Nov 04

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Biggest Challenges Facing Science Teachers

I was so happy and honored to be asked by Larry Ferlazzo (check out Larry’s blog if you don’t read it already) to be a panelist on his BAM! Radio Network show, Classroom Q&A! We tackled the topic of solutions to the biggest challenges facing Science Teachers. It was so cool! I’ve embedded it above or you can click here to check it out.

Here’s the written response I sent Larry for the show:
What do Science teachers view as their biggest challenges and how can they best respond to them?

I have been teaching for 25 years, 19 of those years teaching Science. In that time I have seen changes in our Washington state standards to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). One of the biggest challenges facing Science teachers is engaging all of our students in learning Science while attending to ever-changing standards.

I am fortunate enough to be able to take my 6th graders to Mt Saint Helens (MSH) every year. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) show that a way Science teachers can engage their students in learning Science is by starting with a phenomenon. If we hook our students and get THEM asking questions, the inquiry process has begun and they are willing to LEARN Science. So I start every year showing the 1980 eruption of MSH and taking students to MSH. Wonderful phenomena – an active volcano! Over the years I’ve seen the Science standards that deal with volcanic activity change thusly:

2004 WA Essential Academic Learning Requirement (EALR) 1, Grade Level Expectation (GLE) 1.3.4 for grades 6 – 8:
Understand the processes that continually change the surface of the Earth. Describe how constructive processes change landforms (e.g., crustal deformation, volcanic eruption, deposition of sediment). Describe how destructive processes change landforms (e.g., rivers erode landforms).”

2009 WA Learning Standard from grades 6-8, ES3D Content Standard:
“Earth has been shaped by many natural catastrophes, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, glaciers, floods, storms, tsunami, and the impacts of asteroids. Interpret current landforms of the Pacific Northwest as evidence of past geologic events (e.g., Mount St. Helens and Crater Lake provide evidence of volcanism, the Channeled Scablands provides evidence of floods that resulted from melting of glaciers).”

Next Generation Science Standard (NGSS) Middle School (MS) History of Earth, performance expectation MS-ESS2-2:
“Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth’s surface at varying time and spatial scales.”

The standards are all very similar and I have no problem with the way they have evolved. What the NGSS has packed into its standards are what they call the three dimensions that include the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI), the Science and Engineering Practices (SEP), and the Cross-Cutting Concepts (CCC). In every NGSS performance expectation, all three dimensions are included because they should always be integrated into learning activities. In the above NGSS History of Earth performance expectation, the part where students need to explain, “how geoscience processes have changed the Earth’s surface,” is the DCI.The part where students, “construct an explanation based on evidence,” is the SEP, and the part where they use, “varying times and scales,” is the CCC.

By embedding all three dimensions into each and every performance expectation the NGSS makes it easier for teachers to plan integrated units of study for their students. Starting units of study with a phenomena to hook students and attending to all three dimensions, Science teachers will ensure that all our students become scientifically literate problem-solvers. I have hope that the NGSS will help us Science teachers respond to the challenge of engaging all our students in learning and doing Science.

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