Elementary Science, Uncategorized

Our Solar System Unit: Learning At Its Best

 

IMG_9455Our third grade solar system unit is more than just another teacher-made, elementary school science unit – it is learning at its best.  Why?  Because it is a whole child approach to education.  This unit does not just address the academic needs of our students.  It presents students with a variety of opportunities to develop and succeed, with the collaborative efforts of educators, families, community members, and local organizations.

There are five main characteristics of this unit that make it so successful:

  1. Interdisciplinary Teaching
  2. Utilizing Local Resources
  3. Collaborating with the School Community
  4. Character Building
  5. Culminating Event

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Our outer space unit is a prime example of interdisciplinary teaching.  We take our science theme and spread it throughout multiple academic disciplines.  We read, write, explore data, study historical figures, create artwork, utilize a variety of technological devices and programs – all involving outer space.

 

IMG_9360-001The culminating event of this unit (which will be described soon) requires accessing amazing local resources.  One of them is the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center.  This fabulous organization is dedicated to providing valuable learning opportunities to visiting schools.  More recently we have had the privilege of securing the services of the New Hampshire Astronomical Society (NHAS).  One of their volunteers, Steve Rand, has visited our school on multiple occasions to provide wonderful presentations and assist us with stargazing experiences.

This unit would not be possible without the collaboration of many school community members.  The long list of people that help make this incredible unit a reality include: the principal, several teachers and paraprofessionals, the nurse, the secretary, the media specialist, the bus driver, the janitors, the kitchen staff, the technology integrator, the art teacher, and more!  And last but certainly not least – we are extremely grateful to the abundant amount of family members of our students who volunteer their time and resources to make this unit and its culminating event a success.

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How does character building come into existence when students are learning about outer space?  In many ways.  First off, students are often working in pairs and groups to accomplish various tasks during this unit.  The ability to work well together is often discussed, practiced, and reflected upon.  Also, the topic of space exploration inevitably covers many facets of building character such as teamwork, courage, perseverance, and grit.  Lastly, when preparing for an entire day of different educational experiences, our students are consistently reminded of their school’s code of honor, and how this code still applies outside school walls.

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Thankfully, as our solar system unit comes to a close, it is not met with sadness but extreme excitement instead.  The “24 Hours of Space” is this unit’s famous culminating event.  Students get to experience an entire day, from Friday morning to Saturday morning, of outer space learning and fun. The day’s itinerary includes a field trip, crafts and games, presenting three completed projects, a potluck dinner, an NHAS presentation, stargazing, and a space-themed movie and school sleepover.  One of the most important aspects of this event is that it presents several opportunities for students to show off, and be proud of, what they have learned throughout the unit.  In many ways during this day their learning becomes much more valid; meaningful.

This year I received an email the day after our “24 Hours of Space” from the mother of one of my students.  She wrote that as her son was leaving the school on Saturday morning, he remarked that our “24 Hours of Space” was “the best day of my life.”  I have received numerous emails and cards that include similar sentiments over the last decade I have helped lead this event.  Comments like these are proof of this unit’s success and importance.  It truly is learning at its best.

Collaboration, Elementary Science

Coast Encounters of the Best Kind

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Who doesn’t enjoy a good tide pooling excursion?  There are so many fascinating and unusual creatures to be found existing solely at the rocky shore.  Kids and adults alike find this ecosystem extremely intriguing.

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Yet the majority of visitors to the rocky shore know very little about the animal and plant organisms they are discovering.  If you wish to explore New England’s rocky shore, you should definitely look up Coast Encounters before going on your next New England coastline journey…you will not regret it!

IMG_3246-001This past Sunday I had the pleasure of experiencing a Coast Encounters excursion.  Carol Steingart, a marine science educator, started her Coast Encounters business around twenty years ago.  She provides intertidal programs that include educational expeditions for small groups at the rocky shore, as well as onsite programs at schools and other locations.  Steingart is very passionate and knowledgeable about the intertidal ecosystem and its algae and creatures.

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Two of my sons (along with another family) enjoyed spending a beautiful Sunday afternoon with Steingart in Kennebunk, Maine. “Coastal Carol” did a great job of preparing everyone for their wet and rocky journey by ensuring they had adequate footwear and a good understanding of how to navigate this precarious, slippery ecosystem.

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Steingart guided us through the intertidal region from creature to creature and algae to algae, providing many fascinating details about each organism that were found.  Our three hour program was so full of facts and fun that it was hard to coax my boys from the shore when our journey was over.  We thoroughly enjoyed the view, the organisms, the adventure and our great educator!

If you want to learn more about “Coastal Carol” and Coast Encounters, the “Tourist News” recently wrote an in-depth article.  You should also check out Coast Encounter’s website and Facebook page!

 

Collaboration, Elementary Science, Planning Instruction

Friday was Sci-Day

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Yesterday was chock full of science!  Thanks to Kevin Johnson, the Hillsboro-Deering School District’s Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Coordinator, I had the privilege of working with his district’s Vertical Science Team during the day.  It was a professional development day for their teachers, and I had the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions with their educators on how they could assist their elementary colleagues with enhancing science education.

The team was composed of a group of talented and determined individuals – Joseph Donnelly, Brian McGinn, Carolyn Stiles and Sam Brown.  Dialogue revolved around adapting science units to correlate with the Next Generation Science Standards, providing elementary teachers with the necessary resources to instruct effectively, and making efforts to ensure adequate time was allotted to meet elementary students’ science needs.

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After spending the morning in Hillsboro I then traveled to the school I’ve been teaching at for the last nine years, Kearsarge Regional Elementary School in Bradford.  It was the third grade’s annual “24 Hours of Space,” and I wanted to be a part of this incredible, educational tradition.  For those elementary educators looking to enhance their science lessons, one piece of advice I can provide is to create a culminating event to celebrate the conclusion of a unit of study.  “24 Hours of Space” is a prime example.

What is this event?  The third graders at KRES at Bradford learn about outer space, specifically the solar system, for several weeks.  The last day of the unit includes the following:

  • a morning field trip to the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center
  • an afternoon at the school full of space-related crafts and games
  • a time to present projects they created during the unit to their families
  • a potluck dinner at the school’s cafeteria
  • a program put on by the New Hampshire Astronomical Society (NHAS)
  • a time to stargaze in the school’s playground
  • a space-related movie in the school’s multi-purpose room
  • a sleepover in the school’s multi-purpose room

For many children this is one of the most memorable days of their elementary student years – and it is all made possible by the many volunteer hours put in by families and colleagues, the hard work and invested time of the third grade teachers, and the support of the administration.

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Lastly, this occasion would not come close to being as meaningful as it is to students if they had not had the significant opportunities to learn about the subject of outer space before participating in their many space-themed events.  Why?  It is because this culminating event is a chance for students to take what they have learned and apply it to real-life circumstances.

Well done Mrs. Corbyn and Ms. Purington, Principal Spadaro, family volunteers, volunteers of the NHAS, employees of the planetarium and other behind-the-scenes individuals that made this wonderful day a reality for the third graders!

Collaboration, Elementary Science, New Hampshire Science Education

New Hampshire Working Toward Stronger Science Education

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This past Monday was an experience I wish all parents of public school students and their fellow community members could have witnessed. It was a remarkable spectacle of dozens of science educators, curriculum coordinators and administrators from every region of New Hampshire (including a few postsecondary faculty) collaborating enthusiastically and thoughtfully on how to improve science education for all schools in our state. Outside distractions were checked at the door and an analytical and energetic mindset was put forth in the process of determining what was best for New Hampshire educators to meet their students’ science education needs.

Every eight years there is a New Hampshire Science Credentialing Standards review. This is an analysis of the current state standards for credentials in science to determine if necessary changes need to be made. This year is that year, and it just so happens that it coincides with the initiation of the new NH Career & College Ready Science Standards. You can read about the adoption of these new standards HERE.

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Considering these new standards are different from our state’s previous K-12 Curriculum Frameworks for Science in that they are designed to address the pedagogical and scientific advances over the past several years, as well as provide deepened inquiry experiences for students at all grade levels, it is imperative that the state standards for credentials be examined and adjusted where appropriate.

What are the state standards for credentials? They are the standards that have been established to determine whether or not a candidate attempting to receive an educator license has the appropriate knowledge and skills. When investigating the state standards for credentials for incoming educators, current educators of Monday’s standards review worked diligently to determine the changes that needed to be made and mindfully considered each word of each modification and addition. This review is necessary in ensuring that the candidates that are being accepted for educator certification are specifically qualified for those teaching positions. Suggested changes could also help to define direction for professional development opportunities for our current science teachers.

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Elementary School Fossil Dig, Bradford, NH

One position’s certification standards that are being closely examined are that of the elementary teacher. Although the elementary education certification requirements are not up for review this year, they were still meticulously inspected by a subcommittee of committed elementary educators. This was done so that a full review of all science involved teaching credentials could be accomplished and with the active engagement of experts at all primary, elementary and secondary levels.

The subcommittee that I had the privilege to be a part of looked at the current certification standards as well as the possibility of creating the standards for an elementary science specialist certification. This examination was done in order to take the first steps toward adjusting the credentialing standards so that new elementary educators are more prepared to teach science (as college education programs must also adjust to meet the preparation requirements set forth by the state) at the elementary level. The potential proposal of an elementary science specialist position would be another strong effort toward bolstering science education in our state.

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Barbara Hopkins, Director of Science Education, NH

Monday’s Subcommittee of the Professional Standards Board (led by Barbara Hopkins, our state’s new Director of Science Education, and William Ross, Education Consultant of NH’s Department of Education) took into account several aspects before making any suggestion of change, including the different challenges each region of New Hampshire faces, as well as the various compositions of schools and districts throughout the state. There are still two more meetings scheduled and a lot of collaboration in between before this committee completes their recommendations to the Professional Standards Board, who in turn review and recommend to the NH State Board of Education for approval. Still, this first meeting was a tremendous first step toward strengthening NH’s science credentialing standards and securing a stronger science education future for our children.

Elementary Science, Rocky Shore Curriculum

Rated 5 out of 5 (Sea) Stars: An Exceptional Educational Resource

img_5815New Hampshire educators have an incredibly valuable resource right at their fingertips.  It is unknown to some, but should be known to all.  Why?  Because it provides quality programs led by experienced and passionate educators at very reasonable costs.  These programs consist of a wide range of topics designed for all age levels – kindergarten through adults.  They provide presentations and hands-on activities that combine to produce meaningful educational experiences.  AND, to top it all off, this resource comes to you!

What is this “sounds too good to be true” resource?  The University of New Hampshire Marine Docent Program.  I know firsthand how great these educational programs can be because our school has hosted their programs and educators for the last decade.  Check out all they have to offer HERE!

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A significant sign of a worthwhile educational institution is one that continuously seeks to improve and adapt to the needs of today’s students and teachers – the UNH Marine Docent Program is one such institution.  I recently had the pleasure of being part of a focus group of teachers who have utilized the docent programs in and outside of our classrooms.  The purpose of our focus group was to provide the docents with feedback regarding the strengths of their program, and what steps we felt they could take to enhance their lessons even more.

The UNH Marine Docent Program’s initiative to improve has three main objectives: 1) to provide programs that utilize best practices for student learning, 2) provide programs that align with the Next Generation Science Standards, and 3) provide avenues for effective integration into the teacher’s curriculum.

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I can assure you that with this new initiative taking place, the UNH Marine Docent Programs will transform from already “great” to “exceptional.”  If you are a NH educator, definitely do yourself a favor and take advantage of one of these programs as soon as possible.

Elementary Science, Sabbatical, Student Teaching

Plymouth State University Collaboration, Part One

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Whenever you do something for the first time, there is always a mixture of excitement and nervousness brewing inside.  The amount of anxiety and anticipation is dependent upon the imminent venture, of course.  Last week, when I was teaching my first college class at Plymouth State University (PSU), my ninety percent excitement level turned into about a ninety percent anxiety level quickly when some of my corny jokes and 80’s references fell flat.  However, the students at PSU were remarkable and respectful learners and Dr. Elisabeth Johnston was an excellent educational collaborator – and I am pretty sure my lesson was clear and well-received.

The main title of my lesson was “What to Expect When You’re Teaching Science.”  I created the title with the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book in mind (having seven kids requires books like that in your household).  This lesson outlined one of my main objectives during this sabbatical year: to help better prepare student teachers for their future science teaching experiences.  Here is one statistic from a 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education that vividly shows the need for more science professional development for future and current elementary school teachers:

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Eighty-one percent of elementary teachers perceive themselves as very well prepared to teach reading, whereas 39% of elementary teachers perceive themselves as very well prepared to teach science!  Perception is important, because if you do not feel prepared to do perform a task, when faced with that task you more than likely will not fare well.  Our students need us to feel and be prepared to teach every academic subject.

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Despite the State of New Hampshire being continually lauded for being in or around the top ten in academic subject ratings compared to the rest of the United States, there is still data out there that shows that there is definitely room for improvement.  The one area of science in which students need the most growth in is inquiry skills.  The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) defines inquiry skills as “practices,” using a term that covers both the content knowledge and inquiry skills required to successfully solve a problem and / or design a better solution.  Inquiry skills (or practices) are the students’ ability to “formulate questions and hypothesize, plan investigations and experiments, conduct investigations and experiments, and evaluate results.”* Considering this definition, is there any wonder then as to why future (and current) educators need a lot of experience and training to teach science effectively?

Here are ten tips I developed to help early childhood student teachers be better prepared for science instruction (available here as a pdf).  I believe it can assist current elementary educators as well:

  1. Seek out science professional development opportunities
  2. Advocate for beneficial curriculum and supplies
  3. Refine science units and student experiences continuously
  4. Elevate your profession by knowing the data and taking action to improve science education where necessary
  5. Embrace students’ questions and allow for discovery
  6. Excel in your science knowledge to teach effectively
  7. Allow mistakes and messes
  8. Reflect on your students’ successes and failures as well as your own – and act upon them
  9. Request observations and feedback on your science instruction performance
  1. Strive for science to be an enjoyable and successful experience for all of your          students

I’ll conclude this post with a 1987 movie clip from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles that I played for the PSU students, as one example of what teaching science is like when unaware that you’re unprepared:

*definition from New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP)

Elementary Science, Rocky Shore Curriculum

Why the Rocky Shore?!

Why the rocky shore?  Why learn about the rocky shore?  Why teach about the rocky shore?  Why dedicate an entire year to creating and distributing a curriculum on the rocky shore?  These are questions I have been asked and hope to answer in this succinct article.

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Let me first say this: I chose to invest numerous hours after school, during my kids’ practices, after my kids’ bedtimes, on weekends and during holidays for two years to receive the Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical.  I did this because I felt very strongly that elementary school teachers need more 1) science curriculum, 2) science professional development, and 3) science instruction at the collegiate level.  I also did this because I felt very strongly that elementary school students need improved science instruction and curriculum.

One way I felt I could assist elementary science educators in New Hampshire and beyond was by creating a quality curriculum at an excellent price (free).  I initially chose the rocky shore because I am knowledgeable about the rocky shore, I love to teach about the rocky shore, and my students have always loved learning about the rocky shore.  And one more thing: almost every grade in elementary school learns about ecosystems.

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To be honest, there are a plethora (wanted to fit that word in somewhere) of reasons why I chose the rocky shore, and even more reasons as to why the rocky shore should be taught to all New Hampshire schoolchildren.  But for sake of time, I have compartmentalized all of these reasons into three large categories:

    1. Significance – the rocky shore is an extremely important ecosystem.  The rocky shore is rich with animal life and plant life that impacts mankind in major ways.  Since this is supposed to be a succinct article I’ll be brief: we eat lots of mollusks, crustaceans and fish.  We also consume a lot of seaweed (i.e. ice cream), and use it in many ways, too (i.e. lotion).  Oh, and are you concerned about the rainforest?  Just remember that phytoplankton produces at least 50% of our oxygen!
    2. Relevance – the rocky shore is an ecosystem in New Hampshire.  It is a part of our state, which means we are responsible for it.  The rocky shore is where the land meets the sea, which means it is where the people meet the sea.  It is an ecosystem that is highly susceptible to human contact, and since it is so important to us (above) we should definitely be treating it right.  And out-of-sight may mean out-of-mind, but it certainly doesn’t mean out-of-contact when it comes to the watershed.  Know of a river near you, New Hampshirite?  Yep, that eventually drains into the rocky shore!
    3. Abundance – the rocky shore is an educational paradise.  Here is an incomplete list of a vast quantity of valuable learning topics the rocky shore ecosystem holds: interdependence, competition, adaptation, community, conservation, short term & long term changes, invasive species, photosynthesis, predator-prey relationships and more.  On top of that, the rocky shore is an engaging environment that is accessible to many, so many students not only have the opportunity to learn facts, but to observe facts as well.  And if not, programs like the UNH Marine Docent Program can help.

That is why I chose the rocky shore in a nutshell (seashell).