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The science of learning

POSTED August 20, 2010 9:47 p.m.

It was the summer after my sixth grade year and I was looking forward to spending three months lounging by the community pool with my friends. But my mom had other plans.

She signed me up for a six-week science summer school course. Summer school is bad enough, but 30 whole days of science?! On my way to summer school on the first day I consoled myself with the thought, “At least it’s not math.”

Of course, it turned out to be one of the best educational experiences of my life. (You were right mom, again.) I learned amazing things about plants, built a volcano, went to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and even dissected a pregnant shark!

I remember thinking at the end of the course that I never knew science was so interesting — even though I studied science every week during the regular school year. I think it was the one-subject intense study schedule that summer school allows and the fact that the teacher was able to share his love of science — and teaching — without having to think about testing or standards or even pesky administrators.

This flashback to my summer school experience was triggered after reading the California Standards Test Scores for our local students. While I was amazed at how much improvement most of the local elementary schools made in the English Language and Math categories, many of the schools recorded lower science scores.

While Earl Elementary had 26.2 percent of students score Advanced in English Language Arts and 31.8 percent in Mathematics, only 16 percent (of fifth grade students only)  scored Advanced in Life Science. Walnut  Elementary had similar numbers, with 33.6 students scoring Advanced in English, 44.4 in Mathematics (that is truly amazing!), and 18 in Life Science — once again, fifth grade students only.

(For a listing of local schools’ test scores, see the Aug. 18 issue of the Journal, available at the Journal office located at 138 S. Center St., Turlock.)

I don’t fault our local educators for the science scores. Every teacher I know is under tremendous pressure to bring up test scores and they, rightly so, focus the majority of their attention on the basics of reading and arithmetic.

The test scores did show, however, that the percentage of Advanced scoring students in English, Algebra I and Life Science evened out in junior high. In fact both Dutcher Middle School and Turlock Junior High recorded higher percentages of students scoring Advanced in science than in English.

Maybe the surge of hormones most middle schoolers get enhances their ability to understand biology?

Looking back on my sixth grade summer school experience,  I think that Turlock needs to offer the same sort of thing. Summer break is the perfect time for students to get more individual attention on subjects that teachers do not have the time to focus on during the regular school year.

I know, I know. Local school districts don’t have the money to fund extracurricular summer school courses. They are struggling to balance the budget as it is through these tough economic times while maintaining a level of education that will serve our local students well in their future college and career paths.

I believe this is where local service clubs and other philanthropic organizations can come in. Funding summer science courses in partnership with the school district would be beneficial to local students and the schools.

Students would get the information they need in a more relaxed and stress-free environment, as they only need to concentrate on one subject. And in return, their test scores would improve during the regular school year.

I know that the many generous service clubs in the Turlock area are already sponsoring various worthwhile programs that benefit local children. But I believe that investing in the science education of our elementary school students now could reap extraordinary benefits in the future.

I know I would like to see a Turlock native find a cure for cancer in my lifetime.

If you are a member of a service club who may have a budget for this project or a science teacher willing to donate a few weeks of time in the summer, let me know. Hopefully, together we can make this idea a reality.

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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