Teachers and students in Lincoln Parish Schools in northern Louisiana agree: PhD Science® is great. The district started using the elementary school science curriculum for grades 3–5 in school year 2019–2020 and then added grades K–2 in school year 2020–2021.
“Students really like feeling that they’re problem solvers and that the world needs their help solving problems,” says Missy Wooley, who currently leads the STEM Center for Lincoln Parish Schools after serving as teacher, science coordinator, and university professor during a career that has spanned nearly 30 years. “Teachers love it too. They’re amazed at students’ creativity,” Wooley adds.
7 elementary schools
42.1% low income
20.2% students with disabilities
The center, which uses the PhD Science materials, gives students the opportunity to solve real-world problems in science, technology, engineering, and math and gain the skills needed for the most in-demand jobs as well as prepare for jobs of the future.
Hands-On, Relevant Lessons
Hannah Hyatt, an educator at Ruston Elementary School, says about PhD Science: “I love it. It gets my kids thinking and asking questions [like] ‘Why did this happen?’” She adds that the Level 3 sequence is ideal for her students, with the first module of the year focusing on weather and climate. “From August through September, the weather is crazy here in Louisiana. It’s changing every day.” As students are experiencing the weather firsthand, the content focus of the module helps students build their understanding of weather events and the processes that underlie the weather patterns.
Students carefully track and graph those changes daily, monitoring temperature, precipitation, cloud cover, wind speed, and other weather indicators. “It’s real for them. It’s not something that’s happening in another state or region,” Hyatt says of the content students are learning.
Her grade 4 colleague Meg Johnson, from Choudrant Elementary School, is also enthusiastic about all the new opportunities for hands-on, experiential learning that the curriculum provides. “My kids like to get to see and do the science and then talk about it,” she says.
In Level 4 Module 1, for example, the anchor phenomenon is about the formation of the Grand Canyon’s features. “Some of my kids have been to the Grand Canyon; others have not,” says Johnson. But regardless of students’ prior knowledge, the curriculum allows all students to engage in learning about the anchor phenomenon and experience what erosion is and how it works when they dissolve a sugar cube or blow holes in shaving cream.
As full-time director of the STEM Center, Wooley gets to spend every day creating hands-on experiences like these. Sometimes the investigations students engage in come directly from PhD Science modules, and sometimes Wooley uses other experiences to reinforce students’ learning in PhD Science. All grade K–5 teachers and students visit the center three times a year. These trips to the STEM Center are in addition to science instruction students receive in the classroom. Rotations at the center, lasting two and a half hours each, cover phenomena such as the features of the Grand Canyon and ecosystems of mangrove trees. “The learning is phenomenon based, discussion heavy, and hands on,” she says.
There were no hands-on investigations for much of the 2020–2021 school year because the COVID–19 pandemic forced students to learn at home. The STEM Center was closed. Consequently, educators extensively used the PhD Science in Sync® tools, which include videos and other digital resources to help support teaching in school and at home. Some teachers used the videos both for direct instruction and as student discussion starters. Other teachers used the resources for their own professional development as well.
The pandemic has also created opportunities. As schools reopened to students but not to community volunteers this year, the stand-alone STEM Center has benefited from an influx of community members volunteering. “We’re the only game in town,” says Wooley, the center’s only employee.
Many of the volunteers come from nearby Grambling University and Louisiana Tech. They are impressed by PhD Science as well. Indeed, some of the premed students are even considering switching their majors to education. “They love it,” Hyatt says.
Wooley says the university students are intrigued by phenomenon-based instruction and are excited by the rigor of the activities and investigations that PhD Science has incorporated into its curriculum. “I often hear, ‘I had no idea that third graders could do this.’ Or ‘I wish I had been taught science like this in elementary school.’”
Advice for Implementing PhD Science
The three educators shared advice for successfully implementing PhD Science. Pacing is a challenge, partly because teachers and students do not want to stop their investigations and move on to the next lesson. “It’s hard to prioritize,” says Hyatt. “It’s all so good.” The district is helping teachers address the pacing challenge by allowing built-in flex days and giving them the freedom to determine what they may spend more or less time on based on their students’ needs.
Hyatt offers one piece of succinct advice. “When you get the materials, go straight to Appendix B. It’s all there, showing where kids should be at the end of each lesson.” (Appendix B is the Module Storyline that summarizes the progression of concepts in the module.)
She and Johnson urge educators to internalize the materials. “Dig into it. Know that it will be hard at first for kids with no background in how to draw models,” says Johnson. “Don’t expect perfection. Don’t use it as a script, but make it your own so that it works for you and your kids.”
Wooley points to the science of learning to underscore the effectiveness of the curriculum. “Look at the research on how students learn science. PhD Science is right in line,” she says. “It’s the best curriculum out there to teach science in 3-D.”
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Jenny has over a decade of experience in education policy and research. She has worked with states and districts on the development and implementation of college and career readiness policies, especially around the implementation of rigorous standards and high-quality instructional materials. She has extensive knowledge about K–12 standards, graduation requirements, assessments, and accountability systems nationwide. Additionally, she has conducted research for school districts to address pressing needs in those districts. Jenny received her B.A. in English and education from Bucknell University and her M.Ed. in education policy from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.