At an all-school assembly at Lincoln K-8 Choice School in Rochester, a little girl tugged on Maggie Hoody’s arm. “I’m a scientist,” the girl told her matter-of-factly. “Are you a scientist?”
For Hoody, assistant professor of education at WSU-Rochester, it was a defining moment in the success of InSciEd Out, a science outreach program aimed at elevating student performance and building a new generation of scientists.
The collaboration draws on the Mayo Clinic, Winona State University and Rochester Public Schools to deliver a groundbreaking curriculum that transforms every student into a scientist.
Using zebra fish as study subjects, students at Lincoln are learning about science in a way that is so exciting it redefines how they see the world and the living things in it.
Mayo researchers Skype in for consultations on projects led jointly by WSU education students, Lincoln staff and K-8 students, and the lessons both in science and in education in general stand to revolutionize how science and math are taught in schools far from Rochester.
Not so far from Rochester is Central Elementary, and WSU Dean of Education Sally Standiford told the District 861 School Board her department sees great possibilities for such a collaboration with Central.
The board voted to close Central at the end of next year unless a committee could come up with a viable magnet school option to boost enrollment there.
This, Standiford said, is the right time for a redesign of Central as it comes at the same time as a redesign of student teaching as a whole.
Using a Bush Grant and initiatives like the Essence of the Zebra Fish Project, WSU is rethinking how it prepares pre-teachers to be better equipped in the classroom and produce students better equipped for the world.
The Zebra Fish collaboration does both, Hoody told the board, as it gives students and teachers alike a hands-on opportunity to participate in a science education that is real, relevant, and very exciting.
Zebra fish are the chosen research tool because they share 75% of their genetic code with humans. Plus, their reproduction cycle is extremely short, the equipment needed to study them is fairly basic, and students can study the fish from embryos to adulthood on a compressed time schedule.
For Lincoln, Mayo researchers, teachers, parents and even students participated in the development of learning modules appropriate for different age groups. Students study, calculate, write about and create scientific positions on the zebra fish, as the science-based curriculum is embedded in many facets of their core education.
The push to better prepare students and teachers in science comes out of a nationwide STEM initiative to enhance student achievement in science, technology, engineering and math subjects. The United States lags behind other industrialized nations in each of those categories, and education officials believe retooling how the subjects are introduced and delivered to students can make the difference for a new generation.
Hoody said the project piloted at Lincoln but this fall will expand to two more Rochester schools. Standiford told the board that she believes such a model could be replicated at Central as well, then spread to other schools if it is successful.
The key to success, Hoody said, is a team of teachers excited about redesigning how they are going about educating students. By involving student teachers as well, organizers believe a new generation of science-minded teachers will emerge right along with students and the impact of the model will be twofold.
And though the project at Lincoln K-8 is just one year old, the results so far are enormous, Hoody said. The number of students participating in the school’s science fair quadrupled. The number of older students registering for honors biology classes nearly doubled. Students are excited about what they are learning, and so are teachers, student teachers, and the research community around them.
Brian Zeller, a Central parent who led the effort to give Central a new life, told the board this collaboration is exactly the kind of thing the Central Magnet Committee is contemplating. “Two and a half months ago we talked about collaboration,” he told the board, “and this is a perfect example of that opportunity. The impact in one year’s time in Rochester, it’s incredible.”
Zeller said this isn’t the only concept under consideration by the committee, but it is a strong one that merits more investigation. “We are working towards some great things,” he said. “When the money goes away how are we going to teach our students to higher levels? It’s through collaboration.”
“So can we keep talking about this?” Zeller asked the school board. They did not respond.