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Middle School Science Enrichment Program

Overview

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in partnership with George Mason University conducted an enrichment program for FCPS middle school students from low-income families. The program is for two summers and one academic year for students. During the summer programs at Mason, students investigate a science problem in ways similar to scientists. Learning experiences are primarily hands-on and inquiry-based with students asking questions and designing experiments to explore science. They build their basic literacy skills while testing and revising their theories and collecting information to solve the science problem. Students continue to meet in FCPS during the academic year for extension activities and mentoring.

Program

Science camp experiences allow for students to investigate real world problems similar to the ways that scientists investigate. Using Problem-Based Learning as the curriculum approach, students are provided with a real world problem for which they must find a solution. Through solving the problem, students participate in hands-on, inquiry-based experiences so that the students are encouraged to ask questions, develop investigations, and experience drawing conclusions based on data they have collected.

The two-year experience encompasses the following science content areas:

  • Summer 1 — life science — Medical Mysteries - general health issues
  • Academic Year — earth science — Protecting the Environment — environmental issues
  • Summer 2 — physical science — Weather Tamers and Crime Busters

Not only does the use of Problem-Based Learning promote the integration of science, math, and language arts, but it also allows for the individualization of curriculum as students determine side issues to further explore related to their selected problem which they are attempting to solve. A low student to staff ratio, along with a diversity of background experiences among the staff, facilitates this individualized experience for students.

The location of the camp experience at a university provides a wealth of opportunities for students to experience campus life in addition to the ways in which scientists perform their work on campus in laboratories. Students in Summer 2004 toured laboratories, met with scientists, and toured student facilities on campus including the bookstore, library, food court, dormitories, classrooms, lecture halls, and campus grounds so that they could experience first-hand the environment of a typical college student.

Parents participated in a one day information session about college, toured the campus, ate lunch in the dining hall with their children, and saw their children explaining what they thought the solution to the science investigation was.

Outcomes

The 60 students who attend the Middle School Science Enrichment Program showed a significant increase in science content knowledge and skills as well as an increase in positive attitude towards science.

Funded by Fairfax County Public Schools

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