St. Peter’s expands science programming

After years of studying the inherited traits of pea plants, Gregor Mendel published his paper on the laws of inheritance in 1865.

Almost 90 years later, James Watson and Francis Crick, using an X-ray diffraction image taken by Rosalind Franklin, discovered the double helix structure of DNA. Their report was published in 1953.

Only 50 years passed between that milestone and the mapping of the human genome in 2003.

Today, just 10 years later, enzyme replacement therapy is helping people with genetic diseases.

Rapid changes in science and technology can improve lives dramatically, but they require an educated workforce.

At St. Peter’s Catholic School, a private elementary school in Forest Lake, spiritual growth is combined with academic rigor. Science, math, engineering and technology are integrated into the curriculum in every grade.

Third-grade students at St. Peter’s Catholic School in Forest Lake prepare to dissect a shark.

Third-grade students at St. Peter’s Catholic School in Forest Lake prepare to dissect a shark.

Starting this fall, the school will take an even more aggressive approach. St. Peter’s has purchased a new science curriculum, Pearson Education’s Interactive Science, for kindergarten through sixth grade.

Interactive Science text for kindergarten to Grade 5

Interactive Science text for kindergarten to Grade 5

Pearson describes the program as “students learning science by doing science.”

Students are active participants, using text (they can write in their books), hands-on inquiry, and online digital access.

“Science is everywhere” is the emphasis, and labs are important: There are “lightning” labs, “go green” labs, at-home labs and virtual labs.

Interactive Science text for Grades 6 to 8

Interactive Science text for Grades 6 to 8

Pearson invites people to see research results for the program by visiting InteractiveScience.com.

St. Peter’s also has invested in new technology to support the emphasis on integrating science, technology, engineering and math concepts into the curriculum.

At the annual Golden Gala fundraising dinner on April 26, the school raised money to purchase additional iPad tablet computers to provide students digital access to science topics.

Last year the school had five iPads to share. This year there will be 20 iPads on a mobile cart that teachers can reserve. This means one for every student in class. (The average class size at St. Peter’s is 18.)

“We believe that through these curriculum enhancements, our students will have the opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to solve real-life problems and excel in this increasingly technological and knowledge-based global society,” said Karen Anderson, the school’s marketing and development director.

St. Peter’s students learn the physics concept of stored energy by building catapults in class.

St. Peter’s students learn the physics concept of stored energy by building catapults in class.

Photos by Mary Bailey Andrew Schumacher revisited the catapult for his science project last February to study the distance traveled by objects of different weights.

Andrew Schumacher revisited the catapult for his science project last February to study the distance traveled by objects of different weights.

St. Peter teachers Megan Masshardt and Deb Sieben are eager to embrace the changes.

Masshardt, who teaches science to both fifth-grade classes, is looking at applications to teach science topics. For a space unit, her students will be able to see NASA videos showing the surface of Venus. For a unit on animals, she plans to pull up a dissection app so the class can discuss how other animals’ bodies are similar to ours.

“We won’t need the frog, cleanup or supplies,” she said. (In third grade, St. Peter’s students dissect a real shark.)

A LEGO Mindstorms NXT component.

A LEGO Mindstorms NXT component.

The fifth-grade curriculum will also include LEGO Mindstorms NXT, a robotics kit that uses kid-friendly software.

Masshardt said she used LEGO NXT in college to design and program a robot to find and sort laundry. The robot navigated the room, searching for dirty clothes. When it found something, it would grab it with its claws and bring it to either a light or dark pile.

Fifth-graders will learn to program a robot to move, turn and use its light and sound sensors.

Sieben, a sixth-grade teacher, said the new curriculum and materials will help St. Peter’s teachers achieve the goal they’ve had for years: to integrate science and technology with other areas.

“This is where education in the U.S. should be moving,” Sieben said. “The more you can integrate things, apply math and technology to science, the better.”

“We’ve always had an emphasis on science, technology, reading and math,” she added. “We work to develop their skills in critical thinking.”

For a sixth-grade science project about rain forests, she said, students read about the topic in class, do research on the Internet and write persuasive essays.

She makes the projects multi-dimensional, so they are like the real world. A student giving a speech for social studies would do research in the computer lab, write the report using Microsoft Word and create spreadsheets in Excel. The student might design a PowerPoint presentation with video clips to show on the SmartBoard.

One advantage of this approach is that every student gets to do some favorite activity. In addition to research and writing, there are also design and art aspects. Some kids prefer words and some pictures, the teacher said; it’s best if they spend at least part of the time doing something they like.

Sieben is excited about the hands-on and virtual labs in Pearson’s Interactive Science program, such as measuring plant growth. The program offers “some great ways to teach,” she said.

St. Peter’s Catholic School currently enrolls about 300 students from Forest Lake, North Branch, Lindstrom, Wyoming, Scandia, Marine and Ham Lake. The school accepts children from families of all faiths, but 76 percent are Catholic. Tuition is $3,625.

Small classes help the school offer a strong academic program and emphasize service.

“They come out of here with a lot of learning that can help them succeed in the large classes at the public junior high,” Sieben said.

up arrow