Elkhart Community Schools has expanded its inquiry-based science curriculum to the secondary level thanks to a grant from the Monsanto Fund, the philanthropic arm of Monsanto Company.
Monsanto donated $20,000 to ETHOS, (Encouraging Technology and Hands On Science) a non-profit science education organization that supports area science initiatives. ETHOS has been managing the science kits that ECS elementary schools use for science instruction for several years. In addition, ETHOS pursues grant funding to help support science education initiatives for local schools.
The science kit program was expanded to include Elkhart's three middle schools and several high school classrooms this school year after a new secondary science program, SEPUP, (Science Education for Public Understanding Program) was piloted at ECS last year and then selected during the adoption process for science curriculum.
Josh Onken and Barry Meyer, operation and site managers of the Monsanto Company Seed Corn Production Facility in Constantine, Michigan, presented the check to ETHOS representatives Nov. 18. The check presentation was held during a teacher training session at ETHOS, allowing the Monsanto employees to see how their donation is being used.
“This is such a natural fit for what our company does," Onken said, after chatting with Eric Shipp, an eighth-grade teacher at North Side Middle School, about the SEPUP program, specifically regarding its hands on lessons in determining the ingredients in soils and fertilizers. “Monsanto is committed to supporting science education programs that further science teaching and interest students in science careers."
Patsy Boehler, executive director of ETHOS, said she was thrilled to learn that Monsanto had chosen to fund the SEPUP program, noting it wouldn't have been possible to implement the new curriculum without Monsanto's support.
“SEPUP builds on our elementary science teaching and continues to elevate students' expertise,” Boehler stated. "The beauty of the inquiry-based program is that it addresses so many learning styles. It helps level the playing field for all students.
Shipp said that during a traditional science class, the teacher is in charge of the lesson, providing students with facts about the subject. In inquiry-based education, the student determines the direction the lesson takes and the teacher becomes a facilitator.
"The student tries something, makes a mistake, and then figures out what needs to be done to correct it," Shipp explained. "We're seeing students become the masters of their domain.
"Students are gaining higher level thinking skills than they can get from a textbook," Shipp continued, adding the curriculum includes a lot of writing as students have to document what they've learned. "So the student is not telling me what I told her, she's putting it into terms she can understand and she will remember."
When the teacher does ask questions, "we're getting in depth answers," Shipp added. "The students' answers have skyrocketed over anything we've had in the past."
For example, when he used to ask a student "What is soil," the student would respond "dirt." "Now they're learning all that 'dirt' entails," Shipp said. “They're working with soil samples to differentiate the ingredients."
Riverview teacher Douglas Hunnings said his sixth graders also enjoy science more since SEPUP was implemented. "It allows the students to be more actively engaged in their learning," Hunnings stated. "Some of my students have commented that this has been their favorite year of science.
"One of my students said SEPUP helps him think more scientifically and now he has a better understanding of the scientific process," Hunnings continued, adding he's also seen an improvement in his students' writing and critical thinking skills.
"I also like the fact the kits supply almost all of the items needed for the activities, so there is little prep required," Hunnings added. "I am excited that Elkhart Community Schools has adopted SEPUP."