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Nature and Environmental Education Center teaches students to become science strong

Education and field station director Sara Syswerda teaches pre-school students about science.

As the Education and Field Station Director at Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, one of Sara Syswerda’s roles is to inspire students to learn more about science through the Institute’s ScienceStrong program.

Launched in the fall of 2014, the program promotes science education for local students. The fundamental component of its mission is to inspire appreciation and stewardship of our environment.
According to the nonprofit’s website, “Science helps children better understand the world in which they live and develop a number of important skills, including making observations, asking questions, postulating explanations, conducting tests, analyzing results and commenting on findings.”
ScienceStrong is designed to help children explore, experience and engage in science. It is designed to improve science literacy among area pre-K-12 students by providing resources for teachers and expanding learning opportunities for students. In order to achieve this goal, Syswerda gathered raw materials such as toilet paper rolls, shoe boxes and even leaves to contribute to projects, like engineering a structure and building a terrarium.
Last year, Hastings Area Schools contacted Syswerda and Pierce Cedar Creek Institute to implement the program in their elementary schools based on the new Michigan science standards. Michigan standards have become more about students exploring science and engineering and less about memorizing answers for tests. The standards encourage the exploration of real-life science lessons and engineering practices. 
Hastings Area Schools Superintendent Carrie Duits looks at the program as a way to give Hastings students the chance to improve their science skills and prepare them for future college and career opportunities. She knew the ScienceStrong program at Pierce Cedar Creek Institute provided skills that would help students meet the standards and go beyond them.
“Science education fulfills the natural curiosity that young students have about their world,” said Duits. “Through hands-on experiences, students discover, make connections and remember their learning. More importantly, students become thirsty for more. We are growing both science education and a passion for learning in the Hastings Area School System through our partnership with Pierce Cedar Creek Institute."
Syswerda is working to implement the ScienceStrong program in kindergarten through fifth grade. Her goal is to go beyond meeting the new standards and get the students to start thinking like scientists. She spent countless hours working with each grade level and developing units based on the standards. The students are experiencing science by designing their own experiments, collecting data, engineering solutions to problems and using math skills to interpret information.
Director of Curriculum for Hastings Area Schools Matt Goebel said the science curriculum is already making a difference with students.

“The ScienceStrong curriculum and program has given our teachers the ability to have fun with science in the classroom,” said Goebel. “Our students are engaged more than ever before as they investigate, explore and analyze through the new Michigan science standards.”
The teachers are also seeing a difference in their students.
“Sara and the ScienceStrong curriculum ignites students' discovery during hands-on activities by incorporating technology and using engineering to solve real-world problems,” said fourth grade teacher Julie Carlson.
Syswerda and Pierce Cedar Creek Institute are committed to leading environmental education and helping children have a ScienceStrong future.
Learn more about the ScienceStrong program here. 
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