Courtney Ahearn is the librarian at the Annie L. Sargent Elementary School in North Andover, MA
Like many Americans during the height of the pandemic, my husband and I decided to try our hand at raising chickens. Over the last three years our flock has grown (due to a phenomenon known as “chicken math”) and we now have over thirty feathered friends in our backyard. We have developed a reputation in our school district as being “chicken people”. My husband, a high school science teacher, has hatched chickens in his classroom over the past two years with great success.
Amy Bloom is a Librarian at the Wilson Middle School in Natick, MA
and a winner of a 2016 MSLA Super-Librarian award
Last March, an 8th grade science teacher came to me with an article she had read. The article, titled "Popular Science Nonfiction and the Connection Between Literacy and the NGSS" by Elizabeth Lamond Price, presented the idea of exposing students to the writings of authors who bring science to life in a way a novice can appreciate and understand. Could we get students to engage with science topics and the implication for society? What excited us both about this assignment was that we could encourage students to explore an interest in a specific area of science, expose them to influential writers in the science fields, as well as meet the literacy standards in the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core.
If a piece of toast covered with jelly falls to the floor, which side will it land on? This was the question we broke into groups to answer as part of our “Science Ambassador” training. As a librarian, I am used to referring to reference sources, print or online, to answer such questions. But that choice was not available, as trainers from DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education), the Museum of Science in Boston, and WGBH wanted us to learn by doing. We broke into small groups and used the materials at hand, including index cards and paper clips, to form models to test our theories and then shared back with the full group. I hadn’t had quite that much fun at a professional development event in a long time, which gave me pause to reflect on the obvious fact that if we as educators are embracing a playful, curious, animated approach to learning in our PD sessions, our students will surely benefit by that strong level of vitality and enthusiasm for learning that we carry back into our classrooms and districts.
The Massachusetts Science Ambassadors were selected to play a key role in supporting the state’s transition to revised STE standards by helping educators, administrators and the public to understand the revised standards and their implications for curriculum, instruction and student learning. The team selected represents a diverse spectrum of backgrounds, experiences, and regions and will provide leadership in districts and across the state. The Massachusetts adaption of the national “Next Generation Science Standards” is based on the following vision: to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some “appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science; possess sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on related issues; are careful consumers of scientific and technological information related to their everyday lives; are able to continue to learn about science outside school; and have the skills to enter careers of their choice, including but not limited to careers in science, engineering and technology.” (NRC)
Literacy skills are critically connected to building knowledge in science. Reading in science requires attention to detail, the capacity to make and assess intricate arguments, synthesize complex information, and follow detailed procedures and accounts of events and concepts. Students also need to be able to gain and interpret knowledge from diagrams and data that convey information and illustrate scientific concepts. Writing and presenting information effectively are important means for students to assert and defend claims, demonstrate what they know and convey what they have experienced, reflected upon, and learned. Connections to ELA CCSS are included across all disciplines and grade bands in the final version of the NGSS.
NGSS standards are written in three dimensions including crosscutting concepts, a disciplinary core idea and a science and engineering practice. Core ideas are key understandings that allow students to interpret and explain the world around them. The focus might be on natural phenomena (e.g., mass of a tree, carbon cycling, climate change) or designed systems (e.g., energy or transportation systems). The core ideas progress in sophistication from the pre-K to 12 levels, and emphasize the use of key concepts over lists of facts, parts, or process steps.
The 5E Model echoes the Big6 approach to teaching information and technology skills that was developed by Mike Eisenberg and Bob Berkowitz years ago. But the 5E Model has a science flavor. “Integrated instructional units interweave laboratory experiences with other types of science learning activities, including lectures, reading and discussion. Students are engaged in forming research questions, designing and executing experiments, gathering and analyzing data, and constructing arguments and conclusions as they carry out investigations. Diagnostic, formative assessments are embedded into the instructional sequence and can be used to gauge the students’ developing understanding and to promote self-reflection of their thinking.” (National Research Council)
Scientific literacy entails being able to read, understand and interpret articles and data about science as well as to articulately engage in social conversation about the validity of conclusions. A scientifically literate person is able to identify the scientific issues underlying local, national and global issues and to express positions that are scientifically and technologically informed. In addition, “a scientifically literate citizen should be able to evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it. Scientific literacy implies the capacity to pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately.” (NRC)
Partnerships between science educators, instructional technology and library media specialists just make good sense in that so many of our literacy/research, technology and science education goals and objectives overlap. Science and engineering practices include the following:
Beyond the shared goal of instilling inquiry/research skills in our students, other strong reasons to partner across subject areas include a sharing of the planning, curriculum development and resources. Collaborating is also more fun, both for ourselves as educators and for our students, who benefit by seeing the connections across discipline areas. My library science intern this year created a visual literacy lesson to complement a high school biology unit on genetic disorders. Students learned how to effectively illustrate pedigrees and Punnett squares using Google Draw, Progeny and Piktochart. Students were introduced to thought provoking visualizations related to genetics, and then had the opportunity to provide context and make connections before creating their own visuals. In addition, they were instructed about the importance of citing sources. Multiple learning goals were met through this engaging, cross-disciplinary lesson.
As another example, I applied for and was fortunate to receive for next school year a Jan Stauber grant to develop a literacy project that will introduce our students to the mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. The project goal and purpose is to promote reading as well as to enhance the science curriculum by incorporating the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle into our new elective forensics course at Sharon High School. By finding the science connections in stories such as “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” and creating products including a technology component, students will increase their appreciation of the mystery genre as well as their engagement and knowledge in the world of modern forensic science.
Though “The Complete Sherlock Holmes,” or any of the 56 stories are not necessarily more captivating than “Elementary, Sherlock” the Robert Downey Jr. films, or the recent “Sherlock” series starring the dynamic Benedict Cumberbatch, without Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing, none of these would exist. By having students read a story and tie it to a literary classic with continued influence, we are helping students link the past to the present and to make connections. What has endured has value. My father, former high school English teacher Gerald Collins, summed it up thus on the inside front cover inscription of my classic Sherlock copy, scribbled down years ago, “When I was a boy a lifetime ago, this book was wonderful, especially on rainy days when I was home sick from school and there was a cup of tea and Nabisco crackers and New York City, not London, was just an hour away by subway train on holidays, and this book is wonderful still a lifetime later…”
Cathy Collins is the Library Media Specialist at Sharon High School