Academic journal article Science Scope

Toolkit for Improving Practice

Academic journal article Science Scope

Toolkit for Improving Practice

Article excerpt

Byline: Elizabeth Hammerman

In a standards-based climate, it is important for teachers to know that they are addressing the concepts and skills that will prepare students for success on measures of achievement as well as success in the worlds of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. A focus on standards that are valued by the scientific and educational communities has created a need for change in the ways that teachers know, think, and act in the classroom. Such change, to be effective, requires an understanding of science content, knowledge of how students learn, and the implementation of research-based practices that lead to student achievement.

Teacher as instructional designer

Every teacher is an instructional designer who makes hundreds of decisions related to classroom practices, activities, experiences, materials, and resources. Teachers have access to thousands of instructional activities and commercial products, as well as an endless supply of books, websites, and resources to support teaching and learning. Yet, our efforts often fall short of our expectations for student achievement. The mere availability of instructional materials is not enough; the quality of the lessons that guide the teaching/learning process is a key factor in increasing student achievement.

This Teacher's Toolkit offers an approach for the design and delivery of high-quality instruction that focuses on important goals and standards and research-based effective practices for improving student achievement. Thoughtfully crafted lessons are powerful tools for guiding the teaching/learning process and improving practice.

Further, when teachers work collaboratively in learning communities comprised of grade-level or interdisciplinary teams with knowledgeable leaders or consultants, they are able to plan lessons that target important concepts and skills, use data to inform practice, and differentiate instruction to meet the needs of students. The sharing of ideas, insights, and approaches among teachers and with community leaders strengthens the support system needed for success. In the words of Iris Weiss (1994), "The challenge for inservice education goes beyond teacher enhancement to creating a support structure that will enable teachers to translate what they learn into improved learning for students."

Improving practice through purposeful planning

Pedagogical content knowledge can be defined as a set of teaching strategies that are strongly connected to ways of knowing, thinking, and learning within the discipline, and operationally defined in terms of what teachers need to know and be able to do in the classroom to deliver instruction effectively (see Figure 1).

Most state standards endorse inquiry as the approach to effective teaching and learning in science. In order for teachers to implement inquiry-based instruction, they must be comfortable with what inquiry looks like in the classroom (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Characteristics of inquiry-based instruction.

In a classroom setting, inquiry-based science:

Focuses on important concepts and principles, skills, and dispositions

Provides a context that is meaningful and interesting for students

Is rich with investigations and firsthand experiences that follow a learning-cycle model, address misconceptions, and use a variety of tools and technologies to engage learners

Provides opportunities for students to collect and record data, reflect on experiences, make sense of data they collect, and frame knowledge

Provides frequent interactions between students and teachers, develops critical and creative thinking, formulates thought, and develops a deep understanding of concepts

Links learning to the lives of students, technology, careers in science, community, state, national, and world issues, and other subject areas

Uses a variety of formative assessments to provide feedback to students and guide learning

Thoughtful planning guides effective delivery

Many of the instructional materials and resources that guide instruction in middle-school classrooms do not include components of inquiry or high-quality instruction. …

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