Taking It to the Field—Where Students Become the Experts
Posted: Monday, June 20th, 2016
by Nancy Taylor, David Polcyn, and Terrie Perez
Most teachers would agree that field experiences are invaluable teaching tools. Given that, at the 2015 CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative south summer institute held in Vista, CA, just north of San Diego and a couple of miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, we took advantage of nearby Batiquitos Lagoon, one of the few remaining tidal wetlands in southern California. Besides being a beautiful site and an exceptional educational destination, the lagoon is undergoing a restoration project to maintain the integrity of the coastal wetlands and to mitigate human impact on this precious ecosystem. Instead of engaging the help of one of the local experts, the “students” (southern California 7th grade teachers, in this case) became the experts and led the field trip themselves. At this point, you might be asking “how do students become the experts?” The answer is through three-dimensional learning supported by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) using a method that could easily be duplicated by a classroom teacher.During the institute, we were using “ecosystem structure and function” as a means to view the world through various “lenses” integral to the NGSS with the phenomenon of an ecosystem undergoing restoration. These lenses are packaged into two of the three dimensions of NGSS, “Crosscutting Concepts” (CCC) and “Science and Engineering Practices” (SEP). We could have easily chosen any of the CCC’s and SEP’s to investigate ecosystems, but the particular “lenses” we chose to focus on (pun intended) for this week-long institute included “developing and using models” (SEP), “constructing explanations” (SEP), “patterns” (CCC) and “energy and matter” (CCC). We wanted to employ multiple lenses for several reasons. First and foremost, this is how scientists view the world. Second, we wanted the participants to see that the same phenomenon, the same data set, the same circumstances, can be viewed in slightly different ways, and to experience the fact that the insight gained from each “lens” is similar yet different. One asks slightly different questions when viewing through different lenses. And last, but not least, we wanted to model to the teachers that bouncing between lenses is not only NOT difficult, but makes for more effective teaching and learning. Rather than say “today we are using this lens…”, we wanted to show that lens choice is fluid, and sometimes viewing the same phenomenon through multiple lenses enhances the learning experience.
The third dimension of NGSS is the science knowledge called Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI’s). By focusing on “an ecosystem”—examining how energy and matter are gained by, move through, and are lost to an ecosystem—we were able to integrate a number of related DCI’s from both Physical Sciences and Life Sciences (there were plenty of opportunities for Earth and Space Science DCI’s as well, but we chose to stick to PS and LS for this institute). We began by having students look at a sketch of an ecosystem and label various components, and then discuss (first in small groups and then as a whole) their view of ecosystems. Since the participants were all middle school science teachers, their knowledge was far deeper than the typical middle school student, but there were still some misconceptions and gaps in understanding. We then began to take the ecosystem apart and look at its component parts, generally from small to large but always with an eye on “the ecosystem”. For three days, participants explored states of matter (PS1: Matter and its interactions), the cellular and molecular basis of matter movement in food chains and food webs (LS1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes), and the interactions of organisms in food webs with their biotic and abiotic environment (LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics). For example, in classroom activities the days before the field trip, participants had the opportunity to model (using miniature marshmallows and toothpicks) the building of sugar molecules during photosynthesis and their breakdown during respiration. Participants also modeled the movement of energy and matter through the food web by first taping photos of components of the food web (plants, herbivores, carnivores, decomposers, etc.) to the wall, and then “tracing” the movement of energy and matter through the food web with yarn; one color of yarn represented energy, another color represented matter, and participants visualized how photosynthesis brings matter and energy into the food web, and then how it is eventually broken down by respiration at some point, to be lost to the environment as heat (energy) or “recycled” back through the food web via photosynthesis (matter). In a word, they were becoming “experts” on ecosystems.
To put their new found (or newly organized) knowledge to task, on day four of the institute participants (in groups of two) were assigned a particular “station” along a self-guided trail at Batiquitos Lagoon (trail map and station highlights available at: http://www.batiquitosfoundation.org/2011/lagoon/trail-guide/). Using the information from the trail guide, and what they knew about ecosystems, they were to prepare a 3-5 minute presentation to the class about “the ecosystem” at that particular site. Because the nature of the stations was variable, there weren’t a lot of guidelines besides a focus on ecosystem structure and function, patterns, and constructing explanations.
We arrived at Batiquitos Lagoon on a slightly overcast but gorgeous day. Participants had a short time to find and get acquainted with their stations and practice their presentations, then we regrouped and the experts had the stage. And what a stage it was! As we moved from station to station, the experts took their turns at brilliantly explaining the world around us through various lenses (without ever using the word “lens”). By scheduling time for questions and answers at each station, we could assess not only how well the experts knew their stuff, but whether the rest of the participants were employing their new found lenses to ask deeper, richer questions. When answers weren’t apparent, we did some thinking out loud about what might be. In short, we had a wonderful day of teaching and learning in the field. Which is only fitting, as “the field” is where questions about ecosystems, and life itself, were first pondered.
Nancy Taylor was a part of the Exploring STEM Careers Initiative with San Diego State University. David Polcyn is a Professor of Biology at California State University, San Bernardino, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Terrie Perez is a science teacher at EmSTEAM Middle School.
Summer 2015 was the first opportunity that Nancy, Terrie and David had the pleasure of working together on “cadre”. We had a wonderful time planning the summer institute, each of us learning immensely from the others as we developed the first of three summer institutes devoted to working with the seventh grade teachers from across southern California. And we thoroughly enjoyed working with each other and with a wonderful group of devoted seventh grade teachers during the week-long institute. It is with great sadness to report that, not long after our 2015 summer institute ended, Nancy Taylor lost a long, determined fight with cancer. She was a scholar among scholars, a dear friend and role model to countless educators, and above all a dedicated and skilled teacher who touched the lives of countless thousands of students. She will be missed by many, and although our world is impoverished by her loss it has also been enriched beyond description by her presence.
Editor’s Note: Nancy Taylor’s motto, Onward, was the inspiration for the California Science Education conference pre-conference day, Onward – Leading the NGSS Implementation Your District, debuting this year. We are proud to name this day, intended to support science leaders, in her honor.
Link to article on Nancy http://sdsa.org/the-loss-of-a-stem-education-and-community-leader-nancy-taylor-3/.
Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.
At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ai/infomeeting.asp.) Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
by Carol Peterson
1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/google-offers-360-degree-tours-of-us-national-parks/. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!
Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award
The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Peter A’hearn
NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?
The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt
Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…