Photo by Ali Renckens.
Middle and high school science teachers from different districts met at Louis Pizitz Middle School to discuss changing science standards and how to more effectively engage students.
Verbs are taking a central role in science class; textbooks are being thrown out, and teachers aren’t “teaching” as much as they are “facilitating” student learning.
These are some of the changes in science curriculum that middle- and high-school teachers from Hoover, Homewood, Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook discussed in a summer professional development session at Pizitz Middle School on June 15.
Although summer should be their time to relax, teachers from different grades and school districts took this time to talk about effective teaching methods they have used in their classrooms.
For example, Jennifer Brown, last year’s Alabama Teacher of the Year, mentioned one class that “adopted” a fourth-grade class. The high school students planned lessons and experiments for the younger students.
“Those juniors in chemistry and 10th-graders, they cared so much more knowing that they were planning it for a group of kids at another school,” Brown said. “It was a really big deal. It was super cool.”
This method also furthers a central goal of the new science standards: to engage the students by forcing them to take an authoritative role. This year, students will be required to plan their own experiments while the teachers help and facilitate.
“They’re having to get with their group and plan it, and that’s a big shift, but that’s real life. That’s something every person will probably have to do in their job,” Brown said.
Giving the students more authority in the classroom means decreasing the usage of traditional teaching methods, such as lectures and readings.
“In the past couple of years, one thing that has made some parents and students uncomfortable is not having a textbook,” said Jenny Firth, an eighth-grade science teacher at Pizitz Middle School. “We don’t need them to go read a book to tell them what the science is; we want them to experience and see what the science is. And then we obviously give them the correct reading support and discussion.”
“I feel like that’s real,” said Ashley Perry, a science teacher at Pizitz. “After all, a textbook is a summary of research that someone else has done.”
All the teachers agree that the chance to gather and discuss ideas for the classroom greatly benefits everyone involved. Many of the teachers said that they hope to rekindle the curiosity of students and change their mindset to wanting to explore, discover and learn instead of just knowing the right answers.
“There’s a paradigm shift,” said Pizitz science teacher Diane McAliley, who has been teaching for more than 20 years. “With a paradigm shift has to come freedom and support … teachers need to be wide open to discovery, too.”
“Some of the conversations we’ve had are not necessarily about the standards, but about how can we shift the mindset of students, parents, teachers, everybody in education, to value learning more than they value the grade,” Brown said. “The grade is absolutely important, but learning is the most important thing.”