Lisa Kalina calls two of her second-grade students to the front of the classroom and asks them to find the day’s record high and low temperatures on the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendar.
Then Kalina instructs the class to look up the forecasted high for that day-the third day of the new school year-on a computer web site projected on a screen at the front of the classroom.
Suddenly, the kids see that there is a thunderstorm predicted for the next day, and the room erupts with shouts from the second-graders about thunder and lightning they had seen the day before.
|Lisa Kalina and students Chloe Field and Ethan Schammel|
After a minute of this, the class settles down and Kalina explains to the students that every class day will begin with kids looking at the calendar and recording the day’s expected temperature on a bulletin board thermometer.
As the school year progresses, Kalina will teach her students at Jeffers Pond Elementary in Prior Lake the phases of the moon by having them take bites out of vanilla wafer cookies to mimic the moon waning and waxing. Once the students understand the phases, they will take home charts to track the lunar cycle with their families.
Kalina and approximately 400 other teachers in Minnesota will be integrating science into their classrooms this year, using the Calendars in the Classroom program. While they learn science, the students also will be improving their reading, writing and math skills.
The program-a collaboration between the Jeffers Foundation and the Freshwater Society, which publishes the calendar-offers a curriculum for students in kindergarten through the fifth grade.
Kalina, who has been using the curriculum for three years, uses the calendar to teach her students phenology, the changes that occur in plants and animals with the seasons. The second-graders journal about the changes as they occur.
Integrating science into her classroom activities helped her students become conscious of the changing world around them, Kalina said.
“A big benefit for them is just truly being more aware of their surroundings to help them become better scientists,” she said.
In kindergarten, the students note sunrise and sunset times to track changes in daylight, and they record the weather they see outside. In third grade, students identify types of clouds. Fourth-grade students determine the percentage of daylight hours, based on the sunrise and sunset times in the Weatherguide calendar. And they write about the phenological changes they see outside.
A goal of the curriculum is to use students’ interest in weather and natural phenomena as an avenue for learning other subjects, as well as science.
“If you take a child outside and he measures the circumference of a tree, that’s math and science. You have him writing, that could be English and science. You have him journaling, that can cover many different subjects,” said Jeffers Foundation CEO Paul Oberg.
The Jeffers Foundation began in 2005 with a donation from the estate of Robert W. Jeffers, a Prior Lake resident who preserved the land around Jeffers Pond Park with a conservation easement. The mission of the foundation is to provide youth with environmental education and instill the need to conserve and protect our natural resources. As part of this mission, the organization began a partnership with the Prior Lake-Savage Area school district to bring environmental education into the classroom. The program is based at Jeffers Pond Elementary.
In 2006, Jeffers Foundation vice president Fergus Woolley approached the Freshwater Society about using the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendar as a teaching tool for elementary school students. The foundation developed its K-5 curriculum and provides free training with the calendars to teachers who want to use them in their classrooms.
The curriculum is available on the Jeffers Foundation web site, www.jeffersfoundation.org. It also is available on the Freshwater web site, www.freshwater.org, as is an earlier fourth-through-eighth-grade curriculum. Both curricula are available free for teachers and home-schoolers.
Woolley said the Jeffers Foundation wanted to build lessons that would be in tune with teachers’ needs and could replace existing curricula so teachers would not have to add to their load.
“The one thing that teachers don’t have is time: either time for preparation or time in the classroom,” Oberg said. “So they had not been teaching science in the elementary grades, mostly because they are generalists and don’t have a science background.”
Oberg said that, because teachers have such a short time to fit all the lessons into one day, the Calendars in the Classroom curriculum was designed to meet multiple state graduation standards with each lesson and does not require tremendous preparation beforehand.
“We’re sort of like a Reader’s Digest of science to get the subject moving where it has never moved before, and that is in the elementary grades,” Oberg said.
Each lesson was developed by teachers who tested them in their own classrooms. However, many of the lessons are flexible so teachers can use them as guides and fit them into their own teaching styles and classroom needs.
“Teachers always need some type of a resource,” Kalina said.
Ann Mock, principal at Oak View Elementary in Osseo, teaches workshops for teachers who want to use the Calendars in the Classroom program. She said teachers become receptive to the program when they discover how easy it is to incorporate into the classroom.
“Hands-down, people are very excited about using it and didn’t know it was such a tool,” Mock said.
In the 14 years since she began teaching the Weatherguide calendar in her class, Mock said the program has become more in sync with teachers needs.
“The topics are similar but they have gotten so much better in being useful to teachers,” Mock said. “It has gotten to be more aligned with what was happening in the classroom.”
The Jeffers Foundation and the Freshwater Society plan to continue adapting the program to keep it relevant to changing state education standards. The plans envision that the next generation of the calendar will include more information about water issues, and this year teachers will begin testing lesson plans developed for pre-school youngsters.