Mix it up

As the editor notes, “You can’t just wing it” with middle-level science (or any level for that matter). Effective teachers have a variety of strategies to use, so that if one isn’t working with a group of students, another tool is ready.  The featured articles in this month’s addition describe a variety of strategies and illustrate what they “look like” in a real classroom.

Most of us don’t start a project by saying “I have a hammer and a box of nails. What can I build?” We select a goal and then choose or get the tools we need. That is the focus of Technology Techniques: Using Them the Right Way—merging the learning goals (content) with the appropriate pedagogy and technology. The author shares a link to the TPACK model, which illustrates this focus.

Scientific Inquiry Meets Storytelling and Filmmaking looks at strategies to create video lab reports. The investigation described here deals with Newton’s laws of motion, friction, and force. Students design and test model cars. So far this sounds typical, but the author also has the students video (or photograph) their work. As the culmination, the 6th graders create a video documenting the entire process. The author shares how he guides students through the entire project. [SciLinks: Newton's Laws of Motion, Friction, Forces and Motion]

Using Presentation Software to Integrate Formative Assessment into Science Instruction describes a project in which several teachers investigated how to incorporate assessment tasks into presentations. They provide the design model and a list of tasks they used, along with examples of presentation slides. I can see how this project could be adapted for any topic or grade level.

For many students, especially those who are new to a subject or who are learning English, science vocabulary can seem like a different language. I suspect that many of us used the ideas in Parts Cards: Using Morphemes to Teach Science Vocabulary without using the word “morpheme” (the smallest unit of meaning—a word part such as a root word, prefix, or suffix). Many of these have Greek or Latin origins, and I found that my students were fascinated by words. The author illustrates how to help students learn vocabulary with cards that are somewhat similar to Frayer diagrams.

If you’re interested in differentiating the instruction in your classes but concerned about how to manage the process, Creating and Delivering Differentiated Science Content Through Wikis has many suggestions. After a brief review of what differentiation is (and is not), the author provides a step-by-step guide for creating class wikis to share information, deliver content, provide opportunities for collaboration, and share assignments. Using animal adaptations as the focus, the author shares examples, guidelines, learning goals, activities, and final project instructions and rubrics for two levels of learning. [SciLinks: Adaptations of Animals, Natural Selection, Darwin and Natural Selection]

When I had middle-schoolers “teach” others about a topic, I wish I had been as organized as the author of Student Teaching in the Eighth-Grade Science Classroom. Working on the premise that “if students could effectively teach the material, then it would be an indication that they had truly mastered the content,” she provides introductory material, rubrics, and self-assessment templates that could be used for any topic (the sample lesson is on watersheds), as well as a description of how she guided the students through the process of lesson design and assessment. [SciLinks: Watersheds]

It’s hard for middle school students (and their teachers) to sit still for any length of time. The Neuron Game takes advantage of that with a lesson that embeds a movement activity into instruction in the structure and functions of neurons. Worksheets, rubrics, and diagrams of the game are provided. [SciLinks: Neuron]

It’s helpful for a teacher to know what students already know about a topic, in order to choose appropriate goals and instructional strategies. Pretests or reflecting on previous years can be helpful. The authors of Using Interviews to Explore Student Ideas in Science suggest that “interviewing” individual students or groups of students (sounds like a focus group?) can also provide information on students’ knowledge and misconceptions. The authors describe how to get started with this tool.

It’s not a new strategy, but one that is always timely—reading in science. Helping Students Navigate Nonfiction Text: Paving the Way Toward Understanding has suggestions that evolved from a collaboration between a science teacher and a reading specialist.

Even if you teach several sections of the same subject, each section has its own characteristics, so you still nee a variety of approaches.

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