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

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posted by: Scott Hays on August 23, 1999 at 7:26AM
subject: Questions?
My reading of the comments in this discussion, so far (and it seems I
didn't receive any digests for the 15th, 18th or 19th of August so I may
not have read everything), suggest a few common threads. If I may be so
bold as to try to summarize them, it might be beneficial for those
interested to comment on possible next steps.

There has been an almost universal recognition of a number of issues
related to inquiry-based vs. textbook-based instruction. Many experienced
MS teachers with varying degrees of content background seem comfortable
with textbook/canned lab approaches (and/or uncomfortable with the more
inquiry-based kit approach) and are reluctant to abandon "what kids need to
know" in favor of "what kids can find out". Such resistance seems to pose
a serious obstacle to change and, when coupled with inconsistant
administrative/district support and a (related?) shortfall in time for
training or cash to purchase materials, makes efforts to gain inroads
difficult. Similarly, kit-based approaches seem to be largely unsupported
by interesting, engaging text resources. If this is coupled with
increasing emphasis on literacy and mathematics success (as measured by
performance on high stakes multiple choice tests), then time to teach
and/or provide necessary pd is significantly impacted.

What to do? Well, we can hope that some publisher out there hears the call
for modular, conceptually organized units supported by engaging text that
finally brings balance to the age-old conundrum of process vs content. But
what do we do until then? One step might be to take the bull by the horns
and develop our own materials: get some money and time (hee hee) from some
source to look at the better textbook(s) and design inquiries around the
content it or they present -- I am not sure if it is a copyright
infringement to suggest activities to coincide with a Prentice Hall or
Glencoe chapter, but if not, those developing such investigations/inquiries
could post them to an agreed upon web site for others to use. But then, no
one on this list has convinced me that there are any decent textbooks out
there, either . . . . the two I named have been variously described as weak
in content or "not very deep".

Professional development time has been an issue addressed in this forum
(actually, declining amounts of time available for quality pd, especially
in science). Time itself is becoming an issue, but so is the need to
engage more reluctant MS teachers in inquiry to help them see the
advantages of that approach. I guess the question then becomes how do we
become more creative in finding ways and time (and methods) to pull
teachers from the classroom?

Inequalities and inequities in support across districts seems to be a
significant difficulty, as well. For a number of reasons, it appears
difficult to guarantee that a change agreed to is actually implemented
across all sites in a district (or even at a single site). Some have
mentioned, for example, a lack of buy-in by different players from site to
site. This results in resistance to change (mentioned above) by individual
teachers or blocs of teachers. Others have described a lack of commited
funding to support acquisition of the materials it was agreed were needed
to support the adopted program. Still others have mentioned different
degrees of administrative support that make the agreed upon adoption look
very different from site to site ("we choose our battles" was one quoted
comment). LSC's who have put all of their eggs into one particular
adoption basket find the possibilities for pd promising but implementation
sporadic; those who have opted for local control perhaps find more buy-in
but muddier solutions to pd efforts. The question of "equal but different"
may have deeper repercussions than just those for science education, but
until we resolve the problem, implementation of quality science programs
will not be uniform.

A few other issues were addressed in the previous comments, too. The
nature of MS scehduling seems to be a major obstacle to change -- 45 minute
time-blocs do not lend themselves to deep inquiry; there is not enough time
to clean and set-up for revolving classrooms; etc. Short of a total
restructuring of the MS, this difficulty is going to take some amazing
effort and creativity to resolve. Other respondents have mentioned the
very important need of materials designed for MS kids need to be engaging
and multidisciplinary (with reported successes in this area--especially
with inquiry-based materials). And finally, further obstacles to change
seem to be the general lack of time and funding available for science
instruction (despite the continued mouthing of the "importance" of science,
it still seems to be a back-burner content area at most levels).

This is not quite the coherent, itemized summary I had hoped to try to
provide, but perhaps it is a starting point. I am not sure if this is the
place to begin looking to solutions, but many out there must be doing
something to overcome these perceived and experienced problems. I am
anxious to hear success stories. Or to generate ideas that might create
successful efforts.


If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite
you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man.
Mark Twain

Scott Hays

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