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Dear Dr. Dina: Making Science a Priority

01 Jun 2017 4:39 PM | Deleted user

Q: My school is really focused on Math and ELA across the content areas and I’m losing time for science. Do you have any suggestions on how I can advocate for science?

This is one of the most common questions I am asked, and also one of the most important ones. It’s a hard conversation to have, but a crucial one if we are truly advocates for high quality science education for all kiddos. I work almost exclusively with schools and districts that have been specifically identified for their students’ struggles with math and ELA, so not many of them are too focused on science- but I have worked with more than a dozen of these schools to MAKE science a focus for improvement.

So how do you broach that topic, when it’s not a priority? More importantly, how do you make it a priority? Here are some of the things I’ve used to broach the topic and start the discussion.

Many (perhaps even most) admin don’t come from a science background

This means the vast majority of their experience in science education has been their own K-12 science education, which has not been NGSS. It’s a lot easier to rationalize (in their minds anyway), minimizing that kind of classroom experience in favor of working on a Math or ELA standard. Here are 3 great videos from Illinois teachers (and ISTA members!) that highlight what an example NGSS classroom looks like at elementary, middle, and high school.

Did you know that science can engage reluctant learners and close achievement gaps for struggling learners? 

I find that a lot of admin are interested in the research and evidence behind an idea. Three common reasons that kiddos don’t engage in a lesson are they are bored, afraid of failure, or don’t see why they should have to learn it (Daniels, 2005). While not an explicit conceptual shift, exploring and explaining naturally occurring phenomena is central to the NGSS classroom, and one of the best ways to build in relevancy for kiddos. There is a growing body of research and evidence that shows that EL students and students with learning disabilities show growth in Math and ELA by practicing those skills in their science classes. A report released in January highlights the power of integrating science with EL development instruction in California, and using NGSS science as a lever for equity for EL students. I highly recommend checking it out here for their key findings.

Supporting Math and ELA with science doesn’t mean just reading more and doing more math problems. 

Although the NGSS are aligned with the Common Core Math and ELA, science has its own specific content in the form of 3 intertwined dimensions that provide concrete, relevant situations and experiences for kiddos to practice and utilize similar skills across content areas. Rather than “do more math and ELA in science”, the discussion centers on supporting those skills WITHOUT sacrificing the science content. I also recommend being prepared to talk about the commonalities between Math, ELA and science skills and practices with this venn diagram and explanation.

ISBE’s ESSA plans include Science Proficiency in the accountability system beginning in 2019-2020.  

You can find the most current (as of this writing)Illinois ESSA plan here.

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