Collaborative teaching, enrichment "specials" inspire learning

Collaborative teaching, enrichment "specials" inspire learning

Welcome to science class. Take out your calculator. For Gwinnett math and science teachers, the classroom door isn’t a barrier to collaboration across subject areas. Working together, colleagues plan lessons that deliver specialized content in coordinated ways.

Many Gwinnett elementary schools provide enrichment in science and mathematics, beyond the regular classroom, with weekly “specials” that give students a chance to go in-depth with more interactive and hands-on experiments and group activities.

Consider Dr. M. H. Mason Jr. Elementary where a recent visit found students in math class learning to calculate the average of a series of numbers. The next class period, in a science enrichment class, the children will conduct time trials with toy cars hurtling down a ramp. That earlier math lesson will come into play as the students calculate the average speed of their trials and evaluate their data.

These Mason students measure and weigh earthworms and will graph their results. Those are science words on the "word wall" in the background.
The enrichment or “specials” teachers at the school develop an instructional calendar for the year that mirrors grade-level AKS and instruction in the regular classroom. With that calendar in mind, classroom teachers may use supporting materials during daily math and science instruction to reinforce and reflect the enrichment activities from the weekly “specials.”

“The art, math, and science specialists at Mason are continuously looking for ways to support their students in making connections across content areas,” says Science Specialist Shay Buchanan. “Collaborative planning of lessons that address math and science standards with art extensions has helped Mason students see beyond isolated topics to make connections across these content areas.”

The collaborative lessons cover a host of topics. A science study of lightning bugs might include reading a related picture book and an art project. Earthworms go under the microscope, but also are weighed and measured and students graph the results for comparisons. In the art room, students craft fossils out of clay and plaster, following a science lesson.

In addition, both regular classroom lessons and enrichment classes offer opportunities for teachers to support and reinforce skills used across content areas. For instance, science teachers might reinforce mathematical concepts by guiding students through data collection, calculations, and interpretation of results, while math teachers might reinforce higher-order thinking skills important to scientific inquiry, such as problem-solving and critical-thinking.

For three years, Simonton Elementary students have enjoyed the extra time in their science "special"— covering topics like animal habitats and life cycles, even building circuits— but the children also have increased their achievement in science. Science Specialist Rhonna Beasley says the fun activities and extra dose of science help students “question, think, analyze, and create as they become independent thinkers and problem solvers.” And those are world-class skills that extend beyond the science curriculum, and beyond the classroom.

“Our students need a wide range of knowledge and skills across disciplines to navigate the increasingly complex world in which we live,” says Tricia Kennedy, executive director for Curriculum and Instruction. “Learning in a collaborative, hands-on atmosphere helps students apply what they already know, sometimes from a different subject, with the new knowledge and skills they’re learning. Successful, confident learners are the result.”

A group of Simonton students combine their efforts to build a circuit.

Rhonna Beasley and Rosalita Kennedy, both of Simonton ES; Shay Buchanan of Dr. M.H. Mason Jr. ES; and Mary Elizabeth Davis, GCPS Science Director, contributed to this report.

Here are links to some fun science resources to use at home: