Hands-on science work shows up in real life

A presentation on elementary science study soon turned into a study on science study for Tekamah-Herman’s Board of Education last week.

During its Nov. 14 meeting, the board heard a presentation from elementary science teacher Holly Loftis about a project her students recently completed. In wrapping up a section on energy, her students worked in teams of two or three to create an energy system. Students would test their theories two or three times before making a final run, taking notes during the tests to see what works and what doesn’t, and then making adjustments. At the end, the teams write a conclusion about why their system worked the best.

Part of that work is charting a line graph, on paper, to show their improvements.

“I know it’s 2022 and you could do that on a computer,” Loftis said, “but you have to use your brain more to get it down on paper.”

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Loftis said the study on energy now is moving into a study of weather, “how heat and cold work together,” Loftis said.

A question about how the activity matched up with state standards soon evolved into a discussion on curriculum. The science department, Gross said, is on the list to be replaced for the next school year.

Loftis said the work helps students achieve one of the four standards at the elementary level. The other three are addressed by quarter. She said the standards were adopted three years ago, but it takes a certain amount of creativity to gather all the information a teacher needs and then put it to work in the classroom. “The kids love the hands-on,” she said, but you have to balance that with the books, too.”

What is taught from the books is what a curriculum search is all about. Gross said it can take an entire year to determine what a district is looking for, even looking at.

“There used to be only two or three companies that sold curriculum,” he said. “Now that every state has its own standards, it’s harder to pin down what version will match the most standards—where we’ll get the most mileage for our money.”

That’s where the adults are using many of the same methods as Loftis’ science students.

She said the district’s science teachers already are starting to compile lists of things they like and don’t like about particular curriculum lines. They also talk with teachers in other districts to find out what works for them, and what doesn’t.

“Plus, what works for me might not work at the junior high or high school level,” Loftis said.

She said there are several options in the market. “There’s usually one way out in left field, but among the others the differences can be small. It comes down to what you want as a school district.”

Finding the right fit is important not just from the educational perspective, but also from an economic one. Gross said an entire K-12 science curriculum can run as high as $100,000.

Science standards are not measured in the lower elementary grades the way reading is, for example, so the cost for a line of science textbooks likely would be less.

In other business during its Nov. 10 meeting, the school board:

—Approved local substitute teaching credentials for Anna Wakehouse and Sarah Braniff.

Gross said that following hte approval, he’ll contact the state Department of Education and as long as the two meet the department’s other requirements, including a certain amount of college credit, they will become eligible to substitute teach here. A substitute is limited to 40 days of work in any school district and must be approved by each district where they have asked to work.

Wakehouse currently is a college student. Braniff is a paraeducator in the elementary school.

Gross said both will make good additions to the district’s list of substitutes.

“We don’t use all of our substitutes all of the time,” he said, “but having more substitutes gives our principals more flexibility.”

—Approved the annual audit.

Gross said the district’s auditors had no concerns over the district’s accounting procedures.

“The only thing they point out, and all districts our size have this, deals with distribution of duties,” Gross said.

At smaller districts, like Tekamah-Herman, one person usually is tasked with accounting and payroll duties.

“We are diligent about making sure bills and payroll are looked at by more than one person,” Gross said.

Steps also are taken to spread money-handling duties among staff members. For example, one person will prepare a bank deposit and another will make the transaction. Two signatures also are required on all of the district’s checks.

—Approved a formal announcement by the Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association naming an administrative vacancy at Tekamah-Herman. The approval is the first step in the search process for a new superintendent. Gross announced in October that he plans to retire at the end of the school year.

Once the announcement is made public, representatives from the association will begin screening applicants and will present the school board with a list of candidates that are believed to be the best fit for the district. The school board would then interview the finalists, and anyone else it may choose to interview, and name a successor.

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