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Sunflower/Girasol

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  Afterschool Expert   Science Expert  

Review Synopsis: by afterschool program expert Martin Friedman

The Sunflower/Girasol Science Discovery Curriculum is designed to promote activity-based learning in bilingual (Spanish/English) classrooms. Focusing on grades two to five, Sunflower introduces six themes: plants, water, air, trash, sound, and the human body. The materials are attractive, engaging, and of high quality. The themes are well chosen and presented in very stimulating ways. The teachers’ guides are clear and, for the most part, provide sufficient background to permit most afterschool program staff to lead the lessons. The science presented is excellent, with many of the lessons making explicit connections to students’ lives, families, and environments.
Full Review:
The Sunflower/Girasol Science Discovery Curriculum is, according to its authors, “designed to promote activity-based learning in the bilingual (Spanish/English) classroom” and is available in both languages. It is one of five programs to be endorsed in 2001 by the U.S. Department of Education as a “Promising Science Program.” Though initially designed for use during the school day, it is now being used in afterschool settings.

Designed for grades two to five, Sunflower/Girasol includes teacher guides, activity books, and storybooks, organized by six themes: plants, water, air, trash, sound, and the human body. There are more lessons than could be covered in one year, even if they were used every day for 40 minutes. While many lessons build on earlier ones, it is possible to pick and choose specific lessons without having to take them all in order. Students can readily benefit from nearly all the lessons without having engaged in earlier ones, though the more continuity of participation the better.

The materials are attractive, engaging, and high quality. The instructors guide suggests aligning students in groups of varying size, depending upon the activity. The themes are well chosen and presented in very stimulating ways. For example, the first lesson in “Plants” begins with the children talking about how “A pizza is mostly plants!”

The teachers’ guides are clear and, for the most part, sufficient for afterschool program staff to enable them to lead the lessons even if they lack training in science. They are loaded with suggestions, extension activities, and interdisciplinary connections, though many of these require staff to prepare more than what is required for the lesson of the day. The lessons themselves vary considerably in the amount of preparation required, with some requiring little more than familiarization prior to implementation and others requiring instructors to assemble materials and spend time planning. It does not appear that much training would be required to prepare staff to use these materials.

The illustrations in the booklets reveal an overt strategy to promote the notion that doing science is not limited to one or another ethnic group. In fact, Latinos and English learners are represented in many of the examples, and activities refer to Latin American countries. The science presented is excellent, with many of the lessons making explicit connections to students’ lives, families, and environments. There are even suggested projects for students to do in their homes and neighborhoods.

It is intended that each student have their own activity book, which they can write in. If used that way, the activity books would not be reusable, and at $5 each (each theme has its own), they are moderately expensive. The story books can be shared, so at $6.95 each they are at average cost. The materials needed to implement many of the activities have to be acquired separately, representing additional costs. However, the material is sufficiently rich, varied, and interesting to be used by students for four years, making this an investment well worth considering.