The Quite Unforgettable Extreme Science Time (QUEST) Program is an innovative, award winning, educational series that combines standards (TEKS, NSES and Project 2061), and imaginative inquiry based hands-on science with two hours of teacher collaboration time. We do this by using volunteers (parents, teachers, community partners, etc.) to act as “teachers” while the school staff meets collaboratively. This program is aimed specifically at elementary school students, where excitement for science begins.
Our goal is to have the QUEST program running in 20 schools by the end of 2007. Based on an average of 650 students per elementary school campus this represents over 13,000 students. As funding allows we will begin expanding our programs to other schools throughout central Texas and, if possible, to other states. It is our intent that QUEST be a no-cost program for elementary schools that show a need for science education (low science/math scores). Our target populations are English Language Learners, at-risk and economically disadvantaged students, many of whom enjoy and benefit from hands-on learning.
Ask and create. QUEST uses an innovative “inquiry based” curriculum based on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), National Science Education Standards (NSES) and Project 2061 (the AAAS project that was used to define the NSES). The curriculum presents advanced topics to the youngest learners, but in easy to understand ways. The materials encourage students to “invent” their own way of answering the question or problem. The QUEST program pushes imagination in inquiry as well as the critical and analytical skills of the student. Albert Einstein said it best, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” There are two basic ways in which students learn new science concepts:
- Memory based learning (taxon system) that applies memorized knowledge. This is a very difficult way to learn new things in that it is based on previous knowledge. Unless the problem is directly related to the memorized knowledge, it will be very difficult to solve the problem.
- Visualization and imagination, an approach involving the locale memory system. This way you can quickly and fairly effortlessly build up understanding of a scientific theory. The problems encountered here are due to the build-up process which must start somewhere and proceed steadily in the imagination. Difficulties are encountered here if precise (word-for-word) definitions are required, but since no single route through a problem is memorized, alternative routes and variations in problems are treated without difficulty.
QUEST materials encourage connections with real scientists, current scientific studies/events and the skills needed to succeed in life. QUEST seeks to ensure that all students receive curriculum differentiated to meet individual needs.
Teacher collaboration is a key component to QUEST. Schools consider teacher collaboration a major focus because lack of teacher collaboration time can be a major barrier to school improvement. Teachers who have worked together see substantial improvements in student achievement, behavior and attitude. Research points to a group of teachers who traced their students’ remarkable gain in achievement and the virtual elimination of classroom behavior problems to the revisions in curriculum, testing and placement procedures they had achieved working as a group. In schools where teachers work collaboratively, students can sense the program coherence and a consistency of expectations, which may explain the improved behavior and achievement.
By having parents and community members involved with QUEST, we can increase the wealth of knowledge that our children have access to within the school community, especially in science. Further, parents who volunteer during QUEST activities also increase their knowledge of curriculum standards that the school strives to achieve with each student.
Research shows that “children who receive quality science instruction in the elementary years enjoy and benefit from the experience.” It can also be shown that broad exposure to different types of science input (teachers, observations, experiments, etc.) can increase a students’ overall understanding of science. Having parents and community members directly involved in the education of their children has shown a HUGE positive impact on the learning success of students.
More important, research supports that parents who have an understanding of assessment techniques and standards can have a positive effect on the student and the teacher. Through the QUEST program, we are aiming to achieve the results of what decades of research show when parents are involved with their students and school community:
- Higher grades, test scores and graduation rates
- Better school attendance
- Increased motivitation, better self-esteem
- Lower rates of suspension
- Decreased use of drugs and alcohol
- Fewer instances of violent behavior
- Greater enrollment rates in post-secondary education
The inquiry instructional approach almost always starts with a question like, “Why is the sky blue?” or a problem like, “How do we get to Mars?” The students are then presented with a number of tasks aimed at inquiry and observation. Only after a thorough inquiry, experimentation and observation period is the student (maybe) asked to make any kind of “prediction.” The instruction is always hands-on. Research has confirmed many of the seemingly intuitive benefits of hands-on learning and has documented a variety of unanticipated benefits in integrating science. Recipe for a Science Lesson:
Option 1: Find a puddle and photograph it. Show the photograph to a seven-year-old child. Have her read about puddles. Later, ask her to talk about the puddle.
QUEST: Find a puddle. Add one seven-year-old child. Mix thoroughly. Stomp, splash, and swish. Float leaves on it. Drop pebbles into it and count the ripples. Measure the depth, width, and length of it. Test the pH. Look at a drop under a microscope. Measure 250 mL of puddle water and boil it until the water is gone. Examine what is left in the container. Estimate how long it will take for 250 mL of puddle water to evaporate. Time it. Chart it. Now ask the child to talk about the puddle.
If you were a seven-year-old child, what option would stimulate you to talk about the puddle? “That's what hands-on science is all about - allowing students to experience science fully”. It has been shown that students in activity-based differentiated instruction exhibit increases in creativity, positive attitudes toward science, perception, logic development, communication skills and reading readiness. These benefits seem more than sufficient justification for promoting hands-on learning. However, experts also provide an important addition – these changes make science fun for both the student and the teacher. Given the recent concerns about anxiety and avoidance of science, enjoyment of science activities seems a worthy goal. QUEST instruction is not traditional; it may even be a bit noisy, but QUEST advocates understand that order and quiet do not substitute for real learning.
Here are some success briefs from the QUEST program since it was implemented in 2004:
- Winner of “Excellence in Teaching” award from the RRISD Foundation
- The number of students passing Science TAKS (English) went from 72% in the 2003-2004 school year, to 85% in the 2004-2005 school year.
- Even better, our Hispanic student population went from only 25% passing TAKS Science in 2004 to 57% passing in 2005! This is a 32% increase for one of QUEST’s target populations.
- The total number of volunteer hours increased over 37% from 3196 hours in 2003-2004 to over 4376 hours in 2004-2005 (many hours in the QUEST 2004-2005 program were not accounted for).
- Campus wide increase in science interest and instruction
- Popularity of QUEST with “at risk” student population
- Increased teacher collaboration on Science
- 100% of teachers and staff feel that students “enjoy and benefit from QUEST”. (January, 2006 Survey of teachers and staff)
How does QUEST work? QUEST is a three year program that runs six times per school year. The hands-on experiments are aimed at 3 groupings: K-1st, 2nd-3rd, and 4th-5th grades. The experiments are composed of 3 parts: 1st is a short pre-lab discussion, 2nd is conducting the experiment with emphasis on observation and data collection and 3rd is a post-lab write-up using a science notebook. No experiment is repeated for three years. This means that when a Kindergartener gets to 3rd grade they will see a different experiment. Because of their limited experience, the K-1st group will have a heavy emphasis on observation and inquiry and will be introduced to advanced topics. The 2nd-3rd grade group will be introduced to data collection and more problem solving using results. The 4th-5th grade group will cover more subject material and have an emphasis on analysis and problem solving.
QUEST is volunteer-driven. Six afternoons during the school year, approximately once a month, volunteers swarm the school to teach children about science. Volunteers are rounded up by contacting local businesses like HEB, IBM, the local neighborhood association, the local PTA, parents and family members. At an average of 40 volunteers per school, for 18 QUEST Days, 3 hours per QUEST day, the minimum total number of volunteer hours generated for 20 schools is 43,200 hours. Using the nationally accepted current rate of $17.55 an hour for the value of volunteer time, that amounts to an investment of more than $ 758,160 in students achievement.
Beginning at 12PM the volunteers meet and are trained on the days experiments. The school goes into an “Early Release” schedule so that the program can begin at 12:45 PM. At 12:45 PM the QUEST volunteers report to their assigned classroom. Students conduct hands-on experiments with volunteers while teachers meet for two hours of uninterrupted, valued collaborative time that would otherwise not be possible during the school day. The program runs until 2:40 PM, when the teacher will return to their classroom for school dismissal.
During QUEST, students eagerly learn from a new “teacher” about science and then dig in by gathering in teams of three or four to see for themselves how science works by conducting hands-on experiments. There are typically three experiments and then each 35-minute period, volunteer teachers shift classrooms. A new “teacher” enters the class and conducts new experiments with the children for 35 minutes. In addition to two experiments going on simultaneously, 1/3 of the students attend a “Wow” demo, like a rocket launch, orienteering expedition or volcanic eruption followed by a super-tsunami.
Here are examples of two QUEST days.
- While studying Sound, in one experiment students were gathered in the cafeteria to learn how “sound is a wave that travels.” They were shown how air particles collide by using Newtons Cradle and a line of students. They then played with a Slinky to show how sound waves travel. Finally, a sound pressure meter was demonstrated by having the students make some noise (107dB!!). The students will never play with a “Slinky” the same way again and they also know to wear hearing protection when going to a rock concert. The second sound experiment dealt with waves by having the students build a small “wave generator” with a bucket and water. The students then placed “boats” made from toothpicks in the water and observed how the waves moved “through” the boats. Then they were asked to draw pictures and explain what they observed. The third experiment dealt with the “pitch” (frequency) of sound by having the students build clarinets from straws and “phones” from Styrofoam cups and string.
- During our life science QUEST, students touched the root systems of marigold plants. They were taught what most life needs to exist – sunlight, water, oxygen and carbon dioxide. They were given seeds, dirt and Dixie cups to grow their own bean plant. Students were given a chart to track their plant's growth by drawing and description. (Students who charted the plant's growth and brought it back to school after a 10-day period were rewarded with a coupon for free ice cream donated by the local Dairy Queen.) They then studied what makes up different kinds of dirt and soil. Finally they studied and looked at different types of insects and then released ladybugs in the school garden.
The Science Expeditionary Force (SEF) will provide the experiments, the equipment needed to conduct the experiments (if possible) and 1 hour of training for volunteers for each QUEST Day. The school provides the volunteers and the QUEST Sponsor (the Sponsor can be a teacher, parent or staff member), who is responsible for finding and communicating with volunteers. SEF will provide the labs and TEKS covered at least 2 weeks prior to each QUEST Day. The school Sponsor will then be responsible for making sure all volunteers and teachers receive the information prior to QUEST Day.
We will measure the success of the program using:
- TAKS and local school district science assessments.
- End of year student, volunteer and faculty surveys.
The QUEST program is a supplemental program and is expected to help raise test scores by instilling confidence and enjoyment of science. The most critical evaluation comes from the surveys. Based on past surveys, we expect the program to generate a 75-80% positive rating. We look closely at the comments to help improve the program, experiments and logistics. Program evaluations are maintained on file and are available upon request.
The following is an example of a 1st year QUEST program:
QUEST 1: Light, Energy, Matter and Magnetism
QUEST 2: Feathers, Birds and Dinosaurs (Adaptive life, T-Rex had feathers!)
QUEST 3: Space, Astronomy, Planets, Solar System
QUEST 4: Earth Science: Soil, Earth Pressure, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis
QUEST 5: Life Science: Beneficial Insects, Plant Cycle and Life Cycle
QUEST 6: Scientists and Technology
What are the students saying about QUEST?
- “QUEST Day is so fun! I love QUEST Day because you make it fun. I learn a lot from QUEST Day, that’s where I learned most of my science!” Trisha
- “I really enjoy QUEST! I always learn a lot!” Adri
- “QUEST is so cool!!! We really had a lot fun and learned a lot!” Zane
- “I love QUEST Day! I’ve learned about the Solar System and how to get oil for your car and a better way to charge your batteries. Also, I enjoy the activities!” Anna
What are the teachers saying about QUEST?
- “As far as QUEST goes, my kids absolutely love it, and always tell me about all of the great science things they have learned. They look forward to it. I also love it because it helps enforce the curriculum we are trying to teach in a very fun, non-stressful way. I love it also because it gives me and my team a chance to collaborate for a long period of time about important issues (for instance, this week, we worked to plan our physical science unit!). Thanks for all the hard work and imagination and organization you are putting into it. I really appreciate it.” Sara, 5th grade teacher
- “I think things are taught in a way that I would not get around to doing.” Anonymous
- “The students enjoy it and I know they are learning in a fun way. Also, I like to have that (collaboration) time to work with my team.” Anonymous
- “I think it is a great program. I think it is something fun and different and that the students greatly benefit from it.” Anonymous
- “It provides a variety of instruction and also introduces the students to parent/adult role models.” Anonymous
What are the parents and community saying about QUEST?
- “I never realized it was so hard to be a teacher!” Anonymous
- “The kids are having so much fun!” Sandy
- “There is a lot more to teaching that I never realized. A teacher is a parent, disciplinarian, counselor and everything else on TOP of teaching! I now have a much greater respect for teachers!” Anonymous
- “QUEST is a fun and imaginative way of bringing science in to our schools! I enjoy it and want to teach at every QUEST Day!” Numerous volunteers
Join us on our journey, an expedition if you will, to bring an intense, efficient, integrated, standards based science program that enhances and improves current elementary school science curriculum. The journey doesn’t stop with just improved science learning for the students. The entire school staff also benefit from 12 hours of additional collaboration time. The parents and community members are included by becoming part of the Science Force that brings the science to the students. The Science Expeditionary Force is your leader and guide on our amazing science QUEST.
 "Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain", Caine, 1991; “Learning Chemistry: the importance of imagination”, Woodcock, 1995
 “Teacher Collaboration in Secondary Schools”, CenterFocus #2, NCRVE, 1993
 ‘Adolescence and Young Adulthood Science Standards’ NBPTS, 2002
 “National Science Education Standards” NSF, 1996
 “Benefits of Parent Involvement”; PTA, 2004
 “Science and Children” Donivan, 1993, p. 29
 “Science and Children” Jaus, 1977, p. 26; “Science and Children” Bredderman, 1982, p. 39; “Science and Children” Kyle, Bonnstetter, Gadson and Shymansky, 1988, p. 39; “Science and Children” Kyle, Bonnstetter, McCloskey and Fults, 1985, p. 39; “Using science activities to internalize locus of control and influence attitudes towards science” Rowland, 1990; “Journal of Elementary Science Education” Penick & Yager, 1993