Burlington Public Schools rolls out ‘revolutionary’ science curriculum

Move over, Einstein.

Burlington Public Schools has partnered with TERC, an education organization based in Cambridge, Mass., to pilot a new curriculum for 4th-grade students that has already seen academic gains in science, where children are studying energy, how it works, and how energy usage matters.

“This unit really embodies the new vision for science education,” Sean Musselman said, who works with students in kindergarten through grade 12 at the Burlington Science Center.

“It’s revolutionary in that traditional energy units have been about reading and learning about energy,” Musselman said.

In conjunction with the new science standards put forth by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Musselman said, the new energy science units being taught in Burlington elementary schools allow students to experience through hands-on learning the way energy systems work.

“At the heart of the curriculum, students are creating their own models of what’s going on,” he said, explaining students are using objects to represent different forms of energy, and moving these objects through systems they’ve designed.

For instance, Musselman said, students use hand crank generators connected by wires to a propeller and a lightbulb to examine, test, and record how energy travels and works when the generator is used. They do this by labeling and moving dice to represent how different forms of energy transition, then track changes.

While discovering energy processes, Musselman said, students are also learning about renewable and non-renewable resources, the benefits and limitations energy has, and the harm certain forms of energy create.

By playing with different manipulatives to see first-hand how and why energy works the way it does, the lessons are more applicable, Musselman said. The 4th-grade science curriculum, Musselman said, represents just one of the new units being rolled out at every grade level this year in math, engineering, and science.

Together, children listen to their classmates’ ideas to find answers and collaborate while revising and improving their models, making learning an exciting and engaging experience for all Burlington students, Musselman said.