May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or zi@cascience.org.)

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.