Jump into learning with Leap into Science

Leap into Science leadership members Cree Lahti and Sophie Saint Georges are excited to share the program with educators in West Virginia who want to add fun to their curriculum. Photo courtesy of Sophie Saint Georges

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

As a way to bridge the gap and engage students in reading and science, The Franklin Institute partnered with the Free Library of Philadelphia to create the Leap into Science program. With funding from a National Science Foundation Grant, the program grew to include five states each year and in 2018, West Virginia was awarded the three-year grant to implement Leap into Science curriculum in the state.

Representing West Virginia on the leadership team were the Morgantown Public Library, WVU Extension Service, Pocahontas County Libraries and the Green Bank Observatory. Serving as trainers in the program are PCL director Cree Lahti and GBO STEM educator Sophie Saint Georges.

“We went to Philadelphia and were trained to be trainers,” Lahti said. “Then we came back to West Virginia and have done trainings throughout the state to train other people to do this curriculum with out-of-school or in-school programs with children.

“The program is primarily geared toward out-of-school education, so after-school programs, library programs, museums, the Extension Services, 4-H, those types of things,” she continued. “Although, we do train some teachers to do it in the classroom, as well.”

The program incorporates reading with scientific content and has a theme each year.

“It is a program that combines literacy with open-ended science activities,” Saint Georges said. “One of the things that I really love about it is it takes something as simple as a book or a movie and asks kids to observe what they see on the cover and predict what’s going to happen in the story. This is encouraging kids to think scientifically without a lot of science content knowledge. It’s really accessible for the home.

“The first year [the theme] was Balance and the curriculum is all about ‘what does balance mean? What does it feel like to be balanced?’” she continued. “Then we read a book called ‘Mirette on a High Wire,’ and we asked the kids to balance like Mirette, who’s trying to walk on a tightrope. Then we make little crafts that have a balancing point and talk about those vocabulary words.”

The second year’s theme was Wind, and this year will be Light and Shadows.

Along with training educators to use the programs with their children and community groups, the leadership committee also plans larger scale activities to include the community.

The Leap into Science program also celebrates Leap Week, which falls on the last week of February near Leap Day. Since 2020 is a Leap Year, there will be activities in Pocahontas County on February 29 at the Green Bank Public Library and Linwood Community Library.

“One of the big pushes from the National Leap into Science program is to celebrate Leap Week,” Lahti said. “So the idea is that all of these states that have trained people in the same curriculum will all do activities at the same time.”

The Observatory is also joining in the Leap Week celebration.

“We’re planning to introduce some of the activities at little stations in our exhibit hall and maybe even have a conversation with a telescope operator who has to deal with wind and managing the telescope,” Saint Georges said. “We’re still figuring out the details.”

Updates on the plans will be posted on the Green Bank Observatory Facebook page.

Since 2018, when the program began in West Virginia, Lahti, Saint Georges and the rest of the leadership committee have been busy traveling the state, sharing the Leap into Science curriculum with all kinds of educators. A total of 455 individuals were trained as educators and those educators reached approximately 1,300 people with the program.

The trainers are encouraged by those numbers and hope they continue to grow this year, as it is the last year of the grant.

“What’s really exciting about the trainings and the workshops is they’re all free,” Saint Georges said. “It comes at no cost, and it really helps educators work on professional development, adding these sort of techniques and tricks that have been proven to be useful from The Franklin Institute. It brings it to places that may not have access to a huge museum or lots of time to travel to get continuing education hours.

“We really enjoy that aspect of the program,” she added.

The goal of The Franklin Institute is to reach five states each time it receives funding for the program from the NSF, so West Virginia will not be able to reapply for the grant, but it may seek funding elsewhere to continue the Leap into Science curriculum.

“We have talked about ways that we, as a state leadership team, can think about extending it at least in small ways beyond the three-year cycle,” Lahti said. “The people that are trained get a curriculum for younger children and elementary age children, and a family curriculum, as well as a big kit of materials to do the program. Once again, that’s all free.

“We’ve had great feedback from the educators,” she continued. “The children really seem to like it, and it helps give the educators another tool in their toolbox to be able to offer really high quality programming for their communities.”

The program not only helps children think scientifically and enhance their literacy, it also engages parents, family members and the entire community.

“The goal really is having fun with what you’re doing and having fun with your peers and your family,” Saint Georges said. “It’s not content mastery at all. It’s not about being an expert in balance or what the word equilibrium means. It’s just about saying, ‘wow, that was fun,’ and parents going home and saying, ‘I could pause a movie and ask my kid a question to help them think about things in their own words and make their own connections.’ I think that’s really eye opening – that you can ask questions and make observations, and really be curious about things that are easier than hard science in a lot of ways.”

“It should be fun,” added Lahti. “Thinking about science being fun and having a really positive experience in your library or museum or after-school program. That’s what it’s about.”

The Leap into Science program will have a live Twitter chat Thursday, February 27, at 1 p.m. for those interested in learning more about the program. It will be hosted at the LeapIntoScience Twitter handle.

For more information on the training and upcoming events, feel free to contact Cree Lahti at 304-799-6000 or Sophie Saint Georges at 304-456-2368, or email them at wvleap@gmail.com

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