FOSS Kit Training: Professional Development for the Pre-Service Teacher

On Tuesday, I attended a day-long FOSS Kit training at the Grant Wood Area Educational Agency (GWAEA). The purpose of this training for classroom teachers was to prep them for teaching the FOSS Kit they will be using as part of their science curriculum in the Fall. The purpose for me, as a student, was to absorb as much information as possible (i.e. Training layout, connections to what we are discussing in class, relationships between the training’s content focuses and my own teaching philosophy, etc). Additionally, I was there to participate in the training as if I were a 1st Grade teacher who would be teaching the FOSS Kit Pebbles, Sand & Silt to my 1st Graders this fall.

The FOSS Kit comes as a pre-packaged science curriculum. Virtually everything you will need to teach the unit can be found in your kit. The kit also comes with a curriculum binder. Within this binder, the units (referred to as “investigations”), are laid out for you. In the Pebbles, Sand & Silt kit, there are 3 investigations. Each investigation comes with set lesson plans to teach the curriculum. The key curricular focus of every lesson is referred to as the lesson’s Focus Question. The focus question can be thought of as the “Curricular Standard” that is being met while teaching the lesson.  By presenting the curricular focus of each lesson as a question,  the material appears to be more open-ended. This was a reassuring sign for me as a future educator.

Right from the start, I could make connections to both my personal teaching philosophy and what we have been discussing in class. Specifically, an early emphasis was placed on teaching: “Science as Inquiry.” I am a strong believer in Constructivist Viewpoints on educations, so teaching science as inquiry is an extremely important statement for me as an educator. By stating that science is rooted in inquiry, the stage has been set for expanding science beyond the classroom. Inquiry is something everybody does on a daily basis. While others were dozing off or texting their friends, I was hooked.

In Science Methods, we have also focused on teaching science as inquiry in our daily readings and class discussions. As a science teacher who believes in teaching Science as Inquiry, the question becomes: “How do we teach inquiry? What does this look like in the classroom setting?” Through our readings, we determined that Science Notebooks are an excellent format for the inquiry process in the classroom. The importance of the science notebook was reinforced during the FOSS Kit training as well. According to the training facilitators, you cannot possibly teach science without science notebooks. My in-class readings were connecting with my out-of-class experiences.

As we progressed through the FOSS Kit training, we were given our own science notebooks to used throughout. The facilitators would model how to use a science notebook while teaching Pebbles, Sand & Silt. For the facilitators, the science notebook’s purpose was to serve as the place where students could make predictions, record their observations and experimental data, and reflect on the lesson’s focus question. This brings up another critical point: The purpose of the science notebook is not set in stone. It is up to the individual teacher to determine its purpose in the classroom.

After presenting the format and purpose of the science notebooks within the Pebbles, Sand & Silt kit, the facilitators walked through the three investigations with us. In this way, we were actually learning the material in a similar way as our students would be learning it. The first two were actually taught to us as if we were 1st Graders and we orally walked through the last investigation after lunch.

Throughout the day, but especially as I was participating in the different investigations and lessons, I took away four critical points:

  1. Determining the balance of student experimentation and teaching content is essential to the success or failure of science instruction. We talked a lot about walking the fine line between letting kids go crazy with the materials, and letting them explore every aspect of the materials before being told what to do. The group consensus was that the amount of “free time” with the materials largely depends on the individual make-up of your class.
  2. Science is ACTIVE! Throughout the training, we were constantly leaving our chairs. Whether that meant we were discovering rocks outside or taking gallery walks to observe each others’ work, we were always moving. An interesting teacher tip, I learned was to use a different door to when going outside to conduct experiments than the door used for recess. This is a subconscious brain thing!
  3. Science is COLLABORATIVE and DISCUSSION-BASED! Throughout the investigations, the facilitators kept reinforcing that the activities are meant to be group-driven and discussion-based. Even though the FOSS Kit may recommend the activity be completed individually, they emphasized the importance of collaborative and discussion-based work.
  4. Vocabulary is paramount in quality science instruction. In our training, the facilitators emphasized using a Pocket Chart to display science vocabulary used through the lesson and the different investigations. They also spoke of the importance of incorporating science vocabulary into our everyday “teacher-talk.”

All three of these points were touched on and emphasized in almost every lesson we participated in.

My final take-away came as everybody was packing up and leaving for the day. After a long day of training, the facilitators quietly mentioned that the FOSS Kits everybody had just been trained on may be on their way out. The publication of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) has caused districts to reexamine their science curriculum. This is the case within the Grant Wood AEA network. In other words, the Pebbles, Sand & Silt Kit I had just been trained on may not be around by the time I have my own classroom.

My immediate reaction was to survey the crowd for their facial expressions. To my surprise, everybody seemed to act as if this was nothing new. Maybe some folks knew of the change that would come about as a result of the NGSS? Maybe some didn’t care? Maybe some had simply had such a long day that the last thing on their minds was another potential training in the future.

Overall, my time spent at Grant Wood AEA was well spent. I enjoyed walking through the Pebbles, Sand & Silt Kit and I enjoyed the unscripted notes and recommendations the facilitators made throughout the training. Inevitably, I will end up in trainings like these throughout my professional teaching career. The most important take away is this: There are golden nuggets of information, advice, resources and strategies available at teacher trainings. However, the amount of gold you walk away with is entirely up to you. I walked away from this one loaded.

Thanks for reading. Stop by again soon! Until then, here is a little brain candy for the road: “These kids nowadays need a lot of modeling.” – Pebbles, Sand & Silt Training Facilitator

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