A teacher can learn a lot by taking a close read of the classroom.
However, the pace of a typical school day doesn’t allow for much time to step back and take it all in. That’s why video is a great tool to help teachers understand what’s really happening in the classroom as students engage in learning activities.
In the videos I collected of students, I began to notice there was a pattern to their conversations. Based upon the task at hand, my role was to be a facilitator. As teachers embark into NGSS territory, it will become more obvious that students are highly engaged in their tasks. They’re excited and need help making sense of their thinking.
Teaching in elementary school is a challenging task and educators are often confronted with many obstacles. One obstacle to overcome is carving out the time for science classes. With all of the subjects competing for young minds, it’s difficult to create a flexible schedule that can accommodate all the valuable information children need to master. Another potential hurdle is a feeling of uncertainty among teachers about science itself. I often hear teachers say, “I only took a few science classes. How can I teach science effectively and efficiently?”
There are ways to teach science well and manage time efficiently by counting on just a few resources. I find it’s easier to remember these resources if I organize them by theme: Teachers Helping Teachers, Teachers Helping Themselves, and Communities Helping Teachers.
Scientists seek out other respected scientists for their opinions and collaborate with other fields regularly. Biologists work with chemists to research ocean acidification and the impact on coral reef habitats. Statisticians must work with ecologists to calculate populations and distributions of animals within the ecosystem. The work we do is integrated and no longer isolated by discipline. Researchers walk across the hall to share ideas, brainstorm, and call upon others to generate panels of experts. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) speak volumes to this kind of collaboration. It may seem like a buzzword, but it’s a reality in the world of science. Our students must also develop the skills of working across the disciplinary core ideas and apply their understanding of the crosscutting concepts with the science and engineering practices.
If you’re a science teacher in one of the NGSS adoption states, once you’ve had some time to absorb that you’re indeed going to transition your science lessons to the new and improved NGSS aligned lessons, you might hit somewhat of a roadblock. Think of it as writer’s block. The overwhelming feeling that you already teach really good science lessons, you just need to see what fits with the new standards and what needs to go. And now, we must think of lesson planning in three dimensions to properly support the intention of teaching collaborative skills.
As a science teacher, the idea of self-organizing organisms makes a lot of sense to me. In nature, we see organisms working together as communities to ensure survival of the group. Wolves and orcas hunt in packs. Honeybees and ants are notorious collaborators. Dolphins and humpback whales hunt in coordinated attacks on their prey.
In education, though, this idea of self-organization among groups is novel. I was introduced to the notion when I watched the TED talk by researcher Sugata Mitra about his “Hole in The Wall” experiment. The experiment involved installing computers with access to the Internet into a wall near a slum in India. When children approached the computer and asked, “What is this?” Sugata replied, “I don’t know. Maybe you can figure it out,” and left the children to form their own answers.