Reviewed by Juliana Texley
NSTA Web Field Editor
At first glance, this pair of volumes may seem intimidating—especially for the elementary or middle level teacher who has suddenly come face–to–face with the strengthened physical science standards in both Common Core and the New Generation Science Standards. It is described as a semester–long professional development course, and it certainly could be that. The authors point out that the material is teacher–centered, collaborative, rigorous, and standards–based, focused on both learning and teaching with recognition of metacognition, and effective. But most importantly, the authors have tried to produce a guide that is "satisfying, worthwhile, and fun." That's why this compendium of methods and materials along with its Facilitator's Guide has the potential to be much more—a very valuable reference for the majority of teachers who couldn't find the time to take a formal course or the core of a discussion group.
For each of five content areas (Properties of Matter, Particles of Matter, Changes in Matter, Atomic Structure, and Matter in Action) the book offers extremely practical information on both content and methods. It also provides a guide to looking at student work including mental models, learning gaps, and how to analyze and modify tasks based on how the teacher is informed by assessment. "Teaching Cases" describe complete sequences of instruction (rather than stand–alone activities). There are repeated examples of both mathematical and literacy applications for each concept, along with guides for evaluating student work. Page after page of simple diagrams make the concepts clear, and distinguish between correct and incorrect student ideas.
Yes, the questions at the end of each of the five units sound a lot like they belong in a graduate course; however, they are equally valuable as prompts for a less formal discussion of how students are doing in the teacher's lounge or during release time for professional development. It's easy to imagine the average teacher or community of educational learners using this book in many other ways than formal coursework. If, for example, a staff identified one area of content in which a specific grade level was having difficulty on a standardized assessment, that section might be the focus of an effort that was both thorough and extremely effective.
For those teachers who are looking at the heightened expectations in physical science at the elementary and middle level, this compendium is key. While it doesn't come in easy bytes, the message of the entire program is: "Relax. You can do this. Here's how."
Review posted on 2/4/2013