Jennifer Dechaine: Using Soils, Systems, and Society at Central Washington University
About this Course
A methods course intended for pre-service K–8 teachers.
Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 152kB Sep16 15)
A Success Story in Building Student Engagement
What I like best about our module is that it can be adapted to any science content. My course includes a field practicum at a local elementary school, and what my students teach changes depending on grade level, classroom, and time of year. For the module pilot, we taught at the annual fifth grade outdoors camp, so my students developed Kits (Unit 4) that focused on local environmental science topics (e.g., ecosystems) within systems and society (without required inclusion of soils). It has always been challenging for my students to think about their Kits in the context of entire systems, but I think our module's emphasis on systems helped them make those connections—this year's lessons were the best ones I have had in the six years I have taught the class. That being said, my students still struggled with writing lessons that developed systems thinking in their students (the fifth graders). The current version of our module includes concept mapping for even more practice in systems thinking, and I am excited to see how this improves my students' Kits the next time I teach the class.
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate Materials
We designed this module around the Kit, because it is only becoming more important for future teachers to practice designing and teaching locally-relevant science and connecting it to Earth and social systems. My students taught their Kits to fifth graders at a local elementary school. Soils content was not appropriate for all groups so I shifted the focus of the Kits to systems and society; this flexibility is what I most appreciate about our module.
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
My course is over a 10-week quarter. The module was integrated throughout the entire course. Unit 1 was completed on the first two days of class. Unit 3 was completed in one day in the third week of the quarter. Students started their Kits in the sixth week of the quarter, taught them at the end of the eighth and ninth weeks and turned in the final versions during finals week (technically week 11). No topics were introduced before Unit 1, but numerous topics (e.g., basics of lesson planning, such as writing learning objectives) that are not directly addressed in the module need to be covered before students can successfully complete their Kits.
I used formative assessment for the Unit 1 discussion. I graded their notes from Unit 3 in the context of their overall science notebooks, which included notes from several activities and weekly reflections.
The Kits were one of the major summative assessments for the course. Combined with the field practicum observation, they were worth 35% of the course. I had to use my department's grading rubrics that are aligned to our lesson and unit plans, instead of the rubric we provide with our module. These are here: Lesson Plan Rubric (Acrobat (PDF) 143kB Sep18 15) and Unit Plan Rubric (Acrobat (PDF) 124kB Sep18 15).
One of the biggest challenges for students in this course is to plan activities around science practices and core concepts instead of first choosing "fun" activities and trying to fit them into standards. When they become elementary teachers they will face the additional huge challenge of teaching engaging and standards-aligned science with very limited time, few resources, and often little training in process or content. Our module is designed to help students address these challenges by asking them to first think about the content (in our case, soils) from different perspectives, using different data, and within various scientific and societal systems. The Kit (Unit 4) then requires students to apply their learning by designing (and in my case teaching) an instructional unit that teaches content within an interdisciplinary, systems thinking and socially relevant context. In the pilot, my students better connected their lessons to locally relevant issues and scientific practices than they had in previous years. Students did not incorporate systems thinking as well as I would have liked, which is why we added the concept mapping throughout our module as described in the current version.