by Blake Poyner
OSTA has done it again! The 2019 Oregon Science Teacher Association Fall Conference on Science Education is in the books and once again I find myself filled to the brim with valuable resources, novel ideas, and invaluable new connections. Throw in a beautiful, sunny fall day in Eugene (I thought it only ever rained on that side of the Cascades!) and the stage was set for learning and inspiration.
I’m always amazed by the “new to me” resources that I’m exposed to at OSTA. While my district has fully adopted the STEMscopes curriculum, which I thoroughly enjoy using, I’m always looking for supplemental resources to enhance my students’ learning. I need to thank Berkeley Gadbaw and Molly Malone for introducing me to twonew resources, of which I plan to use extensively: Data Nuggets and Teach Genetics Exploring Genetics Through Genetic Disorders. Data Nuggets is a great way to bring real data from real investigations by scientists in the field into the classroom. They’re versatile too! I can select whether students practice graphing the data, are supported in graphing the data, or analyze a pre-graphed set of data. My Student Learning Growth Goals for 7th grade science consists of selecting and constructing an appropriate graph, and writing a Claim, Evidence, Reasoning explanation from a given set of data. Using Data Nuggets I can select which components that I want my students to get practice with as well as give them all of the background information necessary for them to comprehend the scientific investigation from which the data originated. Teach Genetics - Exploring Genetics Through Genetic Disorders gave me an idea and an anchoring phenomena by which to ground my lessons on genetics this year. Students are already fascinated by genes, variation, and inheritance, but mutations send their curiosity skyrocketing. I plan on using this resource and the concepts of genetic disorders and mutations to drive the learning from the beginning of the unit.
This year’s theme of “All for Science and Science for All” was in full display at “A New Framework for Multilingual Science Meaning Making” session led by Cory Buxton, Karla Hale, and Barbara Ettenauer from Oregon State University. The discourse was rich in the room as we discussed the role of language in the science classroom. The idea of translanguaging, or using all of our language resources for meaning making, made me think of a better way to support my past, present, and future English Language Learners (ELLs). The idea is to allow and/or guide students to make meaning in whichever language resource is most meaningful. This can work for non-ELLs too! The idea is to use multilingualism as a learning resource to enhance the learning of all students. Another theme that resonated with me was the idea that scientific vocabulary, while critically important, are not the only new words our students need to become proficient with. The presenters made the case that general academic vocabulary are just as critically important to fostering meaning making as are scientific specific vocabulary. This week I’ve adjusted my practice by including some key general academic vocabulary to the required list such as conduct, describe, interact, and investigate. My final takeaway from this bountiful discussion came in regards to the patterns of instruction that we can establish to assist all of our learners in the process of science meaning making: semantic waves. I sense that this shift in my instructional flow has already benefited my students. While working through key general academic and science specific vocabulary I’ve been helping my students “ride the semantic waves” as we learn new vocabulary. The idea is that we alternate from simple to complex, or put another way, from abstract to concrete and back again. Let students experience an academic definition, then provide a concrete example. Describe the complexity of a new term, then define it in simple language. By continually moving up and down the semantic waves we can give our students multiple opportunities to make their own meaning from new vocabulary, whether the term comes from their native language or not.
How lucky are we as science teachers to have an annual time and place in which to gather, share our experiences, and better our profession? As I reflect on my first four years in this profession the effect that the OSTA Fall Conference on Science Education has had on me as a professional, and the quality of my practice is abundantly clear. Thank you everyone for playing your part in making this year’s conference so valuable. Every presentation, every conversation, and every idea hastily scratched out in my notebook has made me better at what I love to do, so thank you.