Middle School Integrated Science – Get Over It
Posted: Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014
by Pete A’Hearn
Okay, let’s face it, you are eventually going to the California integrated middle school progressions under NGSS. Time to get over it and start to plan the path forward. (Note: this is my opinion and not the opinion of CSTA.)
Why am I so sure? Because I have looked at the two possibilities closely and once you have, it’s a no-brainer. Here is the domain specific model:
Wait a minute, what’s up with all of the content being shoved into 6th grade? Well domain specific means that Earth and Space Sciences is in 6th grade, and there is lots of content in Earth and Space Science. Much of it is developmentally inappropriate for 6th graders who will be challenged with the huge time and special scales encountered in Earth History and Astronomy. There is also the background in physics needed to understand how things move in space that requires some of the physics in 8th grade. Also, tracking how matter like carbon and nitrogen flow cycle through ecosystems at 7th grade requires an understanding of chemical reactions that students won’t get 8th grade. So why did the Science Expert Panel come up with this model? The answer is that they didn’t – they presented three possible sequences with their strengths and weaknesses and the CDE had a public survey to choose the most popular one. Teachers overwhelmingly chose Earth, Life, Physical, which they might have thought means the same as we have now. It does not.
Here is the integrated model:
Why did the Science Expert Panel favor the integrated model? There were several reasons: Integration shows that real world science is integrated, meaning that real world problems need ideas from different disciplines to be solved. Integration helps make the crosscutting concepts more central (the second box at the bottom). Integration helps create stronger storylines (see my article in CCS last month). Much content in Earth and Life requires physical science as background, such as forces for astronomy, chemistry for ecosystems, etc…, and as already discussed, 6th graders are typically not developmentally ready for astronomical scale and geologic time. There is also the issue of needing chemistry to understand ecosystems and physics to understand astronomy. There is a complete rationale for the CA integrated science model at: http://www.cde.ca.gov/pd/ca/sc/ngssstandards.asp.
Based on this evidence, the teachers in my district (Palm Springs Unified School District) were able to come to a consensus that integrated was the best way forward for our students.
Okay, so you are going to go integrated, but it can’t happen all at once – you don’t have curriculum materials, you need content training for your staff, and most importantly you want to make sure there are no major gaps in the content that your kids get. If you switch all at once in one year, there will be a group of kids that completely miss middle school chemistry and will take high school classes like biology and chemistry with no foundation. You need a plan that makes gradual changes over several years and gives people time to find materials and learn new content. There are probably many ways to do this, but here is a pathway that we looked at in Palm Springs:
For clarity, I have used the names for units used by the Science Expert Panel. The (G) stands for genetics, which will end up spread out between 6th and 8th grade, and (EH) stands for earth history which will be divided between 7th and 8th over time. To understand what a student will experience you have to move diagonally and down through the chart. This is the reason that some subjects are taught at two grade levels in some years. For example, in year 3 chemistry is taught in 7th and 8th grade, ensuring that all students get chemistry. It also allows the new NGSS chemistry unit to be taught at 8th grade first, then refined and adjusted before the 7th grade teacher (new to this content) teaches it. The 7th grade teachers will have the support of the 8th grade teacher on their site teams when it their turn to teach chemistry. The same reasoning applies to the cells and organisms unit at 6th and 7th grade. This plan also allows for teachers to switch grade levels- possibly at the trimester- if they choose to remain “content experts” within the integrated model. So, a current 8th grade teachers could (in year 4) teach chemistry to 7th graders during the first trimester and then switch to 8th grade for the rest of the year. This is a possibility for sites where teachers feel very content specific.
After consideration of this plan the Palm Springs teachers chose to move faster rather than slower, and by consensus adopted the plan below:
Don’t take my word for it. Do some close reading about the two models and take the time to think about how to make the transition work for your site, teachers, and kids. Happy Integration!
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Joseph Calmer
Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”
I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…