Hands-on Learning Designed to Improve Student Science and Reading Skills

November 25, 2008

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  Elementary and special education teachers across the state are getting help incorporating 21st century learning into their science lessons with the West Virginia Department of Education’s Science with Inquiry Modules and Problem Based Learning Experiences (SIMPLE).


“I love the kits,” said Michelle Shomo, a third grade teacher at Montrose Elementary School in South Charleston. “They have children actively involved in learning science. Children love science but with so much stress in recent years on reading and math, science sometimes gets left behind or not taught as much as we like. This gives children the opportunity to do real-world experiments. They love it.”

The SIMPLE program is based on four kit-based science modules per grade level in the areas of life science, physical science and earth science for kindergarten through sixth grade. Each kit provides excellent correlation between the concepts presented and the West Virginia Content Standards and Objectives. They contain all of the materials necessary for the unit, including a pretest and a post-test to monitor student learning.


In the unit on rocks, for example, the kit contains materials for children to make mock rocks that they can then break apart to study structure. The kit also contains samples of different types of rocks to allow for learning through discovery.


The modules have been developed using the prototype from the Delaware Science Coalition, 10 years of research and resources from the West Virginia Handle on Science Project (WVHOS), which was previously funded by a National Science Foundation grant in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle. The project also is working in conjunction with the June Harless Center.


“The hands-on activities motivate students to learn and prepare them for deeper levels of scientific investigation and understanding,” said state Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine. “Research tells us that students are more likely to retain the knowledge gained through project learning far more readily than through traditional learning.”


The goal of the program is to increase student achievement in science and reading.  After adopting a similar plan, Delaware over the past eight years saw a gradual and consistent yearly gain in the percent of students achieving mastery and above:  1 percent for fourth grade, 3 percent for sixth grade, 3 percent for eighth grade and 3 percent for high school juniors.  Over the same period, Delaware’s state reading scores experienced overall gains:  20 percent for third grade, 27 percent for fifth grade and 20 percent for eighth grade.


Teachers interested in participating in the project must request participation through the West Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Instruction or their county office.   Professional development is required to get the kit.  Teachers are required to implement the kit in their classrooms and participate in follow up professional development as well.  Graduate credit is available for the teachers who participate and complete all processes.  The kits range in cost from $480 to $980, depending on the programmatic level addressed and the supplies included.

The West Virginia Department of Education began providing professional development this summer for 50 teachers to become master trainers using the kits. An additional 50 master trainers along with another 500 teachers will be added each of the next two years. An additional 700 teachers will be added in year three for a total of 1,850 statewide.  


“Teachers have a lot of material and a lot of things to cover,” Shomo said. “My hope is that the kits will help them be concise in their teaching and educational and engaging for the children.”


To learn more, contact Marty Burke, assistant director of the Office of Instruction, at (304) 558-5325, or contact the Office of Communications at (304) 558-2699.

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