January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Getting to Know You: Start the Year by Knowing Your Learners

Posted: Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

by:  Frederick Nelson

One of the organizing frameworks that guide the practice of National Board Certified Teachers is the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching. The foundation of this graphic, and the first step in constructing meaningful learning experiences, is an exploration of the questions, “Who are your students? Where are they now? What do they need and in what order do they need it? Where should I begin?” Only after we have some answers to these questions can we begin setting high, worthwhile goals and designing appropriate and engaging learning experiences.

So how do we find out who our students are? The purpose of this exploration is to discover information that will be useful in your classroom. This could include things such as:

  • Students’ prior learning of important content
  • Students’ interests—hobbies, activities, favorite movies, TV shows, music, sports
  • Students’ family background—places they have lived, other family members, experiences they have had
  • Students’ personalities and learning styles—how do they learn best?

Prior knowledge is an aspect of knowing our learners that is often determined with a pretest. Many textbook publishers include instruments of this type in sets of ancillary materials. There are also many assessments available on the Internet, for example, a popular measure of high school and college students’ physics knowledge is the Force Concept Inventory, which focuses on understanding of Newtonian physics. Pretests for other content areas can be located on the web.

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Making connections between students’ interests and course content is a key method for establishing relevance of lessons. For example, students who are musicians will not only have an inherent interest in a unit on sound and waves, but can also be recruited to perform demonstrations and lead activities related to these concepts. Project-based learning activities can be linked to student interests, such as drawing (create an anime-style comic book about the battle between a white blood cell and bacteria), theater (write and perform a skit about the water cycle), and video games (analyze the effect gravity would have on buildings in the game Minecraft). These interests can be discovered through many writing and creative activities such as journaling and poster construction. Even brief student introductions can generate useful information about student interests. Take some notes while students are sharing what they did this summer.

A third approach to connecting with your students is to use an engaging activity to learn about their backgrounds. One such activity is the Project Learning Tree activity, “Tree Cookies.” In this exercise students examine a slice of a tree trunk or limb, noting unique characteristics, such as annual ring size or fire scars, and consider the various events that resulted in these differences. They then draw their own life cookie on a paper plate, with a ring for each year of their lives, and significant events indicated in a relevant way. This information can provide insights into student motivation and family involvement.

Finally, there are numerous online surveys that reveal personality and learning style information. These include the Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire, assessments that measure Multiple Intelligences, and Myers-Briggs personality profiles. This information can be useful in establishing cooperative learning groups and addressing classroom management issues.

The important consideration in gathering any of this information is having a clear sense of purpose for how it can be used in the construction of meaningful learning experiences in your classroom. While these activities should be done early, the data produced should be examined continuously throughout the school year.

One final suggestion: allow your learners to get to know you, too. Share some relevant pieces of your own history, using engaging activities like Two Truths and a Lie. Appropriate self-disclosure is an important method for building an environment of trust in your classroom.

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Written by Frederick Nelson

Frederick Nelson

Frederick Nelson is an Assistant Professor of Science Education, California State University, Fresno and is CSTA’s Region 3 Director

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STEM Conference Hosted by CMSESMC

Posted: Saturday, January 14th, 2017

The Council of Math/Science Educators of San Mateo County will be hosting the 41st annual STEM Conference this February 4, 2017 at the San Mateo County Office of Education. This STEM Conference is the place to get lots of new lessons and ideas to use in your classroom. There will be over twenty-five workshops and a variety of exhibitors that provide participants with a wide range of practical and realistic ideas and resources to use in their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs from Pre-K to grade 12. With California’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, we are dedicated to ensuring that we prepare our teachers to take on these educational policies.

Teachers, administrators, and parents are invited to explore the many exciting aspects of STEM education and learn about and discuss the latest news, information, and issues. This is also an opportunity to network with colleagues who can assist you in building your programs and meet new friends that share your interests and love of teaching. Register online today!

Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Submit Your NGSS Lessons and Units Today!

Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017

Achieve has launched and is facilitating an EQuIP Peer Review Panel for Science–a group of expert reviewers who will evaluate the quality and alignment of lessons and units to the standards–in an effort to identify and shine a spotlight on emerging high-quality lesson and unit plans designed for the NGSS.

If you or your state, district, school, or organization has designed NGSS-aligned instructional materials, please consider submitting these in order to help provide educators across the country with various models and templates of high-quality lesson and unit plans. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Opportunity for High School Students – Los Angeles County

Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017

An upcoming Perry Outreach Program on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at the Orthopaedic Institute for Children in Los Angeles, CA. The Perry Outreach Program is a free, one-day, hands-on experience for high school and college-aged women who are interested in pursuing careers in medicine and engineering. Students will hear from women leaders in these fields and try it for themselves by performing mock orthopaedic surgeries and biomechanics experiments. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Science Education Policy Update

Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

January 2017 has proven to be a very busy month for science education policy and CA NGSS implementation activities. CSTA has been and will be there every step of the way, seeking and enacting all options to support high-quality science education and the successful implementation of CA NGSS.

California Department of Education/U.S. Department of Education Science Double-Testing Waiver Hearing

The year started with California Department of Education’s (CDE) hearing with the U.S. Department of Education conducted via WebEx on January 6, 2017. This hearing was the final step in California’s efforts to secure a waiver from the federal government in order to discontinue administration of the old CST and suspension of the reporting of student test scores on a science assessment for two years. As reported by EdSource, the U.S. Department of Education representative, Ann Whalen, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary John King Jr., committed to making her final ruling “very shortly.” Deputy Superintendent Keric Ashley presented on behalf of CDE during the hearing and did an excellent job describing the broad-based support for this waiver in California, the rationale for the waiver, and California’s commitment to the successful implementation of a new high-quality science assessment. As previously reported, California is moving forward with its plans to administer a census pilot assessments this spring. The testing window is set to open on March 20, 2017. For more information visit New CA Science Test: What You Should Know.

Learn More…

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Written by Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko is CSTA’s Executive Director.

NSTA Los Angeles Conference Features Many CA Science Leaders

Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

The early-bird registration rates for the 65th NSTA National Conference on Science Education in Los Angeles is just days away (ends Feb. 3). And as the early-registration deadline approaches excitement is building for what is anticipated to be the largest gathering of science educators (both California and nationwide) – with attendance expected to reach 10,000 or more. If you have never had the pleasure of attending the NSTA National Conference, I recommend you visit their website with tips for newcomers that describe the various components of the event. A conference preview is also available for download. Learn More…

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Written by Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko is CSTA’s Executive Director.