Tag: Elementary School Science

CollaborationElementary SciencePlanning 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!

CollaborationRocky Shore Curriculum

Hobblebush Design: Living Up to Its Name

hobblebushIf you hike or even take brief strolls in New England’s deciduous forest, you have definitely walked by a hobblebush.  This plant is humble and common, yet in May produces beautiful bright white blossoms.  Its leaves also change color throughout the year, from a brilliant green in the spring to a reddish-purple in autumn.  The publishing company Hobblebush Books and Hobblebush Design out of Brookline, New Hampshire identifies well with its name – it is a humble business that could be easily missed, but is accurately recognized as truly amazing when discovered.

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The road to Hobblebush 

When searching for a design company for the creation of the rocky shore curriculum, I was reading Poetry Showcase: an anthology of New Hampshire poets edited by our state poet laureate, Alice B. Fogel.  Admiring the book design at the same time I was enjoying the content, I discovered it was published by Hobblebush Books. A few emails and one meeting in person later, this talented independent press agreed to help me create a rocky shore curriculum that we hope will assist educators and students throughout the state and beyond!

 

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Kirsty Walker, President of Hobblebush Books & Design

 

Today I visited Kirsty Walker, president of Hobblebush Books and Design, to discuss the layout and process of creating the curriculum.  Kirsty is a great and talented individual to work with, and I am extremely happy that she will be in charge of the design of the curriculum.  She asked me my expectations of when I wanted to see the curriculum completed, and I was hesitant to answer as I was not sure if my expectations were unreasonable.  I suggested that it would be great to reflect on Christmas morning that the curriculum part of my sabbatical was completed, and thankfully she was confident that it was a reasonable request!

Here is an outline of what we will be doing over the next few months:

  1. I will be typing up lessons, one at a time, and sending them to Kirsty for editing and design purposes.
  2. I will be sharing my lessons with the New Hampshire Sea Grant program, the Seacoast Science Center, and the New England Aquarium to help with revisions and editing.
  3. I will be gathering images from both Adam Kelley, the main illustrator for this project, as well as from the Seacoast Science Center.
  4. Kirsty will be working on designing all the lessons together along with other complimentary pages, and creating one pdf file with all the content, as well as individual pdf files for each lesson.

I am so thankful for Hobblebush Design, who is “dedicated to publishing books that feature a unique voice and make a difference.”  When all is said and done, I am confident that this curriculum will make a difference, and with Hobblebush’s touch, will be unique, professional, and beautiful.

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Elementary ScienceSabbaticalStudent 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)

CollaborationRocky Shore Curriculum

Cats or Dogs? Choosing and Creating Curriculum

Choosing a curriculum is kind of like choosing between a cat and a dog.  You need to consider the following:

  1. What features does each one possess that are beneficial?
  2. What features does each one possess that are drawbacks?
  3. Which one will meet the specific family’s (school’s) needs?
  4. Which one will be productive for both parent (teacher) and child (student)?
  5. Which one will be both productive and affordable?

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Recently I’ve felt like I’m in similar “shoes” as Angela from The Office.  For those who are not familiar with this character, Angela adored her cat Sprinkles – so much so that she went to great lengths to keep it alive.  We weighed the above options because our children have been clamoring for a pet.  We came to the conclusion that a couple of kittens would be the best option for our family at this time.  But after a few weeks one kitten came down with a nasty fever – complete with kitty boogers.  I didn’t even know kitty boogers were a thing!  The other feline came down with something even worse – ringworm.  Definitely gross.

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So now our two kittens are quarantined, while I have taken on the role of Angela, giving both cats ringworm medication once a day, and one cat amoxicillin twice a day. This is going to go on for the next three weeks at least!  But do we feel like we have made the wrong decision?  No, because we considered the five options above.  Despite our best intentions and those fur balls being quite adorable, unforeseen circumstances happen.

I have been on several committees that have been a part of piloting and choosing different types of curriculum for our district.  Now I’m dealing with a different kind of animal (pun intended) – I’m making a curriculum.

Mark

Thankfully I have several talented professional experts assisting me with this project, including Mark Wiley, Assistant Director of Marine Education at the University of New Hampshire.  I recently met with Mark at his office in Lee, New Hampshire, and I am extremely thankful for his foresight and expertise.  He provided me with a number of valuable resources and ideas, and gave me direction of how to develop the rocky shore ecosystem curriculum.

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Mark equipped me with a planning model that I can use when designing and revising lessons.  It was a “planning cycle” of four categories that all need to be seriously addressed when creating a curriculum: 1) content standard, 2) performance standard, 3) pedagogy / resources, and 4) assessment and evaluation.  This model, along with his suggestion of creating a document that provides teachers with options of how to sequence activities will be quite beneficial to the preparation of the curriculum.  His vast marine knowledge will be of continuous assistance to this project.

So, as I continue to coat pills with soft salmon Meow Mix treats and feed them to our kittens, I will also work diligently to create a curriculum that will hopefully be very beneficial to both students and teachers and meet many classrooms’ needs.  I will do my best to ensure it benefits our state’s precious rocky shore ecosystem as well.

CollaborationSabbaticalStudent Teaching

The Cycle of Education: Students Becoming Teachers

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Education is cyclical.  Preschool students become elementary students.  Elementary students become middle school students.  Middle school students become high school students.  High school students become college students.  AND…college students become teachers of all of the above (some, anyway).

When examining how to improve the educational experiences of our public school students, we need to look at the collaborative efforts being made (or not made) by all of the parts of the education cycle.  To some degree, all of these institutions leveled by age communicate with one another.  This communication is vital as educators inform each other of what they are doing, so that they are ensuring smooth transitions from one school building to the next – or at least they should be.

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The one lug nut that may need to be adjusted and tightened the most in the education cycle is at the collegiate level.  I am NOT implying that education departments are not doing their jobs – far from it, actually.  What I am suggesting is that the communication and partnerships between collegiate education departments and public schools need to increase – starting with public schools seeking out opportunities to assist their local colleges and universities where there are needs.

A few weeks ago I met with Elisabeth Johnston of Plymouth State University (PSU).  The department of Early Childhood Studies at PSU is transforming the student teacher program into extremely valuable opportunities for aspiring educators.  Instead of the run-of-the-mill student teacher experience of 1) observing a classroom, 2) taking on some teaching responsibilities, then 3) teaching a classroom solo for a week or two, the program collaborated with schools around New Hampshire in order to produce better prepared teachers for our students by creating a yearlong internship.  During the fall semester the interns spend two and a half days a week and in the spring semester they will be working with the same mentor educator five days a week.

Student teachers from the Early Childhood Studies department at PSU will be able to work with public school educators from day one – actually in some instances before day one – in order to become the best first year teachers they can be.  They will work side-by-side educators to see the process of preparing for a new school year and be a part of the first several weeks of school with all of the challenges and adjustments that go with it.  Lastly, their student teaching experience of taking on the responsibilities of classroom teacher will not be a small, isolated event but another valuable collaborative opportunity in which they will work a significant amount of time in the classroom, co-teaching with an experienced mentor educator.

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This year I am excited to be working with Elisabeth Johnston and her students during my sabbatical to help better prepare them for what to expect in regards to teaching science in the primary grades.  We will also work together on the how-tos of effectively planning and implementing science instruction in the classroom.  Because the importance of assisting early childhood majors in the areas of teaching reading and math are so high, topics such as science and social studies inevitably receive less attention.

Yes, the first people responsible for guiding students teachers down the right path are their professors.  However, elementary, middle, and high school teachers and their districts should also start considering putting “help local student teachers where there is need” near the top of their list of responsibilities.  This will, without a doubt, ensure a healthier education cycle.

 

Rocky Shore CurriculumSabbatical

Time to Create and Illustrate

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If you’re going to make a book, you need a talented illustrator to make great pictures to go with it.  The PERFECT illustrator for the free rocky shore ecosystem curriculum I am creating for educators is on the job – Adam Kelley.

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The sea stars really aligned when I found out about Adam.  I contacted a publishing company in New Hampshire a couple of years ago to see if they would be willing to help me make the curriculum.  They quickly recommended Adam as an illustrator who would be a good fit for the project, and is he ever!  Despite my choice to go with a different publisher (Hobblebush Design), Adam readily agreed to continue to collaborate on this project.

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Adam describes his three passions on his website as being “science, art and education.”  He has taken his passions and talent and worked with SEVERAL incredible institutions – the Georgia Aquarium, the Connecticut Science Center, the Smithsonian, the Perot Museum, the Franklin Institute, McGraw-Hill and more!

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The best thing about Adam, however, is his character.  I’ll be honest with you – I was quite nervous meeting him for the first time.  I figured an accomplished illustrator like Adam might have an air about him which suggested my project and I were beneath him.  Was I ever wrong!  Adam is not only enthusiastic about this project, he is one incredibly kind and down-to-earth guy who loves his family, his work, and nature.

As you may have guessed, I am extremely thankful for Adam, his abilities, and his willingness to work on this project.  He is going to be creating an amazing cover page and spot illustrations for the rocky shore curriculum.  Stay tuned as I will be providing more updates on our collaboration in the near future.

Adam’s Website: http://adamjamescp.com/

 

all illustrations above by Adam Kelley

Elementary Science

My Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical Project: Advocating for Improved Elementary Science Education

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There are Band-Aid wrappers EVERYWHERE.  Why?  I have seven children, and most obtain minor scrapes on a regular basis and do not have the patience to wait for their parents to assist their needs.  So when a scraped knee or rug-burned elbow occurs most of my children get their own adhesive bandages, but unfortunately leave those pairs of silky white wrappers behind.  So what’s the problem besides a little mess?  Being independent and resolving problems on your own is a good thing, right?

The reason I applied for the Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical is because I am concerned that as educators trying to improve science instruction, we are leaving behind Band-Aid wrappers all over the place.  You see, a Band-Aid alone does not heal a wound – or solve a problem.  If my wife and I want to ensure that our child’s boo-boo is completely taken care of, the cut needs to be washed, treated with antibacterial ointment, and then covered with a bandage.

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Do not get me wrong – public education in New Hampshire is often rated as one of the top ten in our country.  Still, when looking closely at our New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) data, our students’ performance in fourth, eighth and eleventh grade in the last eight years has been stagnant.  And if you look even closer, the area of science our students are performing the lowest in is inquiry.  So, in a profession that uses data to make the appropriate adjustments to ensure academic success, we must act on these frozen stats, particularly at the elementary level.

Just as there are three steps I need to take to help my children’s cuts heal, I believe there are also three crucial steps that need to occur for New Hampshire’s stagnant science performance to be remedied:

  • Increased science training at the collegiate level
  • Increased professional development opportunities for current teachers
  • Increased science curriculum made available to teachers

More training at the collegiate level is needed so our student teachers are better prepared to teach science when they begin their career.  Educators and school administrators need to find more ways to weave science into their professional development opportunities for the sake of improving science instruction for their students.  Educators and administrators need to be creative in finding quality yet affordable curriculum for their classrooms, or diligent and productive in creating their own.

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My goal with this incredible opportunity of receiving the Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical is to help colleges and public schools focus even more on the connection they have with each other in providing quality science education to New Hampshire students.  By providing seminars and mentoring for college students, various collaborative opportunities for elementary schools, and creating a free, quality ecosystem curriculum, my hope is that this project will be a small yet effective step toward increasing our elementary students’ experiences and successes with science.