News / USA

Volunteers Keep Hands-On Science Alive in US Classrooms

Program ensures creative approaches despite increasing pressure for standardized instruction

Four Winds Director Lisa Purcell leads a science workshop for 1st graders at Barstow Memorial School in Chittenden, Vermont.
Four Winds Director Lisa Purcell leads a science workshop for 1st graders at Barstow Memorial School in Chittenden, Vermont.

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +
Nina Keck

When it comes to making science fun, Lisa Purcell is a pro. Mimicking an owl or a foraging squirrel is all in a day's work for the director of the Four Winds Nature Institute. On this particular morning, she’s training volunteers from three Vermont towns, Shrewsbury, Chittenden and Mendon to teach an elementary school workshop on owls.     

Purcell and several colleagues founded the Four Winds Nature Institute in 2006. Their school workshops are modeled after a similar program created back in the 1970s by the Vermont Institute of Natural Science.

Community-based science education

Purcell worked for VINS for years as a science educator. But, she says, as VINS focused more of its energy on building its new headquarters, Purcell and others spun off Four Winds to ensure that the community-based science education program remained strong.

That's especially critical at a time when American teachers are under increasing pressure to fit more standardized instruction into their school day. Science educators say that, too often, the hands-on study of natural sciences can get short-changed.

Lisa Purcell training parent volunteers to teach an elementary school workshop on owls.
Lisa Purcell training parent volunteers to teach an elementary school workshop on owls.

Creative approach

Four Winds currently has 1,500 volunteers working in four northeastern states. Shrewsbury resident Connie Youngstrom is one of them.

“We’ve had visits to the stream in the back of our school. Kids always get soaking wet but they love it. Their eyes light up when they get into the stream and turn over rocks to find little crustaceans and little critters under the stones.”

The program’s curriculum is designed to comply with the state of Vermont’s science standards. Four Winds charges schools $3,200 to participate. That pays for eight volunteer training sessions and the accompanying teaching materials. Staffers work hard to make the material relevant.

“We know that we want kids to be learning hands on and make discoveries in their own backyard. We’d love it to be something that they’ve walked by for years without noticing it," says Purcell. "And then we start thinking about how we’ll get kids excited about that. What will the puppet show need to include for students to understand the life of a goldenrod gallfly, for example?”

Kelli Bates, a teacher at Barstow Memorial School in Chittenden, says that creative approach is what makes Four Winds so popular with students.

“One year we were doing something with trees and the kids were actually parts of the tree - some would be the trunk and kids were actually laying on the floor being the roots - and things like that just connect these science theories in a way that they can understand.”

Hands-on science

Four Winds director Purcell not only trains volunteers, she is one. One afternoon a month, she puts her organization’s science activities to the test in front of first graders.

Purcell explains to the six- and seven-year-olds how owls eat things whole and then cough up pellets filled with what they couldn’t digest. She passes out pellets - which are sanitized and purchased from Owlpellets.com - for the students to examine.

“We’re just very carefully pulling these apart because we’re collecting data," she explains to the students. "We’re collecting information on what the owl ate."

At first, some of the young scientists are hesitant. But within minutes, they’re riveted. Seven-year-olds Gracie Stahura and Sophia Husack lean over their prize - the tiny skeletal remains of a tiny rodent called a vole.

“Do you see those teeth? It’s so cool. I never knew about the pellets. We have a big yard and there’s woods all around us and I’m going to look under the trees - so if I find them I’m going to get some toothpicks and open it.”

Purcell looks over at the girls’ table and beams. Her young students are excited by their scientific discoveries. Mission accomplished.  

You May Like

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

John the XXIII and John Paul II will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square on April 27 More

Thailand Reacts to Plots Targeting Israelis

Authorities hope arrest of two Lebanese suspects will disrupt plot to attack young Israeli tourists More

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

'Once Upon a Forest' takes viewers deep into heart of tropical rainforest More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Churchi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 22, 2014 4:14 PM
On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Robotic Mission Kicks Up Lunar Dust

A robotic mission to the moon was deliberately crashed onto the lunar surface late last week, but not before scientists had collected data gathered by the spacecraft which was designed to self-destruct. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports on the preliminary findings of the craft, called LADEE - an acronym for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.
Video

Video Boko Haram Claims Responsibility for Bombing in Nigerian Capital

The Nigerian militant group known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a bombing in the capital on April 14th that killed 75 people. In the video message, Abubakar Shekau, the man who says he ordered the bombing, says nothing about the mass abduction of more than 100 teenage girls, most of whom are still missing. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Abuja.
Video

Video Ukraine Developments Hang Over Obama Trip to Asia

President Barack Obama's trip to Asia this week comes as concerns over Beijing's territorial ambitions are growing in the region. Those concerns have been compounded by Russia's recent actions in Ukraine and the possibility that Chinese strategists might be looking to Crimea as a model for its territorial disputes with its neighbors. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid