Portland elementary school puts new focus on science

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PORTLAND — A rap song about the water cycle was a big hit with second-graders at Riverton Elementary School last week.

Performed by their teachers, the original song was designed to engage the interest of the students and get them excited about learning science.

The event was part of the school’s new effort to put more focus on science instruction.

“With our new curriculum, we hope to tap into the natural curiosity of kids,” Principal Ann Hanna said.

Using Maine’s Next Generation science standards, Hanna said the new curriculum at Riverton is “inquiry-based and hands-on” with a goal of creating units of study that help students better understand the natural world.

“We’re taking the standards and adapting them to make it relevant to students,” she added.

The focus on science is getting an extra boost with help from Brooke Teller, a science teacher at Casco Bay High School, who was named Cumberland County Teacher of the Year in 2017.

Teller is on sabbatical this academic year and is now acting as a sort of science coach to the teachers at Riverton, Hanna said.

“In this day and age, we need even our youngest (students) to be curious, critical, scientific thinkers,” Teller said. “We need them to be informed about the world around them and their impact on it.”

Teller said it was always her intention to spend her sabbatical year working to improve access to science for the city’s elementary age students, so when the opportunity came up to work on creating and implementing the new science curriculum at Riverton she jumped at it.

The new curriculum work went on over the summer and was funded with a grant from the Foundation for Portland Public Schools.

“Having Brooke available is a tremendous resource,” Hanna said. “We had some science lessons going on before, but now it’s much more specific and knowledge-based.”

This is Hanna’s second year as principal at Riverton and she said key comments she consistently heard from parents is that they wish there was more science instruction happening.

“We were a turnaround school for a long time, so our focus has been on improving our reading, writing and math scores,” Hanna said. “So science got left behind a little bit, but now it’s time to bring science back in again.”

Under standardized tests required by the Maine Department of Education, individual schools have received A-F grades in recent years that are designed to show whether students are meeting minimum standards in basic instructional categories. For a while, Riverton was defined as a failing school.

The bottom line for Teller is, “we need to be doing more science.”

Hence the water cycle rap, which had a chorus of “evaporation, condensation, precipitation, collection, the water cycle goes round.”

The second-graders weren’t sure what to expect during what appeared to be an impromptu assembly on Oct. 24, but when the curtain dropped and they saw their teachers dressed up as parts of the water cycle, they were thrilled and there was lots of shouting and clapping.

Teller said along with the rap song, students also had the chance to rotate through four learning stations the next day that revolved around each stage of the water cycle.

“So far, this has been really cool,” Hanna said of Riverton’s new science curriculum. “Both teachers and kids are really excited and engaged.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Leaving a lasting impression on their students by performing the water cycle rap at Riverton Elementary in Portland last week were second-grade teachers, from left, Sara Sissel, Allison Richards, Taryn Southard and Emily Troll. In the back is Brooke Teller, who is spending her sabbatical year working on the new science curriculum at the school.

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