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U-46 Board updated on science curriculum

By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 was given an update on science curriculum and resources at its meeting on Monday, April 9 as changes start to take effect in district classrooms.
  Vince Fosco, science instructional coach, said that there will be “four big changes” in the district, one of which being a requirement for elementary teachers to include 90 minutes of science instruction each week. There were no requirements for science instruction in elementary school previously.
  Debbie Perryman, science and planetarium coordinator, called the 90 minutes of science a “huge lift” and “we are asking teachers to do an awful lot.”
  However, national data shows that 90 minutes is not much of a lift at all compared to past decades.
  According to a statistical analysis report by the National Center for Education Statistics in the late 1980s and early 1990s first through fourth grade public school classrooms across the country “spent approximately 68 percent of their school time, or almost 22 hours per week, on core curriculum.”
  Science had the least amount of time spent over the four core areas in the three years of data but was still over the 90 minutes a week. In 1987-88 students were taught 2.5 hours of science each week, in 90-91 they were taught 2.2 hours and in 93-94 they were taught 2.8 hours.
  Board member Sue Kerr said that prior to this mandate science instruction in elementary school was “really hit or miss,” and she asked how teachers are doing at hitting that mandate right now.
  Perryman said the district’s science office’s job “it’s kind of about helping [teachers] find the time, helping them with the schedule.”
  Fosco said that elementary teachers are also required to spend 90 minutes each week with social studies. He said the best ways he’s seen teachers meet the 90-minute science requirement is two 45-minute blocks each week, but he’s seen various ways of meeting it.
  “We’ve been in a lot of classrooms this year and seen different teachers play with the schedule, some of them just around their special schedule actually,” Fosco said. “Everybody needs to be a little unique with it.”
  Kerr said it sounds like “we’re getting there” and Perryman reiterated “it’s that heavy lift.”
  The board was also updated on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that are being implemented.
  “One of the big changes with these (NGSS) is that it puts equal emphasis on science skills and science content,” said Jesse Semeyn, science instructional coach. “So that means that students are learning science in a hands on and in inquiry ways in the classroom.”
  Semeyn said that “as the years progress” students will be taught earth and space, life and physical sciences and the skills that are taught include planning, conducting investigations, analyzing data, developing models and constructing explanations.
  “Those are skills that are built on from kindergarten to 12th grade,” Semeyn said.
  Fosco said the resources used in the district come from National Geographic, Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Carolina and Vernier.
  “We continue to tell the teachers that the curriculum and resources are two separate entities,” Fosco said. “We follow the curriculum, and we use the resource.”
  Perryman said there are several professional development opportunities including workshops and boot camps. She said select teachers, those in Title I elementary schools, are allowed to take part in the Golden Apple STEM Institute Fellows Program.
  U-46 has adopted Defined STEM which Perryman said is “something that our team is using alongside the teachers during the time that we have to develop three performance tasks that will be common across all the grade levels.”
  Along with the 90-minute requirement at the elementary level, Fosco said the other “big changes” include the new NGSS, new resources and standards based learning and assessment at the secondary level.
  Fosco said there are small and large groups of teachers that work on the curriculum with the help of instructional coaches.
  “This year a lot of the focus has been on content, working with teachers to understand the science content itself, working with secondary teachers on developing rubrics,” Fosco said.
  Kerr asked for an example of performance tasks students are expected to learn under the NGSS and Semeyn said in middle school life science “students need to conduct an investigation to show that all living things are made of cells.” Kerr asked how that is done, and Perryman responded there are a “number of ways,” one being using microscopes with living and non-living things.
  Perryman said there may be some updates to curriculum and resources coming soon including in Advanced Placement courses for environmental science which she said a new resource has been selected and should come before the board soon.
  The district has held a STEM Expo and National Biodiversity Teach In this year, and Perryman said the goal is to hold both again next school year.
  There will also be public shows at the district’s planetarium on Wednesday, May 9. There will be two one-hour long shows, starting at 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., and the planetarium will be open 30 minutes prior to each for self-guided tours.




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