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Teachers seek comfort level with science

Talking last week about the Farmington School District's disappointing results on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment science test, assistant superintendent Christine Weymouth suggested teachers would have to find ways to work together.

At Riverview Elementary School, they're way ahead of her.

In June, a group of five RVES teachers traveled to Itasca State Park to take part in a 10-day, University of Minnesota-led session designed to help elementary school teachers get more comfortable teaching science. They spent their days learning the scientific method, and observing the natural world. They tried hands-on experiments and learned new lessons.

It was like summer camp for teachers, and the idea behind the event was to make teaching science as natural as teaching reading or writing.

That isn't always easy. Second grade teacher Cinda Current, who has traveled to Itasca three times in the past six years, said elementary teachers often lack confidence when it comes to science.

Current said she was surprised to see the results of the MCA science test -- only 38.8 percent of district fifth graders met or exceeded state standards, compared to 46 percent statewide. But she understands how it could happen. Few elementary teachers have a serious science background, and teachers sometimes worry that they don't know everything they need to in order to teach their students effectively.

"People feel uncomfortable with it," Current said. "It's an unknown. A lot of times people feel like, 'How am I going to fit it in?' because there's so much that's required of us nowadays."

Current certainly felt her share of uncertainty before she attended her first session up north. Now, she oversees aquariums full of hissing cockroaches at Riverview and has visions of adding features including butterfly gardens, herb gardens and even more animals. She wants millipedes and snakes.

Riverview had the second-best results among ISD 192 elementary schools with 42 percent of students either meeting or exceeding state standards.

Current hopes to make science education a part of everyday learning for elementary students, rather something they do with special experiments every once in a while. She said teachers can work on reading and science at the same time by having kids read science-related books. They can use science journals to work on writing skills.

"I never would have thought of myself as holding cockroaches and stuff, but now they call me the science queen," Current said. "I discovered I could do this and it was fun and my kids were just thrilled."

This year's trip could help other teachers reach that same realization. In the past, Current has traveled to Itasca on her own. This year, she brought four other teachers with her, each representing a different grade. Current hopes having multiple teachers available to share some of the things taught during the session will help spread the word schoolwide.

Also on the trip were kindergarten teacher Andrea Hopkins, first grade teacher Crystie Dufon, third grade teacher Wendy Mengelkoch and fourth grade teacher Chris Caduff.

"Now I have four other people who are just as excited," Current said. "They really enjoyed it, and they're passionate about it."

Current hopes that excitement will pay off in the classroom.

The RVES teachers' trip was paid for with a grant from the university's Bell Museum of Natural History.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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