Elementary school teacher Catherine Filipovish has in front of her a shoe box, wires, a paper clip, four Christmas tree lights and one battery. The task is to turn on the lights.
"The purpose and the objective were to create two circuits that could be independent of each other but also could be connected in one whole series as well."
Filipovish will be doing the same experiment with students in her classroom in another two weeks. The students will have to solve the problem on their own and then be taught the terminology. Filipovish says she's no longer spoon-feeding her students' science lessons.
"It's proven really effective. The kids are really excited about learning. I can see the difference between the way I'm teaching science now and the way I taught last year."
In the next classroom, Master Lab Teacher Lisa Hansen is working with a group of fifth graders who have a similar task of getting a light to work with one battery, wires and a paper clip.
"That looks great, now I want you to diagram it in your notebook. Once you get your circuits made and you're successful I want you to write down in your journals what you've done. Draw a picture."
This gives teachers, like Maria Picon, to see how the kids react to the curriculum before they teach it in their own classrooms.
"We can go and see how it's actually is done with a class of students. Then after that this goes into our classroom. So this is two weeks ahead, that's one week ahead, and then we do it in our classrooms."
The teachers taking part in the program will spend one day a week in the lab. The lab is based on professional development programs at the middle and high school levels. The latest effort between Rice University and the Houston Independent School District brings it to the elementary level. Superintendent Abe Saavedra...
"We really have an urgent need to have better trained elementary science teachers. As you know science is one of those areas now being tested."
65 percent of fifth grade students and 45 percent of tenth graders passed the science section of the TAKS test. Saavedra says those numbers will only go up with better teachers. Rice University President David Leebron has confidence in the students.
"We know that our students, our young children can. The question is whether we will work together to make it possible."
For its first year, 90 teachers will take part in the Model Science Lab. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.