Sunday, October 25, 2015

Science Lab Safety

I have recently had some very interesting conversations with not only my coworkers, but other science teachers as well.  From what I have learned, most teachers that train to become science teachers DO NOT receive any courses on how to properly acquire, store and maintain their chemicals in the classroom.  Nor do they even receive proper training in best laboratory practices.

This is shocking.

Coming from industry, I had training in lab practices ALL the time.  Well, actually, about once a year.  I have received chemical training, hazmat training, fire safety training, first aid training, radioactivity training....need I continue?  My training has had training.  HA!

But when I reflect on my years in education, I can only think of two times that I have received any training on chemical storage and lab safety.  Hmmmmm.  This might be a problem.

This makes me wonder, how many science teachers do not really know the appropriate lab safety protocols?  How many science teachers do not provide appropriate lab safety training to their students?  How many science classrooms are out of compliance with local standards?

If I had a magic wand and the powers to fix things this is what I would do:

1.  Implement annual training for science teachers at the site or district level.
2.  Schools should do self safety checks at random in science classrooms.
3.  Schools should have uniform methods for training lab safety to students.
4.  Teacher training/credential programs should provide adequate and useful courses for chemical and lab safety for future science teachers.
5.  Schools should hire or task a person to ensure a chemical hygiene plan is in place and that all teachers and labs are in compliance.

With NGSS on the horizon, there is no better time than NOW to get our ducks in a row.  Man, I'm pumped about NGSS and even more pumped about the awesome science that is about to occur because of this transition.  But, let's just make sure that the science is safe.  As the CrazyRussianHacker states, "Safety is our number 1 priority."



Tuesday, October 13, 2015

3 Dimensional Learning

About 6 months ago, I went to an amazing training in which one of the speakers engaged us on the concept of the 3 dimensions of learning within NGSS.  As we science teachers have come to learn these 3 dimensions are the crosscutting concepts (CCC), science and engineering practices (SEP) and disciplinary core ideas (DCI).  The speaker broke it down quite simple.  I'm paraphrasing here, but he said, "The cross cutting concepts are how we want kids to think.  The disciplinary core ideas are what we want kids to know, and the practices are what we want kids to be able to do."

Think.  Know.   Do.

I let this marinate for awhile, trying to identify how this was any different from what I had been doing in the classroom.  After evaluating and dissecting this 3-D approach, I started looking at old lessons, and designing new lessons.  I toyed with lessons in my classroom, reflecting on student behavior and learning output.  It finally became clear to me.

DISCIPLINARY CORE IDEAS (KNOW):  This is content.  This is knowledge.  This is vocabulary.  For the most part, this is what teachers have been providing for ever and ever.  Textbooks, worksheets, vocabulary cards are GREAT at DCI.  Even direct lectures and videos can adequately address content.

DCI is relatively easy to assess.  Multiple choice style questions as well as short answer can give a teacher a quick snapshot if a kids "knows" the content.

But anyone who has spent any time in a research lab knows, science is much more than content.

CROSSCUTTING CONCEPTS (THINK):  This is how we want kids to think and link scientific principals together from class to class.  For examples, patterns are seen in all science courses.  The structure and function in biology is the same structure and function that is found in physics. It doesn't matter what a scientist is researching, they actively look for patterns, identifying structure and function, recognize scale, working with a defined systems, isolating cause and effect, monitoring energy and matter, and measuring stability and change.   Encouraging teachers to tie these crosscutting concepts through the science courses is critical for kids to learn how to "think" like a scientist.

I can honestly state that I thought I had taught most of these within an individual course, I have not emphasized it to my students.  Nor, have I actively sought to ensure that these concepts are within each lesson plan.

How does a teacher assess how a student "thinks"?   Do we list these concepts and ask them to identify which one relates to a topic?  Or are these merely learning strategies for kids to properly apply science?  Could these merely be mental tools that kids need to be successful in science and maybe do not need to be formally assessed.  Maybe it is up to the teacher to carefully design learning activities such that this sort of thinking is organically incorporated.

But science isn't just content and thinking.  Science would be useless if we don't use this amazing knowledge base to experiment, build, test, discover.  This leads to the practices.

SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING PRACTICES (DO): This is the actual DOING of science.  In California, prior to NGSS,  it was understood that 20% of class time was devoted to lab exercises.  Having worked with countless science teachers over the years, I know for a fact that most might do a lab once, maybe twice, a month.  And most of these labs are cookie cutter labs in which there is no originality at all.  Students follow the instructions and collect results.  This is NOT real experimentation.  This is a recipe that lacks the best learning opportunities.

NGSS will require that our students not just do experiments, but they want students to design experiments, analyze data, report findings, make models and predictions...DO SCIENCE!  And do engineering!!!!!  The engineering originally scared me, but I will save that blog for another day.

These practices excite me!  Though I have been doing projects and inquiry for years, NGSS is forcing me to really analyze if my activities are truly applicable, specific and creative enough to warrant being called an NGSS lesson.

Assessing the DO of science will likely require well designed labs, projects, activities with specific rubrics to monitor learning.  These should be summative and formative.  They should not be cookie cutter labs with only one outcome.  True scientific exploration requires EXPLORATION!  Preventing our students from that opportunity is asking for them to not appreciate, understand or learn to love science.

SUMMARY
Textbooks do a great job of having students learn content (DCI).  But learning content doesn't mean you know what to do with that content.  I truly believe the SEP and CCC will be best delivered through classroom experiences.  Teachers who allow a textbook, workbook and worksheets drive instruction will need lots of support to start incorporating the practices and the crosscutting concepts.  Three dimensional learning is a much needed change.  It will shake the foundation of science teaching.  We science teachers should embrace this change and recognize that these ARE best practices.  And for any science teacher that says otherwise, I would strongly encourage them to spend some time in a research lab.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Slow down...

The NGSS team in our district has been super excited about getting the ball rolling.  Conversations were started, the first topic had been picked, and next was to design the curriculum!  WOOHOO!

Until we decided to slow down.  The reason...we are waiting for California to release their science framework.

I am conflicted with this decision.  Though I support not jumping into the deep, I do believe that if we take too long to tip toe into the shallow end that we will not be competent enough to launch our first class.

NGSS requires such a new style of teaching that I believe it will take quite a long time to get all teachers up and running.  This will require countless supports and solid professional development opportunities.

As someone who has recently provided an NGSS PD for a group of teachers, I was curious who else out there offers such services.  Quite frankly, it is slim pickings.  NGSS Professional developments will need to be ongoing.  They need to be happening NOW to get teachers up to speed.  It is more than just introducing the performance expectations to teachers and the 3 Dimensions.  Teachers need to play with the standards, to see how to write a lesson plan, to envision how an NGSS course will look.  Teachers need to have the opportunity to experience an NGSS lesson themselves...in order to understand the differences from the traditional standards.  There will need to be some serious training of how to bring engineering into the classroom.  Teachers need to figure out how to even assess this type of learning, so....slow down?

How can we possibly slow down when we need to be actively engaging with the standards just to learn how to use them?  But how can we start designing courses without fully understanding the standards?

I support the decision of my district to wait on the state.  I anxiously await the day we can design our new courses.  My inability to find patience during this exciting time will keep me on edge.  In the interim, I will design all my lessons to align to NGSS.  The only way to get good at this style of teaching, is to do it!