Tag: New Hampshire Elementary Science

CollaborationNew Hampshire Science EducationStudent Teaching

Franklin Pierce University Collaboration

img_5480This past week has been a flurry of activity that did not involve interacting with a computer for several hours a day.  Don’t get me wrong – I am THOROUGHLY enjoying creating a rocky shore curriculum, but it is also very exciting to get back into the classroom and work toward improving science instruction and performance at the elementary level.

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I recently had the privilege of collaborating with Franklin Pierce University’s professors and students.  Professor Doug Gilroy asked me to speak to his Scientific Inquiry and Teaching Methods class, and Dr. Jacqueline Kelleher requested that I talk with the university’s Education Club.  I also had the wonderful opportunity to discuss science and education with the Education Division Chair, Dr. Alana Mosley.

Last Thursday Professor Gilroy’s class focused on learning about what to expect when teaching science at the elementary level.  We covered science instruction, curriculum, professional development and inquiry-based learning.  We also looked at data from surveys like the one below that indicate an overwhelming lack of preparedness elementary teachers believe they possess in terms of teaching science at the elementary level.  This led to positive conversation on what we can do to change that educational shortcoming.

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Professor Douglas Gilroy & FPU Students

Yesterday Professor Gilroy’s class conversed about how to create and plan instruction that promotes engagement and inquiry.  We reviewed different strategies that invoke inquiry, and we also discussed the biggest challenges educators face when attempting to engage their students.  I shared with students my instructional planning method and classroom management fundamentals which can be found on the homepage of this website.

I also had the privilege of meeting with FPU’s Education Club last night.  This was a potential lecture that turned into a question and answer session, and I appreciated this time immensely.  Students were able to ask me any question they wanted regarding education and I attempted to answer them as comprehensively and honestly as possible, because, I believe, collaboration between school districts and postsecondary schools needs to increase and improve in order to comprehensively prepare new teachers to face the many challenges educators encounter today.

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Dr. Jacqueline Kelleher & FPU      Education Club Members

The Education Club asked very thoughtful, challenging and detailed questions on topics ranging from instructing students with diverse learning needs to IEP meetings to collaborating with parents to teacher evaluation processes and performance-based pay.  I am hoping I provided adequate answers that will assist their work now as student teachers and beyond into their teaching careers.

One last aspect that needs attention regarding this collaboration with Franklin Pierce University: yesterday morning I was writing back and forth with the Department of Education and a member of the Subcommittee of the Professional Standards Board, Casey Sylvain, sixth grade teacher at Grantham Village School.  We are working on creating new elementary education science certification standards for New Hampshire educators in efforts to better prepare new teachers and to help guide future science professional development for current elementary educators.

When I explained to the new Director of Science Education, Barbara Hopkins, that I was not going to be able to physically attend the meeting in Concord because I would be working with Franklin Pierce University I discovered an incredible connection:  Barbara Hopkins’ alma mater (Class of 1977) is Franklin Pierce University.  Also, Barbara Hopkins was the 1998 Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical recipient for her project on the development of a scientific instrument sharing system.

How cool is that?!

Elementary ScienceRocky 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).

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.