Fifth Graders Use National Geographic Textbooks

Equipped with their very own science journals, fifth-graders at Jamestown Public Schools are on their way to becoming full-fledged scientists.

Students are now using National Geographic textbooks in their science classes instead of traditional textbooks. The change follows a shift in emphasizing more hands-on work under the umbrella of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Music (STEAM) related programs. The textbook brought with it many changes that include creating an environment of reality and creativity.

“We went with National Geographic because New York state came out with the new science learning standards and so based off of that we took a look last year at about four different companies,” said Traci Thompson, JPS coordinator of STEAM K-12.

From the four companies that could potentially provide JPS with textbooks, the district decided to go with the second edition of the National Geographic textbook. Thompson said the selection, made by the textbook committee comprised of six teachers, has since allowed students to actively present in their science lessons as opposed to just reading along to text.

“I’m really trying to emphasize in this district that we should be doing science and treating science as a verb versus a noun,” Thompson said. “Kids should be actively participating and engaged in their lessons. National Geographic does a great job of that.”

On Tuesday, students inside of Deb Rein’s fifth grade classroom were recording notes in their science journals regarding their current investigation.

Each unit of the textbook has a phenomenon for students to study and analyze. The students are then tasked with attempting to explain the phenomenon to begin their investigation.

For example, Thompson said one topic involved investigating the mechanisms that allow a hot air balloon to fly. Prior to being given context and additional information, the students are asked to try to explain the phenomenon. Later, after forming questions and theories, the textbook provides an explanation for how the phenomenon works. Each unit varies how a topic is investigated.

Right now, the fifth grade students are investigating hydroponic plants and how they can be sustainable without soil. The students are observing their plants grow each day of class and noting any changes.

“It really gets away from the idea of sitting in science classrooms and just taking notes,” she said.

The online component to the National Geographic textbook is interactive and adds to the experience. With videos, high-quality photography and interactive pages, the online textbook is much more than a mirrored version of the physical copy.

Thompson said the district is looking to add the National Geographic textbooks to the third and fourth grade curriculum next year. The transition has yet to be approved by the board of education.

To help supplement the increasingly hands-on science program, members from the Audubon Community Nature Center and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History have been invited to visit fifth grade science classes throughout the year.

The textbooks also incorporate introductions to National Geographic scientists throughout each unit. Thompson said the inclusion of actual scientists in the textbook allows students to essentially meet someone who has found success in the science field.