Inquisitive children look at tree bark with magnifying glasses

Alaskan Science Curriculum Topic Study Recap

Investing in education means investing in the teachers themselves. More than just spending money on professional development opportunities, this includes ensuring that teachers are getting the support they need to implement new ideas and concepts into their daily teaching.

The Region 16 Comprehensive Center works to improve the quality and equity of education throughout Alaska, Oregon, and Washington. Training for teachers is one way of reaching this goal.

The Region 16 Comprehensive Center recently sponsored a professional book study and a follow-up Science Curriculum Topic Study course for Alaskan teachers. The course was facilitated by Page Keeley and Joyce Tugel, authors of “Science Curriculum Topic Study: Bridging the Gap Between Three-Dimensional Standards, Research and Practice.”

Three teachers who attended the course were Julie Tallberg, Emily Ramirez, and Alice Cumps; all dedicated teachers with varying experience, teaching vastly different audiences.

“I think courses like this one help educators by connecting us together and helping us be motivated to try new things,” says Ramirez, a seventh-grade life sciences teacher at Colony Middle School.

Learning never stops, even when you’re a teacher. Opening new avenues for teaching can lead to more productive classrooms.

This eight-week, science-focused course focused on providing support for teachers in developing instructional plans for their classrooms. The study aimed to meet the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which form the basis of the Alaska Science Standards.

“My biggest takeaway was being able to have the time to reevaluate my instructional plans for teaching,” states Cumps, a Life Sciences teacher at Petersburg High school. “I’ve always got a lot of ideas for different activities, but sometimes I feel constrained or apprehensive about whether it’s appropriate, or where it fits into my curriculum, or whether it hits a state standard.”

One of the three dimensions of the Curriculum Topic Study is to do more actual science instead of just talking about it, in line with the NGSS. The three dimensions are:

1. Science and Engineering Practices
2. Crosscutting Concepts
3. Disciplinary Core Ideas

Getting kids involved in a hands-on approach allows them to see how things work firsthand and develop more interest in their study topics.

Both Ramirez and Tallberg have already put this into practice in their classrooms.

Tallberg used this approach in one assignment, monitoring how sunlight and shade affect various materials. The task involved students keeping snow from melting in a cardboard box and other insulating materials.

Students got a hands-on lesson by tracking temperatures and observing the snow over a week-long period. The class was engaged and excited throughout the assignment.

Ramirez was also delighted by her use of the NGSS’s three dimensions approach during her assignment on the Eklutna Dam and its impacts on the area.

In particular, the assignment focused on the lack of salmon in a river that they once frequented. While the salmon are gone, for now, the students were examining ways to bring them back.

Their disappearance has directly impacted the cultural practices of the Dena’ina people in the region. She noticed that the students were more engaged learning about science through a local lens, especially her Alaskan Native students.

“I was able to teach this lesson in-person,” remarks Ramirez. “I combined this lesson with the opportunity to hear from a local guest speaker virtually via zoom. I had about 76 students tune in on a remote learning Friday to listen to the guest speaker.

“My school was very lucky to have been in-person for the majority of the school year last year, but it was a very different experience,” says Cumps. “We had smaller classes and students were on modified schedules, so getting through the full debate unit that I designed wasn’t possible. But next year, I’m already planning with the English teacher to make sure to fit this debate unit into our regular curriculum. It’s really exciting to plan and think about the possibilities for next school year.”

As teachers work to make their curriculums fit the new Alaska science standards, resources like this Curriculum Science Topic Study will allow them to go boldly into the new year with fresh ideas in mind.

Successes like this sponsorship reinforce how important it is for educators across Alaska to be provided with resources beyond the classroom.

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