Last school year was one of the most difficult school years of my young professional career. I was faced with a group of students that were dealing with some mental health issues, crummy home lives, and an expectation that I hold their hand through everything. I wished I would have known this going in. I approached the year like any other except for the excitement of NGSS! My plans were big and expectations even bigger. Little did I know that I was in for a year of hard lessons.
Lesson 1: I underestimated the challenges.
We jumped right in with NGSS SEPs and talked to kids about how we would be developing these throughout the year. We looked at the progressions and determined that we were in the lower elementary years and no where near the 7th grade levels. We agreed that it was OK and we would spend the year working on them while focusing on improvement. What I didn’t take into consideration was how difficult this would be. Students have “learned” a certain way for 6 years and have developed habits that are HARD to break. My frustration would often show with the students I couldn’t afford to lose. I spent the rest of the year working to earn their respect and trust.
Lesson 2: Earning the respect of my students.
I screwed up with several students. Once I realized that I was the problem we sat down and talked. I made the changes they requested. It was amazing to see how this impacted the kids as well as me. This year’s students will have a better teacher then my students did last year.
Lesson 3: NGSS is DIFFERENT
My students wanted the answer, the right way to do _______, and reassurance that they were doing it correctly. When they struggled they would give up. This was different then just teaching kids facts to memorize. I knew right away that I couldn’t do this alone. I began to work with several teachers in the district to bounce ideas off of and learn from their experiences. I also sought out a Professional Learning Network through social media. Following blogs and twitter feeds like #ngsschat, and #Sci4allSs allowed me to learn from teachers and experts from around the country. They gave me a new perspective and reminded me the importance of the Framework for K-12 Science Education. This was a must read this summer and really helped me understand the standards.
Lesson 4: Students are the key
I know this shouldn’t have been a lesson, I should have known this. While participating in Next Generational Instructional Design Network this summer we did an activity called Shark Tank. I love the show but did not think the same for this activity. We were going to begin the planning of a unit and then pitch our ideas to students. In my head I envisioned the students coming in and being yes people because they were scared to tell a table of adults their true thoughts. I didn’t expect quality feedback and believed it would be a waste of time. I WAS WRONG. As we shared ideas you could read so much into the student’s facial expressions and responses to our questions. Their passion for people, community service, and helping showed through in a way that I never imagined. For me they changed the focus of the unit from very straight forward to engaging students. This was not something difficult and it did not take a lot of time, but the ramifications of these conversations allowed us to make changes and move forward on a truly engaging NGSS 3D learning experience.
What is new this year.
- A renewed excitement for getting to know my students and allowing them to drive the learning.
- I will be more patient with my students and work through their learning habits to get them to be independent thinkers and problem solvers.
- A true focus on phenomena based instruction while using all three dimensions (Cross Cutting Concepts, Science and Engineering Practices, and Disciplinary Core Ideas)
- An increased presence on social media
- Inviting students into weekly planning meetings and allowing them to share their opinions on what we have created. If they can’t get engaged then we MUST do something different. My hope is that this will also empower them to have conversations with their other teachers…
- I want to support the elementary teachers in our feeder schools and work with my department to bring back a passion in science education.
Hope everyone has a fantastic year and I look forward to learning with you.