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: Saturday, January 14th, 2017
The Council of Math/Science Educators of San Mateo County will be hosting the 41st annual STEM Conference this February 4, 2017 at the San Mateo County Office of Education. This STEM Conference is the place to get lots of new lessons and ideas to use in your classroom. There will be over twenty-five workshops and a variety of exhibitors that provide participants with a wide range of practical and realistic ideas and resources to use in their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs from Pre-K to grade 12. With California’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, we are dedicated to ensuring that we prepare our teachers to take on these educational policies.
Teachers, administrators, and parents are invited to explore the many exciting aspects of STEM education and learn about and discuss the latest news, information, and issues. This is also an opportunity to network with colleagues who can assist you in building your programs and meet new friends that share your interests and love of teaching. Register online today!
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
Achieve has launched and is facilitating an EQuIP Peer Review Panel for Science–a group of expert reviewers who will evaluate the quality and alignment of lessons and units to the standards–in an effort to identify and shine a spotlight on emerging high-quality lesson and unit plans designed for the NGSS.
If you or your state, district, school, or organization has designed NGSS-aligned instructional materials, please consider submitting these in order to help provide educators across the country with various models and templates of high-quality lesson and unit plans. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
An upcoming Perry Outreach Program on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at the Orthopaedic Institute for Children in Los Angeles, CA. The Perry Outreach Program is a free, one-day, hands-on experience for high school and college-aged women who are interested in pursuing careers in medicine and engineering. Students will hear from women leaders in these fields and try it for themselves by performing mock orthopaedic surgeries and biomechanics experiments. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
by Jessica Sawko
January 2017 has proven to be a very busy month for science education policy and CA NGSS implementation activities. CSTA has been and will be there every step of the way, seeking and enacting all options to support high-quality science education and the successful implementation of CA NGSS.
California Department of Education/U.S. Department of Education Science Double-Testing Waiver Hearing
The year started with California Department of Education’s (CDE) hearing with the U.S. Department of Education conducted via WebEx on January 6, 2017. This hearing was the final step in California’s efforts to secure a waiver from the federal government in order to discontinue administration of the old CST and suspension of the reporting of student test scores on a science assessment for two years. As reported by EdSource, the U.S. Department of Education representative, Ann Whalen, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary John King Jr., committed to making her final ruling “very shortly.” Deputy Superintendent Keric Ashley presented on behalf of CDE during the hearing and did an excellent job describing the broad-based support for this waiver in California, the rationale for the waiver, and California’s commitment to the successful implementation of a new high-quality science assessment. As previously reported, California is moving forward with its plans to administer a census pilot assessments this spring. The testing window is set to open on March 20, 2017. For more information visit New CA Science Test: What You Should Know.
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
by Jessica Sawko
The early-bird registration rates for the 65th NSTA National Conference on Science Education in Los Angeles is just days away (ends Feb. 3). And as the early-registration deadline approaches excitement is building for what is anticipated to be the largest gathering of science educators (both California and nationwide) – with attendance expected to reach 10,000 or more. If you have never had the pleasure of attending the NSTA National Conference, I recommend you visit their website with tips for newcomers that describe the various components of the event. A conference preview is also available for download. Learn More…