SMDS-RJA builds next generation of scientists with MySci


There are a lot of creepy crawly things at the Saul Mirowitz Day School-Reform Jewish Academy. Specifically, millipedes, caterpillars and pill bugs are captivating the attention of the students, staff and visitors to the school. The creepy crawlies and so much more are part of the school’s new science curriculum developed in partnership with Washington University.

“I am so impressed with how engaged our kids are in science,” SMDS-RJA head of school Philip Dickstein said. “They are excited about the material and jump right into the lessons.”

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

Everyone is excited about the school’s new science lab. Fundraising helped set up the lab and secured two years of the program, said science curriculum coordinator Sarah Bliss.

“We had already developed a relationship with Washington University through their MySci supplemental science program,” Bliss said. “I heard about this program, and knew since we are a small school, it would be easy to pilot a program here.”

The school is piloting the “full blown” curriculum which is a research-based, kit-based, hands-on program. They are able to choose from curricula developed over decades with millions of dollars invested by the National Science Foundation. The kits are stocked, replenished and sent out through the program at Washington University along with all the supporting materials and training.

“Washington University has a long history of partnering with schools to improve math and science programs,” Ann McMahon, Washington University director of MySci hands-on science for elementary students said. “We are able to choose among the best research based curriculum units which provide key experiences that lead to major understandings in science.”

The new curriculum was planned over the summer to meet the Missouri science standards, said Bliss. Washington University provides the units which McMahon helps adapt for each grade level. One of the most important components of the partnership is the professional development for the teachers on how to use the units to deepen the content knowledge the experiences are meant to convey to the students.

“Our teachers’ commitment to the program drives it from beginning to end,” Dickstein said. “They do so much to make sure our kids do well.”

The teachers have at least one day of in-service training for each unit supported by McMahon and other experts. McMahon has also been impressed with the level of commitment of the school.

“The administration and the whole Reform Jewish Academy family community have been immensely supportive,” McMahon said.

The kindergarten, first and second grade teachers each teach the units in their classrooms. This year the third through fifth grade teachers are team teaching with one teacher specializing in science. The staff meets midway through each kit to assess the progress, keep the conversations going and to better plan for the future. The program is a good fit and right in line with the philosophy of the school, said Bliss.

“At RJA, we want our students to construct their own learning based on their own experiences,” Bliss said. “The experiences enhance their learning, making it more concrete.”

First grade students are currently working with organisms. They began by learning about and creating the habitats for them and then getting the organisms. First graders Zinnia Kerman and Bryn Sentnor are very excited about the new program.

“We are studying two animals and two water plants and learning the difference between plants and animals,” Kerman said. “We love it. We learn, it’s educational and fun.”

Sentnor agreed with her classmate.

“We planted plants and studied the seeds and are pretty much studying roly-polys and millipedes,” Sentnor said. “I love playing with the millipedes and pill bugs.”

Students at all grade levels are enjoying the program.

“Science is such a natural for hands-on learning experiences,” Bliss said. “It’s exciting and the students love it. We are creating scientists.”