Note: These posts were written in April 2013 as I attended the NSTA Annual Conference at San Antonio, Texas, as a New Science Teacher Academy Fellow. Due to standardized testing and a hectic schedule back at home, I am now only able to upload these posts! Sorry for the long delay.
Arrival at NSTA Conference
Greetings from San Antonio, Texas! I can’t believe that I’m here for the annual NSTA science conference! The past months have been filled with web seminars, weekly check-ins with my mentor, and working with students on mini explorations and projects. It’s quite surprising to see how time has quickly flown by, and that we’re now here for the conference!
Thank you, NSTA New Science Teacher Academy, and our sponsor, DOW Chemical Company, for this exciting opportunity. San Antonio is a beautiful place. I was fortunate to arrive early yesterday afternoon. Once I checked in, I headed back out to explore the lovely sights of San Antonio’s Riverwalk.
Wednesday’s PD Session
Today, I attended an all-day session by Anne Tweed and Cynthia Long on effective science instruction, and how to align them with the newly released Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The bulk of the morning was spent on looking at science research and discussing elements of quality NGSS instruction with other teachers, administrators, and policy-makers. Through our discussion, we realized that many of the elements we were sharing were quite similar to four factors or indicators already listed in said research: quality of lesson design, implementation, science content and classroom culture.
According to research, lessons that were rated as low-quality had one or more of the following components: activities were done for solely for activities’ sake, scholars were passive learners, and the teachers did all the work. It became clear to a lot of us that for effective science instruction to take place in our classrooms, we needed to place more emphasis on increasing academic rigor, coming up with ways to help students make sense of the content, and improve our questioning strategies.
Lessons learned and PD goals
As I discussed these elements and factors with other teachers, I realized that there were definitely a few things I need to work more on when I return to the classroom. Looking at these indicators of quality instruction, I can see both my strengths and area of improvement as a science teacher. I am strong in lesson design and content, but implementation and classroom culture can use more work.
With a compressed program back at school (read: I’m teaching a year’s worth of curriculum in half a year), I also see now that I haven’t been too strong on sense-making and wrap-ups. There is much pressure to get things done on time, and sometimes I forget the main priority— student learning! With that said, my goal is to make more time and provide more structure in my instruction to help students make sense of our lessons, labs, and activities.
One of the ways I thought about achieving this is to go back and make sure I am teaching key core ideas in a broad way rather than focusing on minute details. Another way is to end class 10-15 minutes early, chuck out those 3-2-1 exit ticket half-slips, and have students go back and free-write their thoughts about the day’s essential questions. What did they understand? What did they struggle with? How can they make connections with today’s lesson to other lessons, or with real-life events?
I think that I can also be more deliberate in my use of labs. There’s a big push to do 2-3 labs a week. Students love the labs, but what are they really taking away from them? Reflecting over the past couple labs we have completed, I realize that they weren’t truly making those vital connections between the text, their lab experiences, and the core ideas. As a new science teacher, I have been relying a lot on cookbook labs this year. I liked the idea of using 10-min or 15 -min “warm-up” or “demo” labs to introduce core ideas, and make abstract concepts more tangible for students. However, now I think deliberately pairing down the labs, and choosing longer and more inquiry-based labs would make better use of our time, and create more of an impact on student learning.