News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, July 3, 2014
BHCS science programs get “kids to do the heavy lifting”

by Anne Berleant

Blue Hill Consolidated School science teacher Tara McKechnie praised “Talk Science,” a curriculum she introduced in 2013-14, to board members on June 11.

Talk Science is used by the Maine Elementary Sciences Partnership, or Maine ESP, and McKechnie and BHCS were cohorts in the program, which was coordinated through the University of Maine and funded by a state grant to strengthen STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in Maine schools.

Talk Science, McKechnie said, provides “ways to change the conversation…to get the kids to do the heavy lifting, to really get them thinking.”

As a cohort, McKechnie not only was able to use the program materials but meet with 24 science teachers from area schools each month to discuss its classroom use and serve on a task force to look at the Talk Science resources.

Rachel Kohrman Ramos, Union 93 curriculum coordinator, attended one of the task force sessions, which “really pushed [teachers] to explain what they thought. It was a really intensive process,” she said.

The curriculum is designed for grades K-5 and meets the national Next Generation Science Standards, which have not yet been adopted by Maine.

Nine “talk norms,” such as waiting three seconds before responding to questions and being asked to explain their thinking, help students to listen to each other, share, expand and clarify their thoughts and use “deeper reasoning” and engage with other’s reasoning,” McKechnie explained.

The “talk norms” are “really powerful,” McKechnie concluded. “They sound really simple, but they work.”

She asked the board to spend half of the $20,000 budgeted for science in 2014-15 on the Talk Science online curriculum kit, and the board unanimously agreed.

Most of the remaining science budget was allotted to middle school science. Teacher Nell Herrmann uses the curriculum and materials recommended by the Maine Partners for Physical Sciences, called SEPUP, or Science Education for Public Understanding Program, which was developed by the National Science Foundation.

SEPUP focuses on teaching core ideas and the skills to evaluate new information. These are used as a “springboard” to outside resources, Herrmann said, such as studying insect life in the Mill Stream to determine the stream’s health, using factors such as whether the insects were pollution resistant or pollution sensitive. (The students discovered that the Mill Stream is healthy, Herrmann added.)

She asked the board for permission to spend $7,800 on SEPUP physical science materials, the focus of the seventh and eighth grades next year. The board approved.

In other business, the board approved two nominations for first year probationary contracts: Kat Hudson, fifth grade, and Jessica Hutchins-Conrad, preschool. Sara Brown, Mike Jezak and Cathy Gage were approved as summer school teachers at $25 per hour. The board also approved the 2014-15 rubbish bid of Blue Hill Disposal, and the 2014-15 fuel oil bid of Wardwell Heating at $3.12 per gallon for 17,500 gallons.

Upcoming meetings:

Blue Hill School Board, Wednesday, July 9, 5 p.m., BHCS