Cary Colt Weekly Agenda
Week 3 of the 4th Six Weeks January 19-23, 2015
This Week In Colt Land.....
Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday
New Procedure This Week:
Only an administrator may take up a cell phone from a student, beginning this Tuesday, January 20, 2015. This means in the classroom, hallway, cafeteria, etc.. We have had trouble with inconsistencies in the policy. We want to make sure you are supported, and we are all following the same policy.
Cell phones are becoming a battle of wills, which is taking valuable time. Our goal is to teach the whole group. You are aiming to have the majority of your class with you as you teach. If one student gets out a phone, during independent work time, send your administrator a text or email us the student's name. We will pick up the phone. When you stop and battle over the phone or discuss the phone with that child, it disrupts the flow of the classroom.
Cell phones truly are the job of the administrator, so this is not new, but we have allowed teachers to act in our place. We need to bring consistency to the problem, if there is one, and so send the names to the assistant principals. We want to make sure parents are called in, fines are taken up, etc. I would like the cell phone issue to ease a little before we get closer to testing.
Cell phones may not be take up by monitors or teacher assistants.
Ms. Vaughan 6th-8th
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Introduce new vocabulary (Should be posted 5 words)
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Grade Level Planning/Faculty Meeting *Sit by Grade Level Library
Plan Saturday School (Begins January 31st)
Thursday, January 22, 2015
Friday, January 23, 2015
Have a great weekend!
Saturday School Starts on January 31, 2015
See articles below
Do You Ask Good Questions?
Why Don't We Value Problem-Posing?
Watch the video: http://ow.ly/HkNCK
David Stork, distinguished research scientist and research director at Rambus Labs, presents a talk that challenges listeners to "think the unthinkable" by shifting away from answer-seeking to focus instead on posing good questions. Employers rank problem identification—deciding to what to work on—as the number-one indicator of creativity, while school superintendents rank it eighth.
Using Sudoku as an example, Stork demonstrates techniques for posing many questions on a topic, characteristics that make questions interesting, and strategies for seeing a topic from multiple perspectives. Good questions, says Stork,
- Are clearly stated and unambiguous;
- Have a solution;
- Have a method for being solved;
- Could lead the solver to improved solution methods;
- Show the boundaries of the problem (i.e., by answering "What is the most?" or "What is the least?");
- Are essential to the topic;
- Are not impossible and not trivial; they are just right; and
- Lead to more questions.
Answers can limit our curiosity and lead us away from new and better questions. Stork calls educators to become connoisseurs of good questions.
Middle Schools: Social, Emotional, and Metacognitive Growth
Unsafe School Climate.
Entering puberty is difficult enough without having to endure school environments that threaten young teens with bullying adults and teens, name calling, drugs, and violence.
These kinds of negative experiences are poisons that interact insidiously with young adolescents' delicate neurological and emotional makeup and threaten to create negative behavior patterns that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Of paramount importance in the construction of an optimal school climate is the elimination of these types of negative influences and the provision of a safe and protected school environment within which adolescents can flourish. Yet a study of one Midwestern middle school revealed that 80 percent of students admitted to engaging in physical aggression, social ridicule, teasing, name calling, and issuing threats within the previous 30 days (CNN, 1999). Eighty-seven percent of middle schools report at least one incident of violence, and almost 30 percent report at least one serious incidence of violence in the previous year (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003).
Fragmented Curriculum. One of the problems with current emphasis on academic content and skills at the middle school level is that students are required to meet hundreds of standards that ultimately threaten to overwhelm them in a sea of paperwork and meaningless assignments. One study of Texas middle school principals noted that 88 percent of the principals said that “nearly all” of their teachers incorporated TEKS, or the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, into their lesson plans (Texas Center for Educational Research, 2001). As noted in the Carnegie report Turning Points 2000: Educating Adolescents in the 21st Century:
Moreover, textbooks are often inaccurate, misleading, or incomplete in their treatment of math, science, history, literature, and other subjects (see, for example, Loewen, 1996). Adrift in a sea of irrelevant content, young teens are deprived of the opportunity to engage in focused learning adventures that can help them develop their identities, sharpen their metacognitive minds, and channel their burgeoning energies.
Emotionally Flat Learning Experiences. Individuals going through early adolescence are particularly sensitive to the presence or absence of emotion in their classroom learning experiences. If they are required to learn in classrooms that largely emphasize lecture, textbooks, written assignments, and tests, their own motivation is likely to wane. And yet, as noted above, NCLB and other pressures to conform to Academic Achievement Discourse are making these kinds of environments far more common in middle schools.
In one study of middle school students' perceptions of learning experiences, most students reported that active learning motivated them more often than lecture, overhead, or textbook learning. One student, for example, reported his feelings on hearing his teacher say, “Open your textbooks to page 189”: “Well, I feel that when I'm working in a group and not in the textbooks that I learn the most—'cause the textbooks—some people, they don't follow it. They put stuff in words and ways that you can't really understand it” (para. 14). Another student responded to an overhead lesson plan by saying: “We hardly had anything to do. We were just getting told all of our information. It's all lectures. You'd come in here and you did no work. You'd just sit there and some people would say, ‘Oh, it's a really easy class.’ Yeah, it's an easy class because it's so boring” (Bishop & Pflaum, 2005, para. 18). These are not the kind of learning experiences to give to a student whose biological system is shouting at him, “It's time to move out into the world!”
The Best Middle Schools: Examples of Developmentally Appropriate Educational Practices
What we know about early adolescents and their neurological, social, emotional, and intellectual growth provides us with solid guidelines in structuring optimal middle schools. Of paramount importance in this reform effort is the use of Human Development Discourse, not Academic Achievement Discourse, in developing methods, strategies, programs, and environments for young teens. As long as educators continue to look to high test scores, tough standards, and heavy academic content as a solution to middle school woes, they will be fundamentally unprepared to help young teens make the transition to maturity. What follows is a list of 12 key features that must be a part of any authentic, developmentally appropriate plan for reforming middle schools.
Safe School Climate
The most important factor in meeting the needs of young adolescents in school is a safe school climate. As Abraham Maslow (1987) wisely observed, if people are struggling to meet their basic physiological and safety needs, there is no energy left for meeting their higher needs of love, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Zero-tolerance policies are not the solution for making schools safe. They may work in the short run by suspending troublemakers, but they leave the underlying problems of violence untouched (The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, 2000).
Instead, schools need to create positive interventions that get at the root of the difficulty, including anti-bullying programs, conflict resolution, character education, gang awareness, alcohol and drug abuse counseling, student court, peer mediation, and anger management. At Lewis Middle School in Paso Robles, California, students tutor kids academically, mediate conflicts, and mingle with shy 6th graders who are having difficulty making the transition from elementary school. “Students are often able to identify problems before adults can,” Principal Richard Oyler said (Wilson, 2005). Students focus on the Value of the Month at Sparrows Point Middle School in Baltimore. During the month, they engage in lesson plans, listen to guest speakers, and study material that emphasizes such values as responsibility, respect, tolerance, compassion, or honesty. Clubs at Sparrows Point such as Students Against Destructive Decisions and Future Educators of America have incorporated the monthly values into their projects, and the school has engaged in a Pitch In for Progress campaign that raises money for worthy causes. In the past two years, the school has seen a sharp drop in suspensions and an increase in attendance and in the number of students on the honor roll (Ruddle, 2005). By working to solve the underlying causes of violence, middle schools can ensure that students will not only learn in safe environments but will also become proactive members of society.
Small Learning Communities
A large body of research supports—and demands—the implementation of small school environments at the middle level. Small schools have fewer instances of theft, assaults, and vandalism than large schools (DeVoe et al., 2002). They experience lower dropout rates and increased levels of motivation and learning success (Cotton, 2001). They provide students with a shelter from the storm, so to speak, to enable them to focus on learning and become successful students.
School reformers Thomas Sergiovanni and Deborah Meier recommend no more than 300 students per school, but others believe that middle schools with as many as 700 students can maintain a small school environment (Molnar, 2002). The Talent Development Middle Schools project at Johns Hopkins University focuses on establishing learning communities of 200 to 300, with two or three teachers responsible for no more than 100 students (Herlihy & Kemple, 2004). Having a large middle school campus is no deterrent to creating small communities. Creekland Middle School in Laurenceville, Georgia, has almost 3,000 students, but it is structured into five communities, each with its own administrative staff. Students are assigned to a community in 6th grade and stay there until they leave for high school. Teachers work in teams of two so they can get to know the students better (Jacobsen, 2000). Through creative administrative and funding strategies, any middle school environment can be structured according to a “small is beautiful” ethos.
Personal Adult Relationships
Coming of age in the 21st century is a difficult prospect for many kids who have little contact even with their own parents. According to researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2000): “Most of the time, adolescents are either alone (26%) or with friends (34%) and classmates (19%). Very little time is spent in the company of adults. The typical American adolescent spends only about five minutes a day alone with his or her father—not nearly enough to transmit the wisdom and values that are necessary for the continuation of a civil society” (p. 46). Middle schools and junior high schools that shuttle kids from one teacher to the next every 42 minutes are only making the problem worse.
On the other hand, providing a student with one teacher who serves as an advisor, mentor, counselor, or guide can be instrumental for some kids to help them feel a sense of safety, confidence, and purpose in their learning. Exemplary middle schools assign students to homeroom teachers or advisor–teachers who are with them during their entire journey through the middle grades. At Abraham Lincoln Middle School in Gainesville, Florida, advisors are assigned to 18–22 students for their entire three years at Lincoln. Advisors mentor their charges, serve as advocates for the students, and start the day with rituals that include student sharing (Doda, 2002). Good middle schools use looping, a procedure that keeps students with one or more teachers over a period of two or more years. “Humans need meaningful relationships, particularly when they are in major developmental periods,” said John H. Lounsbury, dean emeritus of the School of Education at Georgia College & State University. “So many of the important objectives of education cannot be effectively achieved in a short-term relationship” (Ullman, 2005, para. 2).
An observation that has been consistently noted about young adolescents is their decreased motivation for learning compared to kids in the elementary school years. This has traditionally been ascribed to the physiological and emotional changes going on inside them. However, it may be more apt to suggest that it is the quality of the learning environment that in large part determines whether they will be engaged in their studies (Anderman & Midgley, 1998). If a student enters a large, impersonal system where he or she is told exactly what to learn, read, study, and memorize, then it is likely that the student will not be motivated. On the other hand, if the student is given a significant role in determining the kinds of learning experiences he or she will have, then the burgeoning energies of adolescence will only fuel the motivation to learn. Seventh graders at Helen King Middle School in Portland, Maine, have produced a CD-ROM about Maine's endangered species. At Harry Hurt Middle School in Destrehan, Louisiana, students take part in a program called the Wetland Watcher, which involves monitoring water quality, planting trees to halt coastal erosion, and educating others about the importance of taking care of the environment (Ball, 2004). Students at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California, prepare and eat their own organically grown lunches from their own gardens (Furger, 2004a). In each of these cases, students are engaged directly in real-life pursuits rather than artificially contrived lesson plans that have little or no relevance to their lives.
Positive Role Models
Perhaps the most critical element in the ancient rites of passage was the presence of mature individuals to help adolescents make the transition into full membership in the society. As noted above, this factor is often missing from the lives of young teens. Middle schools need to be places where a student will have contact with older people who have vital lives of their own and who are themselves authentic human beings. There are many middle school programs where this is a focus. Eyes to the Future, for example, is a National Science Foundation–sponsored program that pairs 7th and 8th grade students with high school girls and women mentors working in science, math, and technology. Math Understanding through the Science of Life brings together Duke University engineering students and middle school students to study worms, predict the weather, and engage in other projects that apply mathematics to the real world (Dickinson, 2001). There are many other ways in which middle schools can expose their students to positive role models. Parent volunteers can offer their services as experts in specific fields. Outside experts can be engaged to share their findings with students. The school can offer a program of positive role models in the curriculum to study the lives of famous individuals who overcame adversity, or successful individuals in the community who come in and talk about what helped them achieve success. The Role Model Program in San Jose, California, for example, brings business and community leaders into Santa Clara County classrooms to encourage positive life choices and educational achievement. In these and other ways, middle school educators can help to counteract much of the negative influence young teens receive from tainted media heroes, celebrated gang leaders, and other damaged individuals who never quite made the journey into maturity.
Students entering the emotional turmoil of adolescence are going through a major shift in their ability to think. They are entering the formal operational stage of cognitive development. Now, for the first time, they can think about thinking itself. They can stand above themselves and look down and reflect on what they're doing. This capacity is an important resource for adolescents who have their foot on the gas pedal before their brakes have been fully installed. Instead of acting on impulse, the mind can be trained to observe what's going on and to take appropriate measures. Typically, educators steeped in Academic Achievement Discourse have jumped on formal operations in adolescence as a justification to teach students in the middle grades pre-algebra or algebra. This is an oversimplification of this important resource of the mind.
Students should be helped to use their new kind of mind in learning study skills, reflecting on curriculum materials, exploring the nature of conflicts in their lives, and setting realistic goals for themselves. At Knotty Oak Middle School in Coventry, Kentucky, students are taught how to unpack any text by accessing what they already know about the topic, visualizing the material, and hunting down material in the text from which they can draw specific conclusions. “Learning is messy,” says English Department Chairwoman Constance Tundis. “I tell my kids I want to see wood burning. I want to see five crossouts because that means you're thinking five times more deeply. It's all about asking questions and not looking for answers. If they know what to attack, what to look for, how to connect, they'll find the right answers” (Steiny, 2005, para. 17). Harvard Project Zero's Practical Intelligence for School project has prepared materials to guide middle school students in creating their own approaches to studying, planning, reflecting, and coping with the many demands of school and schoolwork (Blythe, White, & Gardner, 1995; Williams, Blythe, White et al., 1996). Similarly, with conflict resolution, students can be helped to step outside of themselves long enough to look at the social or emotional difficulties they find themselves in and seek positive solutions to resolving them.
Expressive Arts Activities
Given all of the emotional and physical tumolt roiling inside of young adolescents, it's a wonder that more focus has not been placed on the expressive arts at the middle school level. Expressive arts should be considered a core component of any middle school plan. The arts provide opportunities for young teens to express themselves in an atmosphere that is without judgment in areas such as sculpture, painting, drama, music, and dance. It's virtually impossible to fail in the expressive arts. In the course of expressing themselves artistically, students can sublimate sexual energies, channel violent impulses, sort out emotional conflicts, and build a deeper sense of identity. These are all critical developmental tasks in early adolescence.
At Clarkson School of Discovery, a public magnet middle school in Bladen County, North Carolina, students read children's literature and then develop the characters through creative movement. They also construct “heirlooms,” or books that they want to keep for the rest of their lives, using photography, art, and language. At Hand Middle School in Columbia, South Carolina, students write poems and fiction about weather patterns and take on the roles of famous poets during the Harlem Renaissance (Stevenson & Deasy, 2005). Young adolescents should have the opportunity to do some type of creative art activity every day, whether it is integrated into the regular curriculum as above or engaged in as a freestanding activity. When young teens write poems, work in clay, draw, paint, dance, and sing, they are creatively involved in the act of forming themselves as autonomous individuals. The benefit to society could not be greater.
Health and Wellness Focus
As students' bodies change during puberty, somebody needs to be around to help them understand what's happening to them. A recent poll by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government indicates that only 7 percent of Americans say sex education should not be taught in the schools (Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2004). Sex education should be only a part of a larger effort to inform young adolescents about issues relevant to their lives such as substance abuse, depression, eating disorders, and other ills that can begin at this stage of development. Moreover, all of this should be done within a context that emphasizes how to stay healthy, rather than how to avoid disease. At Madison Junior High in Naperville, Illinois, students wear heart monitors during their weekly 12-minute run and use a comprehensive computer-based fitness station that measures everything from strength and flexibility to cholesterol levels (Furger, 2001). Health courses in middle schools at Parsipanny–Troy Hills School District in New Jersey cover everything from stress management and sexually transmitted diseases to substance abuse and pregnancy and childbirth. By not shying away from sensitive subjects that are critical to the lives of young adolescents, middle school educators can show that they are really tuned in to the lives of their students.
Emotionally Meaningful Curriculum
Given that the limbic system or “emotional brain” is particularly active during early adolescence, it seems clear that the curriculum needs to be built around topics and themes that have emotional content and that engage students' feelings in a gripping way. Yet, as noted above, much of the curriculum in middle schools is textbook-based (read: bo-ring) and aligned to standards that may sound good to the politicians who enacted them into law but fall far short of reaching the real worlds of passionate teenagers.
Exemplary middle schools teach history, social studies, literature, science, and even math in ways that have an impact on the emotional lives of young teens. At Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, New Jersey, for example, students read about the Warsaw Ghetto and then discuss how they can combat injustices that they see in their own lives. In another class, students reflect in their journals on what it must feel like to be a foster child (Curtis, 2001a). Science students at Central Middle School in Quincy, Massachusetts, study genetics by creating family trees and examining the appearance of traits such as musical ability in their genealogy (Harvard Project Zero, 2006).
Whatever the lesson might be, teachers should always attempt to link it in some way to the feelings, memories, or personal associations of the students. A simple strategy might be to ask students to “think of a time in your life when you ....” If the topic is the American Revolution, students might think of examples of revolution in their own lives. If the topic is the central problem of a character in a novel, they might think of similar problems they faced in the past. Any time teachers can connect the curriculum to young adolescents' limbic systems, and then link those emotions to metacognitive reflections (“How would you handle the problem differently now?”), they are teaching in a developmentally appropriate way for this level.
Student Roles in Decision Making
Although student-initiated learning is an important component of good middle schools, students must also have a wider role to play in the affairs of the school. They should be involved in maintaining discipline through teen court, shaping school assemblies or special events, and providing meaningful feedback about courses, the school environment, and other aspects of running the school. They should have an opportunity to express their ideas and feelings in a democratic context in the classroom. It seems rather strange to me that we expect students to learn about democracy in school climates that are more often run like dictatorships! Students at Webb Middle School in Austin, Texas, participate in shared decision making through class meetings. At one meeting, for example, a student shared his concerns about hallway safety and suggested a hall monitor system that was embraced by his classmates and implemented as school policy (Appelsies & Fairbanks, 1997). Talent Middle School students in Talent, Oregon, lead parent–teacher conferences (Kinney & Munroe, 2001). In Olympia, Washington, middle school students tutor student teachers from a local college in how to use high-tech tools (Armstrong, 2001). In each of these cases, young teens are being empowered at an age when their biological imperative is demanding that they be recognized.
Honoring and Respecting Student Voices
A deeper manifestation of giving students significant roles in decision making in the school is the respect that needs to be given to their authentic voices. This may be the most important thing that educators at the middle school level can do for their students: help them find their own true voice. Students at this age are struggling with a myriad of inner voices internalized from peers, gangs, the media, and other sources, and in the midst of all of this, they are faced with the significant challenge of trying to pick from that hodgepodge of noises their own unique identity—their own true voice.
Teachers in middle schools should be greatly concerned with helping students develop their own individual voices through poetry, journal writing, and other meaningful writing assignments. At Broad Meadows Middle School in Quincy, Massachusetts, students engage in a program called Writing Wrongs. Instead of writing phony business letters from a textbook, they write real letters to real people to solve real problems. One letter persuaded a mayor to adopt the student's own adopt-a-neighborhood cleanup program. Other students wrote letters to politicians and businesspeople about child labor practices in third world countries, and as a result they testified before the U.S. Department of Labor, addressed graduate students at Harvard, and raised $147,000 to set up a school in Pakistan for children in bonded labor (Adams, 2001). As young teens notice their deeper voices being listened to and recognized, they acquire confidence and a sense of selfhood that will stand them in good stead as they face the challenges of the future.
Facilitating Social and Emotional Growth
Academic Achievement Discourse puts social and emotional growth on the back burner while it goes about its work of meeting standards and boosting test scores. Yet educators do this at great peril to society. Good middle schools help students develop their emotional intelligence and their intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence (Gardner, 1993; Goleman, 1997). They use cooperative learning as a key to fostering positive social relationships. They have well-trained counselors on staff and maintain good referral networks for students needing special help with their emotional problems from mental health professionals. They engage students in curriculum-related activities that serve to develop their social and emotional intelligences.
At Webb Middle School in Austin, Texas, students create life graphs or visual autobiographies that depict the ups and downs of their lives, including trips, accidents, family milestones, and other personally meaningful events. They then choose an event from the graph to expand into a written narrative such as “How I Learned to Play Basketball,” “A Trip to Mexico,” or “Being Made Fun Of.” They also create identity boxes that contain photos, relics, poems, and other treasures, and they are then videotaped presenting their boxes to the rest of the class (Appelsies & Fairbanks, 1997). At Walden III Middle School in Racine, Wisconsin, students go through a Rites of Passage Experience that involves presenting evidence of competence in 16 areas, including English, math, ethics, and physical challenge, to a committee of teachers, peers, and community members (George Lucas Educational Foundation, 1997). By giving primary attention to the development of social and emotional learning in middle school, educators ensure that students will have the personal tools they need in order to function optimally in the broader society around them.
Too many educators believe that early adolescence is either a time for whipping kids into shape for the academic rigors of high school or a time for patient (if painful) endurance while they go about their tortuous process of growing up. It is neither. There is a great middle area between these two extremes that must be the focus of those who wish to deal with the reality of young teens. Young adolescents live rich and intense lives. To demand that they leave these lives outside of the school boundaries is to commit a serious injustice to them, and it also threatens to deprive society of the gifts these kids have to give. By embracing the passion of early adolescence and using that energy to revitalize the classroom, educators will ensure that these vibrant young voices will sing out their hopes, fears, joys, and sorrows in a way that can benefit not only themselves but the rest of society as well.
For Further Study
- Visit a middle school that employs some of the developmentally appropriate practices described in this chapter. Then visit a middle school that follows some of the developmentally inappropriate practices examined in the chapter. Compare your experiences. What was the general emotional tone of each school? Where did students appear to be learning more? Where did they seem most involved in the learning process? Discuss your reflections and observations with colleagues who have visited the same or similar schools.
- Think back to your own early adolescence. What were some of your hopes, fears, joys, and dreams? What particular problems took center stage at that time in your life? What was school like for you? Do you remember any teachers who were particularly supportive or unsupportive? What courses, activities, and learning experiences do you remember enjoying the most (and the least) in school? Write down your memories as they come to you. Share them with a colleague (or a group of colleagues) who have gone through the same process. Discuss what has changed about being a young teen since you were that age.
- Observe young teens involved in formal and informal learning activities inside and outside of school. What sorts of inferences can you make about their emotional, social, and creative lives based on the behaviors that you see? How do the environments you observe them in either support or not support their developmental needs?
- Ask at least five adolescents between the ages of 11 and 15 what they think about school. Ask them what their favorite and least favorite courses are in school. Ask them about their favorite and least favorite teachers (do this in a school where you are not one of the teachers). If they don't enjoy their school experience, ask them what sorts of changes might make their time in school more satisfying to them.
- Which of the developmentally appropriate practices for young adolescents described in this chapter are most important in your opinion? What other practices would you add to this list? Which practices seem most absent from the middle schools in your area? Support the development and implementation of one or more of these practices in your district or community.
Teaching the Value of Science
By: Lee Shumow and Jennifer A. Schmidt
Students will more readily engage in science when they see its relevance—to them. Here are four value-enhancing approaches to teaching science content.
A hush fell over the trigonometry class, heads swiveled around, and my classmates stared at me (Lee), dumbfounded. A few told me later they couldn't believe I'd had the nerve to ask the teacher, with some exasperation, to explain the purpose of the function he was teaching. But I simply couldn't imagine the purpose of the abstract and tedious work we were expected to do, and I wasn't interested in doing a set of problems just for the sake of doing them. Luckily, I had an experienced teacher who provided several concrete examples that illustrated how very useful the function was in the real world. The reassurance that this was actually useful satisfied me, so I did the problems without complaint. All these years later, I still remember the respect I gained for both him and the value of trigonometry.
The fact is, most adolescents perceive little or no value in what they're expected to learn in school and, as a result, they report being bored and disconnected. Educators recognize that students who value what they're learning are more motivated and engaged in class, yet judging from the many teachers we've observed as researchers and talked with during professional development sessions, most don't know how to promote that essential motivational ingredient. In fact, many teachers describe motivation as a fairly stable trait of their students, like eye color or body type.
Thankfully, motivation isn't a trait. Rather, it's a state—and states are far easier to change than traits. A central purpose of our work is to empower educators to enhance their students' motivation to learn. Fostering value is one of the best ways they can accomplish this.
The Science Slump
Student engagement tends to decline as students move through middle and high school—and nowhere does it drop more dramatically than in science. The evidence and examples we draw on come from research that we and others have conducted in middle and high school science classrooms (Hulleman & Harackiewicz, 2009; Schmidt, Shumow, & Durik, 2011; Shumow & Schmidt, 2014). However, the concepts and strategies we discuss are relevant for educators across content areas and grade levels.
The fact that few adolescent students in the United States value science has long-term consequences. Jobs require more scientific knowledge and skill than ever before, and that trend is predicted to continue. Students with high scientific literacy will have better career options than those without.
But career readiness isn't the only reason to understand and value science. Many everyday decisions are informed by scientific literacy and by one's ability to think about and analyze situations using evidence. Concerns about the environment, the food supply, health, and energy rank high among the major issues facing communities and society. As such, scientific literacy plays a central role in preparing citizens, a fundamental purpose of secondary education.
Through our own and others' studies, we've learned a lot about why and under what conditions students value their science learning. With funding from the National Science Foundation, we observed approximately 400 science classes in diverse schools and collected in-the-moment reports from students about what they were thinking and feeling during the classes we observed. As a result, we were able to tie what was happening in the classrooms to students' motivational states and engagement.
Why It Matters
Several teachers we observed were amazingly adept at regularly promoting the value of science, both through explicit statements about why the day's content was important in life and through seemingly off-hand comments that weren't about specific course content at all.
For example, Donna, a 7th grade science teacher, asked one of her students to "explain what speed means." The student replied, "Speed is d/t—and I don't really care about speed. It's just a term we have to memorize for science. It's not really all that important to think about speed in life." To this, Donna responded,
You play an instrument, right? Does it matter what speed you play the song? Can you play it as fast or slow as you want, and will it still sound good? Or how about getting to class on time? Do you need to be worried about speed? These two examples aren't just about science. Speed is everywhere. You use it all the time.
During this same class period, Donna learned that a student was absent from class because of an orthodontics appointment. She jokingly commented, "Don't orthodontists know that they're taking students out of science class and that science is kind of important? After all, they had to do well in science to become orthodontists!" Donna's comments were rather ordinary, but they emphasized how all aspects of students' lives related to science. Not coincidentally, Donna's students reported the highest science interest levels of all the students whose teachers and classrooms we studied.
By and large, however, teachers like Donna have been rare in our studies. We more often observed missed opportunities for teachers to promote the value of science. In some cases, teachers felt pressured to get through enormous amounts of content and believed they didn't have time to make those connections. The inevitable consequence, however, is that many students disengage from science.
Four Kinds of Value
Research and common sense tell us that when we see value in an activity, we're more likely to engage in it. The good news for educators is that value can take many different forms. Individuals don't have to perceive the same value in a given activity to be motivated to engage in it.
For example, one of us (Jen) is a runner. She runs primarily because she derives great enjoyment and peace from it. In contrast, a friend of hers drags herself out to run even though she finds running unpleasant; she believes that anyone who's truly fit must be a good runner. The two women see different value in running, but both types of value motivate them to put on their running shoes each day and ultimately make them better runners.
The same principle holds true for academics. Students don't have to all see the same value in what they're learning. Here are four different ways your students can come to value science—and four different approaches you can take to promote student engagement.
Finding It Interesting: Intrinsic Value
Not surprisingly, students who are interested in a topic are more engaged when studying it.
Some students are interested in a particular kind of music, whereas others are interested in a given sport or game. Individual interests often begin during childhood and are sustained over a lifetime. For example, E. O. Wilson, the father of sociobiology and a renowned biologist, was deeply interested in ants as a child and eventually became recognized as the world's leading myrmecologist (a zoologist specializing in ants).
Teachers who know about their students' interests can draw on those interests when teaching concepts, whether it's connecting a unit on respiration or evolution to someone's interest in fishing or relating content about acids, bases, and chemical reactions to someone's interest in cooking. Teachers can learn about their students' interests through checklists or open-ended survey questions administered early in the school year or by communicating with parents.
Interest development often begins with situational interest in which curiosity or wonder is aroused. Many scientists and college science majors point to a high school teacher who sparked their initial interest in science by generating situational interest.
Science teachers can do this by offering novelty; many amazing images and demonstrations are available to generate interest in a phenomenon. Showing dramatic video of specific weather events will certainly spark more interest in students than simply having them read textbook definitions. Yet in the numerous lessons we observed during a middle school unit on weather, we rarely saw any videos of the phenomena that students were studying.
Personalizing and dramatizing the importance of concepts through storytelling also foster situational interest by appealing to students' emotions. One of the outstanding teachers we know brings the concept of homeostasis to life for her students by telling about a time she fainted in class (see www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=fx6arX83bz4).
Perhaps the most effective and underused method is for teachers to express their own enthusiasm for the topic. In our research, we rarely observed teachers being passionate about their subject and, instead, frequently rated teachers' level of enthusiasm as "matter of fact." Our ratings match the recent Gallup poll finding (2014) that the vast majority of teachers report being disengaged in their work.
Now, just because an academic activity is fun doesn't mean that it's necessarily interesting or engaging to students. For example, several chemistry teachers we observed chose to do a lab in which students each made their own ice cream. Unfortunately, the teachers didn't highlight the connections between making the ice cream and the chemistry concepts, vocabulary, or reasoning the students were supposed to be learning. Instead of learning about solutions, states of matter, phase transition, colligative properties, freezing point depression, and crystals, the students simply appeared to enjoy eating the ice cream they made, and they rated the activity as enjoyable but of low value.
Finding It Useful: Utility Value
Students might value their academic work because they perceive it as useful in meeting a short- or long-term goal. A physics student might find that a particular principle helps him or her hit a baseball more effectively. Students may see science as useful for solving a variety of broader problems—from reducing energy costs; to preventing accidents; to promoting good health; to improving air, soil, and water quality.
Students might also value science because it has meaning and purpose beyond their own self-interest. Adolescents are starting to turn their attention to the broader world and their place in it and are often concerned about social justice, moral ideals, and the well-being of others. They're more likely to persist in learning if they believe that what they're learning might matter in preventing or solving social or environmental problems.
For example, we observed a teacher whose students learned physical science through studying the soil from the prairie that surrounded the school, nurturing worm farms in class, growing crops with the compost from the worms, and using solar power from panels on the school roof. Using the Internet, his students shared their knowledge and expertise about high-intensity food production with a high school class in the Middle East (see http://greducation.blogspot.com/2014_02_01_archive.html). The students' realization that they could use what they were learning to help feed hungry people at home and abroad had a profound effect on their sense of autonomy and on their understanding that science has value. In the end, it increased their motivation to learn.
Some research suggests that helping students appreciate the utility value of science content might be particularly effective at promoting engagement among students who lack confidence in their science ability (Hulleman, Godes, Hendricks, & Harackiewicz, 2010; Hulleman & Harackiewicz, 2009). When students feel they're struggling at something, they tend to lose interest in it—that is, "I'm not good at math, so I'm not interested in math." Providing opportunities for students to appreciate why this challenging content is worth knowing can help them maintain their commitment to learning.
A good deal of science content is abstract, and students are unlikely to automatically connect those concepts to their experiences, goals, and the outside world without some guidance from adults. The evidence we collected in classrooms demonstrated that the more teachers talked about how science content applied to the world outside the classroom, the more their students were able to make these types of value connections on their own—and the more interested they were in their science education.
Finding It Connects to a Sense of Self: Attainment Value
Before you run out and tirelessly laud the utility of science, there's one caveat here. It's counterproductive to emphasize the utility of science for reaching goals that are inconsistent with students' strongly held identity beliefs. For example, if a female student believes that working in a science field isn't part of the female gender role and her teacher exclusively highlights the value of the course content for those going into careers in the field, this student may grow increasingly uninterested in science. The teacher would need to either emphasize a value more in line with the student's identity beliefs or work on broadening the student's notions about who goes into science careers.
On the other hand, an aspiring paramedic who comes from a family with a long line of military service as medics might have a self-perception of being responsible, cool under pressure, and service-minded. This student is more likely to see success in high school biology as central to fulfilling an identity than is a student who aspires to be a writer, musician, or banker.
Ideas that students have about particular socio-demographic groups can also facilitate or undermine attainment value. Recently, a high school teacher in one of our professional development workshops shared that one of his black students said that his science class was worthless to him because "I'm black. We don't do science." This is a stark reminder of how important it is to expose students to role models with whom they can identify—through stories, posters, films, or guest speakers—and take steps to combat the damaging effects of stereotypes.
Teachers can foster attainment value in several different ways. First, understanding how students perceive themselves enables teachers to help students relate to the content they teach. Asking students to identify their hobbies and career interests on surveys can help teachers identify students' self-perceptions. Second, because adolescents are still formulating their identities, teachers can offer them opportunities to explore various aspects of science through inquiry-based labs, service projects related to science, and career exploration assignments.
Finally, we've observed a handful of teachers who've created a class identity and sense of belonging that they've tied to class work. They use words like "we" and "our class." For example, in reference to an upcoming student mentoring project, the teacher said, "We'll be teaching 5th graders about invasive species. Each one of you plays an important role in making this succeed. The 5th graders depend on your knowledge, preparation, and good example."
Finding Its Relative Worth: Cost Value
Like savvy shoppers, students often weigh the relative costs of their options. Before engaging in learning, participation, and achievement, they may think about what they'll have to "pay" for it and what they'll gain in return. Video games, part-time jobs, other classes, and socializing may compete with studying for students' time and effort.
If students perceive that their science content has little value, they may calculate that the cost of engaging in it is simply too high. However, if a teacher consistently highlights the value of science in terms of students' interests, goals, self-perceptions, and daily life, it's often enough to sway this cost analysis in favor of science.
A Worthwhile Investment
When students hold the belief, flawed though it may be, that academics have little value, it's no wonder they're disengaged from school. Fortunately, teachers have tremendous power to influence those beliefs. Investing the effort to implement the strategies we've suggested here is well worth the cost. Helping students find value in their learning activities is likely to result in increased student engagement, interest, and performance both in and out of school.
Authors' note: The material in this article is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No: HRD-1136143, HRD-1102925, and HRD-0827526. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars—mere globs of gas atoms. I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination—stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern—of which I am a part. … What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it.
—Richard P. Feynman From The Feynman Lectures on Physics
Strategies to Foster Value
- Identify and capitalize on students' attitudes and self-perceptions, and find ways to discover their interests, goals, beliefs, and concerns.
- Express enthusiasm and wonder for topics of study.
- Create interest during instruction through novelty and surprise.
- Include students in creating meaning.
- Draw connections between the content and its practical applications.
- Use familiar examples. When defining inertia, you might say, "You know how people and things in the car keep moving forward when you slam on the brakes?"
- Make learning emotionally compelling through telling stories.
- Make content relevant to students' families, communities, and cultures.
- Convey the purpose of what and how students are learning. In addition to knowing how the concepts they're learning matter, students also need to understand how inquiry and study skills will benefit them in the future.
The locker room has lockers!!!!!!
Thank you, Ms. Mancias for taking on the student culture goal with gusto!