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Kids at Hawthorne Elementary School in Madison field-testing Reading Green, which educators say will help keep science on a crowded agenda. Photo by Wolfgang Hoffmann BS'75 MS'79

With all the demands for better STEM education (science-technology-engineering-mathematics), you’d think that getting more science into elementary schools would be a top priority.

But you’d be wrong, says Hedi Baxter Lauffer, a science educator and director of Wisconsin Fast Plants, a CALS-based program that for 25 years has helped grade-schoolers and teachers around the nation grow plants—the really satisfying kind that sprout and bloom within two weeks, allowing young learners to see growth day by day.

Federal policies emphasizing other subjects are squeezing science out of the classroom, Lauffer says, with science getting short shrift in terms of allotted hours. “Reading and mathematics are the primary areas that elementary teachers are being held accountable for because of current testing structures,” she says.

Lauffer and her team offer a practical solution: Reading Green, a new program that combines reading and writing with science learning based on fast plants. It’s a classic case of killing two birds with one stone—and teachers say it works.

“They’re getting science content while reading fun stories with characters they can relate to,” says Michele Sheets, who earlier this year field-tested the program with fourth- and fifth-graders at Turtle Creek Elementary School in Delavan. “The stories in Reading Green helped them connect the science activities to their inquiry activities with the fast plants.”

The playfully illustrated stories in Reading Green, written by Lauffer and communicator Douglas Niles, revolve around a twin brother and sister (Allie and David Sanchez-Ryan) and their lives in school and with their scientist parents, whose work takes the family to such far-flung places as Egypt and Siberia.

Along the way Allie and David (and, of course, the student reader) learn about plant growth requirements, the global importance of plants, and how humans have depended on plants throughout history. Students grow fast plants along with reading the stories, with companion science notebooks allowing them to track their observations.

Reading Green is available for purchase through Carolina Biological Supply, the same company that sells materials for Wisconsin Fast Plants, and is debuting in classrooms around the country this fall.