If you teach science in the public schools, chances are that you teach in one of the 40 states that have adopted Next Generation Science Standards. Guiding science curriculum since 2013, these standards emphasize real-world, hands-on experiences over rote recitation of vocabulary and facts. These experiences are intended to engage students with science and engineering practices, also known as SEPs.
The Next Generation Science Standards are a great guiding principle for science education in the twenty-first century, but one simple fact stands in the way of implementing them:
Many schools prioritize math and language learning over science,
This is particularly true in financially distressed schools that desperately need to boost math and language scores to keep their funding. So, how can you be a great science teacher despite the limitations of time, budget, and administrative support?
The first rule may surprise you.
Maintain a line of sight with your students
Great science teachers keep a literal eye on their students, especially during laboratory work. Arrange the seats, desks, and equipment in your classroom and your lab so you can maintain eye contact with every student in your class. This modification won’t take a lot of time and it need not cost any money, but it can make a tremendous difference in how much your students learn.
Encourage a scientific mindset
Unless you are teaching at Hogwarts, your students can benefit from developing a scientific mindset. They can benefit from finding rational, repeatable, and testable connections between the events they observe in the natural world around them. This doesn’t mean that your job is to deflate any belief in the mysterious and the mystical. Use scientific method to make searching for the reasons exciting, always leading to the next question.
Don’t just lecture on facts. Encourage your classes to use scientific method to figure things out on their own.
The ability to nurture curiosity is the mark of a master science teacher. The reason this ability is more rare than one might think it would be is that students sustain an attitude of curiosity with successful experimentation. Teachers must choose topics that students have the scientific background, laboratory tools, and lab time to explore to a scientific conclusion.
How many of us have had a wonderfully engaging teacher who was hopelessly disorganized? Be engaging but stay organized.
This means you need lesson plans, and you need to know how much time to spend on each topic. It also means that everything needs a designated storage place in your lab, and you need to make sure reusable items and reagents are put back during every lab period.
Introduce your students to phenomenon-based assessments
It’s relatively easy to prepare students for standardized, multiple-choice exams—and the simple fact is that doing well on multiple choice exams is critically important to the success of students, teachers, and schools. But natural phenomena don’t conveniently present outcomes neatly arranged A, B, C, D.
Open-ended, phenomenon-based classroom assessments give students an opportunity to show their understanding. They don’t have to pose a stressful situation for students. For instance, a biology teacher may relate the story of buffalo on the Great Plains. Students can explain how buffalo maintained the Great Plains ecosystem, and changes in the Great Plains ecosystem affect modern buffalo.
Students used to fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice tests may be intimidated by phenomenon-based assessment. You can remove grade pressure. But students need to master skills of divergent thinking to thrive in their adult life.Modern Biology provides everything you need for hands-on learning experiences in the lab for students from middle school to college. Have questions about how Modern Biology can help you implement Next Generation Science Standards in your biology classroom? Contact Modern Biology weekdays at (765) 446-4220.