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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

PBL Roadblock--CURRICULUM SPRAWL Middle School Science

High school science classes are yearlong, in-depth courses over one topic, such as biology, physics, anatomy, etc.  The opportunity exists to RUN with it; dig deep with PBL and ignite passion in kids about topics they never knew they might be interested in or care about.

Middle school (gr.6-8) science classes (in my district and other districts in KC & Missouri that I'm familiar with) are yearlong courses focused on breadth and covering many topics at a cursory level. I teach 6th grade and the general topics covered in that one year, each of which include MANY objectives, are the following:

1. Scientific Method
2. Matter
3. Light and Sound
4. Earth--Landforms, Earth forces, Fossils
5. Earth--Soil, Sedimentary rocks, Water
6. Life--Ecosystems
7. Life--Life processes, cells, Photosynthesis/Respiration
8. Sci, Tech, Society

There is VERY LITTLE time to dig deep and do PBL within this curriculum frame. Teachers end up managing content instead of coaching kids as the kids embrace the content, manipulate it, massage it, and make it their own. If you develop PBL right and arrange it so the kids can search for the issues or topics, then work to create solutions or products, you simply cannot 'fit PBL in' when you have tons of material you must cover in your curriculum. NOPE!!

The PBL plastic/ocean pollution project I posted about on 4/11 is temporarily on hold until after May 1 (fishing field trip) due to Curriculum Sprawl. These two weeks will be filled with prepping for a fishing/hiking/macroinvertebrate field trip, administering a summative required test from last unit, and teaching life science objectives not yet 'covered.' We have Take your Child to Work Day next week, a half day on the 30th, and I'm out at two days of Mac training this week. We've worked hard all year as a PLC (Angela Merenbloom, Jennifer Clark, & Theresa Greiner) to do projects, hands-on, and inquiry based learning within our very full 6th grade Science curriculum. We are feeling a lil frazzled and never end the year with enough time to do justice 'to' life science.

When I get back to the project on May 2, I have ~2 full weeks left to cover/finish cells, life processes, classification, ecosystems and populations AND let the kids 'get at it' with their projects. Do I focus on the project (kids are excited; not happy they cannot work on it at school in their groups) or the uncovered curriculum or both? (Our team/building is not set up for flexible scheduling PBL requires YET.) I will likely modify the project (shorten), go ahead with our Skyping (cannot wait) and try to get school-wide projects rolling for next year, such as Stream Teams, locations, dates and the many ideas the kids generate and decide should be put into action. Started brainstorming with Jo Houser, 7th grade Science teacher at New Mark, yesterday!!

WHAT IF.....6th grade Science next year was all life science, and each of the other grades was another focus? (Ex: Physical Science 7th; Earth Science 8th) Imagine the partnerships we could form between New Mark kids and the community for outreach and service with a depth-focused curriculum! IMAGINE the things kids could discover, create, wonder about! My district, North Kansas City Schools, is student-focused and moving forward with PBL, Quadrant D Rigor and Relevance, and giving kids the best technology and opportunities possible (just adopted Apple platform--all HS students and teachers using MacBook Airs next year). I believe they will look into the curriculum sprawl issue and I hope to join in the dialogue about it!

Seeking curriculum/state/fed knowledge from experts
1. Why are middle school science classes NOT like high school science classes with a one topic focus? Can districts change it or is there something keeping that from happening? (testing movement, etc.)

2.  Will Common Core tests allow for this in-depth focus per grade level in middle school?

3. How many states and/or districts structure MS science based on breadth? depth? Is it shifting towards depth? Will the shift happen nationwide?

4. Will elementary science curriculum change to depth over breadth?!

THANK YOU for reading my post. Flew off my fingers onto the keys and then the screen before me/you. Clickety-clack...

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