The Summer of Science

We all know that change can be scary. Choosing to teach science this coming school year, a content area I haven’t taught in many years, is downright terrifying! Science is not new content to me – I’ve taught it for 14 of the past 20 years that I’ve been an elementary school teacher. But what I’m finding daunting is implementing the new science standards. 

The only way to deal with the unknown is to dive in and explore, so that is what I’ve done this summer. My deep dive into teaching the new science standards started with learning them myself first – beginning by critically reading them. Immediately I could see that, just as with the math and English/Language Arts standards several years ago, these science standards will require a shift in typical instruction. The standards require a teacher to move from a “sage on the stage” model of the keeper of information to a model of teacher as a facilitator of student inquiry, discovery, and experiences.  A shift I see as an opportunity to help my students practice and master higher level thinking skills.

I’m hooked after my first read. I’ve always known that my students learn more through inquiry and investigations when they can question, make connections, and take ownership of their own learning, so the shift in instruction is exactly what I’ve been hoping for. 

As I re-read, I notice more differences in the standards. They have core disciplinary ideas (such as life, physical, earth/space science concepts), and cross-cut concepts that are not intended to be taught in isolation but in systems, patterns, and behaviors in our world. This immediately resonates with me because although we know learning can happen in isolation, isolated learning often does not stick. Cross-cutting concepts will enable me to integrate reading and writing skills into my instruction to support the work of my fellow teachers and provide more opportunities for my students to practice reading and writing in a content area outside of the ELA classroom, which often increases engagement.  

I also found science and engineering practices in the standards, which are not just skills but actions and behaviors students will use in the classroom and beyond.  I love the idea of transference at work here – that what we teach in our classrooms can and should be used in life beyond them.  I immediately began brainstorming more ways to integrate other content areas into my science teaching.  For example, students should be scientifically literate, and able to discuss, write, and form arguments with evidence.

My next move was to investigate what curricular resources my district has provided for me to teach these standards. Here’s where I hit a snag. My district provides an online science textbook with many bells and whistles. The problem is it doesn’t seem aligned to these standards but instead, is aligned to the old standards from years ago. Many of the concepts in the new standards are not addressed in my district-adopted text. Upon inquiry, I was told that the district is in the midst of the curriculum adoption process. But district committees take time to provide curricula resources and I’ll have kids in front of me in a few short weeks.   

High-quality, aligned materials are critical to properly implement these standards. I need a curriculum with materials and resources embedded to give my students the greatest access to high quality instructional activities so they are learning the concepts and skills aligned to the standards.  As excited as I am to implement these more challenging standards this school year, I will also remain hopeful that I will have a quality aligned curriculum to use with my students.  To deliver high quality instruction, educators need materials that provide choice, relevance, access, and engagement. And our students deserve it!

Beth Maloney is currently in her twentieth year of teaching and enjoys every minute of her time in the classroom teaching fifth grade. Beth is a renewed National Board Certified Teacher and a Candidate Support Provider for other teachers undergoing certification. She is the past-president and co-founder of the Arizona National Board Certified Teachers Network and a blogger on Stories From School Arizona. Beth is the president and founder of the Arizona Chapter of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. Beth holds a doctorate in higher and post-secondary education and is honored to be the 2014 Arizona Teacher of the Year.