By Rachel Gross Weinstein
Rock collecting, working with wood, becoming mock meteorologists — these activities are part of the new science initiative in the Beck Lower School at Ann and Nate Levine Academy.
Once a week, children in kindergarten through fourth grade learn more about the various aspects of science through hands-on projects.
An anonymous donor contributed funds for a new science lab in the lower school, which features a Smart Board, furniture, materials and an updated science curriculum. Tables are set up in the room so students can work together.
The fact the children engage in hands-on projects instead of simply learning out of a textbook is beneficial, science teacher Shawn Brown said. By going outside, getting their hands dirty and seeing science with their own eyes, everything becomes more fun and relevant, he said.
“This is fun and never the same, and that’s what I love about it,” he said. “I believe children can learn more when they see or do something. It’s easy to tell them that radiation is when the sun is heating the earth, but they aren’t going to remember that unless they can actually see what’s happening. The program is designed to be fun, and I make everything that way too. The students have a good time and learn a lot.”
The curriculum focuses on different areas based on grade level. Kindergarteners have been learning about wood and materials by using sandpaper and blocks of wood. They then related that to nature and studied various trees outside the school.
First- and second-graders study rocks, collecting ones of different shapes and sizes, while third- and fourth-graders study weather. They completed a project in which they performed a newscast about the weather, and had a lab in which they heated water to bring it to a uniform temperature.
Activities such as these are what make children more interested in science, said principal Kathleen Swafford, who decided to institute this program in the lower school after seeing the impact the science lab has for students in the middle school.
“Science is all about collaboration and problem-solving, and this new lab allows that to happen,” she said. “The conversations students have with each other are amazing, and they are able to come up with solutions together. Everything about this is great, and it’s wonderful to have a teacher like Shawn who is dedicated to science. He brings out the best in the children and isn’t afraid for the class to be noisy or dirty, which is what the children need to learn. We now have a lot of children who have a passion for science.”
The projects and experiments allow the students to enjoy their time in science lab, Brown said, and he hopes they will continue to be interested in what they learn when they are at home. Some of his students have gone to the park with their parents and taught them what they learned about rocks and trees, he added.
That excitement about science, nature and the earth is what makes his job even more rewarding and is why this science initiative is even more meaningful, Brown said.
“Every day, I see something click in their heads, and when you see a child come to a realization and figure something out themselves, it’s great,” he said. “I give them the tools they need and lead them in a direction, and they come to conclusions in their own way. The science program at Levine is the way kids learn really well, and I see that every day. It’s incredible.”
Parents are able see what their children learn first-hand as well. Julie and Gary Haymann agreed that their first-grader, Eli, has learned from his experiences in science lab.
He is now able to combine things and make a finished product, which is something he has gained from science class, Gary Haymann said.
“Eli loves it and it stimulates his mind; this gives the students an appreciation for how science really works,” he said. “He enjoys looking for bugs outside and building things. Levine has taken a great initiative with their programming to take learning to a higher level and engage kids and this is illustrated with the science initiative.”
Added Chuck Butler, incoming chair of the board and co-chair of Levine’s capital campaign: “This is such an exciting time for Levine. Our board set out to provide a strategic roadmap for growth in every arena, and the community really stepped forward with its support. Our donors have not only created strong technology and science centers this year, but they have also stepped in with a multimillion-dollar facility upgrades around our Academic Advancement Campaign. It’s a great time to be at Levine, and I still believe the best is yet to come.”