Middle School Science

Theme - Instructional Programs, Practices, and Arrangements

Best Practices

  • Heterogeneous grouping and differentiated instruction used to ensure all students gain knowledge and skills to pursue science at the high school level. Instruction designed to make science fun, relevant to students’ lives, and connected to building literacies across the curriculum.

Heterogeneous grouping and differentiated instruction ensure all students – including English language learners and those classified for special education – gain the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in science at the high school level. Instruction emphasizes making science fun and relevant to adolescents in order to engage them in learning and see themselves as capable in science. Developing scientific literacy is seen as directly connected to literacies in other content areas.

Some differences between higher- and average-performing schools

Even if there is no tracking in science, in average performers, tracking in math and ELA may affect the grouping in science. Not only are the higher performers further along in detracking in general so that their science courses are heterogeneous, they have also opened up science Regents courses like Earth Science to all eighth graders interested in taking them.

 

In the higher performers, a variety of classroom instructional techniques are encouraged and supported through continuous evaluation and professional development. In the average performers, classroom instruction may also be diverse but may not be supported by some of the other elements of best practice (professional development, systematic and ongoing evaluation of effectiveness).

In average performers, a focus on math and ELA is seen as drawing attention away from science, whereas, in the higher performers, science is seen as a motivator for middle school students and is used to develop mathematical and language literacies.

Selected Evidence:

Teachers use a variety of strategies to teach the specialized vocabulary of science. From Jamestown we share an approach to root words, and from Johnson City, a diverse set of strategies.

In South Glens Falls, an eighth-grade science project requires group work/collaboration and presentation as part of the grading rubric.

Many middle school assignments combine book work with internet searching and/or hands-on or active exploration. In addition, while using proper scientific vocabulary, teachers try to keep their language friendly – often humorous – as they try to tap adolescents’ interests. Examples include,

  • from Jamestown, a lesson on vernal pools;
  • from Geneseo, a lesson modeling the phases of the moon;
  • from Greene, Whatever Floats Your Boat; and
  • from Wayne, just one page from a field trip to an amusement park that focused on the physics but also included activities in geography, biology, mathematics (e.g., calculating fuel usage by the school buses), social studies, and foreign language during the course of the day.

Textbook selection in Jamestown includes a set of criteria that try to ensure a good fit with the state curriculum and local instructional practices.