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District 153 adopts new science curriculum programs

The District 153 school board agreed to update its science curriculum for all grades using two programs that teachers have piloted this school year.
The board voted Monday, May 14, to spend $98,770 for contracts with four companies for Mystery Science curriculum and support materials kindergarten through fifth grade, and Stem Scopes for sixth, seventh and eighth grades and the purchase of technology devices for the upper grades. 
Both programs adhere to the new Next Generation Science Standards adopted in Illinois and 25 other states to give students an internationally benchmarked science education. The standards are endorsed by the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Kathy Schaeflein, director of curriculum, said she started investigating new science materials three years ago and had a group of teachers work with her to review options. This year the two programs were introduced in the schools on a trial basis and teachers gave overwhelmingly positive responses.
Neither program comes with a book, but Schaeflein said that means the companies providing the materials regularly update the content online. Both offer teachers a basic instructional program that can be enhanced with hands-on learning experiences, extra work projects and assessments. 
In recorded remarks, board members heard teachers call the Mystery Science series “really engaging,” “great hands-on,” “focuses on cross-curricular learning” and it gives teachers the chance to add as many additional materials as the students need.
For the James Hart School students, Schaeflein planned the Stem Scopes proposal with additional computer devices in the classroom. The district was able to use federal grant money to purchase the additional computer devices, she said.
The program was piloted in sixth grade, but teachers in seventh and eighth grades also included several lessons on Stem Scopes in their curriculum.  The materials have a high level of vocabulary and reading materials. Because the program is online, teachers can adjust reading materials to match a student’s specific reading ability.
The program allows teachers to add to the curriculum for students who need a greater challenge. Teachers have found science theory retention improved among students who piloted the program.

The program has projects for group learning. Schaeflein said during the testing period, five sixth graders worked using one computer device. With the purchase of additional devices, the ratio will be reduced — four students per device in sixth grade; three per device in seventh grade; two per device in eighth grade.

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