NPR Spotlights Science Education for Bernal Students

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National media alert! On NPR’s Morning Edition this week, a group of students at Bernal’s Paul Revere School were the focus of a story by Eric Westervelt about Mission Science Workshop, an innovative program to make science education more unboring:

On a recent afternoon in San Francisco, 9-year-olds from Paul Revere Elementary in the Bernal Heights neighborhood are captivated by a large Van de Graaff electrostatic generator — and the prospect of gently zapping a reporter. They implore me to put the metal part of my microphone on the machine — all in the name of science, of course.

It’s semi-controlled chaos here, but that’s the point. This is free-form explore time at the Mission Science Workshop in San Francisco. The program works with low-income and underserved public elementary schools to get kids excited about science. The program does it by mixing lots of hands-on learning with specific experiments that teachers can continue back in their own classrooms.

There are a lot of live reptiles, whole animal skeletons and a handful of project stations throughout the room, a large former high school auto shop-turned science lair. Think mad scientist meets Willy Wonka, with limited impulse controls. Fourth-graders Matthew Rivera and Jamal Damon gently tussle over two pythons while teacher Sarah-Jayne Reilly stands by.

“I grew up in Ireland and really didn’t do science until I was much older,” Reilly says. “And when I came here the first time, my mind was like, ‘Wow! I just love the way the children are learning to think.’ ‘

“We always tell them, ‘Don’t just believe me, try it for yourself, test it for yourself. It’s OK to be wrong. It’s OK to say what you’re thinking,’ ” she says.

For teacher Sam Haynor, the science workshop is about using imaginative experimentation to spark learning, and to counter the idea that science is a set of known facts that students should sit back quietly and receive from on high.

PHOTO: Student at Mission Science Workshop, via NPR

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