Friday, January 25, 2019

Reviewing Science Study Efforts and Expectations

Fifth graders in Massachusetts take a test in the spring that covers all state science standards from grades K to 5, that's a lot of standards. It's a challenge to prepare students for these tests, math and ELA tests, and to teach in deep, enriching, and meaningful ways. How do we fit all this teaching in?

We try to maximize every opportunity we have to synthesize good energy, supports, materials, and teaching. For example today we have the support of many eighth graders who are coming to our school as part of a service day. These eighth graders are our former students so it is celebratory to host them. It is also a great source of extra support so we wanted to choose a topic that's engaging, educational, and requires extra hands. Hence we decided to review fourth grade science standards related to energy with a catapult making project. Students enjoy making the simple popsicle stick catapults as they learn about kinetic and potential energy.

To remind all of us of the facts and information related to energy we'll watch an entertaining Bill Nye video about energy. Then we'll engage in a few simple activities to review the main concepts and after that we'll make the catapults, then play with them.

Other ways we fit all this science in include the following:
  • Science Rotations: Each teacher at the grade level specializes in one main topic of teaching and teaches that curriculum to all fifth graders. For example I teach the fifth grade physical science standards while my colleagues teach the life science and Earth science standards.
  • STEAM Days: We have a number of STEAM team days when the whole class engages in a hands-on STEAM project and exploration related to the K-5 science standards.
  • Field Studies: We have a number of science-related field studies including trips to the McAuliffe Challenger Center, Boston Museum of Science, and Gillette Stadium.
  • Expert Visitors: We invite local scientists to come in and teach. Recently a science educator from the local Discovery Museum came to teach students about the states of matter.
  • Grants with Local Science-Related Organizations: We work with the local Audubon association, Drumlin Farm, to teach the standards with an environmental lens and activities including outdoor explorations, in-class environmental education, and climate change-advocacy team projects. Last year we worked closely with the National Wild and Scenic River System and Audubon to teach students about their local river habitat via field studies and other educational events. Students earned their Junior Wild and Scenic River System Ranger badges. 
  • Review Slideshows: Just before the big test, students create standards-based slide shows that review the central questions and information included in the K-5 science standards.
  • Reading/Writing: Students study the ELA standards by reading and writing about science topics.
  • Local Grants: Over the years we have written a number of grants to our local WPSF to obtain materials and experiences to help us teach science more and better.
  • Stewardship Projects: Last year we worked with a local environmentalists and former systemwide teacher to clean up a three-mile area of the local landscape including the riverbank.
  • School Garden, Recycling, and Composting: Thanks to the tremendous efforts of a teacher in our school and our PTO, students engage in some school garden, recycling, and composting activities.
  • Assessments: Students take assessments in the fifth grade science standards so they and we can assess what they know and work on areas where their knowledge needs greater support. 
  • Science websites, videos, and books: We have lots of websites, videos, and books available for students to read, watch, and study on their own at home or in school to deepen their knowledge when desired. 
As I write this laundry list, I realize that we engage in a lot of science study, and now the work is to think about which elements of this study are most worthwhile, engaging, and positive with regard to our goals, expectations, and students' questions/interests. I'm sure our team will reflect on this when we meet to review our program elements. In the meantime, we'll likely write a grant or two to support this work more in the days ahead. If you have suggestions for us, please share.