Ninety-nine elementary teachers were called into action July 27-28, 2005, at the Hands-on Science Boot Camp to explore new and creative science integration strategies for making science education come alive in their classrooms. Named Operation Just Do Science, the intensive two-day, hands-on science training targeted early childhood through third grade teachers who wanted to make science more fun and meaningful in this classrooms.
“Our goal was to give teachers the necessary training and tools to do more science in their classrooms in the coming year,” according to Steve Spangler, Executive Director of the National Hands-on Science Institute and lead trainer at the Science Boot Camp. “The problem is one of time: teachers want to do more science with their students, but many elementary teachers just cannot find the time needed to give students the opportunity to really do science,” says Spangler. “Some elementary teachers are forced to put science on the back burner until early Spring when state testing in other curriculum areas is finished. Science education cannot withstand that kind of assault”¦ and this sort of ‘boot camp’ training is so important to the future of science education.”

During the two-day training, teachers participated in more than 75 hands-on science experiments and demonstrations aimed at getting students to use the scientific method to solve problems and make their own discoveries. For example, as a way of demonstrating the incredible power of air, Science Boot Camp instructor Doug Hodous vacuum-packed a willing teacher participant in a giant plastic bag. “Once you’re sealed in a bag from the neck down and the air is removed, you understand what it feels like to have 14.7 pounds of air pushing on every square inch of your body”¦ and every kid in class wants to be vacuum-packed!” Hodous, who has been teaching at the National Hands-on Science Institute since 1996, encourages teachers to use demonstrations to grab the students’ attention and set the stage for a more hands-on experience that get students really doing science.

Julie Gintzler, children’s literature specialist and Boot Camp instructor, shared many best practices and strategies for connecting science with popular pieces of children’s literature. After reading the children’s classic, Snowy Day, Gintzler showed teachers how to make it snow in their classrooms using a material called a superabsorbent polymer commonly found in baby diapers. Adding water to the powder produced an eruption of faux snow accompanied by many ooohs & ahhhs! “It’s fun to use science to make the story literally come to life. Teachers need to learn how to tap into a child’s natural curiosity to create science learning experiences that promote wonder, discovery and exploration.”

Steve Spangler and his staff firmly believe in the old adage that says”¦ people learn best by doing. But Spangler adds, “”¦ and teachers master what they’ve learn when they get the opportunity to teach someone else.” That’s why 120 first and second graders from Little Elementary joined the teachers at Boot Camp on the second day. Teachers and students were paired up for an afternoon of hands-on science adventures. “Teachers get the opportunity to immediately practice what they’ve learned with children who are eager to do some cool science activities with their science coach,” says Spangler who created this unique model of instruction during the 1990’s at the Hands-on Science Institute.

Piper Thompson, a second grade teacher from Houston, Texas, had never experienced this type of immediate, hands-on practice while taking a workshop. “For the first time in my teaching career, I got the opportunity to focus my teaching on one child”¦ and to give her the opportunity and the time needed to really do science. Not only did I get a chance to practice what I learned, but I was reminded of how important it is to make time for children to ask questions, test out their ideas and to make their own discoveries. That’s what makes science so much fun.”

Funding for the children to attend this special science camp experience was provided by the Amgen Corporation, the world’s largest biotechnology company, who realizes the critical role teachers play in motivating students to explore science and pursue science-related careers, as well as in helping create science-literate communities.

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