Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Developing the Science Lab: Explorations That Matter

Educators and leaders at the elementary level are devoting substantial time and effort into developing the elementary science program. This investment has been going on for years with good result overall. What has happened?

  • Embedding FOSS Science Program as the main elementary program
  • Enriching FOSS with a variety of outside resources including Mystery Science, related books and videos, and child-friendly materials
  • Forwarding a minimum of three STEAM activities at each grade level
  • Yearly attention to creativity and invention in a number of ways including The Global Cardboard Challenge
  • Field studies, grants, and expert visitors
  • Environmental education events 
This has been a lot of work, work that has included the following challenges:
  • acquisition of good learning furniture including tables and storage units.
  • acquisition of countless materials
  • refiguring classroom spaces to make space for science exploration
  • refiguring schedules to make room for science learning
  • time for professional learning and preparation
  • the need to elevate students' ability to work as teams and be positive team members
New state-wide science standards and an international drive for greater science learning is forwarding this effort. What motivates the good teaching and learning most in this area, in my opinion, is students' enthusiasm for the subject. 

I spent a few hours this morning updating my efforts as I plan for next week's exploration of Mixtures and Solutions. Since the depth we are reaching for in science education is relatively new, there is the need to remind students about positive routines and teamwork strategies. It's also important to remind students of what we've learned so far and what we will learn now and into the future--that keeps the learning move along in a positive direction. Further our team uses websites to give students and families a 24-7 access to all that we do in school so that they can review, repeat, or enrich the learning after hours if desired. 

There's more to do to make these units even better including the following:
  • continue to work on apt scheduling to fit this learning in more and better
  • make time for science reading in the schedule
  • continue to integrate other subjects into the science study because that's how we'll find better and more meaningful time for the subject. 

Seeing beyond the daily drama to achieve what's possible

There will always be daily drama. This is especially true during the Trump years, years where the President baits us with shaming, blaming, exaggerating, and lies daily. It's easy to lose focus on the details of your daily work when the President of the United States threatens all kinds of troubling events, decisions, and threats.

There is also the daily drama at home and in the work place. Rarely is there a day without events to attend to--events that challenge your own family members and students, minor events, but events that demand attention nevertheless.

So how do you see and work beyond the daily drama distant and close to work towards the goals you have for your own work, family, and classroom?

As I write about often, but continue to find very challenging, it's all about how we manage and use our energy and time well. Where we focus the energy, time, and capacity to achieve what we can see out there in the distance matters.

We can't do it all. We are not superhuman. However, we can carve out time to do what we know matters most with regard to making positive change, developing strong programs, and serving students, families, and our colleagues well. Onward.

School Days Ahead: The Long Month of March

The March to April leg of the school year is a long teaching/learning period with no holidays or vacations. It's a good month to dig in and achieve a lot. After coming into the February vacation truly tired, I want to use my time well during this busy stretch so that I have the best possible energy throughout that period.

What matters?

The tension that portfolios create is because there is no official time in the curriculum program for portfolios, yet our research and experience demonstrates the strength of creating these reflection books--books that help children know themselves as learners and books that help students set goals. These portfolios serve as a vital ingredient for student-led parent conferences too and meet the latest research related to what it means to be a successful, confident, and directed learner. Portfolios are a keeper, and we simply have to push other learning aside to make room or this valuable part of the teaching/learning program.

Floor-to-Ceiling Learning
Like portfolios, there is little support for these rich, deep, research-supported learning events in the curriculum, yet we know how learning like this develops solid, positive learning. So like portfolios, we have to make time to include projects like these and respond to those projects accordingly via teacher review and student reflection and share.

Student-Led Family Conferences
We've dedicated a week to these conferences which amounts to about eleven extra hours of intense listening and sharing for each educator as family members and teachers meet to listen to children lead a conference about their learning progress, interest, reflections, and goals. These are valuable meetings, but a considerable add-on to the schedule which continues to include full days of teaching prep and experiences.

Student-Friendly Teaching/Learning Environment
A place for everything and everything in its place continues to be a goal for the classroom so that students may use the classroom environment as a rich source of ideas, tools, materials, and resources for individual and collaborative learning.

Time to Read
Our grade level efforts to increase the time for deep reading and reading enjoyment has translated to greater reading success. Of course we want to continue to forward this effort.

Science Teamwork
There's lots of science learning going on for our grade-level, and we have to stay committed to the time and effort this learning takes. The greatest challenge with the science teaching is the time it takes to prepare each lesson since the lessons are material intensive.

Math Learning
There's lots to achieve in math as well and staying the learning course here will help us to achieve those goals.

This is a busy focus for fifth grade with seven MCAS tests in ELA, math, and science.

Spring Projects
Once MCAS tests are past we move into a project-based learning end of the year including finalizing our climate change service learning projects, the fifth grade play, biography project, and global cardboard challenge.

As I consider what's to come, I realize that I have to stick to the priorities and not spend lots of time trying to fit too much into the schedule, more than is doable. Each element listed above is integral to students' academic success and happiness. These elements have been well chosen and add to the strength of the fifth grade team approach.