Hands-on science at Pound Middle School

On a recent Tuesday morning, you could feel the energy inside Anica Brown’s seventh-grade science classroom at Pound Middle School. And it wasn’t just from the day’s lesson that asked students to compare thermal energy to electrical energy.

You could feel the students’ energy, too, especially after they conducted experiments and discussed their findings in small groups. Brown then asked the full class for volunteers to share their observations.

“Who would like to go first?” Brown asked as she scanned the room. “Oh my gosh, we have several people.”

Abby, Izzy, Lili - one by one, several of her students described their findings. 

“With the electrical energy, the bubbles were kind of stationary on the left. They didn’t really move very much,” Izzy said.

“Wow, you made a great observation,” Brown replied. “I love the word stationary...I love these scientific words you guys are using.”

The driving question for the day’s lesson was, “How can we make new particles from old particles?” It aligned with the unit’s larger question: “How can we make something new that was not there before?” 

Lincoln Public Schools K-12 Science Curriculum Specialist James Blake said Brown’s class reflects a shift in science instruction that has occurred in LPS and throughout Nebraska. The consensus of research shows the traditional way of teaching, which is heavy on rote memorization, does not reach most students. 

“If you think about the positive experiences you had when you were a student, they probably all had in common that you were doing something, engaged in a hands-on or minds-on lab or activity,” Blake said.

In 2017, the Nebraska Department of Education released updated College and Career Ready Science Standards, which also emphasize more hands-on learning and real-life application. LPS began training teachers for this shift back in 2014.

“We try to teach for what is outside the classroom,” Blake said, “and not to create learning experiences simply because it’s the title of a chapter in a textbook.”

There certainly was no rote memorization in Brown’s class, or lessons being taught because they’re titles in a textbook. The sign outside her classroom says it all: “Welcome to Science 7 with Mrs. Brown. Science rocks!”

Published: September 30, 2019, Updated: October 11, 2019

"We try to teach for what is outside the classroom and not to create learning experiences simply because it’s the title of a chapter in a textbook."

James Blake, LPS K-12 science curriculum specialist