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Nation's eyes turn to Mesa's science program

published: January 19, 2001
posted to site: 03/23/2001

Nation's eyes turn to Mesa's science program

by Kristen Go

From The Arizona Republic, January 19th, 2001

For nearly 20 years, Mesa has been a national leader in teaching science to children without textbooks.

The program was one of the first to establish a successful curriculum that uses hands-on science kits to teach students about principles such as electricity, solids and liquids, and weather. Instead of reading about electric currents, students are required to map out how they can create electricity in a cardboard box by building circuits. Then the children are required to make their blueprints a success.

This method of teaching called inquiry based science, is taught to only about 20 percent of students nationwide, but new studies are showing that Mesa's model may be a more effective way of teaching students.

A study out f El Centro, Calif., showed that after four years of using inquiry based science, students' scores on Stanford 9 reading and math greatly improved for English speaking and non-English speaking students alike. The longer the students are exposed to inquiry based science, the grater the measured achievement in test scores, studies found.

El Centro is 120 miles east of San Diego and has the highest poverty rate of all California counties.

"Researchers working with us have really concluded it is the science instruction that is really making the difference," said Michael Lkentschy, superintendent of El Centro Elementary District.

Olaf Jorgenson, director of Mesa's science, social sciences and world languages department is pleased with he results at El Centro. He said this is the first time there has been statistical validation of what educators in Mesa have known for decades.

"This type of education really teaches them... to be really higher-order thinkers," Jorgenson said.

Klentschy spent plenty of time talking to science coordinators at Mesa before he was able to establish an inquiry based science program in his district.

"They were one of the pioneers," he said.

Doug Lapp, executive director of th the National Science Resources Center Smithsonian Institute and National academies in Washington, D.C. agrees.

"Mesa against all odds has been able to make this work on a large scale," lapp said.

When science textbooks are the primary teaching tools at the elementary levels, studies have shown that science becomes the most dreaded subject among students and teachers.

Schools across the country have traveled to Mesa to see how teachers use inquiry-based science in classrooms and to view the resource center that assembles the kits and advises classroom teachers how to use the kits.

A university in Japan is looking at incorporating Mesa into its study to see who children in different countries are learning science.

A little closer to home, Gilbert Unified School District has used the resources of its neighbor to, not only create similar curriculum, but also a similar resource center. Gilbert's science program has also earned positive recognition.