on August 17, 1999
Reply from Barbara Fitzsimmons
>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 use Science Kits (primarily STC) at the sixth grade. At grades 7 and 8 we've just selected the Prentice-Hall Science Explorer series, modular texts which allow us to address fewer topics in greater depth. These texts are intended to support the curriculum which is intended to be significantly hands-on. This was a compromise with the teachers who wanted a text based curriculum. It's difficult to determine strengths and weaknesses at this early date.
>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? At the middle school level, the greatest need is a consistent supply of laboratory materials such as is available at the high school. Laboratory sessions too often depend on the ingenuity of the teacher. Some teachers provide minimal lab experiences. I think teachers also need to have highter expectations for this population.
>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?
We have chosen multidisciplinary. Teachers felt that addressed the needs and learning styles of this population. Modular units were deemed most appropriate. Our schools do integrate across subject domains as much as possible, probably less in science and math than in language arts and social studies. Texts were viewed as an absolute essential by the teachers but the shift is that the text supplements the curriculum rather than being the curriculum. Social/societal context may be the most likely to work for this group. They (students) have a need to see the reason for learning.
>4. What are the primary barriers to implementing such a curriculum
>(teacher certification/training, facitlities, materials)?
The greatest barrier, in my opinion, is teachers who are comfortable with a traditional, more lecture oriented approach to teaching. They consider themselves subject matter experts and responsible for "teaching the students what they need to know" rather than helping them to uncover through experimentation. On-going replenishment of materials is an issue - but local planning is improving. Knowledge of how to use technology most effectively is an issue - on-going training and support is helping. The schedule of the school day is an issue - too fragmented.
Barbara A. Fitzsimmons, Ed.D.
Director of Curriculum and Instruction
North Kingstown School District