Engaging parents and the community can strengthen a school’s ability to educate the whole child beyond the power designed into a FOSS module or course.
Progression of implementation happens in three phases. In phase one (or year one) of implementation, it is important to communicate with the community about what is going on with science at your site. Elementary teachers should send home “Letter to Families” at the beginning of each module and may use the Home/School Connections for homework or differentiation. Middle school teachers should look to the extensions at the end of each investigation for ways to make local connections. Once these relationships are established, consider additional ways of engaging the community.
During phase 2 and 3 of implementation, elementary teachers may be confident enough to welcome parents or community volunteers into their classroom to help with prepping or cleaning equipment for activities or helping to monitor small groups as students investigate. Some may want to share their time and expertise with a classroom to support a specific FOSS module, such as building bird feeders for the schoolyard to extend the kindergarten Animals Two by Two Module, or to assist with planning or implementation of a major school-wide project, such as developing a school garden or outdoor classroom. Consider gathering information about parents’ (and grandparents’) skills and expertise as they fill in their back-to-school paperwork.
To deepen your network consider nearby field trip venues that align well with a specific FOSS module. Consider making these annual field trips to extend the classroom learning to the real world, build anticipation as students move through the grade levels, to get the community more invested in the mission of the school, and to solidify student learning. Ideally have at least one trip per grade level. Having annual field trips, at each grade level (FOSSconnect article: How McMinnville School District Provides Science-Focused, Field- and Industry-Based Teaching and Learning for All Elementary Students) to specific community venues can extend the classroom learning to the real world.
Also consider building community by having students invite businesses, non-profits, community members, and parents/grandparents to whole school events—like celebrations of learning, science fairs, or science nights. Each of these is a way to showcase student learning. In a similar light, consider sharing achievements and success with the school board.
Homework as home/school connections
The goal of homework is to practice the application of concepts and extend learning to a new environment. In addition to using the Home/School Connections in FOSS K–5 modules and Interdisciplinary Extensions in FOSS K–5 modules and Middle School Courses, teachers can create opportunities to bridge the classroom with the home and local community. Students can interview family and community members on a topic relevant to classwork. For example, students participating in the Waves Course, can interview older family members and neighbors to hear personal stories about the history of telecommunication. Students can also be tasked to explain or teach a concept or skill from the classroom investigations to an adult or sibling at home.
Schools across the country have found great success having science nights where parents and community members are invited for an evening of science and engineering exploration. Active PTOs or PTAs may enthusiastically support organizing something like this. Parents love when students become the teacher and lead the parents, grandparents, and young siblings through a science exploration from a current FOSS module.
Finally, some parents and grandparents would like ideas of ways to extend science outside of the classroom. Teachers can share the resources on FOSSweb (including the Regional Resources for potential family adventures), the Home School Connections for each investigation, or some of the extensions at the end of each investigation. Overall, encourage a schoolwide stance of asking for help and support instead of assuming that parents and community members will not be interested.
No matter what you’re doing, communication is essential. Make sure teachers know about the “Home/School Connection” tab under “Teaching the Module” on FOSSweb for more ways to support communication. Parents may have other questions, you can send them to the FAQs on FOSSweb. If they want a simple overview of what FOSS is send them a link to “What is FOSS?”