by Eric Lewis
In the past few weeks, I have led and attended a few workshops. One thing that has been jumping out at me is our need to not only develop our content knowledge in science, but to also build upon our pedagogy so that we can really support ALL of our students to learn science. I have had many, many conversations with teachers in my district (and beyond) over the past few years about the challenges of meeting the needs of the students in our classrooms. That said, I’ve never been more convinced that the vast majority of my colleagues are really knowledgeable about their content. Content knowledge, while extremely important, is NOT the real crux of what our experienced teachers need. Sure, a few new labs and elegant experiments are great to add to your repertoire, but the professional development that we really need is in how to meet the needs of our students – especially when students may be arriving in our classes lacking the skills that we expected them to have.
In a leadership meeting that I recently attended at Stanford University, we repeatedly discussed how to improve the experience for students in our schools. There was an acknowledgement that many issues are out of our control, but there was also a focus on identifying ways to meet the needs of our students. Across our country, it seems that some teachers (and administrators and policy makers) have forgotten that teaching is an ART. Teaching is perhaps the most difficult of professions – especially when done well. Too often, however, we forget our charge of teaching “all” students. I often hear things like, “Well, those students would be better served at that school,” or “Those students aren’t the type of students that do well here.” Since when do teachers – at public schools yet – say which students belong at their school? Why is it the student’s fault that he or she didn’t have the experiences in science, mathematics, and English that we would have wanted them to have before they showed up in our classroom?
The big issue I see is that we’ve really not been given the resources (think broadly here) to meet the needs of our students. We’re told to differentiate for our students, but we really don’t have great examples of what this looks like day in and day out for a variety of different content areas. And, our lack of experience and knowledge with differentiation is what often helps to promote many (not all) of our Honors tracks. In too many cases Honors does not signify that students are getting increased rigor or challenge, it simply means that these students will get access to everything that the teacher had planned because there won’t be any behavior issues to distract from the work. When I see this kind of tracking, it simply makes me sad. As teachers, we should be better than that. We should recognize that meeting the needs of a huge range of students is difficult and then we should do our best to prepare for this challenge. We need to take this on directly and build our skills to provide a challenging and engaging curriculum for all students, not just our most “advanced” and “well-behaved” students that would – likely – be able to learn new materials even without an animated, engaged teacher in front of them.
We need to address the needs of all of our students. Advanced students should be able to be challenged with deeper, more challenging readings, activities, and projects. But, all students should have access to these things, too. In my years of teaching, I have been surprised over and over again at seeing how students have risen to meet the challenges of difficult concepts and complicated problems. We need to build upon our own resources as science teachers to craft lessons with multiple access points and with opportunities to reinforce learning in mathematics, English, art, and other disciplines. We are so lucky that science lends itself to hands-on learning and to creative and critical thinking. The question now is how do we better prepare ourselves to bring these experiences to all our students, and not just the ones that came to us already prepared…
Well, first I recommend reviewing SDAIE strategies. These strategies are great for ALL of our students, but will be especially beneficial for English Language Learners in class. Next, talk to teachers in your special education department at your school. These folks have been differentiating forever and we have a lot to learn from them. In designing your schools, don’t be afraid to advocate for looping with students for more than one year and for providing robust advisories. With both of these changes, more students will have deeper relationships with more teachers. This is a good thing. Finally, reflect on your practice. Give yourself credit when you’ve done a great job and don’t be afraid to be critical of yourself if you see opportunities for growth. We can all learn something new, can’t we?
Eris Lewis is high school area science support in the San Francisco Unified School District LEAD office and is CSTA region 2 director.
by Michelle French
Since the public reviews of the Next Generation Science Standards have come to a close, like many primary teachers, I’ve been wondering what science will look like in kindergarten, first, and second grade classrooms. Learn More…
“SOL Grotto, 2012. 1368 glass tubes, paint. Fabrication: Matarozzi Pelsinger, Rael San Fratello Architects. SOL Grotto is a contemporary take on a grotto or Throeau’s cabin – a spartan retreat that is a space of solitude and close to nature – where one is presented with a mediated experience of water, coolness and light. The SOL Grotto also explores Solyndra’s role as a company S#@t Out of Luck. 1,368 of the 24 million high tech glass tubes destined to be destroyed as a casualty of their bankruptcy, are used in the installation. The tube’s original role as a light concentrating element is extended to transmit cool air into the space via the Venturi effect, to amplify sounds from the adjacent waterfall via the vibrations of the tubes cantilevering over the creek, and to create distorted views of the garden. The form of the electric blue array evokes Plato’s Allegory of the Cave where shadows, light and sounds can call reality into question.”
Responses from Readers:
Peter A’Hearn: Rush hour in little blue circle land.
by Valerie Joyner
Congratulations to CSTA member and STEM Educator, Katherine Schenkelberg, of West High School, in Torrance, CA! Katherine was recently awarded one of the 2013 Vernier/NSTA Technology Awards. An appointed panel of experts selected her for her innovative use of data-collection technology. “The use of data-collection technology in the classroom helps foster students’ interest in STEM education and provides them with engaging, hands-on opportunities for scientific investigation,” said David Vernier, co-founder of Vernier and a former physics teacher. “For ten years Vernier and NSTA have recognized innovative STEM educators through this award and this year’s winners are no exception – their projects and programs truly utilize the power of data-collection technology as part of the teaching and learning process.” Learn More…
by Tim Williamson
Members of the California Science Teachers Association are now in the process of voting for qualified CSTA members to fill the seven openings on the CSTA Board of Directors for the 2013-2015 term.
The election is being conducted electronically and opened for voting on April 16, 2013. Voting will close on May 16, 2013. All CSTA members were sent links to the online ballot. Members for whom we do not have current email addresses or who request a paper ballot have been mailed a ballot and candidate statements. Learn More…