George Lucas Educational Foundation
Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Math and Science Rock: Hands-On Learning Is Music to Students’ Ears — and Minds

A Colorado elementary school’s slogan finds its rhythm in the laboratory and stokes student passion to learn.

January 10, 2008

Two years ago, Ryan Elementary School,in Lafayette, Colorado, celebrated itsincreased emphasis on math and science.Parents and kids painted the walls of thelaboratory, and a muralist donated her timeto add planets, molecules, rolling pins, androckets. Now, the school's informal slogan -- "Math and Science Rock!" -- is invoked at thestart of assemblies, and the words haveeven been sewn onto a banner that hangsin the laboratory, the domain of teacherJanet Stellema.

Credit: Stephen Collector

From her eclectic surroundings, Stellema,also the school's math and science coordinator,delivers the kind of hands-on opportunitiesthat stoke the students' passion for mathand science. "If they leave elementary schoolthinking, 'I'm a scientist, I'm a mathematician,and math and science rock,' then we've metthe goal."

Credit: Stephen Collector

Lunch Bunch

We're trying to fill their worldwith math and science. Andwe're trying to give them asmany opportunities and asmuch enrichment as we possiblycan. So we have a couple ofthings called Lunch Bunch. Thekids sign up, and they comeduring their lunch or recess period.They say things like, "Mrs.Stellema, we need string," andpretty soon the string is goingfrom one end of the room to theother, it's tied to the drawers,and they've got little gizmossliding down the string. It'sinformal; it's free exploration.It's the free, unstructured timethat kids sometimesneed to discoverandplay.

Credit: Stephen Collector

Whisk Kids

Math and science are really, truly everywhere. They're in everything wedo. One place is in cooking. The four walls of my science lab showphysical science, earth science, and life science, and this wall, thefourth, has a big mural that reads "Let's All Cook." The goal is toget the kids to see the chemistry in cooking and the math in recipes.

Credit: Stephen Collector


Some of the stuff is mine,but the kids have takenover. This is one shelf out often that are full of stuff. It'sreally become their collectionof cool science objectsthey find. That meansthey're getting stoked aboutscience. They're lookingaround and seeing sciencein their own world and thenbringing it in to share.They're proud of that collectionbecause it's theirs.

Credit: Stephen Collector

Mutual Legacy

The fifth grade always tries to do a legacy project. This year,with the help of lots of talented sewing moms, each kid madea square for that banner representing what math and sciencemean to them. That was the only guideline. Each square is sodifferent and so creative.

Credit: Stephen Collector


This mural is on the life science wall, and representsthe interconnectedness of ecosystems that changethroughout time. We try to connect math and sciencewith everything, and that extends to art, music, andsocial studies. For example, the music teacher does anamazing thing with birdcalls; she uses them to teachkids quarter notes and half notes. If you look for thosekinds of connections, they are there.

Credit: Stephen Collector

Bone Yard

The skeleton represents thepartnership we have withExempla Good SamaritanMedical Center. Two expertsfor each classroom come todo presentations or activitieswith the kids during the year.They came out for Valentine's Day,when the fourth grade was studyingcirculatory systems. They showed ushow they do angioplasty, and then we dissecteda heart. That's a pretty big deal, when youcan hold an actual heart.

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  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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