Eighth-grade teachers in Iowa are changing the way science is taught

Eighth-grade science teachers attended a professional-development event from the UI on Oct. 28 involving new science standards, teaching climate science, and inquiry-based learning.


FILE - Recycle Mania Intern Elana Becker kicks off Earth Month in the Office of Sustainability on Monday, March 28, 2016. The Office of Sustainability just ended Recycle Mania, and is encouraging students to carry their trash bags over their backs around campus this week as a way to raise awareness of how much trash a single person can produce. (The Daily Iowan/file)

Memorization no longer equals learning, and Iowa’s teachers must adapt their methods.

Nearly 30 eighth-grade science teachers devoted time on Oct. 28 to collaborate and learn the best practices to engage and educate their students according to new standards at an event hosted by the University of Iowa.

The state implemented new science standards in 2015, encouraging teachers to adapt their practices away from memory-based learning and mandating a curriculum in climate science.

UI graduate student Susie Ziemer said the UI surveyed teachers last year on how comfortable they felt teaching to the new standards. The professional development hosted by the UI was based on the various needs the teachers identified.

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During the sessions, UI Clinical Associate Professor Ted Neal presented ideas and advice on inquiry-based teaching. Climate scientists also joined to share their knowledge.

Throughout the day, teachers listened to presentations and collaborated in groups on various topics, including natural resources in Iowa, human activity in Iowa, and scientific issues in rural and urban areas. The teachers were advised on how best to teach climate science and incorporate the new science standards into their classrooms.

“We’re trying to teach teachers how to access multiple data from their local area, and have kids ask questions about their backyard, and find solutions to what’s going on in their backyard,” Neal said.

Organizers rolled out three months of curricula to the teachers in attendance, he said.

“We include everything from interviewing your grandparents to looking at hard science data to reading articles out of newspapers for students to analyze,” he said.

In August 2015, the State Board of Education voted to adopt the Next Generation science standards. These standards set new common expectations for K-12 science curricula and teaching practices.

“I’ve been teaching for 23 years and it’s been a big shift in how things are taught, when things are thoughts, and where they are taught,” said Greg Robertson, a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher in Solon.

RELATED: NGSS brings change to science education

Neal said the new science standards implied that memorizing facts is not an effective way to learn. He said communication and other skills are equally important — such as asking questions, finding data that answers those questions, and communicating the findings.

“There’s all kinds of questions that students have about the natural world. But we don’t get to explore those questions in our science classrooms very often because we have a set curriculum and set content that we need to be able to recite,” Ziemer said. “This way, we’re trying to leverage a student’s own ideas and own curiosity.”

It makes sense in a classroom for students to explore an actual natural phenomenon, she said.

She encourages students to ask questions, find variables, and possibly come up with solutions about things they see in nature that relate to the standards that need to be covered, she said.

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