Schools adopting new methods to teach science
By Jeanne Millsap Correspondent February 11, 2013 8:10PM
Morris High juniors Carly Williamson and Cara Cummings consult with chemistry teacher Angela Zarley during an assignment. Zarley is implementing the new science standards in her classroom, which include more technology. | Jeanne Millsap ~ For Sun-Times M
Updated: March 13, 2013 6:01AM
Science is one of the most rapidly changing fields, and science teachers must constantly keep abreast of new discoveries and ways of thought. And that’s not the only thing changing in science education.
Beginning next year, public school teachers will have to use an entirely new method to teach the subject, involving more inquiry, discovery, and analyzing than before — just like real scientists do in the field.
Science teachers at Morris High School are preparing for those changes, led by chemistry teacher and science department head Angela Zarley.
“In this fast-paced, quickly changing world,” Zarley said, “students need to come out of school being able to think analytically … They’re going to be problem solvers. This way of thinking will take them into any field they want to go into.”
The changes in teaching that Zarley has instituted are in advance of what’s called, “Next Generation Science Standards,” the final plan of which is expected to be wrapped up this spring and put into schools in the fall.
Zarley said the standards will focus more on developing analytical skills in the students and will encourage the inclusion of more technology in the classroom. Kids learn differently today, she said, and teachers should adapt to that.
To pilot the program, the school’s principal allowed Zarley to have enough netbooks in her classroom for each student to have his or her own every day while in her class.
One recent assignment involved the students doing computer research on trends in the periodic table of elements. Zarley said she could have just lectured to them on the trends, but rather than spoon feed it to them, the students looked up the information themselves and made the discoveries themselves.
“I want them to get the data, analyze the data, and make their own conclusions,” she said. “By doing this, they are thinking at a higher level.”
Science teachers in the elementary and junior high grades in Channahon schools are also eyeing the changes in curriculum and preparing for them.
“We’re pretty impressed,” Channahon Junior High Principal Chad Uphoff said of the changes. “Our teachers are passionate about science and are embracing these standards. They’re pushing kids to think critically and work collaboratively.”
One way Channahon has been implementing inquiry-based learning methods is by having engineers from ExxonMobil and Exelon visit and conduct experiments with the students in the classroom.
Uphoff added that the old standards were somewhat of a “hodgepodge of subjects.” Now, there will be certain subjects in science that must be taught every year, something most educators agree is for the benefit of the students here and globally.
The U.S. is ranked 17th in science globally and 25th in math, according to ACT Readiness Benchmarks.