FOSS FAQ's

  1. Questions Asked by District Administrators
    1. What will a FOSS adoption cost compared with what we have now?
    2. Will achievement scores increase?
    3. Does FOSS align with the district's standards and/or state framework?
    4. What are the staff-development (teacher-training) needs?
    5. What is necessary to successfully implement the program?
    6. Why use hands-on science instead of a textbook?
    7. What set of criteria should be used when evaluating science programs like FOSS?
    8. Can this program be integrated with other subject areas?
    9. How does this program handle multi-age grouping?
    10. How long will the program last?
    11. How much does it cost to manage and restock the FOSS kits?
    12. How much teacher training is necessary to implement the FOSS program?
    13. What are the on-going staff-training costs?
    14. Is the program comprehensive; that is, is there enough content?
    15. What are the ongoing costs of using the FOSS program?
    16. Are there model examples that districts have used for FOSS implementation?
    17. Who will be our science leaders?
    18. Is there a support/contact network available from the publisher to receive feedback about the product?
    19. How can we get more teachers interested?

  2. Questions Asked by Curriculum Committees
    1. Is the program user-friendly?
    2. How is reading integrated into the FOSS program?
    3. What prior knowledge is required of the teachers before using FOSS?
    4. Are all the materials really in the box?
    5. How much time does it take to teach?
    6. How are equity issues (gender, special needs, language) addressed?
    7. Are there opportunities for homework assignments?
    8. How do we establish a network of FOSS users in the district?
    9. How do students who miss science make it up?
    10. How can set-up time be eased?
    11. How do we accommodate changes of staff and administrators after the FOSS program is instituted?

  3. Questions Asked by Parents
    1. What is FOSS?
    2. What are the current trends in science education?
    3. How will this program prepare my child for the future (e.g. college)?
    4. How can I help my child with science if there is no textbook?
    5. How many days will my child's teacher be out of the classroom for training?
    6. Why do my kids like this so much?
    7. How can I get involved with FOSS in my child's classroom?
    8. How are safety issues addressed?

  4. Questions Asked by Teachers
    1. Will I still be able to teach my favorite science unit?
    2. Wouldn't it be better to hire science specialists?
    3. Is the teacher guide available in Spanish?
    4. How can I manage all of the materials and set-up?
    5. What do I do about the live organisms (e.g. getting them, keeping them alive)?
    6. Are there any hidden costs (e.g. extra teacher manuals, special materials, etc.)?
    7. How do I manage the whole class while working with a small group?
A. Questions Asked by District Administrators
  1. What will a FOSS adoption cost compared with what we have now?

    If you currently have a textbook-based program, the investment in new materials will be comparable. FOSS costs no more than a textbook amortized over the life of an adoption. If you currently have a hands-on program, FOSS is comparable in price. If you have a hybrid program that uses student reading as the primary mode of instruction with supplementary materials to provide an optional hands-on experience, FOSS will cost much less.

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  2. Will achievement scores increase?

    Yes, typically student science scores increase. A lot depends on what test is used. If a standardized memory-based test is the measure of student achievement, FOSS will not necessarily produce better achievement results. But scores will not decline, either. FOSS provides achievement in other areas. There is evidence that reading scores improve as a result of real-world FOSS experiences that motivate and exercise reading skills. And most important, students who study science with FOSS are able to do science, solve problems, express their understanding, and apply their knowledge in novel ways. FOSS students measure up to the new vision of science as described in the National Science Education Standards.

    One of the goals of the FOSS program is to break from the old paradigm of standardized tests that engage students in the lowest level of cognitive performance—memory—and to usher in a new breed of assessments that permit students to demonstrate their learning in a variety of new ways that require many dimensions of cognitive performance.

    Link to Research on FOSS and Ongoing Projects for more information to help answer this question.

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  3. Does FOSS align with the district's standards and/or state framework?

    FOSS modules and courses have been correlated to a number of state and regional standards, as well as to the National Science Education Standards (NSES). You can view these correlations here.

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  4. What are the staff-development (teacher-training) needs?

    This question is hard to answer without knowing a number of specifics. The amount of staff development required depends on a complex of variables, including the experience of the staff with active learning, the enthusiasm of the staff for change, the kinds and level of support surrounding the adoption, the number of other pressures and extenuating circumstances that distract and overburden the teachers, the science background of the teachers, the number of teachers, and the amount of time allocated for completing the implementation. However, staff development usually includes these factors to some degree.

    • Start a club. This metaphorical club includes every staff member. The most effective implementations rally the staff around the cause of better science. There is bonding. There are tokens that enhance the esprit de corps—maybe water bottles or coffee cups with a logo or science saying. T-shirts, aprons, and lab coats are good. A magnifier on a string (stylish and functional) works as a reminder that we are all pulling together as a team and we have focus. And remember, the team hasn't arrived anywhere until the last person is there.

    • Time. Good science programs are not unfurled like a flag one afternoon to fly with dignity and perfection from the moment they are introduced. Staff development takes time—3 to 5 years. Don't be in a hurry, and don't let up. Teachers need time to stop, look, listen, and try out the activities. They need to teach the lessons as best they can the first time without being rushed. They need opportunities to talk with other teachers who are following the same learning curve. They need time to learn how to use the new program and how to become an effective science teacher. Remember, we are not asking them to simply learn how to teach a new curriculum, we are asking them to teach in a way that reflects a philosophy of learning that may be radically different from their accustomed way. Teachers may be learning science content, science methods, new management techniques, different pedagogies, new ways of organizing space and students, and a fresh concept of how to relate to students in a student-oriented learning environment. These characteristics of school reform take time.

    • Expert guidance. A lot can be learned from an educator who has traveled the path before. Early in the implementation it might be prudent to arrange to have an in-service with a FOSS staff person, a FOSS consultant, a university science methods instructor who knows the program, a FOSS national trials center director, or, best of all, a teacher who has a year or two of experience using FOSS in his or her classroom and who has helped other teachers start on the path of productive, joyful science learning.

      One of the most important things an expert can impress on a teacher is how to use the two powerful informational resources included in every kit: the teacher guide and the teacher prep video. Teachers need to be fully aware of the role of these two items. An experienced person should orient new teachers to these two resources and explain their proper use as teacher tools.

    • Release time. Unless teachers at your schools are uniformly eager to come to after-school, evening, and weekend in-service sessions, it will be essential to arrange as much release time for science as possible, particularly early in the implementation. All-day full-staff meetings are good sometimes, but you have to do something with the students. If you can devote one or more of your district staff development days to science, great, do it. But that will, in all likelihood, not be enough. You will have to be creative in the ways you use release time—and do it while the students are there.

      Often release time can be specifically targeted to accomplish focused tasks. Perhaps one day you arrange for three subs to come to school and release the second-grade teachers to prep their new kits and discuss how to most effectively integrate math and reading into the activities. On another day one sub rotates from classroom to classroom to release one teacher at a time for an hour to team with a less confident teacher who is just starting. In one day you release maybe four different teachers for an hour to team with a colleague. And the students miss their teacher for only an hour. That means minimal disruption and a big payoff!

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  5. What is necessary to successfully implement the program?

    This is a big question—kind of in the same class with "what do I need to do to be rich, famous, and popular?" In a nutshell there are several categories that need to be attended to in a thoughtful way. Not surprisingly they are all covered in greater detail by other questions in this document. Take time to identify these questions and read their answers carefully. And consider the following.

    • A first-rate FOSS adoption involves systemic reform. Enter into the process with your eyes open; take time to understand the many facets of the change process.

    • Include everyone in the process. Teachers are the stars in the process. They are the gateway through which the energy of the program must pass. Teachers make FOSS happen. Everyone else supports the teachers. Principals set the tone and the agenda. District administrators and school boards establish the policies, define the curriculum, and provide the resources. The support staff manage and maintain the materials. The community—parents, higher education, business, scientists, government—can contribute to the excellence of the program. But to be effective as players in the science program, everyone must be kept fully informed of their role in supporting the teachers.

    • Ongoing professional development and staff development. These two aren't the same. Professional development produces change in individuals; staff development produces change in whole school staffs. The two are fundamentally different, and both are essential in a successful implementation.

    Every successful implementation is marked by a leadership group (aka staff developers, site liaisons, science coordinators) composed of expert, motivated teachers who know the program and have good adult teaching skills. Usually they work with the district curriculum coordinator, staff developer, or science specialist. New members must constantly be recruited into this leadership group to keep the energy high. This group provides the in-district expertise to train and support the staff, to plan and deliver special events, to make presentations, and generally to promote and advocate science excellence.

    Staff development keeps the rank and file informed of the process and helps teachers achieve the program goals. It is through staff development that a vision is shared and change is monitored. It is through staff development that teachers acquire the knowledge they need in order to advance their skill in the classroom. Staff development never totally reaches an end. Once started, it becomes one of the characteristics of a fully functioning science program. Teachers share war stories, exchange ideas, plan together, and modify curriculum as part of on-going staff development.
    • Materials management. Adoption of a program like FOSS represents a considerable investment. A successful classroom teaching experience depends on a fully supplied, complete kit of materials. After two uses most consumable materials have to be replenished, and permanent equipment must be inventoried for loss and breakage. Successful implementations include a plan for maintaining the kits and other parts of the program. Maintenance can happen at the classroom, school, or district level, but it must be carefully thought out and efficiently operated. In most successful implementations the teachers are relieved of most of the responsibility for maintaining the kits.

    • Balancing the educational issues. We have an obsession with reading and arithmetic. We evaluate our children, our teachers, our schools, and our cities according to how the test scores come out. Because we almost never measure up to the standard, we devote more time during the school day to mastery of these skills. Good science implementations have strategies for taking advantage of opportunities to exercise math skills and practice some language skills in the context of science. Also, the means for reporting student achievement and growth in science is a large issue. Strategies for assessing and reporting student science performance are part of every successful implementation.

    • Money. Successful implementations often have partners. Sometimes the partner is the government (National Science Foundation, Department of Education, Department of Energy), a corporation, or a foundation. It's great to have a little extra cash to start up some parts of the program, such as a materials maintenance system. Part of the planning should include identifying which parts of the program can be supported with existing resources, and which components will need external support, then developing strategies for getting the outside support needed.

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  6. Why use hands-on science instead of a textbook?

    If using a textbook means reading about science rather than doing science—encountering science as symbols rather than as concrete objects in tangible environments— it makes the same amount of sense as learning to play baseball by reading about it or learning to dance by reading about it. You may acquire some stories about someone else's experiences, ideas, and struggles, but you have none of your own. After any amount of reading you may be able to talk the talk, but you still can't pitch, hit, and slide, and you most certainly can't dance. The same is true of science.

    As a result of decades of experience and research we now know that children learn science best by doing science. At this time the most influential guiding documents representing elementary science education, the AAAS Benchmarks and NRC National Science Education Standards, call for active learning in science. What this means is that students should have hands-on personal experiences with objects, materials, and organisms in order to understand the natural world. Real experiences provide the foundation for concept development. Work with materials produces complex thinking.

    This does not mean that there is no place in a contemporary science program for a textbook, but it should not be the primary source of information. Using a textbook (and it doesn't have to have a recent copyright date) as a reference resource to look up more information about a topic under investigation is great. Better yet is expanding the notion of reading in the science program to include multitudes of reading materials, both fiction and nonfiction. Following up on the baseball metaphor, once you have been out on the diamond for a while, felt the heft of the ball and the momentum of the bat, smacked a line drive over second, raced a throw to first, maneuvered under a pop-up, interacted with the other players, formed your first strategies, and felt the thrill of victory, reading can bring a fantastic new dimension to the game. You can really get into the history of the game and the evolution of rules and equipment over time. You can better appreciate the monumental achievements of the legends of the game; you can relive some of the great games of the past. You can engage in contemplation of techniques and strategies discussed and described by the great individuals in the game. Reading can take you outside the confines of the now and the probable, but only when the reading experience extends from real experience. Science is exactly the same in this regard.

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  7. What set of criteria should be used when evaluating science programs like FOSS?

    This one has a long answer and a short answer. Actually, it has one answer that requires a lot of work on your part, and one that relies on other resources. First, you can establish your own set of criteria by condensing a vision, a concept, and a set of goals and objectives out of the important science education documents of the day, specifically the NSES, Benchmarks, and your state science framework. The document that you produce can be transformed into a checklist. From there it is a matter of reviewing programs and evaluating them in the light of your criteria.

    The shorter version invites you to take advantage of the work of others. The National Research Council has produced a document available on-line called Selecting Instructional Materials—A Guide for K–12 Science, 1999.

    One word of caution: Checklists and charts, with single-word or short-phrase entries, are only as good as the users' understanding of what the phrase stands for. For instance, if the word "integrated" is one of the entries, the more the checklist-user knows about the issues, methods, and products of integrated curriculum, the better prepared that user will be to make accurate and useful entries on the checklist.

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  8. Can this program be integrated with other subject areas?

    Yes, it not only can, but should. Science is the quest for knowledge and understanding of the natural world. There is real stuff to deal with, provocative interactions going on, and principles governing behaviors of systems. Things are alive, moving around, tending to mysterious business, coming and going in cycles, and struggling for their time and place. This is content—one of the three content areas of the curriculum—and elementary students can discover a lot by just observing and making sense out of their observations.

    But there is more. Students can use their two fundamental skills—language and math—to enhance their science experience. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening are essential parts of science, because they communicate our observations and express our understanding to others. And mathematics allows us to quantify our observations and organize them in order to see relationships and predict the future. Mathematics is one of the most powerful tools of the scientist. The skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic are dry, empty, and boring without content. But with content, students will have reason to sharpen those skills.

    Other subject areas have logical connections to science as well: physical education and Human Body; music and Physics of Sound. Fine arts intersect with science whenever students employ one of the artistic media to represent their experience with images or to convey feelings, and social studies is integrated with scientific investigation whenever the human dimension of science is introduced in the form of history, institutional influences, societal issues, and values. Science, social studies, and literature are the three pillars of the core curriculum—striving for understanding of the universe, learning the activities of our species, and exploring the beliefs, philosophies, and values that are the human mind.

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  9. How does this program handle multi-age grouping?

    If multi-age groups match the FOSS multi-age groups, the solution is easy. For instance, if your school has combination first- and second-grade classes, the six modules designed for grades 1 and 2 can be divided into two groups of three and the groups taught on alternate years. Any one module will be taught every other year, and students will be in the group only two years, so everything is straightforward.

    More challenging organizational problems are presented by broader age mixes (grades 1–3 combination), and by grade combinations that cross FOSS grade groupings (grades 4–5 combination). The conscientious planner wants to be assured that no student will experience the same module two years in a row, that the older students are sufficiently challenged by the curriculum, and that the younger students are having experiences that are cognitively appropriate. Again, if the groupings are consistent, and you know that Reggie and eight of his grade-level peers will enter Ms. Silver's class this year as second graders and will be with her for three years, a little planning will provide reasonable solutions for this case. Stability yields to planning.

    But when combination classes are created each year in response to enrollment, planning can be very complex. In this case, if it turns out that a student will experience the same module two years in a row, that's not so bad. You may certainly expect to hear students protest that they already did that last year, but when offered the option of doing something else while the other students do the module, count on an immediate change of heart. And there is often value in covering familiar ground a second time.

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  10. How long will the program last?

    A FOSS adoption is a once-in-a-lifetime event. We expect it to last forever. That doesn't mean that all of the bits and pieces will last forever, because they will eventually wear out, but there should be no reason to go shopping for a new approach after five or ten years. The concepts and approaches are sound and universal.

    On the practical side, the longevity of the materials themselves is probably on the order of seven to ten years, but that's only a guess. We have tried to engineer the permanent equipment to last for many years, but that doesn't account for accidental loss and breakage. Some of the materials that are considered permanent actually have a predictable half-life. For instance, after four to eight trips to class, plastic cups should probably be replaced. Paper plates may succumb even sooner. This is maintenance that must be seen to continuously. But a well-maintained FOSS module will serve class after class, year after year.

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  11. How much does it cost to manage and restock the FOSS kits?

    FOSS kits make it possible to provide a top-quality science program. When the kit is brand new, life is good. When the kit has been used and is no longer complete, life is not good. Incomplete kits lead to frustration for the teacher, and that leads to abandonment. If there is no plan and support for maintaining the quality of the kits, teachers will reject the kit-based active-learning science program.

    The fact is that kits can be kept in tip-top condition, but kits do not maintain themselves. People do. A critical part of any FOSS implementation is a plan for refurbishing the kits. There are many models for maintaining the quality of the kits. Link to this site for more information about materials management and for case studies that tell how other school districts have managed their kits.

    Materials Management
    Case Studies

    Here are some guiding statements to start you thinking.
    • Teachers teach; someone else replenishes the kit. This is not to suggest that the teacher is exempt from all responsibility for maintaining the quality of the kit, but he or she should not be the one ordering the replacement items, repackaging the bits and pieces, and delivering the kit to the next user. The teacher must, however, take the initial responsibility for ensuring that all of the permanent and remaining consumable equipment is returned to the kit before it is handed over to the refurbishing person.

    • See that the support staff understands the importance of the kits. Invite the people who inventory, refill, and deliver the kits to attend teacher in-service sessions and to visit classrooms to see the kits in action. If the support staff understands how important the kit is to the teacher and students, they just might be more conscientious in their handling of the kits.

    • Find a place where kits will be maintained and stored. It is not impossible to undertake these functions in the classrooms, but most models designate a school site or district location where kits are maintained.

    • Budget for kit refill and maintenance. There are two main expenses to consider.
      • The cost of goods
      • The cost of people to deal with the goods

    Occasionally there are additional costs, such as space, computers, delivery vehicles, and inventory storage systems.

    The cost of consumable items and other materials is not large, but it is real and must be budgeted. Cost will range from a few cents per student per kit use to a couple of dollars per student per kit use (particularly in modules where living organisms are called for).

    The cost of personnel to perform the tasks varies greatly, depending on how much of the work can be undertaken by people already on the payroll, and how much will be done by people hired and dedicated to the task. Cost can range from nothing to a dollar or so per student per kit use.

    The larger the system, the greater the savings on goods, but the more costly the infrastructure of support. The bottom line is that the cost to maintain FOSS is reasonable given the benefit in terms of high-quality science experience for students and support for teachers.

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  12. How much teacher training is necessary to implement the FOSS program?

    You will have to conduct just enough teacher training to get the job done, and that will require some time out of class for the teachers. The amount of contact time and the time period over which it is distributed will vary greatly. Probably the most important factors determining the amount of in-service needed are the experience and enthusiasm of the staff.

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  13. What are the on-going staff-training costs?

    Two factors mitigate for ongoing staff development. In more dynamic districts with lots of staff turnover, it is necessary to imbue new staff with the district's science education vision and practices so that they can contribute to the district goals. Also, occasional massaging of the established staff is good to reinforce the sense of common mission, to share new resources and methods with each other, and to update the staff concerning new district policies, procedures, and communication channels. The costs of these maintenance and updating meetings will vary. Costs will be lower if you take advantage of established staff meeting times, such as school staff meetings and district staff development days. More costly, but very valuable, are weekend retreat meetings where the staff convenes at a site away from the familiar surroundings. It is great when a cooperating university or business can contribute to such ongoing staff development meetings.

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  14. Is the program comprehensive; that is, is there enough content?

    FOSS is the most content-rich program available. Every activity and action is designed to provide experience with some aspect of the natural world. The natural world is the content of science.

    Is FOSS comprehensive? No. FOSS does not provide access to everything in the natural world. We were selective in choosing the topics for students to study. The criteria we used to select topics provided what we hope will be a cross section of important ideas in science, and the engagement with those subjects will be considerably deeper than may have happened in the past. We selected topics that crossed the great arbitrary divisions in science: life, physical, and earth science. We limited our areas of study to those in which students could acquire most information from their own actions on and interactions with objects, organisms, and materials. One of the fundamental rules of engagement with science is that the teacher doesn't tell students about the natural materials and processes; students tell the teachers about the natural world. This limited the appropriate topics, and as a result a lot of abstractions were postponed until later in the academic careers of the students, subjects like astronomy, tectonic forces (earthquakes, volcanoes), dinosaurs, atomic theory, cell model for life, and so on. Even so there was plenty left for us to choose from, and we selected those topics that we felt were appropriate and interesting.

    Comprehensive, no, but rich and full, providing a terrific foundation for students in the elementary years.

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  15. What are the ongoing costs of using the FOSS program?

    Part of a master plan for adopting a program like FOSS is to institutionalize the funding to sustain the use of the program for the years between floods of money. Squirreling away a portion of the adoption money works sometimes. Securing external support from government or private sector is possible in some communities. Regular district and/or site funds can be dedicated to sustain science in some districts. Some districts establish a high school program wherein students maintain the kits. This saves money, and students learn business and inventory skills. Be creative and proactive to acquire the sustaining funds.

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  16. Are there model examples that districts have used for FOSS implementation?

    Yes, there are case studies of districts who have implemented the FOSS program. You can link to the case-study site here.

    FOSS Case Studies

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  17. Who will be our science leaders?

    Your science leaders will emerge from the ranks of your teachers. There is always a certain subset of teachers that just love the FOSS approach to teaching and begin right away to shine with a luminous aura. They will carry the science banner if provided with a little encouragement and support. Your other leaders will be your first-level administrator, such as a district science coordinator, curriculum coordinator, or staff development coordinator. Occasionally a principal or superintendent will become a science advocate. Sometimes leadership will come from outside the district as a result of a partnership with a corporation, government agency, or university.

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  18. Is there a support/contact network available from the publisher to receive feedback about the product?

    Delta Education markets the finest product possible. They stand squarely behind the product to vouch for its quality. Any problem with the contents of a kit, teacher guide, or preparation video, and any suggestion for a better way of packaging and handling FOSS products should be conveyed to Delta at 1-800-258-1302.

    The FOSS staff at the Lawrence Hall of Science stands squarely behind the content and design of the program. Any request for information about the educational dimensions of the program, or suggestions for changes, improvements, or enrichments to the program should be shared with the FOSS staff at 1-510-642-8941. The FOSS Newsletter is published twice a year. The most recent and previous newsletters are available on-line as well as an archive of articles from older issues. There are also three web sites devoted to FOSS. These are

  19. How can we get more teachers interested?

    Lots of ways. Teach a demonstration science lesson in the classroom of a colleague. Team teach with the teacher later to help him or her get started. Do workshops at local, state, and national conferences. Conspire with students to lobby their teachers to use FOSS like the other teachers in the school. Do a workshop for the PTO and influence the parents to buy a kit or two, and then they (parents) help the teachers get started by being a second pair of hands in the classroom. Hold a FOSS users conference where everyone who uses FOSS brings a colleague who does not. Do a quickie FOSS activity (Swingers, The Force) at a staff meeting to establish awareness.

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B. Questions Asked by Curriculum Committees

  1. Is the program user-friendly?

    The primary audience for our materials is teachers. When we hear user-friendly, we assume teacher-friendly.

    There are two domains of a program that can make or break the friendliness of the program. First is the quality of the activities. FOSS activities work. The procedures and materials have been tested and tested again by hundreds of teachers for two years before being offered for sale. Nothing frustrates a teacher more than activities that don't work. Often it takes only one failure to turn an inexperienced teacher off. When teachers see that the activities turn out the way they are described in the teacher guide, however, they gain confidence that the program is going to be all right. Trust and friendship are related.

    The second domain is the effectiveness with which the creators of the program convey their vision, knowledge, and experience to the teacher. The usability of the teacher guide is a critically important issue. Some teachers fuss a bit about the FOSS teacher guide and proclaim it to be unfriendly . . . at first. But the more time they spend with the guide, the friendlier the two become. That's OK—some of the best and most durable friendships take time to develop.

    At the time we developed the format of the FOSS teacher guide we decided to make it utilitarian. There are no pretty colors or cartoon characters. There is not much white space, and the text is to the point. The organization is logical, and the presentation strives for efficiency. It takes a little time to learn how to navigate a FOSS teacher guide, accounting for the initial negative reaction of some teachers, but it is time well invested because the format is adhered to throughout the program. Once you learn the format for one module, you know the format for all of the modules. Our fans tell us that the FOSS program is the most teacher-friendly program around.

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  2. How is reading integrated into the FOSS program?

    To read or not to read is an important question. When we set out to develop a complete curriculum, we knew it would not be text dependent. We decided not to produce reading materials as part of the program. We believed that reading was important but that what one learned from reading would be enhanced if it came after hands-on experience. Reading is richer and has more meaning when students bring to the written word knowledge and enthusiasm developed through first-hand experiences. We wanted students to learn science by doing science and then enter into library resources to extend what they learned through printed materials.

    Reading enriches and extends the FOSS activities with objects, organisms, and materials that can't be brought into the classroom. Reading brings students in touch with the historical discoveries that laid the foundation for their own investigations. Reading allows students to share the adventures of others grappling with or using the science principles they have been working with in the classroom. Reading provides technical information for trying to build equipment or conducting investigations to continue their inquiry into the subject at hand.

    In the "classic" version of FOSS we provided packages of books gathered together from a variety of publishers to supplement each FOSS module. We created a database of books and other supplementary materials that extended the FOSS investigations. You can access that resource database at this web site: FOSS Resources.

    Through our search for appropriate reading materials we found that there were few reading materials that met our tough standards. Books to supplement FOSS needed to include accurate content and be developmentally appropriate for students using FOSS. So we decided to develop a unique set of reading materials, FOSS Science Stories.

    Each revised FOSS module has a FOSS Science Stories book written specifically for that module. The materials are incorporated into our revised science program. The full-color books might have eight to twelve individual stories or articles that correlate to each module. The stories include

    • Historical and biographical readings.
    • Fictional tales, myths, and stories about kids doing interesting things with science principles in an interesting context.
    • Expository reading to add detail and to extend the knowledge gained from direct experience.
    • Technical readings in which students follow instructions or technical explanations of scientific principles.

    For more information about FOSS Science Stories, link to the Science Stories site.

    A Science Stories folio in the teacher guide helps teachers relate the reading to the investigations. Science Stories can be coordinated seamlessly with original FOSS as well.

    For more information about FOSS and literacy, connect to the FOSS Newsletter Archive.

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  3. What prior knowledge is required of the teachers before using FOSS?

    The prerequisites for using FOSS are minimal. Virtually no science background is required, but, of course, the more background a teacher has, the more comfortable he or she will be, because the territory will be somewhat familiar. Beyond that only the basic qualifications of all teachers are needed: love for children and sensitivity to their individual needs, willingness to learn new tricks, passion for hard work, curiosity about the mysteries surrounding the process of learning, the irresistible need to answer the calling to teach.

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  4. Are all the materials really in the box?

    No, we don't put, everything in the box. We have policies that determine what goes into the box. With few exceptions we do not put food in the kits. Food materials tend to attract vermin—moths, beetles, mice, who knows what all—to the dismay of an unsuspecting teacher who finds a family of mice that has made a condo of a science kit. The notable exception to this policy is the inclusion of seeds in several of the life science kits. Be aware that seeds can be an invitation to unwanted guests.

    Of course the living organisms (crayfish, mealworms, goldfish, and so on) are not in the kits, but coupons are available for purchase from Delta Education to ensure that the critters will be delivered to school on time and in good shape when needed. We also do not put money in kits. Teachers must round up pennies and nickels in a couple of modules.

    Kits do not include what we determined to be common classroom materials, such as pencils, scissors, masking tape, and so on. However, if an activity is likely to use a lot of something like masking tape, the tape is included in the kit. It is not the intention of the FOSS program to exhaust any of the classroom supplies.

    Everything else is in the box with a sufficient quantity of the consumable materials for at least two classes to use the kit before refill is required.

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  5. How much time does it take to teach?

    This depends. If students work with materials two or three times a week, it might take four or five weeks to teach a module (except life science) the first time a teacher uses it. Each subsequent time a teacher uses a FOSS module, it takes longer. It seems that teachers rush through the teaching the first time, anxious to get through it as quickly as possible. As they become more comfortable with the content and the methodologies, and better prepared to take advantage of opportunities to integrate language and math into the experiences, and generally "smell the roses" as they advance through the module, modules take longer. Teaching time expands as teachers gain experience. And some modules, like Insects, New Plants, and Structures of Life, can take all year. Some modules have no ends—only beginnings.

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  6. How are equity issues (gender, special needs, language) addressed?

    Hands-on active learning is a great equalizer. All students work together with interest and enthusiasm. FOSS has deep roots in special education. Many of the methodologies and materials were originally developed for students with disabilities in the SAVI/SELPH program during the 80s. The multi sensory philosophy serves all students.

    The FOSS staff is sensitive to issues of gender. Girls have a great experience with FOSS, as evidenced by their equal performance in areas of the curriculum that are often considered the proprietary domain of boys—construction, spatial relationships, handling living organisms. Where no stereotypical expectations are expressed or implied, students behave as individuals free of bias.

    Student sheets and assessment pages are offered in the standard commercial version in Spanish and English.

    For more information about FOSS and equity issues, connect to the FOSS Newsletter Archive.

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  7. Are there opportunities for homework assignments?

    Many of the extensions could easily be made into homework, as suggested in the teacher guides, but homework in the traditional sense is not a high priority. In the revised version of FOSS for grades K–6, Home/School Connections have been added. These student sheets provide opportunities for students to apply what they have learned in FOSS modules to the home and neighborhood environment. They also provide a chance for parents and students to work together to extend the science. You can find printable pdf files for the Home/School Connections here.

    The FOSS middle school courses provide numerous opportunities for homework, through reading assignments and research, hands-on extension activities, and others.

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  8. How do we establish a network of FOSS users in the district?

    Start a "club." Create users groups, chat groups, support groups. Find a little money to provide opportunities for communing with educators from outside the district—go to state and national science education conferences, national meetings focusing on issues like materials management, assessment, reading, etc. Send some teachers to a FOSS implementation.

    Invest a little money in a token that identifies the group. T-shirts or billed caps with the district science program insignia are good, or a nice little lapel pin. A coffee cup or a water bottle will also bring a little solidarity to the group.

    A newsletter that reaches every member of the group keeps information flowing—new books, tips and tricks, events, training opportunities, anecdotes, all strengthen the sense of purpose. In this rapidly changing electronic information world we live in, expect district homepages with continually updated information, and teachers with routine access to the Internet in a year or two . . . or less.

    Take a science retreat trip to a place conducive to a relaxed, reflective overview of the science program. Invite a speaker to provoke a lively discussion about teaching and learning.

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  9. How do students who miss science make it up?

    When Andy misses a day, have him team up with Reggie and Kelly (who did very well with the activity) and Jacques (who will definitely benefit from second tour through the activity). Let the more accomplished students teach the activity to those who missed out for one reason or another the first time through. Some activities can be taken home. If the parents are ready for it, package a set of equipment, copy the step-by-step page from the teacher guide, and let the home study begin.

    You can also point the student toward FOSSweb for on-line activities and resources that relate to the investigations he or she may have missed.

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  10. How can set-up time be eased?

    There are a couple of suggestions. There are a whole set of advanced preps that need to be done only once for a kit. This calls for convening a science circle with a few grade-level peers. By going through the manual and attending to the one-time preps together, the work is shared and everyone becomes familiar with the materials and gets the big picture of the module. Many hands make light work.

    Another way to lighten the prep burden is by doing the module a time or two so that the activities are very familiar. The first time teachers do a module they tend to be overly careful in order to not be caught off guard. They lighten up on themselves quite naturally as the module becomes second nature. Also, things that the teacher felt he or she had to do the first time or two through can be turned over to students. It is amazing how much of the prep students can do once everyone gets into stride with the program. You can also invite parents and other volunteers into the classroom to assist with set-up and clean-up.

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  11. How do we accommodate changes of staff and administrators after the FOSS program is instituted?

    Maintaining momentum through changes in personnel and curriculum adoptions can be tough. Change of staff is probably the easiest to remedy. If a new teacher joins a staff where "we do FOSS" and the support structures are there, he or she will be ushered into the process with the utmost of grace. A collegial mentor and a little teaming will bring the recent arrival into the fold.

    The best remedy for the problem of frequent change of focus is to institutionalize the support for science as rapidly as possible. Get a commitment for a materials center to maintain the kits. Secure budgetary commitments from all of the schools. Establish annual science events. Have a FOSS users conference each year. The tallest hurdle to overcome is new leadership that does not support the accomplishments of the previous order, or worst of all, new leadership that intentionally dismantles the progress made by a predecessor.

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C. Questions Asked by Parents
  1. What is FOSS?

    FOSS is the Full Option Science System, created in the late 1980s by curriculum developers at the Lawrence Hall of Science in partnership with Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corporation and hundreds of educators around the country, supported by the National Science Foundation. Delta Education now publishes the FOSS materials.

    The FOSS program was developed in an atmosphere of urgent need for systemic reform of science education and represents the best interpretation of what a contemporary science program should provide for elementary students. FOSS provides a general exposure to many aspects of the natural world in ways that are cognitively appropriate for children and in an environment that encourages creative and complex thinking in a dynamic social structure. For more information about the FOSS program, link to the FOSS Introduction site.

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  2. What are the current trends in science education?

    The important issues in science education today are hopefully not trends, but advances. These advances are characterized by students who are active learners, constructing their own understanding from many experiences rather than passive recipients of someone else's knowledge. Contemporary science is a lot of thinking and communicating ideas, discoveries, and solutions to problems. There is a forceful movement toward integrated curriculum so that the three Rs are exercised in the context of science. There is movement toward greater application of electronic technologies in the science curriculum, both stand-alone (computer, VCR, sound tape) and through a wire to the World Wide Web. There is a lot of activity, but little agreement, about new paradigms of assessment and the reporting of learning. It's time to pack up and leave standardized multiple-choice tests as a measure of what students know about science.
  3. See the FOSS Newsletter Archive for articles regarding science education.

    Newsletter Archive/Philosophy

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  4. How will this program prepare my child for the future (e.g. college)?

    In the best possible way. We have to abandon the nineteenth-century notion of an educated person as one who knows everything. It would be interesting to know what year it was that the storehouse of human knowledge achieved a sufficiently large volume that never again would it be possible for a learned person to know everything. Knowledge is so vast today that we can barely get it all recorded, let alone engage it all. So what do we teach? We teach how to think, and to teach that particular miracle we use the real world as the plaything.

    When educators from all levels pull their chairs up to the science education roundtable, they occasionally play the game of "how can I help you?" The high school science teachers ask the college professors, "What should I be teaching my students so they will be prepared when they come to your labs and lecture halls? Kreb's cycle? Recombinant DNA? String theory? Black holes? Big bang, little bang, snap, crackle, pop?" The professor tells the high school teacher to teach whatever they find interesting, but make sure that students engage the subject with the perspective of a system with input and output. Exercise their ability to organize and communicate evidence and conclusions. Teach them how to define, conduct, and interpret an experiment. Send them to me knowing nothing except how to engage in the process of science, and I will be forever in your debt.

    Then the middle school teacher asks the high school teacher the same question. The high school teacher asks for a student who can grapple effectively with inferential subjects to construct important ideas from evidence. Give me a student who knows how to act as an independent learner, able to ask a question and find an answer. Provide me with a student who has an idea of the usefulness of mathematics as a tool for organizing data gathered from the real world. Give me a student who can think logically and creatively, and I will be forever in your debt.

    When the elementary educator asks the same question of the middle school teacher, the answer is short and to the point. Deliver to me a student who likes science, and I will be forever in your debt. Traditionally book-bred students opt out of science as soon as the opportunity to escape presents itself. They indict science as hard, boring, uninteresting. But with FOSS, students love science and often report that science is fun and identify it as their best subject. So how does this program prepare your child for the future? In the best possible way—by giving him or her the option for continuing in a course of study that includes advanced study of science. And even when your child ultimately follows a trail into retail sales, clothing design, or food production, his or her engagement in study of the natural world will enhance his or her ability to excel at the job.

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  5. How can I help my child with science if there is no textbook?

    Visit the teacher to preview the teacher guide. Get copies of the reading list and the extension projects. Search the World Wide Web. Go on weekend field trips related to the science curriculum.

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  6. How many days will my child's teacher be out of the classroom for training?

    With a thorough implementation a teacher will be excused from school maybe two or three days a year.

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  7. Why do my kids like this so much?

    Because the subject is the natural world, they are challenged to think about it in ways that are age appropriate, and they get to do it with their friends.

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  8. How can I get involved with FOSS in my child's classroom?

    Volunteer in your child's classroom. Support the program through your parent/teacher organization. Help raise money for reading resources. At home and with your family, take trips into the natural world; raise a garden; raise fish, insects, mammals, birds and other animals at home; cook; watch science videos; go boating; go hiking; read, read, read . . .

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  9. How are safety issues addressed?

    The FOSS developers make every effort to provide investigations that employ materials that are safe for young students. Each FOSS materials kit includes a safety poster describing how to conduct a safe science investigation. Changes in materials may occur to provide a safer experience. These changes are documented in the FOSS Newsletter. You can read more about safety issues by checking out the FOSS Newsletter Archive.

    Safety

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D. Questions Asked by Teachers

  1. Will I still be able to teach my favorite science unit?

    Yes. FOSS is modular and lends itself well to integration with other hands-on curriculum materials.

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  2. Wouldn’t it be better to hire science specialists?

    A science specialist is a good idea if he or she supports the teachers. A science specialist is not such a good idea if it means that students go to a science room for science and then back to the regular classroom for everything else. Science is mystified a bit and made separate from the rest of the curriculum. The room doesn't fill up with the trappings of science, and the learning environment is a little impoverished as a result. But, if the science specialist is the way you want to go, great. Good things can certainly happen. We have just completed a document to help people plan how to use FOSS kits in this multiple back-to-back environment.

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  3. Is the teacher guide available in Spanish?

    A Spanish Teacher Guide Supplement is available for each module K–6. These guides work in conjunction with the English teacher guide to provide translated adaptations of the module overview, science background, teacher background, materials list, investigation folios, FOSS Science Stories folio, and the investigation and assessment duplication masters. Duplication masters for Spanish-student sheets are included in the English and Spanish teacher guides K–6. The FOSS Science Stories are available in Spanish. At this time, no middle school materials are available in Spanish.

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  4. How can I manage all of the materials and set-up?

    There are a couple of suggestions. There are a whole set of advanced preps that need to be done only once for a kit. This calls for convening a science circle with a few grade-level peers. By going through the manual and attending to the one-time preps together, the work is shared and everyone becomes familiar with the materials and gets the big picture of the module. Many hands make light work.

    Another way to lighten the prep burden is by doing the module a time or two so that the activities are very familiar. The first time teachers do a module they tend to be overly careful in order to not be caught off guard. They lighten up on themselves quite naturally as the module becomes second nature. Also, things that the teacher felt he or she had to do the first time or two through can be turned over to students. It is amazing how much of the prep students can do once everyone gets into stride with the program. You can also invite parents and other volunteers into the classroom to assist with set-up and clean-up.

    See the For Teachers and Parents section of www.FOSSweb.com for more ideas: (http://www.lhsfoss.org/fossweb/teachers/index.html)

    And check out the Tips and Tricks section for each module at www.FOSSweb.com for ideas provided by experienced teachers that will help you manage your FOSS experience.

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  5. What do I do about the live organisms (e.g. getting them, keeping them alive)?

    An entire section on the care and management of living organisms is available on FOSSweb. Check out the For Teachers and Parents Section/Materials Management.

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  6. Are there any hidden costs (e.g. extra teacher manuals, special materials, etc.)?

    There are no hidden costs. The teacher guide comes in the package as part of the purchase price, and additional parts of the package are available as options or replacements. Their prices are listed right up front. People who have purchased a FOSS module are entitled to purchase up to four additional teacher guides at a very substantial price reduction.

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  7. How do I manage the whole class while working with a small group?

    Activities and/or strategies are offered in the investigation folios. Look for more Tips and Tricks at each of the module pages on FOSSweb.

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