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New science curriculum provides hands-on learning

New science curriculum provides hands-on learning


Fourth-grade students at Lake Minatare furrowed their brows in concentration as they watched water stream from their holey cups through their piles of dirt in plastic containers on Tuesday, Sept. 29.

Five pairs of students each had a cup with a different number of holes, and they recorded in their journals what the water did to the dirt. Their science teacher, Spencer Lease, said it was an experiment to help them see erosion’s effect on landscapes with their own eyes.

“We’ve been talking about erosion and weathering the last couple of weeks,” he said. “This was just to model how quickly erosion can happen.”

This hands-on activity is part of a new science curriculum called PhD Science that Scottsbluff Public Schools has implemented this year in grades 3-5.

“PhD science offers kids to have hands-on opportunities … and it just really seemed to go along with what we’re doing in our school district,” said Jeremy Behnke, principal of Lake Minatare and the district’s science content area specialist. “Kids are excited about it, and teachers are excited about it, so that means their knowledge and growth in science is going to continue to be strong.”

The PhD Science comes from the company Great Minds in Sync. Scottsbluff Public Schools District had already implemented its Wit & Wisdom language arts curriculum and has been pleased with its results. They decided to add on PhD Science.

According to an SBPS press release, PhD Science uses connections to math, history, art and English language arts to provide students with a richer overall educational experience. Behnke said it provides more hands-on learning than the science curriculum the district has used in the past.

“We’re really changing the way we do science. Rather than the teacher standing up there and always giving the content, we’re kind of shifting that a little bit and we’re giving the hands-on experience followed by the content,” he said. “Then the kids are discovering why, instead of the teacher telling them why. And that’s where the learning really takes place.”

One of Behnke’s favorite parts about the new program is the allowance of a designated science teacher in each of the elementary buildings. He said it provides more fluent learning transitions from grade to grade.

Melissa Price, the district’s director of communications, added that it also allows other elementary teachers more prep time to dive deeper into other subjects.

“(Because of) the fact that an elementary teacher kind of has to be the master of all contents, they get less planning than a teacher at the middle school or high school,” she said. “It really gives us an opportunity for some specialization, which allows us to offer more to our students.”

“It’s been a lot of fun so far, and I know all of the science teachers have enjoyed the new stuff,” Lease added. “It provides a lot of hands-on opportunities for the kids, so they’re getting a lot of chances to get their hands dirty and to experience things first hand.”

SBPS is now piloting a K-2 version of PhD Science in the second grade. Upon completion of successful implementation of the curriculum in grades 3-5 as well as the second-grade pilot, the district will consider recommending the adoption of the K-2 version of the program. A pilot of a 6-8 PhD Science program is not yet available, but will be considered when it is offered.

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Olivia Wieseler is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9051 or by emailing

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