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Discussion: Science Instructional Materials for Middle School: Informing Future Initiatives

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posted by: Ron DeFronzo on August 17, 1999 at 1:25PM
subject: Middle School Science
My background. We are an elementary local systemic change project in its
fifth year of working with 600 elementary teachers using STC and FOSS kits.
We have a great materials resource center supporting 13 districts with over
2000 kit rotations per year. We are just getting into middle school science

I have had a chance to look at a couple of middle school science programs.
The first was the sreis from Event Based Science - Hurricane, Tornado,
Earthquake, etc. These units had a unique approach to earth science
concepts and we tried to get them into a few of our 7th grade classrooms,
but we found that the teachers were not ready for such a dramatic change in
their style of teaching - they would need much more experience in a more
inquiry oriented approach to teaching science. They have a great potential
for filling in gaps in the curriculum, but our teachers rely more on very
traditional ways of teaching (ie textbooks)

The second program we have tried is the STC/MS "Catastrophic Events" unit.
We had three teachers participate in the field testing of this unit and they
were very excited about using it again as a regular part of their
curriculum. They did receive 5 full days of training in this unit at the
NSRC put on by the actual developer of the unit - this raises the question
in my mind as to how much training would a "regular" classroom teacher need
to use this material. I think this unit, and the accompaning ones from
STC/MS, have a significant potential for use in our middle schools. This
year we will begin to explore how our science materials center can be used
to support this unit in three of our middle schools.

Finally, we are about to put in use two of the FOSS middle school units in
two middle schools. These are the Electronics and the Earth History units.
Our teachers are very apprehensive about using these materials since they
will have no textbooks to fall back on. There is a serious need in our
districts for training and support for these units.


The crying needs of our teachers seems to be a tremendous amount of support
in a few areas - they are being asked to use materials that in some ways are
totally new to them with a minimum of training. Although they know more
science than an average elementary teacher, they still need a significant
amount of training in the specific content and classroom management. Their
greatest fear right now is how are they going to manage all these materials
when they see their students for 45 minutes a day, and in some cases do not
even have a 2 minute break between classes. How are they going to be able
to set-up and clean-up and store all the individual student work projects?
They need more control over their own schedules and a great deal of
administrative support. We hope to be able to support the teachers through
our regional science materials center, but this is a new area for us too.

My feeling on the subject and format is that the material should be modular
so that each school can adapt the content areas they are currently teaching
with the new materials. I think units of 8-10 weeks would give enough
flexibility for schools to develop their own curriculum with enough latitude
so that they can match state frameworks and assessment programs. The units
I have seen have gone up to 13 weeks in length and do not leave room for
much else in the curriculum. As much as possible the units should be
interdisciplinary keeping in mind that most middle scool teachers are
content specialists and while we want to use their strengths, they should
be able to make the connections across disciplines as much as possible. The
materials should definitely come with some form of student workbook or
textbook to support the work they do at home. I'd stay away from a
traditional text since there's no way you could cover it all anyway, and
lean more towards one which makes the connections to the real world, both
historically and socially.

Teachers need to have some input into the selection of the materials. It's
so important that they feel ownership for the selections. They need a
training program structured to meet their needs, which are considerably
different from what our elementary teachers need. They should have some
control over theire own scheduling of classes and time built in for clean up
and set up. And they need to have a system to replenish the materials much
as the elementary programs are using.

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