Middle schools in Walla Walla will begin the 2023-24 school year with a new science curriculum that is expected to be in place for the next six years.

Walla Walla School Board unanimously approved the adoption of the new curriculum, OpenSciEd, at a study meeting on Tuesday, May 9. Christy Krutulis, executive director of teaching and learning, said the curriculum also was unanimously approved by science teachers at Pioneer and Garrison middle schools.

“Teachers will tell you — the level of student engagement is a lot higher in these materials than have been in the ones we’ve found in the past,” Krutulis said.

The district started considering OpenSciEd in spring 2020 and teachers spent the past year-and-a-half comparing it to other materials. Krutulis said the curriculum would cost about $280,000 for all six years, which includes consumables, teacher guides and about $22,000 in professional learning.

Shannon Jones, a science teacher at Pioneer Middle School, said OpenSciEd places students at the center of learning and builds their verbal and written communication skills.

“Students take the forefront in discussions in small groups and larger groups called ‘scientific circles,’” Jones said. “These discussions focus on communicating in scientific ways and the growing body of information they are gathering to explain why a phenomenon occurs or the scientific mechanisms behind it.”

Several teachers said there would be a learning curve for teachers, but that it would be well worth it.

"This is difficult work initially as teachers and students find their footing," said Nick Prasad, science teacher at Garrison Middle School. "The curriculum itself does rely on student involvement in much discussion, which is a change to other curriculums with a more traditional textbook approach, and that may be challenging at first, but I'm confident that as students get more accustomed to this style of learning in all three grades 6th, 7th and 8th grade we will see a great deal of positive learning.”

Krutulis said that ultimately the new curriculum was based around kids getting to be scientists and engineers.

“It’s rooted in that authentic phenomenon-based learning and that’s where students have the opportunity to investigate and dig in and be scientists,” Krutulis said.

Teachers will attend training this summer in Wenatchee to learn the ins and outs of teaching OpenSciEd. Jones said for teachers who had never taught this way before, it would take a big time commitment to get ready for lessons at first.

“Once a teacher has the general format and routines of this curriculum down, it is much less time consuming,” Jones said. “We are jumping into a full year of new units, some teachers will teach two grade levels, so there will be very long days for us next year but watching the change in how students approach thinking about science events and how to have solid discourse, it will be worth it."

Loryn Kykendall reports on health care and education. She can be reached at lkykendall@wwub.com.

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