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

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posted by: Richard Dinko on August 27, 1999 at 2:30PM
subject: The volunteer aspect raised in the last post may be
The volunteer aspect raised in the last post may be the key to helping
teachers see a real world (local) reason to change. You are right about not
just using people from industry as cheerleaders¶ for reform. Perhaps some
of the new middle school materials will include volunteer opportunities¶ as
a supplement with ideas for incorporating local professionals.

We are faced with a middle school staff (about 25 buildings) which are half
elementary certified and half secondary certified. Some teachers need more
content development due to weak preparation in college and others push too
much content because of their depth of coverage in college. Those weak in
content knowledge fill in what is missing after a few years of teaching the
same topic and therefore are reluctant to realign their topics to other
grade levels and give up their "new expertise" and comfort zone to simply
return to the "novice" status of teaching some new topic. This can create
at a county, district, and building level camp with two sides: "less is
more" and "more is more."

This gets to the very issues raised in several other posts to this forum:
how much depth of content should be covered in the emerging MS materials.
Our middle school teachers feel compelled to build on our elementary LSC
initiatives and promote inquiry, etc- yet they also feel the pressure to
"prepare them for high school" just as the high school teachers feel the
pressure to "prepare them for college." One of our districts brought in a
panel of college professors from various disciplines and asked them what
they should be doing to "prepare" their students for their colleges. The
answer was an overwhelming "Prepare them to THINK"- recall of facts is
useless if students can not work with the facts in meaningful ways. We get
the same response from industry. Most agree that they teach their new
employees the "facts" needed to perform within their market area but find
the new employees unable to work with their technical information and facts
in meaningful ways- i.e. they cant think.¶

Getting more industry volunteers in our schools would help dispel the myth
that to be good in science you have to be good at memorizing. Active
participation in student problem solving by our local professionals adds
credibility and validity to the student work. It also demonstrates to the
teachers that the act of problem solving was a bit more important than
Fridays vocabulary test over cell organelles.

As we look at materials for middle school we are counting on modular
materials which offer teachers flexibility and time to address state and
local standards as well. They do not want the whole year laid out- or it
becomes just like a text book- rushing to cover all the chapters¶ simply
becomes rushing to cover all the units/kit components.¶ So far, we have
looked closely at the FOSS MS units and SEPUP materials. They are set up to
allow time for local curricular materials to be utilized and do not force
the curriculum for the entire year. We are also awaiting the release of the
AGI middle school earth science materials.

With 18 districts in our service area, we rarely get all grade levels
teaching the same topics. Our districts need to be able to piece materials
together to meet their needs. In Ohio, we can offer high school credit in
middle school at grade 8 (as long as it is taught be a secondary certified
instructor)- as a result we are seeing some high school materials pushed
down to middle school . For example, one of our districts is using Active
Physics with 8th graders. They picked two of the modules/units and are
covering them in a semester. The professional development was very well
received and teachers saw the abundance of activities (at low cost) which
supported each topic. They loved the quantity of activities available for
each topic- it allows more choice. We do not need expensive kits at middle
school, but rather a more creative use of common materials which can be
acquired locally or are already part of most science classrooms.

We still have many cries for more content in these new materials.
Sometimes the cry for the content is really a cry to have the
explanation/answer easily in front of students to answer their questions.
The modular materials which provide access to extensions and/or desired
(deeper) content when needed (through CDs, on-line web pages/links, and
supplemental readers) will be more marketable to the middle school audience
and provide the safety net some teachers desire. It is ok if some
tidbit/fact of content is missing as long as teachers feel like there is a
way for the student to get to the content if needed.

I also do not think many schools want to buy the school year in a box¶
where everything is there and teachers feel like they paid too much for too
little. It also removes their ownership in the activities. They need to
feel like they really prepared the environment for student learning by
coordinating resources from the kits along with those from local sources
through personal effort. Opportunities for students to help prepare the
environment as well as ideas for linking to industry/local professionals
would be an added plus to such materials.

Perhaps a cadre of industry/business representatives along with some
educators could create a companion guide to some of the new materials to
offer suggestions for volunteering opportunities specific to each unit/topic.

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