Barlow STEM chairman promotes new science curriculum

Joel Barlow High School
Joel Barlow High School

Next Generation Science Standards is the new science curriculum being taught at Joel Barlow High School.  

NGSS is a multi-state effort to create new education standards that are challenging to students.

With NGSS, the students, rather than the teachers, are the ones who are actively discovering.

At the Region 9 Board of Education meeting on Thursday, Nov. 16, J.T. Schemm, STEM department chairman, presented the advantages of NGSS.

“In the classroom, we are looking for students to be the discoverers for the first time,” he said. “Good teachers don’t tell you what you are going to see, the students tell them what they will see.”

According to Board of Education Chairman Melinda Irwin, a major component of NGSS is three-dimensional learning, “which shifts the focus of the science classroom to environments where students use disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts with the scientific practices to explore, examine and explain how and why phenomena occur and to design solutions to problems,” she said.

Science classes in Region 9 are becoming more hands-on, as teachers strive to prepare students for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics needed for jobs in the future.

“There really is a big push for STEM education across the board, because the jobs of tomorrow and today require a really solid foundation,” Schemm said.

He explained that NGSS is a way of looking at science differently from how teachers and school administrators of past decades viewed science.

“Learning science by doing science is the big issue here,” Schemm said. “It’s asking students, What do you know? What do you observe?”

In NGSS, there are concepts that link across all grades, from K to 12, Schemm explained.

Schemm said teachers are looking not only at what students are doing in their science classes but also at how they are constructing and developing explanations for what they are doing.

In his presentation, he said that with NGSS, science education will move away from teachers providing information to the whole class and away from teachers posing questions with only one right answer.

It will also involve less student reading of textbooks and answering questions at the end of the chapter, and fewer worksheets that students must complete, he said.

“The science class you and I were in is not the science class we are in now,” Schemm said.

He said that in the future, students will be conducting investigations, solving problems, and engaging in a discussions, with teacher guidance.

Schemm then involved those on the Region 9 Board and school administrators in an interactive activity.

He passed out a small vial to each person and asked what the person observed about it.

The vials had beads floating in them. Everyone carefully examined his or her vial and moved it around in order to make conclusions about what it contained.

“We are looking to start with the phenomenon and have students say, ‘What evidence do you have for that?’ ‘Can we test that out, can you replicate it?’” he said. “This is a significant difference from the science class of our age.”

Vice Chairman Mike D’Agostino asked, “How does [this new teaching approach] actually change what is being taught in the classroom? What are students learning that’s different from what they have been doing?”

Stephanie Pierson-Ugol, assistant superintendent of Easton, Redding and Region 9 Schools, said the former curriculum was based on the content and instructional methods of individual teachers.

“It’s a flip from the teachers sharing the content to the students being engaged in a real scientist phenomenon and asking questions and exploring that idea,” she said.

By covering each topic in more depth, teachers may end up covering fewer topics because of time constraints in the classroom.

Schemm said this is fine, because if the teacher is covering material but students can’t use it, “then what good is that?”

“We know you can’t cover everything, because this approach is so fundamentally different,” he added.

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