One of the biggest changes coming to science education is the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards. Currently around 20 states have officially adopted these standards (at the writing of this piece). There is currently a push to provide grant funding to move states to these new standards. In this post I would like to share some of my takeaways from this process. Disclaimer: I am no expert on NGSS, just a classroom practitioner learning along the way.
Engineering is no longer an extra: We used to plan fun engineering STEM activities to keep things interesting in middle school. NGSS puts problem solving and engineering at the core. There is a feel of project based learning here, with an emphasis on deep learning as we go.
Content/Curriculum sequences are meant to be baked in. If you are looking for a list of topics to teach and an order to do them, you will go nuts. The idea of cross cutting concepts is core to this topic. So rather than exploring a topic based on a discipline, like biology. We are looking at all aspects of the sciences involved. For example if we look at polar biomes. We no longer focus on the just the biology or ecology. We would also include things like weather, temperature, heat transfer etc.
The engineering design process is engaging for students. Our first NGSS unit was the asteroid impact lesson provided by Teach Engineering. This free unit was so well designed and engaged students. We used it alongside our rocks and minerals lessons with great success. Student explored the challenges of building underground shelters while evaluating various rock types. Check the unit plan here (external links).
Our goal moving ahead. As we move through this transition, our goal is to continue to build high quality instructional materials for middle school. Over-top of this, we will be designing NGSS challenges that will tie all the core content together taking advantage of cross cutting concepts and student engagement.
One of the biggest challenges we face engaging middle school students is connecting them with hands on learning. Add the hybrid nature of the Covid classroom and it becomes difficult to envision a class where exploration flourishes. In this post I would like to share one of my favorite hands on learning resources for the Middle School Classroom.
TOPS Learning Systems was created by Ronald Jay Marson. His experience was gained by teaching science and math in the West Africa as a Peace Corps. With this experience he learned to make do with limited resources. I like his resources because they don't require complex materials, paper clips and tape goes a long way. Adding his low tech materials in physical classes while pairing with dynamic online content is the perfect way to help your kids grow and learn.
For example: This week we are exploring cell respiration and energy production in cells. Using our Cell Respiration materials, we had students do a simple calorie calculation lab using a bowl of water. Students could determine how many calories were used in heating a container of water with their hands. This idea helped us make a connection between cell respiration, mitochondria, calories and heat.
Please be sure to check out Mr. Marson offerings, they can be downloaded in digital forms along with the freebies in class. We have no affiliation with his products, but wanted to pass along a good resources
The key to any middle level classroom is structure. At the start of class each day, students learn best when they have the opportunity to focus their attention on learning experiences. On the other side, middle school learners are very social and easily distracted. The ability to “start class” is essential. Bell ringers or getting started activities should have a visual or verbal cue for students. Simply saying "its time to begin" is an important step. From that point on you can engage kids. By doing this on a regular basis, students get in the habit of preparing their minds to learn. In addition you can provide visual cues. Online or face to face, I prefer a presentation slide with the days “bell ringer” Many students will enter the room or log in online and casually read your prompt. This subtle victory is very important, other kids will see this occur and they will model the same behavior. Next thing you know the class will start all by itself. You may ask the question, what kind of bell ringers do I use? There are no limits, but here are a few I like
Science during the COVID-19 pandemic has provided numerous challenges to classroom teachers. First and foremost is science requires first hand exploration of the world using physical objects (in many cases). So how do we as science processionals provide hands on learning opportunities in a way that upholds current social distancing practices and safety measures? Here's few thoughts.
The 2020 to 2021 school year has provided a boat load of challenges to teachers. All of our classroom management tools and experiences don’t necessarily fit the Hyflex learning environments that we are working in. With that understanding, I would like to provide some concepts that can help manage the workload, allow you to breathe and flourish in this highly stressful time. These are posted in no particular order, but will assist you in the management of your day to day teaching activities.
Post online assignments everyday, for every student. All students can complete online work. This saves time and efforts making two different types of lessons (one for online and one for face to face).
Have students submit in class work online. Yep, skip the paperwork. This ensures that all school work is going to the same place. No more piles of paper to grade or excuses on turning it in. Consider a program like Kami if you have PDF files and worksheets you would like your students to edit to turn in online.
Upload pictures and videos to help at home students with any in class assignments that need extra work. This is vital to your at home students. They need a greater degree of communication for their assignment, video fills the gap and helps provide important details about expectations. Use an online editing program like Screencast-O-Matic or just grab your phone and hit record. As an added benefit, it provides an extra set of instructions for your face to face students that makes reteaching super easy.
Have all your work posted for the week by Sunday night. This is an important step. It allows you to focus on the teaching portion of your class because the content is already there. This frees brain space to make a great bell ringer (like this TED talk on hand washing versus soap). Setting up safe lesson activities that are engaging and provide social distance.
Automate assignments: Some assignments require time to grade while others don’t. Be sure you are not packing your week with manually graded assignments. This is a guaranteed way to reach burn out in a hurry. With the added burdens of lesson planning, communicating with online kids, maintaining all our pandemic protocols, it's OK to build in some breathing room. I like to separate days with manually graded assignments with days that use autograded activities. Whether it's an ED Puzzle or Quizizz, these programs are enjoyable and provide rich learning opportunities for our students.
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