Preschool teacher Jessica Schuler admits that as a child, she never enjoyed learning physics. But now, after teaching the ScienceStart! curriculum for seven years at Rochester’s St. Andrew School, she has helped her students understand that a seesaw is a large lever.
"You forget how exciting the world is until you see it through the eyes of a child," Schuler remarked.
Being able to tap into that excitement is one of the reasons why Schuler gives a glowing review to ScienceStart!, a prekindergarten and kindergarten curriculum that professor Lucia French and graduate students designed at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education.
In 2004, the Warner School received a $3.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Reading First program to fund ScienceStart! at four Rochester inner-city Catholic preschools, to designate those schools Centers of Excellence, and to open them to regional and national visitors.
This funding was used to start the program at Holy Family School and Holy Rosary School (now called Cathedral School at Holy Rosary), and to continue the program at St. Andrew and St. Monica schools, which had used other grant funding to begin ScienceStart! in 2001.
Although the 2004 grant runs out in August, Cathedral School at Holy Rosary will continue using the ScienceStart! curriculum. St. Andrew, Holy Family and St. Monica closed at the end of June.
"Instead of Centers of Excellence, what we are leaving behind are teachers of excellence," said French, the Warner School’s Earl B. Taylor professor.
In September, Nazareth Hall Elementary School, a Catholic school affiliated with the Diocese of Rochester, will begin the ScienceStart! program, said Principal Diana Duell. She said she hopes the program will help prepare students for Nazareth Academy’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics high-school curriculum.
"We’re trying to move more and more towards science as an interdisciplinary component (of the curriculum)," Duell said.
In ScienceStart! teachers use the themes of measurement and mapping, movement and machines, color and light, properties of matter and neighborhood habitats to teach such skills as reading, math, outdoor play, art and music. Rather than lectures, the program encourages students to do hands-on scientific inquiry and observation.
Duell said she recently saw a demonstration of a ScienceStart! lesson in which students mixed clay in the primary colors of red, yellow and blue. The students discovered that by mixing certain primary colors they were able to make the secondary colors of purple, orange and green.
"They see it, they feel it and they remember it," Duell observed.
French, who has a doctorate in developmental psychology, first studied science and early childhood education after receiving funding in 1991 from Eastman Kodak Co. In 1995, she and graduate students developed and began testing ScienceStart! at a local Head Start program and a universal prekindergarten program. In 2000 and 2001, they received $1.5 million in grants from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education to test the program in public and private classrooms, including Holy Cross School in Charlotte, Sacred Heart School in Rochester and St. Andrew and St. Monica schools. After the first year, classes that used ScienceStart! showed more growth on a standardized vocabulary test than those using traditional curricula, French said.
One of the highlights of the ScienceStart! curriculum is that it encourages parents to read with their children and to take part in in-school science celebrations and at-home science experiments, said Dianne Crowley, family literacy coordinator for portions of the ScienceStart! program and a former teacher and administrator at St. Monica School. In one home experiment, parents and their children graph the frequency of colors that occur in a bag of candy pieces.
"So many times we separate parents from the educational process," Crowley said. "This curriculum truly respects parents and families for what they can bring."
EDITOR’S NOTE: For details about ScienceStart! visit www.sciencestart.com.