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How Teachers and Families Can Work Together During Remote Instruction

By Brian Caine

Posted on 2020-08-27

Many of you likely experienced what I did early last spring: My state department of education declared we would be working remotely for at least one month. I repurposed my morning commute time and worked while my family slept. In this new reality, I was embracing a more formal role as “teacher-dad” while still retaining professional responsibilities.

Playing outdoors with my two young sons, ages three and five, we noticed a curiosity: a phenomenon. When my sons rolled a ball down our driveway, it didn’t make it to the end. Instead, it rolled off to one side (always the same side) and into the grass. I seized the opportunity to create a challenge for my sons: Could they keep the ball rolling all the way down on the driveway without touching it a second time?

I collected cardboard boxes of various sizes (weights) and small plastic containers filled with varying amounts of washers and screws for my sons to use as “bumpers.” They soon realized not all of the materials caused the ball to change direction. I hoped my sons would notice patterns among the materials that moved when the ball hit them and the materials that didn’t move. I posted this video of my sons’ problem-solving to my Twitter page, hoping to show that families can leverage everyday phenomena to engage their children in meaningful science learning.

How can we as teachers support families in facilitating science learning for their children at home? We might begin by explicitly inviting them to participate in their children’s school-based science learning. The Council of State Science Supervisors has created a pair of briefs that offer suggestions for ways to invite families to learn science.

The first brief—“How can families support students’ science learning at home?”—offers general guidance about roles that families can take to support science learning away from the classroom. Some of the general guidance encourages families to partner with their students in investigations and thinking about, support, and participate in productive talk while engaged in investigations, and share how they find answers to questions in their own work.

The second brief—Phenomena, Not Just for the Classroom—provides suggestions to help families notice and engage with phenomena in their daily lives:

Start with simple questions that help to stimulate curiosity and set the stage for inquiry...Parents, family members, and siblings can engage in this activity while doing things around the house, or as a “Notice and Wonder Walk” around the community while practicing social distancing. Students can develop their own list of phenomena that are relevant to their lives. Get started with these questions and see where it goes!

  • What do you see?
  • What do you think about what you are seeing?
  • What does it make you wonder?

Right now, teaching and learning have become distributed: Students may or may not be gathered with peers, teachers may or may not be physically with their students, and certainly families are working in different conditions. Identifying and selecting appropriate and engaging phenomena has the power to promote science learning regardless of the physical place or timing.

I have come to appreciate the use of phenomena as a caring act toward my students. Creating a place and context to hear their ideas and experiences is a way I can communicate that I value their individual stories. In working together as a classroom learning community or a family learning community to build on these shared experiences, we can develop deep understandings of science ideas.

Brian Caine taught all middle school science subjects in his first year of teaching in California. Caine then moved to Tennessee where he taught high school biology, chemistry, and physics for the next 15 years before accepting the position of Coordinator of Science at the Tennessee Department of Education in 2017.

Note: This article is featured in the August 2020 issue of Next Gen Navigator, a monthly e-newsletter from NSTA delivering information, insights, resources, and professional learning opportunities for science educators by science educators on the Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional instruction.  Click here to sign up to receive the Navigator every month.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

NGSS Phenomena Teaching Strategies Three-Dimensional Learning Elementary

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