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

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posted by: Barbara Sullivan on August 20, 1999 at 11:00AM
subject: have you tried it yourself?

Thank you for the experiences and insights discussed here - they
are vey helpful for putting my own in perspective. My role in the GEMS-Net
LSC in Rhode Island is as a co-PI, scientific researcher and parent. While
I hold an adjunct faculty position at a university I have done a lot more
science than teaching and all the experience with K-8th grade teaching has
been in the last 3 years. This may give me a somewhat different
perspective to share.

Implementing change to inquiry based teaching in grade 7-8 in our program
has been decidedly harder than for K-6 where we have STC and FOSS kits
being adopted willingly by most teachers. So far there is no agreement
among districts as to how to change the 7-8 grade curriculum. It appears
to me that administrators have not chosen to apply direction from above
for middle school teachers as they did for K-6. This impression was
confirmed to me by one administrator who explained they must "choose their

Our efforts to reform from the bottom-up have included workshops exposing
middle school teachers to inquiry based science and purchasing materials
requested by these teachers (PASCO probes) to allow design of inquiry
based laboratory exercises. Teachers using these materials must
provide a workshop for others describing the exercises and results with

But relatively few 7-8 grade teachers have been attracted to participate
in these workshops, not an encouraging start. What is needed? Miriam
Robin's advice that exposure to high quality experiences with inquiry
science, I think, must be taken and agrees with my own experience trying
to remake my own teaching of science (hence the title of my e-mail, "have
you tried it yourself?".

I am convinced middle school teachers must have more experiences with real
scientific inquiry if at all possible in their pre and post graduate
coursework. ("Real" meaning genuine, ongoing research projects by local
scientists). In designing my own courses it is no easy task to teach using
inquiry without digging very deep indeed into my own research experiences
and adapting them to the classroom. Even with the large basis I have
from which to draw it is VERY HARD to create activities for the class.
But do-able and extremely rewarding to both instructor and students.

But I don't believe anyone without this experience would be convinced of
its value in teaching content. ther fore our LSC is attempting to provide
as many experiences/workshops/courses with research scientists as

Next teachers need, as Miriam's recommendations also mention, a resource
of instructional materials that correctly adopt inquiry-based rather thay
traditional laboratory exercises in the content area. I think teachers
must believe that these materials hold something sigfnicantly differernt
from previous attempts. I have found some of the resources being deveolped
for college students are good models and can be adapted for 7-12.

With regard to the whether materials be social/societal context, besides
being motivating, real problems also encourage minds-on and often require
application of several disciplines at once. I think it is important to
recognize and attempt this as early on as possible.

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