I am new to NSTA and having difficulty finding activities/lesson plans on the website for my middle school classes. Right now, I’m looking for ideas on earthquakes and Newton’s laws. Where is the best place to find them?—Chris, Kutztown, Pennsylvania
Once you’ve identified your topic and learning goals, you can access a variety of resources for activities and lesson plans via the NSTA website.
Search the NSTA Learning Center (under the Professional Development tab) for resources that appeared in NSTA publications, seminars, and professional development opportunities. For instance, I have collected some resources for earthquakes and Newton’s Laws. You can filter your search by type of resource, grade level, cost, and subject area.
As an NSTA member, you have electronic access to all current journals as well as archived issues. Select “Choose your classroom” in the left margin of the NSTA homepage to access Science & Children (preK–4), Science Scope (5–8), and The Science Teacher (9–12). When I taught middle school, I read Science Scope regularly, but I also browsed the other journals for ideas and activities I could adapt. And don’t overlook the Journal of College Science Teaching. Some of the articles and research published there could be relevant to K–12 teaching, too.
NSTA’s SciLinks is a database of websites on hundreds of topics for grades K–4, 5–8, and 9–12—reviewed by educator “webwatchers.” Many textbooks and NSTA publications have SciLinks codes in the margin, which you can enter to access the online resources, and you can search the SciLinks website for resources by topic and grade level. Registration is free. Go to http://bit.ly/TLrEw2 to see the list you would get by using the keyword “earthquakes.” Enter “Newton” as a search term for grades 5–8 to get lists related to Newton’s Laws in general, or each of the three laws specifically. You can tag specific sites as “favorites” and create a list of sites for your students to examine. Look at similar topics at the K–4 grade level that could be appropriate for your struggling readers or at the 9–12 level for background information or more advanced activities.
NSTA also has a Social Networking Dashboard where you can access the organization’s Facebook and Twitter messages, blog posts, and discussion forums.
NSTA’s e-mail list servers (under the Member Services tab) are group e-mail discussions allowing members to exchange information in a peer-to-peer forum. NSTA members can subscribe to any (or all) of the 14 topic areas: biology, chemistry, computer science, Earth science, elementary, environmental science, general science, Next Generation Science Standards, physical science, physics, technology education, new teacher, and retired teacher. Colleagues on the list servers share ideas, get information, and ask questions. The lists operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so information from your peers is available when you need it. If you ask about activities or lesson plans, it’s helpful to include the grade level, learning goal, and time frame so your colleagues get a better idea of what you need, and they’re always eager to help. I’d suggest setting up a separate e-mail account to use with the lists so your school or personal e-mail accounts don’t get overwhelmed, especially if you subscribe to more than one list.
In my sixth-grade science class, I try to involve the students in fun activities. But they don’t take them seriously unless I require something in writing or give a quiz. Then the students don’t seem to be able to connect the activity with the content. What can I do?—Nina, Boise, Idaho
I once worked with a teacher who used his own action research to investigate a similar situation. He surveyed his students to find out what class activities they enjoyed most. He was not surprised when the students mentioned hands-on investigations, games, small-group discussions, and simulations. He then asked what activities they thought were most important in learning science. Expecting to see the same activities, he was surprised (and puzzled) when the students identified worksheets as the most important.
He asked the students about this. They noted that worksheets (often assigned as homework) are graded, and if they were not completed, the students were kept in at recess to finish them. To a fifth grader, this consequence meant the task was very important. The worksheet grade was then factored into the course grade, which the students saw as the teacher’s evaluation of their learning. They considered the “fun” activities to be a diversion or a reward for doing the worksheets.
This finding troubled the teacher. He had chosen investigations and other activities related to the learning goals and assumed students would see the connection. His research showed this was not happening, so he began to introduce each activity with an explicit reference to the learning goals (which he kept posted on the board during the unit). For example, he’d say, “In this lab, we will investigate the relationship between….” “The purpose of this word game is to check your understanding of the key vocabulary for this unit.” “As you use this online simulation, pay attention to….”
I shared his research with another teacher, who added a short discussion at the end of an activity to debrief with the students on how it helped them achieve the learning goal(s). She also used an exit slip or a notebook entry in which students summarized what they learned.
If in previous years, your students viewed science as seatwork, they will need some extra help, guidance, and modeling to understand how learning can occur in a variety of situations.
Check out more of Ms. Mentor’s advice on diverse topics or ask a question at www.nsta.org/msmentor.