Starting over with my curriculum objectives and a renewed commitment to teach in a more relevant way is my goal for my summer reflective work. I've put myself out there because I claimed (and I really do believe this) that if I teach in a more authentic way, student learning will continue as it has in the past AND it will increase because of more student engagement and through the use of higher thinking skills.
Doesn't that sound like quite a hypothesis?
Like any good science teacher I've been considering how I will test out my belief. And wouldn't this be an optimal time to figure it out and have some "proof" to bang on all those out there that think kids do best in a high stakes testing environment.
The biggest trouble middle schoolers have is making inferences from the evidence they collect in labs and/or in what they read. They can't jump from the finding an answer that is "right there" to putting a couple of things together in order to come to a conclusions. Part of this problem is that science can be "boring" if it isn't anchored in reality.
Knowing this made me think what does every 6th grader want to know the first day of class? Unfailingly they ask me if we're going to blow something up!!! When we will get to that? they want to know. I always have to tell them that we don't blow anything up and they slump down in their seats. While I'm still not sure we'll blow anything up, I will capitalize on that love of destruction and use an overarching theme of natural disasters. Under this umbrella we can start with hurricane season in August and I can teach all of my weather, atmosphere and climate objectives....tying everything in with density and convection currents. Next we'll take up earthquakes/volcanoes and cover all the earth science topics in tectonics, weathering and erosion. Not long after that, it will be time for tornado season where we live and we'll go back to weather and layer on forces; retouching conversion of energy.
So I'm working hard to create more scaffolding kinds of moments (lots more discussion with incremental size pieces) and finding community based partners that can make the science come alive. I know we won't have money for field trips, so I'm working on finding ways to visit these business/resources in the after school hours as an option. it's the only way I can think of to solve this problem. Now I have to find ways to connect to business and/or community based problems that tie into natural disasters. Hurricanes will be my only stretch since there are very few in Kansas....although sometimes our weather is affected by hurricanes in the Gulf. But we're right on target for tornadoes and earthquakes.
Scaffolding really holds the key I think. And I've been hard at work trying to break apart the scientific method in teachable pieces....'cuz we all know if you bite off too much at once with students that have little science in the elementary schools they'll flounder. NSTA has put out a terrific book on science notebooks that I sort of using as a framework for part of what I'm doing. I'm partnering that information with what I learned about scientific argumentation during a yearlong action research project.
You know...it's all going to come down to the process of ideas. And with middle schoolers that has to be through small group discussions, info brought forward to whole class discussions and TIME. Lots of time to think about an idea, figure out what each kids thinks in their own head, compare that to their lab partners and the rest of the class...and then refine and improve those ideas over and over. I think that's really a habit of mind...right?