Special Report

Reinventing science class

Posted on October 3, 2013

Walk into any science classroom at a middle or high school in Newport News, Va., and chances are you won’t see students sitting in chairs, facing the teacher at the front of the room.

Instead, you’ll find them huddled in small groups—or outside in the field—designing their own experiments and testing their hypotheses with the aid of handheld technology from PASCO.

They might be measuring the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by plants under various lighting conditions. Or testing for fertilizer in the water from a nearby pond.

This is science as it happens in the real world: a hands-on, inquiry-based activity. It starts with a question, which leads to observation and the collecting of information as students seek an answer to their query.

In a typical science classroom, students are taught the content first and then do a lab activity to reinforce what they’ve already learned. But Newport News has flipped this traditional model of instruction on its head, having students learn science by actually “doing” science.

“We’ve really changed our whole philosophy,” said Dewey Ray, secondary science supervisor for Newport News Public Schools (NNPS).

And the results have been extraordinary: Average science scores on Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) exam have risen anywhere from five percentage points to 19 percentage points for the city’s five high schools.

In this special Publisher’s Report, we’ll look at how Newport News has revamped its science curriculum with the help of PASCO devices—and how this change has led to big achievement gains.

NNPS serves nearly 30,000 students on the northern shore of the James River, part of the Hampton Roads harbor area of Virginia. The school system’s new inquiry-based science initiative began a few years ago, under the direction of Ray, Superintendent Ashby Kilgore, and Science Specialist Bruce Davidson.

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