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

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posted by: Jerry Valadez on August 16, 1999 at 11:23AM
subject: Middle School Curriculum
From: Jerry Valadez, Fresno Unified School District

The questions we are addressing are:

1. What instructional materials have you used for middle school science?
What is your take on their strengths and weaknesses?

We are a large district with 17 middle school sites. In the 1992 adoption
our district let schools select any program from the list. The majority of
schools selected Science Plus with Prentice Hall in second. Since then a
significant number of middle school teachers have moved on or retired
creating a large influx of new science teachers, most of whom were multiple
subject credentialed moving up from elementary school teaching. Science Plus
ended up on the shelf in most schools because many teachers did not have the
content background in science and/or were teaching in schools with limited
science resources. Many teachers are in portable classrooms with no sinks
and in some cases no lab tables. In addition, the majority of students were
entering middle school with limited science curriculum experience. With our
reform efforts beginning in 1995 the focus of professional development for
middle school teachers has included with great success the following: SEPUP
(Book I version), GEMS, with some Insights. SEPUP Book I from the IEY
program has been designed to articulate from grades 7-9. IEY was adopted at
grade 9, but since all four books are much too lengthy to finish in grade 9
only book 1 is used in middle school. This has worked very well between
middle schools and their high schools that have embraced the idea. GEMS is
used to some extent to fill the gaps in meeting our standards. We also hope
to field-test the SALI program from LHS this year which is the life science
complement to SEPUP. SALI also meets many of the health mandates middle
school teachers are sometimes asked to address while maintaining a quality
inquiry based program. Also from LHS is the long awaited FOSS middle school
program. We have seen field-test versions of this program and anticipate it
will be one of the best available for middle school. Development priorities
at LHS have delayed is availability and it will not be on this years adoption
list unfortunately.
We also have many of our self-contained ELD classrooms (English Language
Development) using Insights from grade 6 because of its modular design and
its versatility with integration of literacy. FOSS modules from grade 6 also
have been used by some teachers although not adopted for m.s. grades.

2. In considering a new initiative for curriculum development, what do
you think teachers and administrators want/need in instructional
materials to provide high-quality science education to their students?

An integrated program that articulates with both elementary school and high
school programs. Standards and assessments that are developed from those
standards are integrated or coordinated in design (Earth, Life, Physical,
Scientific Thinking). The programs also need to articulate with the
mathematics and language arts standards in the emphasis of communication
skills, critical thinking, scientific processes, and literacy skills.
Materials must be inquiry based, modular based, inexpensive to use, and have
quality imbedded assessments that focus on assessment of student learning.
Assessment has been the weakest component in curricular materials in the

3. Should new curricula materials for middle school be in earth, life,
and physical science, or multidisciplinary, or interdisciplinary? Should
they be all modular or year long? Should they be integrated across
subject domains? Should they have texts that go along with the
activities, as the high school programs have? Would you recommend a
social/societal context, a historical context, or a traditional one?

Integrated...with some STS. Instead of texts the programs should have
narrative readings that are concise and aligned to the content in each unit.
Programs should be modular but with options of how you link modules into a
yearlong course. The most interesting programs from the students point of
view are social/societal in context with the flexibility to integrate with
other high stakes middle school content areas like health, mathematics and
language arts.

4. What are the primary barriers to implementing such a curriculum
(teacher certification/training, facilities, materials)?

Primary barriers at this time include: 1) lack of such a program 2) fiscal
resources at the central and site levels , 3) time for inservice training 4)
lack of articulation with higher education and teacher preparation programs
specific to middle school 5) current political frame that wants quick results
in raising norm referenced tests in language arts and mathematics. Many
middle school administrators are cutting back the science program to include
more reading and literacy time.
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