Pilot tests new science, technology curriculum for freshman

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A curriculum to teach ninth-grade students to design and construct their own experiments in a variety of sciences soon will be tested at Roseland University Prep and Healdsburg High School.

The “Learning by Making” science, technology, engineering and math curriculum, developed by Sonoma State University’s education and public outreach group, was tested in six Mendocino County high schools for three years. The university received a $3.93 million grant last month from the U.S. Department of Education, to offer the classes to Sonoma and Lake counties.

“We have the opportunity to rethink the way that STEM subjects are taught, so that students are more actively engaged in doing science, and not just memorizing facts,” said Laura Peticolas, associate director of the outreach group.

Roseland University Prep, a public charter high school, will implement the curriculum to ninth graders in one or two classes in the fall of 2019. The following year, it will likely replace freshman introductory science classes, teacher Nessa Cannon said.

The curriculum’s backbone is in computer coding — a critical skill for the STEM program, said Cannon, a former materials engineer. Students learn Logo, an easier programming language.

Real-world examples are used for earth science, biology, chemistry and physics experiments, like creating energy from decomposition or preventing evaporation in certain situations. The curriculum incorporates student-designed experiments and inquiry-based learning.

“In my opinion, it’s the best way to teach science,” Cannon said.

Students learn how to analyze data from a variety of sensors, including light, temperature and vibration. They also learn how to build electronic circuits.

Cannon has attended one training session on the new classes so far, and will attend a few more every couple months throughout this school year. She’ll have a five-day training during the summer.

The STEM curriculum was approved by the University of California and California State University systems in admission requirements as a laboratory science course.

An impact study conducted during the 2016-17 school year found students participating in the Learning by Making courses outscored their peers in science by 7 percent and in math by 4 percent.

“Learning by Making has been our group’s most challenging project, but it also has the potential to transform STEM education nationally,” said Lynn Cominsky, director of Sonoma State’s education and public outreach group and chair department of physics and astronomy.

According to Sonoma County Office of Education staffers, each district will make its own decision as to whether it will adopt the “Learn By Making” curriculum.

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