Winter is here. The weather is a bit colder and daylight is dwindling. The leaves in my wooded lot are all down, with a few oak leaves left in the trees. What has changed? We adopted a new set of science standards in Michigan. It is exciting! But, it is also going to be a bit chaotic for awhile.
I have had some training over the last few months in my new job as a science consultant. It has been robust. I learned how to use the NSTA Learning Center, attended NGSX, and read countless books and journal articles; then, I spent an intense amount of time watching videos of what this new teaching looks like in a classroom. Even the term inquiry-based learning, science’s pride and joy, will need to share the spotlight with developing models and constructing an argument from evidence. (Don’t worry, they all work together.) But, I am overwhelmed. To wrap my brain around these standards almost hurts. It is a good hurt, but it is not standard operating procedure.
So, what do we do to wrap our brains around these standards? Quick answer: we teach! For the first time in a set of science standards, I have been a part of, we teach for conceptual understanding, not memorization of facts. Isn’t that every teacher’s ideal when they walk out of college? Having a classroom where students are wondering, solving a problem, thinking, developing understandings over time, participating in productive conversations, and preparing to be productive citizens was my goal from the beginning. This set of Michigan Standards, or NGSS with a bit of local flare, requires this. Pretty exciting if you ask me.
This exciting opportunity is daunting but doable. There have been amazing people prepping us for this shift for four years. We have watched and learned from other states that have adopted. We have established networks and we have made friends all over the nation. But, that isn’t enough. Every elementary teacher in the state and every secondary science teacher in the state is going to be a transformed science educator. Other than courage and patience, what else will it take?
If I can be so bold to make some suggestions:
1) Slow down, think about how you teach, and adapt what you have to a more three-dimensional approach to learning. Use a couple of science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts with students, and reflect on student learning as well as your teaching practice.
2) Learn where and how to read the standards. Use the NGSS Website and its resources. Use the Michigan Draft Guidance Support for Educators. This document includes the three dimensions of learning expected in both the teaching and assessing of the new Michigan Standards. Go to the Resource page of NGSS for the evidence statements.
3) Try to start a unit with a problem, or phenomenon, the students can’t explain but could, given time in your classroom. Sugar dancing on a stretched balloon using a speaker, a reflection in a mirror, condensation on the outside of a cup with ice, etc. This way all students are on equal footing when discussions occur, and they are all trying to solve the same problem to understand the same concept.
5) Develop a Professional Learning Network (PLN). Use whatever, or whoever, you can to improve instruction. Twitter, Google+, NSTA Learning Center or NSTA Hub are all options.
6) Lastly, be slow to anger. You probably know the reference here, and it applies. I’m sure you have heard some of these:
“Where did the real Physics go? A student needs more if they are headed to college!”
“Where do I find curriculum for free, right now?”
“You mean I have to teach Freshman?”
“Just tell me what to teach and I’ll teach it. Don’t make me decide.”
“We don’t teach science,well, just within non-fiction text.”
“I’ve been teaching for 20 years. Just give me the standards. I got this.”
I have been in the classroom for 18 years. I hear you, but these are not “mention and move on standards.” These are a shift in “HOW” we teach. This is a process that will take time, and I challenge you to take some of that time and give it a try. As some wise person told me, think marathon or Iron Man, not 5K. Don’t be discouraged, be inspired! This has so much more potential to create those teachable moments, the kind we dreamt about in college.
This post was written by Wendi Vogel, Science Consultant at Kent ISD. If you would like to read more blog posts like this you can follow her blog https://vogelwendi.wordpress.com/
Source: Back to Ideals