Which elementary schools offer a great education in math and science?
We scoured the city for schools that give ordinary kids an extraordinary education—zoned neighborhood schools, not gifted programs or schools with a special application process. We picked schools that are willing to open their doors and share their knowledge—in the hopes that these might serve as models for others. We chose schools with good test scores, but we avoided ones with too much test prep or paper-and-pencil drills. Most of all, we picked schools that foster a love of math and science while giving children the skills they need to be successful later in life.
Here are our favorites.
PS 171, East Harlem
Why we picked it: Where else do little kids use words like "heart valve?"
Teachers at PS 171 know that science lessons build children's vocabularies—and that helps them read better. All children—even pre-kindergartners—go to the science lab three times a week for lessons taught by a certified science teacher. Children build models of cells out of clay and write essays about the use of animal parts in medicine, using sophisticated words like "heart valves" and "livers" to support their arguments. Kids take trips to science museums and study ducks in Central Park, building their general knowledge along with their vocabularies. (Pauline Zaldonis)
PS 42, Lower East Side/Chinatown
Why we picked it: Second-graders learn geometry and physics by studying bridges
PS 42 integrates science and math into well-planned interdisciplinary units. For example, 2nd-graders research bridges of the world, explore bridge geometry and physics, create bridge-inspired 3-D art, hear architects speak about their jobs and take fields trips to Battery Park to see real bridges. Children at the school have outstanding math scores and reading scores that are well above the citywide average—quite an accomplishment since more than one-third of them are learning English as a second language. (Anna Schneider)
PS 59, East Midtown
Why we picked it: Each child has a customized plan to learn math at home
PS 59 serves an international student body, including the children of diplomats at the United Nations. Teachers understand that one size doesn't fit all, and adapt lessons to help children who are learning English as well as children with severe disabilities. Teachers invite families in to learn more about math and send home a customized plan for each child with reading level and math strengths, plus suggestions for games parents and kids can play together to improve skills at home. An "early bird" time is set aside for more math help for those who need it. PS 59 has a beautiful building with two science labs. Older children help younger ones in science, becoming leaders and teachers themselves. (Lydie Raschka)
PS 126, Lower East Side
Why we picked it: Math program based on world-renowned Singapore approach
At PS 126, Principal Jacqueline Getz has developed a thoughtful, interdisciplinary social studies and science curriculum. Reading, writing and science come together in an investigation of birds in 2nd grade; 5th-graders spend two months studying prairie ecosystems to support their Westward Expansion unit. The school uses Math in Focus, a Singapore-based math program, and a math consultant works with teachers, who also visit each other during math lessons to offer feedback. (Lydie Raschka)
PS/IS 276, Tribeca
Why we picked it: Children make windmills to study engineering
At PS/IS 276, teachers do a good job of tying science into other subjects. For example, as part of a social studies unit on Africa, 3rd-graders read about a Malawian boy who built a windmill to power his family's home. Then they build their own windmills and learned about engineering and sustainable energy. Starting in 4th grade, science classes are held in one of the school's well-equipped labs. By 8th grade, students study challenging topics such as genetics and write lab reports. There are often two or three teachers in a classroom, adapting math lessons to children with different abilities. PS/IS 276 is housed in the city's first "green" school building. Children plant vegetables in a rooftop garden. (Laura Zingmond)
PS 249, Flatbush
Why we picked it: Every Friday, all day, is devoted to science
The day begins with math and review at PS 249, where children are encouraged to find alternate ways to solve problems in their Singapore Math program. During "Super Science Fridays" students conduct experiments, build volcanoes and devote themselves to books about science. The principal found that spending the whole day on science improves attendance and gives kids something to look forward to. Kids take regular trips, including a week in Vermont for 3rd-graders. Math test scores are well above the citywide average, even though the school mostly serves children who are poor enough to receive free lunch and has many who are learning English. (Pamela Wheaton)
PS 247, Bensonhurst
Why we picked it: An unusual amount of time is spent on math
Not many elementary schools have teachers who specialize in math, but at PS 247 there is a lead teacher for math in every grade. Children spend at least 75 minutes on math each day, with extra work on solving word problems twice a week. Children keep science vocabulary notebooks along with reading and writing notebooks. Kids read lots of nonfiction and keep track of new words—a boon to the many children who are new immigrants still learning English. (Pamela Wheaton)
PS 321, Park Slope
Why we picked it: Children study leaves, insects and birds for months on end
The approach to math here is eclectic: Teachers don't rely on just one textbook, but mix different approaches. Children at PS 321 have math partners and are encouraged to talk through problems in vibrant classrooms filled with science-related projects. Kindergartners visit Prospect Park to study how trees change through the seasons, 1st-graders learn everything there is to know about insects, and 2nd-graders get involved in a huge exploration of birds. Older kids visit the science lab twice a week with experienced teachers. The super active parents here help kids learn multiplication facts in a math club and work with teachers to boost technology instruction. (Pamela Wheaton)
PS 222, Marine Park
Why we picked it: Teachers adapt math lessons to each child's ability
At many schools, math lessons are one-size-fits all, with everyone on the same page at the same time. Not so at PS 222, where teachers do a terrific job adapting math lessons to each child, including children with special needs. There are as many as five or six adults in some classrooms; assistant teachers and school aides frequently function much like teachers and participate in professional development. Teachers assign different homework depending on a student's level, and math facts are considered as important as understanding how math works. Multiplication tables are even posted in building stairwells. (Pamela Wheaton)
PS 172, Sunset Park
Why we picked it: Kids learn chemistry when they make their own toothpaste
The math test scores at PS 172 are in the stratosphere, an impressive feat for a school in which half the children either have special needs or are still learning English. Teachers may adapt the same complex math problem for different children: Some work on a problem independently, others get little hints from the teacher, and still others get step-by-step instructions from the second teacher in the class, who is trained in special education. Science is an integral part of the curriculum. Children make their own toothpaste in a simple chemistry experiment, connect electrical circuits or dissect owl pellets. First-graders learn about the human body: the skeletal system, the digestive system, and even the parts of the brain. These lessons build their vocabulary—which helps them become better readers.
PS 307, Kingsbridge
Why we picked it: Spanish-speaking kids learn English through hands-on science
PS 307 does a particularly good job teaching English to Spanish-speaking immigrants—and teachers say science is the secret to their success. Children may study the life cycle of butterflies, or learn about gravity by rolling marbles down ramps and find out about heat transfer by warming pennies in their hands (and comparing them to cold pennies they haven't touched). Children pick up academic vocabulary by talking to one another about the experiments. For example, a child who doesn't speak English may use a balance in class, and learn the word "balance" in the process. (Clara Hemphill)
PS 69, Soundview/Hunts Point
Why we picked it: Where else do they celebrate National Kale Day?
Staffers at PS 69 strive to bring a range of high-quality experiences to children who might not otherwise have them in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. It's a place where the custodian builds a bridge for students to use in science experiments, and where the entire school celebrates National Kale Day by wearing silly kale hats, whipping up a batch of kale juice and sampling kale chips. At a time when many schools use scripted math lessons, PS 69 teachers pick and choose from various programs, with help from the expertise of two math coaches. (Gail Robinson)
PS 35, South Bronx
Why we picked it: High quality math instruction from well-trained teachers
PS 35 provides stable leadership, a structured approach and quality math instruction for children in the South Bronx. Students go to one classroom for math and science in grades 3–5, and another for English language arts, to allow teachers to specialize in the subjects they teach. Fourth- and fifth-graders pick "majors" for one double period each week and choices include robotics or technology. Teachers receive lots of training and work with two math consultants—who also work with children. Teachers use a mix of approaches and not every kid is on the same page: In a 3rd-grade math class, for example, we saw students working in small groups, some creating their own problem and solving it and others working on problems from the workbook. (Pauline Zaldonis)
PS 221, Little Neck
Why we picked it: Teachers inspire curiosity and a sense of wonder about the world
Class trips to the Bronx Zoo, Queens County Farm and Alley Pond Environmental Center broaden children's horizons while building their knowledge of science. Principal Patricia Bullard says she wants children to ask questions, explore, learn and laugh. "They are not vessels to be filled," she says. In one 4-grade science class, children posted their own questions: "How do snails breathe?" or "What started the Black Death?" These questions formed the basis of children's explorations—fostering curiosity and a sense of wonder. (Clara Hemphill)
PS 46, Bayside
Why we picked it: A pioneer in special education inclusion
PS 46 is a pioneer in inclusion of kids with special needs. It's a place that challenges top students while giving those who struggle the support they need. Special education teachers work with kids in their regular classrooms and faster learners are taken out of classrooms to work on projects such as forecasting the weather or producing a newscast. A science teacher is on hand to support classroom investigations of bugs, the human body, gravity, friction, electricity and more. Planting and recycling is a focus across all the grades. (Lydie Raschka)