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Students Track the Earth Beneath Their Feet

Doing Science Like Scientists Helps Them Learn


A big shift in science instruction at West Middle School can be illustrated through the shifting boundaries of tectonic plates.

Eighth-grade students in science teachers Ken King’s and Ben Lacy’s classes recently learned, during a unit on the Earth changing over time, about the massive chunks of land that move – albeit, a miniscule amount each year – beneath our feet. To show how it works, they created moveable models of plate boundaries found around the world.

Byron Center sixth-through-eighth grades this fall began using IQWST, a curriculum aligned with and written by authors of Next Generation Science Standards, a set of teaching guidelines for kindergartners through 12th-graders. NGSS was created by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Science, through a committee of 18 internationally known experts in their respective fields. The committee included two Nobel laureates, cognitive scientists, science education researchers, and standards and policy experts.

‘Doing’ Science Differently

The goal is to get students using science like scientists, rather than learning facts and answering test questions.

“It’s very much centered around students doing science,” King said. “It’s a big shift from how we were doing things in the past. It’s a big shift for the kids because it forces them to problem-solve a lot more.”

Students design, build, test and revise, like real scientists, without a set conclusion in place.

Laura Zeinstra, the district’s director of teaching and learning, said a new science curriculum in third and fourth grades also embeds hands-on, inquiry-based learning into class. Also, the district used a portion of its enhancement dollars from the county-wide millage approved last May for a ninth-grade physics curriculum and materials for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes, which are offered as another layer of science opportunities K-8.

King and Lacy, who received a donation of 200 blocks of foam from Grandville-based Harbor Foam, challenged students to build their boundary mobiles, complete with exploding volcanoes, mountain ranges and shifting land masses.

“We’ve got some kids doing really cool stuff,” said King. Many students who aren’t always at the top of the class shine when they get a chance to approach science in a more tactile, open-ended fashion, he said.

“It’s getting everybody involved. If you don’t give them a set recipe and they can create on their own, you can bring out a kid’s engagement and energy that you might not have gotten otherwise.”

Eighth-graders Aiden Armstrong and Ann Ho created a model including Eurasia and the Pacific plate to show how the Japanese islands were created.

“It’s a more hands-on experience,” Aiden said of the new curriculum. “We can grow our learning through projects and other things like that.”

“It helps us visualize it more,” added Paige Deppe, as she demonstrated how, in Hawaii, magma comes up through the Earth’s surface and creates islands with the model she made with Ava Bont. “You see what a hot spot is rather than just read about it. … I feel like you get to use your brain in different ways.”

CONNECT

SNN story on Next Generation Science Standards

Eighth-graders Ava Bont and Paige Deppe show how their model illustrates plate movement and volcano creation

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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