FOSS Newsletter #20
The FOSS Materials Management Symposium: Keeping Your
Lawrence Hall of Science
it takes, on average, 6 minutes to open a kit just back
from a teacher, refill, replace, and refresh everything
that needs attention, and bring it back to pristine condition...
and we can do it for $2.35 per student."
14 and 15, 2002, 26 FOSS educators from 15 school districts
around the country traveled to Boulder, Colorado, for
the first FOSS Materials Management Symposium. The purpose
of the symposium was simply to share strategies and procedures
for maintaining FOSS kits. That is, once the decision
has been made to adopt FOSS as a districts science
program and the kits are purchased, how do you ensure
that the kits will be in A-1 condition for teacher after
teacher to teach science efficiently?
Boulder was chosen as the rendezvous because Boulder Valley
School District is home to one of the longest operating centers
for FOSS materials management. John Delmonico and his full-time
assistant, Sylvia Hall, serve the FOSS needs of 33 elementary
schools (880 teachers) and 14 middle and K8 schools (60
science teachers). There is a lot of valuable experience in
the district that we would draw on to provide structure for
the two-day meeting.
The symposium started Sunday morning with introductions. We
discovered that about two thirds of the participants represented
school systems that already have established materials support
centers, ranging from large, sophisticated systems with impressive
performance histories to start-up systems in their growth and
development stages. The other third of the participants were
in attendance to sponge up information that they could use to
initiate support systems in the near future.
John laid a foundation for the symposium by presenting his center
as a case historyone example of an approach that grew
and evolved over time to become what it is today. He described
his start-up, the growth phase, lessons learned and changes
made, and the progression to a more and more mature and sophisticated
operation. Following Johns presentation, the group subdivided
into discussion groups, providing opportunities for participants
to share their models and identify the particular convergence
of local policies, funding, resource availability, and partnerships
that influence the character of a center. The presentation of
the salient points that emerged from each small group discussion
made it clear that one size and one flavor does not fit all
systems and that there are an indeterminate number of models
for supporting the material component of FOSS. But it also showed
that there are elements that are common to all successful models,
and those need careful consideration when designing a center.
John Delmonico welcomes the group into
his refurbishment center.
|After lunch John
presented an overview of his vision of starting a materials
support center. In effect, the vision is a business plan.
The center needs to be launched with the same care and
many of the same considerations as starting a business.
There are basic elements that need to be planned for,
including space, personnel, office support, technical
support, organism maintenance, inventory, storage, purchasing,
production, transportation, tracking, budget, record keeping,
and reporting. It is useful to have a mission statement
and performance goals to keep the centers work focused
and efficiency high. Some center models do not need to
invest resources in all of the elements (the district
might use a third party to deliver living organisms),
but every element must be considered and provided for.
John devoted a few minutes to a discussion of the extended benefits
that can accrue from the activities of a well-founded materials
center. The primary function of the center is to lift the responsibility
for maintaining the science teaching resource in tip-top condition
from the teachers shoulders. The center refills, shines,
and delivers the kit on time, in perfect condition, on request.
However, by monitoring kit use in terms of both titles requested
and degree of utilization by teachers, John was able to recommend
professional development on a specific kit to elevate the quantity
and quality of its use. By producing reports and graphs based
on kit use, Boulder is able to continuously evaluate the effectiveness
of the service. The center is also able to respond to teacher
special requests, such as providing additional supplies from
a kit for take-home materials for students or for hosting family
science events at school. This community relations dimension
of the centers work is essential in the overall program
to encourage community involvement in the science program.
permanent items) is available in the database,
and each item is accompanied by a high-quality image of the
item and specific tips for items that need careful consideration.
At the end of the first day we were all thoroughly oversupplied
with informationmore than our individual computers could
|The first day concluded
with a discussion of automation. At some point it will
be advantageous to manage inventory (and much more) by
computer. The participants had an opportunity to look
at the program John had developed to control his materials
inventory and reordering processes. The hard-working database
is enriched with lots of efficiencies and goodies. It
is designed to operate entirely by clicking buttons, making
inventory management a clerical operation rather than
an administrative one. The program can manage any number
of FOSS module titles and any number of copies of the
modules and makes adjustments for anticipated replenishment
needs based on the age of the modules. The complete FOSS
line-item catalog (consumable and
The Boulder Valley
School District Science Center materials inventory is
compact, complete, and efficient.
On Monday we rolled up our sleeves. We spent the day at the
BVSD FOSS Science Center focusing on details. John shared his
centers history of acquiring a cost-effective student
and adult workforce from both within the district and outside.
He described his strategies and methods for training the workers
to find a place in the processcounting and prepackaging
items, pulling items from inventory for refurbishing kits, moving
and relocating kits, and so on. We discussed the procedures
involved with teachers ordering, delivering, tracking, retrieving,
refurbishing, and storing kits, as well as ordering inventory
for replenishment, generating reports, and scheduling in-service
for teachers. We looked at specialized tools that make the prepackaging
of materials accessible and efficient.
And then we all had the personal experience of actually refurbishing
a kit. John turned us loose on a batch of kits straight back
from teachers. Guided by the refurbishment sheets developed
by the center, we all were able to make the necessary judgments
about every item in the boxes. We could mark the sheets to indicate
the materials that needed to be restocked, permanent items that
were missing, and permanent items that needed to be cleaned
or repaired or that were simply worn beyond usefulness.
We concluded the symposium by touring the Boulder Valley FOSS
Science Center. We walked the aisles of kits and gazed over
the inventories of some thousand different FOSS kit items, ready
to be called into service at a moments notice. We looked
at the spaces where center employees work on a variety of tasks
associated with the maintenance of the kits and visited the
living organism culturing, holding, and distribution room.
During our wrap-up discussion, several people commented on how
efficiently the center uses time, space, and materials. The
refurbishment area is surprisingly small. Every nook and cranny
is employed. Kits are stored on edge to maintain a uniform height
to the shelving. Hooks and hangers are used to extend the shelving.
Items specific to one kit (e.g., 24-gauge insulated wire used
only in the Magnetism and Electricity kit) are housed
near the shelves storing that kit. Materials used in multiple
kits, (e.g., jumbo soda straws, half-liter containers, and magnifiers)
are housed in the frequent-use area. It all adds up to efficiency;
condensed inventory means less time and energy spent rounding
up materials and completing the refurbishment job.
Interestingly, John and Sylvia were the
first to acknowledge the value of the open exchange of ideas,
approaches, and solutions that the symposium provided. A system
as dynamic as a science kit refurbishment center exists in a
state of constant change, both proactive and responsive. Ideas
are the capital of these kinds of creative enterprises.
engage in the kit-refurbishment process.
comments by the participants were enthusiastic. Everyone
felt that the time had been well spent. The specific example
of the Boulder Valley model provided a vision and a process,
and the community of educators added extensive enrichment
to the symposium by providing examples of alternative
approaches that work in other specific situations.
It was generally agreed that the FOSS Materials Management Symposium
should be a periodic event, perhaps even annual. Different well-established
centers should be offered the opportunity to host the symposium.
They could open their centers and invite their colleagues in
to look at the operation and take away knowledge that will help
them do an ever better job of supporting FOSS teachers in classrooms
where the results of their labors can be seen shining in the
This first FOSS Materials Management Symposium was cosponsored
by Boulder Valley School District, Delta Education, and the
Lawrence Hall of Science. The combined efforts of the three
institutions produced an excellent event. As we organize and
process the wealth of information that flowed out of the symposium,
we will produce a number of documents to help districts develop
an efficient system for maintaining their kits.
We are already starting to think about the second symposium.
If this sounds like something that your school district would
like to attend, drop us a note and well put you on the
list to be notified when the next event enters the active planning
phase. For more information, contact Larry Malone at email@example.com.