Shifting Priorities: Teaching Students to Defend and Not Just Identify Answers
Posted: Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014
by Sinead Klement
While still in the thick of teaching each school year, I prepare a list of things I want to do better the following year. Many times, I focus on little procedural changes that might help keep the room cleaner or help save valuable class time. Other times it is just about tweaking my lessons to add something cool I learned at a workshop or found online. This year, however, I am preparing for a massive shift in priorities. For years my focus has been on making science hands-on and of course FUN, but if I am being honest, it has also been on preparing my students to take a 66 question multiple-choice test in April. This year my focus will shift from being a teacher who can get students to successfully pick out correct answers in a lineup of answers, to being a teacher of scientific writing and communication. Although absolutely necessary, this change may be a little painful. The most notable loss may be the possible sacrifice of some of my favorite hands-on activities in order to make time for students to process their science experiences with real writing.
The timing for this goal could not be better. This year math and language arts teachers are moving ahead with the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS), but we science teachers feel like we are in a kind of limbo period. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are adopted, yet are not meant for full implementation until a few years from now when curriculum and assessments are developed. In the meantime, we are still assessing students in fifth, eighth, and tenth grade on the “old” standards. Consequently, science teachers are expected to teach the old standards but are to integrate CCSS into our current curriculums until we transition to the NGSS.
Initially, I was a little annoyed. I was impatient and ready to get on with the NGSS. I was also feeling a little jealous of all the attention language arts and math teachers were receiving in their transition, but mostly I was just anxious to be rid of these “mile wide but inch deep” science standards. Upon reflection, though, I realized that I should be grateful for the gift of time. We have a couple years to practice teaching our students CCSS skills such as writing constructed responses and reading primary source science documents before having our students take a new test and I feel like we are lucky the changes are not happening all at once. For this year, then, I am going to start by integrating some of the Common Core writing standards into my current curriculum.
Over the past decade and a half, I always felt that my program was missing something. Even when my students do really well on the standard multiple-choice tests, I am often quickly deflated when I ask my students to support their answers with evidence. Common responses from students are almost always something like, “because it makes sense” or, “because Mrs. Klement taught it to us.” Rarely will a student cite evidence from the many lab investigations we did in class or cite supporting information from their textbook. When looking at the CCCS W.1, I realized that students are going to have to be proficient in writing arguments supported by evidence, a skill many of my former students lacked when I taught them.
Given the “even less than subpar” answers I usually get from students when I ask them to support their answers with evidence, I quickly realized that I will need to scaffold this process for them. Initially, I thought simply referring to our “Activity Summary Sheet” on the board before having them write their supporting paragraphs would be enough. (The Activity Summary Sheet is a large sheet of paper where we list all the activities we have done in class, what we observed in those activities, what we learned from those activities, and how those ideas relate to the bigger science concept we are studying.) It was not. They still provided the same thin responses as before. What I came to realize is that my students do not support their arguments/claims with evidence because they have not been explicitly taught how, and I cannot assume that they have been taught how to do this in their English class. I concluded, somewhat reluctantly, that it is my job to teach them this skill.
As a result, I have been spending a lot of time this summer coming up with a strategy for how to better teach my students to write strong evidence-based claims. Although I have not yet had a chance to fully test this out with students, I have a tentative plan for helping my students develop this skill. First, I will continue to create Activity Summary Sheets for each unit because I do believe that this helps students see how all of the things we observe and learn are interconnected and not discreet events. I will also try to help them plan their writing with a graphic organizer. The best one I’ve found was presented by Sandra Yellenberg (Science Coordinator, Santa Clara County Office of Education) at the 2013 CSTA conference. It does a really good job at breaking down this kind of writing into reasonable chunks for students. I will guide students through the process of transforming the information in the graphic organizer into a paragraph and will then develop a writing checklist so that they can both self-edit and peer-edit the papers. This is essential because I cannot imagine correcting each and every one myself especially since I am planning on having students practice their writing skills a lot.
While this is certainly not the easiest goal I’ve ever set for my students and I, it may be one of the more important ones. Hopefully, we will all learn more and possibly even have more fun than ever before.
Sinead Klement is an 8th grade science teacher at Jackson Junior High School and is a member of CSTA.
Posted: Monday, March 27th, 2017
The California Science Teachers Association (CSTA) stands with our science and science education colleagues in endorsing the March For Science and its associated activities.
The decision by the CSTA Board of Directors to support the March for Science was based on the understanding that this is an opportunity to advocate for our mission of high quality science education for all and to advance the idea that science has application to everyday life, is a vehicle for lifelong learning, and the scientific enterprise expands our knowledge of the world around us. The principles and goals of the March for Science parallel those of CSTA to assume a leadership role in solidarity with our colleagues in science and science education and create an understanding of the value of science in the greater community. CSTA believes that the integrity of the nature of science and that the work of scientists and science educators should be valued and supported. We encourage your participation to stand with us.
There are over 30 satellite marches planned for the April 22, 2017 March for Science in California (to find a march near you, click on “marches” in the upper right of the main page, select “satellite marches” and use the search feature). We encourage members who participate in the March for Science to share their involvement and promotion of science and science education. Feel free to promote CSTA on your signs and banners. For those on social media, you may share your involvement via Twitter, @cascience and our Facebook groups.
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…