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K. W. BARRETT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
Courtesy K.W. Barrett
K-5 500 students
Its science program is out of this world! Designated as a NASA Explorer School, K. W. Barrett challenged its fifth-graders last year to come up with a sports-based game, using the three laws of motion, for astronauts aboard the International Space Station. "The game they made, called Save the Earth, was modeled after Quidditch -- the sport in the Harry Potter series -- and won first place in the NASA contest," says Allyson Greene, a science enrichment teacher at Barrett. "All students watched a video feed of the astronauts playing the game." As part of the NASA partnership, astronauts have also visited the school -- and teachers have traveled to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for training in robotics. But the space hookup is just the tip of the iceberg: All students go to the school's Project Discovery lab and participate in science enrichment classes two or three times a week, where they conduct experiments and join projects like tracking the migration of whooping cranes. "We also integrate science into the rest of the curriculum," says Laurie Sullivan, who heads up the Project Discovery science program at Barrett. "For instance, kindergartners created a 'Whooping Crane Word Wall,' based on the vocabulary that they were exposed to while studying the birds."
Copy its success You may want to suggest to your child's teacher to look into the NASA Explorer School Program. Any teacher can sign up for free lesson plans and monthly live video chats between NASA scientists and students. They may also apply for the opportunity to have the class conduct experiments in an aircraft, such as NASA's Vomit Comet. Get the details at explorerschools.nasa.gov. Some of Barrett's science projects are funded with grants, like Toyota TAPESTRY, and supported by partners such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. "We established a grant-writing committee and gave teachers relief time to apply for the awards," says principal Theresa Bratt. "If your child's school doesn't have a team to do this, see if it's something the principal would like you and other parents to organize."
ODYSSEY CHARTER SCHOOL
K-5 520 students
It teaches a foreign language -- with a twist. Not only do all students learn Greek from instructors native to the country, but they also show off their speaking and listening skills in math class. It's part of a movement, common in Europe, called content-based foreign-language instruction, in which one or two subjects are taught in a different language. "Our students, only 6 percent of whom have a Greek background, pick up the language skills faster this way," says George Chambers, president of Odyssey's board. "Plus, it's a better fit for some kids and parents than immersion, in which all subjects are taught in a second language." Math and Greek make a perfect pairing, explains Chambers. "Mathematics has roots from the Greek language," he says. "For instance, all the names for plane shapes in geometry come from Greek words. Once kids know that pente means five in Greek, it's easy to remember than a pentagon is a figure with five sides." Students receive five hours of math lessons weekly in Greek and another five in English. As a result of this extra instruction, nearly 100 percent of second-graders met or exceeded the state's standards in math. Says kindergarten teacher Mary Lou Strauss: "It's amazing to watch students thinking and problem-solving in two languages. Even if they don't keep up with their Greek after they leave Odyssey, these children certainly will have an advantage in a global world."
Copy its success Just 15 percent of public elementary schools nationwide offer a foreign-language program. If your child's school doesn't, join with like-minded parents to start one. Emphasize the link between foreign-language skills and strong test scores -- the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (actfl.org) and the Center for Applied Linguistics (www.cal.org) have much of what you'll need to make the case.