by Valerie Joyner
Today marked the end of my classroom teaching career. It is hard for me to believe I have been teaching K-6 for over 37 years. I fondly remember the early days of my career when there were no state standards or federal mandates, and each of us constructed most of our own curriculum for our students. Every elementary teacher had his/her favorite science units they had developed and used year after year. My science curriculum was no different. I developed exciting, and sometimes not so exciting activities, explorations, and experiments with kits, books, realia, and a few outdated textbooks. There were no Smartboards, computers, or internet websites to go to. No state adopted texts or testing of science in 5th grade. It was a simpler time.
In many ways teaching in the 70’s was a free-for-all, lacking scope and sequence, but it was also a wonderful time when teachers were able to share their passion for a particular subject. My passion was always science, and dated back to my early childhood and my own father’s passion for science.
My classroom was always filled with science stuff. You know, animals and plants from a boa constrictor to geckos, and cacti to Venus fly traps on every counter. There were the usual magnets, rocks, pulleys, microscopes, and magnifying glasses for students to explore. And of course the posters, student projects and work on display everywhere. These diverse, and slightly chaotic collections gave the classroom a special feeling, a feeling of excitement, exploration, and adventure.
I believe these simpler times brought about the necessity to reign in education and provide our students with a more cohesive and structured K-12 curriculum. After all, there was no guarantee that students had had any physical science before they hit junior or senior high. If a child had happened on three teachers in a row that all “loved” their butterfly or geology units, then that child was probably proficient in metamorphosis and sedimentary rocks, but may never have had the opportunity to learn about weather, force and motion, or ocean currents. And guess what? Along came state frameworks and standards and testing.
I look back at my classroom in the past decade or two and wonder when that sense of excitement, exploration, and adventure began to change and make way for the greater emphasis and focus on English, Language Arts (ELA), and math. That’s not to say my curriculum was boring and uninviting, but I found myself fighting the system and wanting to spend more time on science, not less. I went to great lengths to teach science in every subject area I possibly could. I developed math lessons around science activities and experiments and non-fiction reading units so I could always be sure to have science in the forefront of my student’s minds. As you know, this is not always an easy task when your district mandates certain materials be used and specific time allotted to ELA and math. Nonetheless, I was able to find peace with the structures and mandates and yet allow myself permission to always do what I knew was best for my students.
And here we are, in 2012, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core Curriculum are on the starting blocks. Some districts have already begun talking about and trying to implement Common Core which will again change the course of education. Hopefully most of us have been able to review NGSS and realize the profoundly positive effects this will have on our students and science education. As I move out of the classroom and into new possibilities, I am excited to see the new direction science education will be taking.
A special thanks to all our retirees and their dedication to science education and their years of experience and dedication to our science education and out students. Have a wonderful summer!
Valerie Joyner is a retired district science lead teacher for Petaluma City Schools and is CSTA’s region 1 director.