ABOUT THE CURRICULUM
Several years ago, the University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research and College of Education teamed up to develop free eighth grade science curricula on land use and climate science, in response to Iowa’s grade level alignment of the middle school Next Generation Science Standards.
Encouraged by their early progress, the collaborators decided to keep going and develop material for the full eighth grade school year. Their complete online textbook is now ready for the classroom, a year ahead of full NGSS implementation in fall 2019.
Primary author Dr. Ted Neal, clinical associate professor of science education, led a team of graduate and pre-service teaching students and CGRER scientists to develop the material. They grouped standards, resources and lesson material into six bundles, each designed to engage Iowa’s middle schoolers with local data and information on relevant topics like athletic concussions and agriculture.
“It’s very place-based,” said Nathan Quarderer, a phD student in Neal’s science education group. “It’s our thinking that if you can focus on these issues in your own backyard, you can inspire kids to be lifelong learners.”
These lessons are built on NGSS principles and put learning in the students’ hands with hands-on activities for groups and individuals. Kids will have ample opportunity to get curious, generate questions and lead themselves to answers.
From a teachers who’s done it before
Several science teachers around the state have already begun to pilot this curriculum. Mandy Dunphy of Solon Middle School tried bundles four, five and six last spring, and is using the full book this year.
Dunphy said her kids have been interested and engaged in the material. For her classes last spring, the land use bundle was an especially big hit. It focuses on agricultural practices and impacts, something Solon’s students see every day.
“For me, it was a really easy decision to get my kids involved in the science that’s actually happening around them,” she said.
Using anything new the first time can create challenges, though. Dunphy said she did not finish Bundle Six before school let out for the summer and struggled to adapt the material for the full spectrum of student needs.
But still, she said she sees the curriculum’s value and recommends it to others.
Dunphy said she feels much more prepared the second time around and has three pieces of advice for other teachers considering using this book.
- Bounce ideas off of other science teachers. Everyone in the state will transition to full NGSS soon, whether they use this curriculum or another. Teachers can be resources for each other as they work through new methods and material.
- Contact local experts. As the material is all local and relevant, there are bound to be people nearby willing to come share their experiences with real-life science with the students. Dunphy brought in someone from the Johnson County Conservation Department to talk about how prairie plants affect soil
- Keep an open mind. Giving the kids more control can be scary. Know that you’re not going to be 100% successful, but don’t give up when it gets hard.
Teaching climate science
Focused on climate science, the newest piece of Iowa’s middle school science standards, Bundle Six, took a lot of careful planning and consideration. Input from University of Iowa climate experts has proven especially valuable in its development.
Drs. Charles Stanier and Scott Spak, associate professors of chemical engineering and urban planning respectively, identified the climate change impacts most important to Iowa and the average eighth grader. They carefully considered an appropriate geographical scale and analysis level for each impact, including increased precipitation and delayed timing of spring.
In light of common misconceptions and skepticism about climate science, the curriculum aims to help students identify trustworthy information, guiding teachers and students through a variety of reliable data sources.
“In a perfect world, they’d develop some appreciation for the process,” Stanier said of his hopes for students who use the book.
To make sure the brand new material works, phD candidate Quarderer is leading an assessment on Bundle Six. Using a 20 question survey, he and his team are measuring learning outcomes for 75 students in pilot classrooms like Dunphy’s.
So far, the results show statistically significant improvement for students using this curriculum. Soon, the results will be compared to those from a control group in Waterloo. Quarderer said the survey is available to any teacher interested in measuring learning in their own classroom.
For more information on the Eighth Grade Science Phenomena Bundles, contact firstname.lastname@example.org