As a first generation college graduate, a decision I made early in life was to have a growth mindset. If you’re new to the term growth mindset, or maybe just on the hunt for resources, check out Teaching Channel’s Growth Mindset Deep Dive. While many people assume things in my life have come easily, I’ve spent my entire existence struggling to succeed. Blessed or cursed (depending on your perspective) with an insane amount of drive as well as a natural curiosity toward all things, my life has been a constant cycle of discovery, failure, retooling, and — mostly — eventual success.
This lifestyle has carried over into my classroom, as I believe that regardless of the content I’m teaching, it’s my duty as an educator to prepare all of the young people that walk through my door to face the challenges that lie ahead of them. That’s why I’m such a staunch advocate for the incorporation of the engineering design process into all classrooms. The EDP is the epitome of growth mindset and transcends the classroom into every facet of day-to-day life.
In that spirit, I continue to refine my practice. Every year, I identify one area of my instruction as a point of emphasis. In the past, these areas have ranged from classroom management, to individualized learning plans, to the integration of technology. One area I’ve been putting off is refining the writing process that occurs within my STEM course. Why have I been putting it off? Quite honestly, I struggle with writing. I believe in the value of writing, but freely acknowledge that it’s not a strength I possess. Opening up this area of my practice could be humbling, but it’s my hope that we (myself as well as fellow educators) will all benefit from this experience.
Phenomena can be the special ingredient that brings both intrigue and relevance to an otherwise ordinary lesson. It’s no surprise anchoring phenomena have become a part of the conversation whenever educators discuss NGSS science instruction. This is exciting because anchoring phenomena and driving questions can be the key to student engagement.
When I was first introduced to the importance of anchoring phenomena in NGSS instruction, I remember Googling “NGSS anchoring phenomena” and getting two, maybe three results — and even they weren’t really what I needed. Today, the same search returns more than 2000 results. In a very short time, knowledge and resources have increased at a breakneck pace. Today, I know I can find the resources I need to help me anchor phenomena to the standards with relative ease. I’d like to share some of my favorite results from my search with you.
We were weeks into our new journey of bringing the science fair into the 21st century: Science In The Sky.
Everything is digital so why haven’t science fairs caught up? Well, my students were doing it! A feverish pitch exploded early amongst my scientific teams once scientists from around the world started responding to different blog postings. Elshaddai and his team were working hard collecting data on their hypothesis about whether the moon does or doesn’t affect mood. “I don’t even know where Luxemburg, Munich, Hong Kong… I don’t know where any of these places are!” I overheard him saying to his team. Using social media, I was able to distribute their survey around the world and excitement ensued when data started to pour in because they had no idea that I’d done this.
Imagine being 12 years old and being told that you’re made up of tiny bits, that are made up of tiny bits, that are made up of tiny bits; and all those bits are going to interact in different ways and have AWESOME names that sound more like spells from Harry Potter than English. For me, teaching cell transportation at the middle school level has been a challenge.
When students walk into our classrooms many of them have no concept of cells other than the ones they’re carrying in their pockets. We, as science teachers, have long relied on analogies to demonstrate concepts; although this method has worked, I find there’s always a student who is confused by the “endoplasmic reticu-what” and cannot work their way up Bloom’s or grasp the Depth of Knowledge (DOK) I’m seeking for mastery,
This fall, I decided to change my approach when teaching the topic of cells. Instead of having my students dance out the process of endocytosis (think the hokey pokey: “things move into the cell, things move out of the cell… and they move all about”), I would try to align more to NGSS using an approach rooted in phenomena.
In this new series, in partnership with San Francisco Unified School District, we step inside classrooms where teachers are using strategies to engage and support all learners, especially their English Language Learners (ELLs). In Part One of the series, we visit two elementary classrooms to see how teachers use the district’s recommended five essential practices to teach their students during designated English Language Development (ELD) time, as well as to integrate ELD into content. For more information on these practices, read Lisa Kwong’s blog post about the district’s ELL work.
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.
As the school year is approaching its second semester, I’ve started to both reflect on the progress I’ve made as well as look ahead to the standards that need to be addressed by the end of the school year. As a STEM teacher within Greenon Local Schools, my primary focus is on Science and Engineering Practices. Something that has always been a major challenge is how to accurately take inventory of the standards and then develop an outline that ensures the needs of my students have been met by the time they leave my classroom.
Teaching is personal. In fact, according to my principal, teaching is a work of heart. It’s heart work, not just hard work. And not only is it heart work, the only thing more personal than teaching is going to the bathroom.
As part of a district initiative, I started video recording my teaching practice to improve higher-order thinking and student-led conversations. At first blush, I was mortified at the thought of a camera catching every moment of my class. Not because I was fearful of what anyone would find, but because I was fearful of what I might not find. I thought as an experienced teacher, I knew what was happening in my classroom. Why would I need to video record my teaching and watch it when I was there live?
What I didn’t realize was the power of recording my instruction, watching, and seeking constructive feedback from my peers.
Where are you in your understanding of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)?
When districts embark on the implementation of these standards, it’s useful to compare the process to a high-powered microscope. What magnification are you currently using — 4x, 10x, or 100x? Everyone will go through each of these magnifications in phases as they begin exploring the standards deeply.
I’m a big fan of science notebooks for students. My students use notebooks to develop Cornell Notes from content material, record and analyze lab data, and create “interactive notebook” elements like foldables, flashcards, and puzzles.
I’m NOT a big fan of the lengthy process that ensues when attempting to assess student notebooks. What I find most frustrating is collecting notebooks to see what students are thinking. As a high school teacher with multiple sections of students, trying to carry home hundreds of notebooks isn’t only logistically difficult, it’s time-consuming and inefficient.