see?" she asks one student.

"I see lines, and you can see through it if you look very carefully," he says.

Locke says a hands-on lesson like this works because it creates a memory.

"They get to feel it, touch it, use their senses to see an actual leaf and to see the different types of leaves and to get a sense of what they looked like," Locke says. "And that's really important to science because science is the opportunity to kind-of get your hands dirty and see what it looks like and to figure it out."

Students then use iPads to take pictures of their leaves that they can reference later on. The Next Generation Science Standards are trying to incorporate more technology and engineering into the classroom, even at the youngest levels of science classes. As part of the unit, these students will build plant packages to safely transport seedlings.

And the lesson ends with another discussion, one Locke says helps her recap what they've learned and see what her students took in.

Locke says in the past, science hasn't been used to the level it could be, and she wants teachers to feel like they have permission to bring other skills into their science lessons.

"I'm hoping that these new standards and this new approach to teaching will kind-of breathe some new energy and new life into how science is taught," she says.

Locke says since they've changed over to the new standards, she has seen a difference in student participation and interest. And she hopes other schools will see the same.

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