Science Methods Update: Earth & Space Science, Homework, and “The Strongest Mountain”

It is crazy to think that I have one more week of classes left on Coe’s campus. It makes me both extremely excited but also very sad. Words cannot express what Coe has done for me: as an individual, and a student-athlete, as a learner, and as a teacher. I will carry that with me wherever I go. Go Kohawks!

Anyways, to the task at hand. Over the course of the previous few weeks, we have continued to dig into the Next Generation Science Standard’s (NGSS) Earth and Space Science section. As we continued to work our way through the material, I was once again reminded just how strong the NGSS are.  When it comes to Earth and Space Science, struggles can arise because the “hands on” lessons may be hard to come by. “How can I replicate the Earth, other planets, and humanity’s impact on our environment?” Often times, the fallback lesson is a solar system mobile. While this lesson is common practice in schools across the country, I don’t find it to be particularly fascinating. There are so many more excellent concepts and ideas out there, and the structure of the NGSS really encourages teacher creativity.

As I began to craft my 6E lesson plan for Earth and Space Science, I wanted to model my instruction off of one of these aforementioned excellent ideas. I had researched the Landforms FOSS Science Kit from the Grant Wood AEA’s VAST Science Center and wanted to utilize these concepts in my lesson. I stumbled across an article written by Colleen Monnes entitled “The Strongest Mountain.

This article, published in the October 2004 issue of Science and Children, focused on two of the central concepts of the Landforms FOSS Kit: weathering and erosion. In her article, Monnes outlines a lesson in which she encourages her students to build the strongest mountain they can to withstand the erosive forces of nature. I was hooked. Monnes’ article demonstrates how Earth and Space science can, in fact, be hands on. I loved the student-centeredness of the lesson and also found the open-ended activity to be highly engaging. I found Monnes’ work to be essential in helping to shape my vision for an erosion-based lesson.

In addition to investigating Earth and Space concepts, we have also spent a significant amount of time discussing and reflecting on the purpose of homework in the classroom. The discussion centered on this question: How can we, as educators, find the balance between homework that both reinforces essential concepts AND allows for students to stretch themselves? Over the course of our discussion, we came to some unanimous conclusions. We believe that homework should:

  1. Extend students’ thinking & understanding of concepts covered in class.
  2. Allow for personalization & ownership of content with meaningful work.
  3. Positively & appropriately incorporate parents &/or guardians.
  4. Incorporates meaningful information in multiple formats (Paper, Digital, Audio).
  5. Encourage students to synthesize & reflect.

This discussion was extremely powerful for all of us as future educators.  While the list above is a mere abbreviated version of our discussion, it does point out some critical elements that all teachers should acknowledge. Personally, I view homework as a time of extension. Homework should be when students get to make personal connections with their material. I want my students to return to school with a heightened sense of ownership: they know the material and they were able to cement this knowledge through personalization. I believe that homework can be an extremely powerful tool for students when presented according to the criteria listed above.

As we progress through these final few weeks of the semester, I am mentally and emotionally preparing myself for a semester long student teaching opportunity. I received word from the Associated College of the Midwest and Chicago Public Schools that I will spend the entire spring semester at Andrew Jackson Language Academy in a 3rd grade classroom. What an outstanding opportunity to experience a diverse and intensive language-based curriculum! Receiving this information lifted the immense weight of anticipation off of my shoulders and intensified the burning desire in my stomach. I cannot wait to synthesize and apply everything I have learned over the course of these past few years and convey my passion for learning to my students. More to come on this in the future!

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