Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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Case Studies in Science Education

Audrey, Year One — Grade 8

Teacher Profile

Name Audrey
Experience 13 years
Grade & Subject(s) Grade 8; science and social studies
Classroom 3 sections; 90 students total; 90% African-American and Hispanic
Demographics Middle school in an inner city setting
Science Teaching 90 minute sessions on alternate days of the week
Curriculum Developed by the teacher
Other Third year teaching middle grades. Background is in social studies and elementary education

Contents



Module 1 - Introducing the Case

Audrey wants to empower her students to think and to speak for themselves in all areas of learning, including science. Building a science curriculum and connecting science teaching and learning with students' lives challenge Audrey, whose background is social studies. Because the district-wide science curriculum is in transition, Audrey is left largely on her own to decide what to teach her students.

Early in the year, Audrey's students participate in activities at science center, which Audrey has set up in the classroom. Students work together, following directions for six activities that Audrey has found in science activity books. Audrey pushes her students to take their ideas and discoveries one step further, working all the time toward her goal of empowering her students, in this case, by trying to foster self confidence and enthusiasm, which Audrey believes will be requisites for high school science.

We see further evidence of this goal when Audrey's students explain their exhibits to visitors at the science fair. By explaining what they have learned, students gain the experience of speaking for themselves and explaining their understandings. Audrey searches for other ways to help her students believe that they can succeed.


Work Station Activity

Students work together at six science centers, conducting hands-on explorations of varied science topics. Participation at the six work stations spans one class session.


Discussion Questions

What do you observe to be Audrey's strategies for making connections between science and students' lives?




Where do you think a knowledge of science fits into the "real world" that confronts students today?




How would you develop a curriculum that includes the needs and goals of your students?





Module 2 - Trying New Ideas

Audrey seizes the opportunity for students to make connections between some of the big ideas in science with the school's current theme of African-Americans. Moving from single session activities, Audrey moves toward theme-based learning.

Groups of students look to historical accounts and identify some of the inventions of African Americans. Each group selects an inventor and then focuses on his or her invention. Audrey assigns each group to present a skit or demonstration that shows the group's understandings of the invention. Audrey sees this communication of what students have learned as another way to empower them with the belief that they, as African Americans, can make meaningful contributions to science.

Audrey senses a growing comfort with the give and take of learning science between herself and her students. This "teach me" approach can be used as a way for students to explain their scientific understandings to Audrey and to other students.


Inventor Research Project

Groups of students research an African American inventor and then give presentations of the importance of his or her invention to the full class. Within the presentations, students must identify the scientific discipline involved and the major scientific concepts and then demonstrate a basic understanding of one or more concepts.


Discussion Questions

Given Audrey's goals for her students, what do you consider to be the strengths of the African American inventions unit? The weaknesses?




When do you think strategies for building self esteem detract from strategies for building a sound knowledge of science? When do these strategies support one another?




How would you develop a curriculum where you were as much of a science learner as your students?





Module 3 - Reflecting and Building on Change

Audrey embarks on a unit new to herself and her students by using a "teach me" approach. Students collect and bring to class newspaper articles and then discuss how they relate to the environment. Audrey's goal is to help her students understand and appreciate science in its global, or community, sense. After suggesting to students that they will again participate at science centers that she will set up, her students clamor to be the decision makers in the environmental topics that are to be explored and the manner in which their findings will be reported.

Audrey admits that the task of tracking this more unwieldy activity was monumental. To Audrey, this effort pales in comparison with the extent to which the students feel empowered to research and share with the community their understandings of such environmental topics as the ozone layer, acid rain, and energy. This empowerment is evidenced by the group presentations that exemplify the environmental issues and questions that framed the study.

In keeping with Audrey's sense that students need to be connected to the larger community, each group wraps up their presentations with an activity that students can do within their own community to address an environmental issue.


Environmental Studies Report

Students research and prepare reports on why a particular environmental issue is important to a community, how we as a community impact it, and what the world will be like in the year 2000, if we as a community do nothing now to address the issue. Groups offer community service projects and submit written discussions of their findings.


Discussion Questions

How does the environment unit compare to Audrey's earlier use of science centers? To the African American inventors unit?




In your opinion, what are the advantages and disadvantages of a "teach me" approach to developing a science curriculum?




How would you build in opportunities for your students to apply their learning in science to personal, social, or environmental issues?




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