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As education standards shift, schools rediscover science class

Students at Quindaro Elementary School wildly wave their arms, eager to show off their knowledge of science.

A visiting National Geographic scientist already has regaled them with stories of volcanoes, poisonous frogs, a 22-foot snake—imagine the shrieks when he explains that it tried to eat a child for breakfast—and how he and his crew found bananas in the jungle just as starvation was surely setting in.

Words such as “ew,” “wow,” and “gross” ring out. In other words, scientist Andres Ruzo has hit rock-star status inside the Kansas City, Kan., school.

But now Ruzo boils it down.

“What does it mean to be a scientist?”

As hands go up wildly, he motions for them all to call out the answer together.

“Always be curious!” the children scream in unison with so much fervor that teachers aren’t entirely sure whether they should cheer it on or hold down the noise level.

Principal Linnie Poke smiles during it all, realizing that science is once again on firm ground at her schoolhouse.

In the last decade, elementary school principals such as Poke have watched reading and math—the two core subjects that used to make or break a school under the No Child Left Behind Act—get all the attention. No one said to ignore science, but with penalties tied to math and reading, there was little question what took first priority in elementary schools nationwide.

For more news about science instruction, see:

Bill Nye warns: Creation beliefs threaten U.S. science

Inquiry-based approach to science a hit with students

Climate change skepticism seeps into science classes

Many schools doubled up on reading or math classes, and the extra minutes often were carved right out of science and social studies. In Kansas City, Kan., administrators said there wasn’t a consistent and coherent science curriculum until recently.

Now, as Common Core standards are rolled out and educators wait for the Next Generation Science Standards to be released, elementary science has gotten renewed attention. Many school districts are requiring teachers to dedicate more time to science, experiment regularly, and integrate science into other classes.

Shawnee Mission and other districts also are supplementing textbooks to keep up with the latest best practices that integrate science with reading and math.

Poke encourages her teachers to make use of science materials for read-aloud assignments that also help literacy.

“You can teach science in reading. You can teach science through a read-aloud,” Poke said.

At Quindaro, pupils have embraced the experiments and inquiry-based science projects. The excitement shows Poke that science is a key way to get students excited about school.

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