Before NSTA member Kelly O’Connor became a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher, she spent 17 years in an emergency room as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). The skills she cultivated as an EMT have transferred nicely to the middle school classroom, allowing her to provide a “real-world” perspective to the science concepts she teaches. To ensure her students fully grasp those concepts, O’Connor says she relies heavily on her NSTA membership, especially when it comes to finding ways to meet the needs of all learners.
O’Connor: I first found out about NSTA when we used the NSTA Learning Center in my Methods class as our textbook. We read so many NSTA book chapters available in the Learning Center about the nature of science, literacy, inquiry science, and how to help children construct knowledge based on novel experiences. Now that I’m in the classroom, I use what I learned in those chapters to check for understanding and to structure questions that encourage students to engage their brains and provide higher-order thinking responses.
As a member, there are a lot of amazing resources in the Learning Center if you want in-depth information about the nature of learning, styles of learning, constructivism, and how to better scaffold a lesson. For instance, I worked as a long-term sub in a district where almost half of the students were English Language Learners (ELL). I used the Learning Center to access NSTA journal articles about ways to make inquiry science more accessible to ELL students. I learned that the hands-on approach is best for students of all language abilities.
The hands-on approach was very successful in a classification unit I helped with as a student teacher. The unit was my cooperating teacher’s idea, and I looked up NSTA journal articles and sample lessons to incorporate classification activities into the unit. The students designed and built their own field guides for made-up creatures. The first thing I did was teach them about the history of classification. After students learned how to name creatures, we practiced naming a few made-up creatures. The unit took place over the course of a few weeks and culminated in students making their own field guides.
The NSTA journal articles and sample lessons I found in the Learning Center that were free due to my membership were very helpful. I also went to the NSTA Community Forums and posted, “Has anyone done this before? This is what I’m thinking of doing. What has worked for you?” I received excellent feedback from other educators.
All 150 students completed the unit and everyone completed it well. I scaled back the requirements for some learners to meet their own individual needs. For example, I had a child with a physical disability who was not capable of doing some of the work. Some students chose to illustrate their own field guides and added beautiful artwork and were very creative. The unit was a terrific way to meet the skills and abilities of all of the students and even encouraged students who didn’t feel at the time that they were good at science.
How else has your NSTA membership helped you in your career?
O’Connor: The SciPacks and SciGuides have strengthened my content knowledge. For instance, I have used the Earth, Sun, and Moon SciPack and the Atomic Structure SciPack. The SciPacks help teachers meet the needs of diverse learners because they encompass two of the three major learning styles–visual and auditory. The SciPacks are structured so that you can periodically check for your own understanding and make sure you are on the right track.
In addition, I relied heavily on the NSTA position statements (like the one on NGSS) when I was interviewing for a science teacher position. I read the position statements to make sure I was up to speed on anything that may have changed in science education in the months since I was out of school. I think that talking about my association with NSTA and preparing for the interview by reading the NSTA resources helped me get my job. I made the most of my membership, because I knew I wanted to teach science and NSTA was going to help me do that.
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Jennifer Henderson is our guest blogger for this series. Before launching her freelance career as a writer/editor, Jennifer was Managing Editor of The Science Teacher, NSTA’s peer-reviewed journal for high school science teachers.