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.
Like most teachers across America, I have students that are described as English Language Learners (ELLs). It seems an opportune time to raise awareness among educators about the state of flux in the demography of learners in our classrooms and to offer research-based principles and approaches for their education.
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.
Transitions can be both exciting and marked by uncertainty. As a science coordinator and classroom coach, I’m learning about NGSS K-12 transition as I go. I’m sure the same is true for many of you. After reading “A Framework for K-12 Science Education,” by National Research Council (NRC) and spending some time with state education leaders, I quickly learned, with respect to the NGSS transition, “There will not be a significant shift in WHAT students learn, but in HOW they learn.” With this in mind, I’m seeking resources that might reveal the most efficient way to embed the NRC grade band endpoints as a foundation, coupled with dedicated professional development on the 3-D Learning vision.
As I shift my instruction to meet the requirements of the Next Generation Science Standards, I often ask myself: How can I make science a phenomenal experience for my students? I think the key to unlocking the answer to this question lies in discovery — in my willingness to figure out what the NGSS asks of me, as an educator.
As part of Teaching Channel’s Next Generation Science Squad, I spent a weekend in Washington D.C. working with the Squad to develop my understanding of the NGSS and was fortunate to attend a training on the latest EQuIP (Educators Evaluating Quality Instructional Products) rubric by Achieve.
As I approached the workshop, I wondered why I needed a rubric to ensure that my instruction is NGSS aligned. I didn’t see the logic. Wouldn’t that take substantially more time when I’m already working hard to incorporate the new standards without a rubric? Aren’t we professionals who know our craft and what we’re expected to do? Aren’t we well versed in pedagogical approaches and strong teaching methodologies? I felt I was doing a pretty good job with this “NGSS thing.” Why fix something that isn’t broken, right?
This is something that often eludes me as I work through my day. Where does the time go?
One of my all-time favorite pieces on Tchers’ Voice is Sarah Brown Wessling’s blog post, A Letter to My Children: What it Means to be a Teacher. Throughout the post, Sarah shares the struggles and sacrifices that we all make as we attempt to meet the needs of not only our biological children, but also all of the smiling faces that walk through our doors every day. As a single father, coach, and teacher, this piece really hit home. Being a teacher is a balancing act. And that’s especially true if you’re a teacher leader.
Whenever I’m asked why I became an educator, my answer is short and sweet: “Because I want to change the world.” Not that I’m naïve enough to believe that my work will achieve world peace, but I have faith that there are enough like-minded souls spread throughout the globe to make a significant difference. Some of us are blessed with the opportunity to possess a leadership role within our profession. And it’s tough! Not only do we have to ensure a quality education to our own students, but we also have an obligation to provide support and resources to our colleagues.
So how do we find balance? Well, when you figure that out, please let me know!
While I do joke about it, there is truth to my previous statement. Even those of us that have lived a dual life for several years struggle at times. That being said, I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned with you.
I love the beginning of the school year because my classroom is a blank slate. A new start gives me a chance to take all the learning I experienced over the summer and put it to use. Some of my time this summer was spent learning with a group of teachers in the state of Iowa around the concept of coherence and phenomena-driven lessons.
National leaders in NGSS curriculum development, implementation, and training shared with the us immersion lessons that demonstrated how phenomena are used to generate student questions, which are then used to guide the learning in the unit.