After measuring the volume, mass and density of each cube and identifying what the cube is made of, Dr. Mona Jain Middle School eighth graders in Dawn Reilly’s science class had to answer another question.
Would the cubes sink or float in a container of water?
Reilly had students come to the front of the class one at a time, but before dropping a cube in the water, she asked for the students’ thoughts.
Although it was a simple laboratory lesson, the students were able to visually understand a lesson on density through a Woz Ed science lesson.
Starting this year, eighth grade science classes across the School District of Manatee County will use Woz Ed science and STEM kits to provide hands-on lessons.
Woz Ed was founded by Apple II computer creator Steve Wozniak as an educational program geared toward helping students become career-ready. The Woz Ed program "specializes in the development of units of study that allow students to develop an engineering mindset with minimal impact on the teacher. The turnkey units were written for the science standards and can immediately be implemented in the classroom."
The School District of Manatee County began its partnership with Woz Ed in 2020 when Palm View K-8 School became the first Woz Pathways school in Florida.
Since then, the Woz Ed curriculum has been expanded in the district. Woz Ed science and STEM kits are being used daily in fourth and fifth grade classes.
“They are engaged in the lessons,” said Alexis Rivard, a science teacher at Mona Jain. “The fun part about teaching science is the hands on part and anything to help enhance hands-on science, I’m perfectly happy to do. The kids enjoy that aspect of science.”
The Woz Ed curriculum has students go through the five E's: Engage, explore, explain, extend and evaluate. The lessons engage students in exploration of concepts through hands-on activities. The explain step is when students engage in critical thinking skills to develop answers to questions. Extend allows students to apply what they’ve learned in the lesson, and evaluate has students demonstrate what they’ve learned.
Reilly said the hands-on activities help students understand the concepts better and retain information more than when reading a book or viewing a PowerPoint presentation. She said students are more willing to ask questions and use the vocabulary they’re learning when involved in an interactive lesson.
“To ensure the students understand the standard, you have to have them do the standard because they’re going to have to answer questions where they have to apply that knowledge,” Reilly said. “To apply the knowledge, you have to first truly understand it. I can visually see if they understand when they put their data on the board. If they are reading an article, I won’t know they don’t get it until I grade the work. It’s too late then.”
Conducting labs also gives students the chance to ask questions as they arise and engage in critical thinking.
While learning about density, Reilly brought in mini cans of Coke and Diet Coke. She dropped a mini can of each in a tank of water. The expectation was that because Coke has more sugar than Diet Coke, it would sink, but to Reilly’s surprise, both mini cans floated. This resulted in a discussion about why the mini can of Coke didn’t sink.
The next day, Reilly brought in normal sized cans of Coke and Diet Coke. She conducted the same experiment, and the class saw the can of Coke sink.
Students theorized that the density of the mini can of Coke wasn’t greater than the density of water and as a result, it didn’t sink.
Before Woz Ed, Reilly and Rivard said if teachers wanted to provide hands-on activities, they had to find them on their own and often spent their own money to purchase resources. Now the eighth grade science teachers at Mona Jain Middle have a closet and an empty classroom filled with Woz Ed kits, materials and other resources.
In the past, the science teachers would have to share supplies and schedule out when they would do certain labs. Lessons couldn’t last more than the determined time because another teacher would need the supplies.
“I couldn’t get sick because I needed it on this day and it had to get done,” Reilly said.
Having enough supplies for everyone allows teachers to take time with the lessons and further initiate discussions among the students about the lessons.
Woz Ed also provides lessons for units that Reilly and Rivard said they didn’t have many lab lessons for in the past such as the space unit.
Reilly and Rivard hope the Woz Ed curriculum will help to increase students’ test scores.
“I know how much my kids know, and it makes me frustrated when I don’t see it in the scores,” Reilly said. “I know they know it. (Test scores) are not the bottom line, but I want them to have their choice of science classes in high school. You have to have a certain score to be in the honors courses.”
Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.