Science for all

TSTHow many of us have said that students don’t study enough? A more fundamental question: Do they know how to study? Teachers may assume so, especially for secondary students. Many of the featured articles in this issue focus on strategies that focus on students learning how to learn and making the language of science accessible to all.

Beyond “Hitting the Books”* has concrete suggestions for helping students develop strategies for independent study and learning, including student-created tools such as science vocabulary notecards and study decks. Reducing Stress by Improving Study Skills notes that students’ parents list homework as a major source of stress (for the students). At the secondary level, if students have 4-6 major subjects and each teacher requires at least an hour of homework, it’s no wonder that students feel stressed, at least in terms of time. The author suggests that helping students develop their study skills could relieve some stress.

The article Vocabulary, Concepts, Evidence, and Examples states that “Strategies they [students] have used in other contexts, such as fiction reading, don’t usually help in reading science content.” In the elementary years, the emphasis is often on reading speed, but science text may require a slower, more focused style of reading (and rereading) that includes features of the text such as sidebars and captions on graphics. Our elementary and reading specialist colleagues may talk about students interacting with the text they’re reading, but what could that look like in science? The authors describe and share an organizer to help students as they read (examples of student work are provided). This looks like a powerful alternative to traditional reading guides with their “read the text and answer questions approach” to a focus on what scientists would find important.

Low-level recall questions, avoiding calling on students, watering down the curriculum—unfortunately, these strategies overlook the facts that ELL students have various proficiency levels and abilities even though they may struggle at first with the English language and the language of science. The authors of Leveling Up share a description of the five levels of proficiency, including starting, emerging, developing, expanding, and bridging. They then crosscheck these proficiencies with the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy to show types of activities that can be used to make sure that students of all levels have opportunities to demonstrate remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. The article includes both a chart and a more detailed description of this framework.

It might not be enough to teach just vocabulary, especially for English language learners. “A particular stand-alone science term is like a brick in a structure of students’ understanding of science, and the language structures that connect the bricks are the mortar that holds the edifice of science understanding together.” A Brick and Mortar Approach describes language structures related to crosscutting concepts and an example of what structures relate to the process of comparing. I could see how this would be helpful to any students who struggle with the language and concepts of science.

How can we provide choices for students to demonstrate their learning? The author of Tic-Tac-Toe: An Experiment in Student Choice* adds to the literature about this strategy for  differentiating instruction. Students are given a grid of nine different ways to demonstrate their learning. They choose 3 in a row. It was interesting that in the student feedback on the strategy, the students actually suggested additional tasks that could be used! The author provides two examples in the Connections* for this issue.

At a workshop I attended at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, we received t-shirts that said “We all live downstream.” But what if you don’t live near a body of water or you and your students can’t get to one during the school day? Upstream, Downstream* shows how to simulate a water quality activity. The 5E lesson includes a scenario and how to prepare water samples that relate to the situation. “Framing the lesson within a pretend community and a hypothetical problem helps with student engagement and deepens connections between individual and business actions and the health of aquatic ecosystems.” [SciLinks: Watersheds, Water Quality, Water Pollution]

If you’re thinking of involving students in scientific argumentation, Choose Controversies Wisely. The authors list several suggestions for insuring that the activity will result in science learning. For example: choosing topics that are scientifically controversial rather than those that are religiously or politically controversial; keeping the focus at a level the students can understand and within a reasonable scope; and providing resources that address all sides of the controversy. For additional ideas on how to engage students in choosing topics and developing skills in argumentation, check out a new publication from NSTA–It’s Debatable! Using Socioscientific Issues to Develop Scientific Literacy K-12 by Dana L. Zeidler and Sami Kahn.

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