For years, I started the year in my science classroom in essentially the same way. Why? Because it was what I had always done AND it seemed like the other science teachers around me were doing the same thing. But, was this really the best way to start the school year? Over time, I decided that these three back-to-school activities didn't belong in my lesson plans. (At least at first!)
In this post, find out what not to do and what to do instead. Also, grab this FREE back-to-school resource that I created just for you!
Back to School Science Activity #1: Reviewing the Syllabus
It seems like every secondary teacher does this on the first day of school. But, imagine sitting in 5 or 6 different classes throughout the day and hearing basically the same thing, over and over. It sounds pretty awful, right?
Sure, it's important to make sure that students know the rules and procedures. Still, this isn't the best way to handle it.
What to do instead: Start your school year by focusing on procedures in context.
I spend a significant amount of time going over procedures. It's important to teach students how you want them to behave, move around the classroom, and get supplies.
However, it is important that procedures be taught in context. If you aren't using microscopes until week 3, it probably isn't a valuable use of class time to show them how to carry the microscopes during your first week.
Often, teachers try to teach ALL of the procedures right away. This can cause students to shut down due to information overload and boredom. The first time (and maybe the second and third) that you do something in your class, plan to spend time going over the procedure associated with the task.
Sure, send your syllabus home on the first day of school to get it signed. But make sure that you are only focusing on the MOST IMPORTANT pieces. If you are spending more than 10 minutes talking, chances are, your students aren't listening.
Back to School Science Activity #2: Doing an Intro Unit
Okay. So, this isn't exactly an activity. It's more of a series of activities. But often, when science students head back to school, they are met with an intro unit.
What happens in an intro unit? Teachers review the skills that will be covered throughout the school year but pack them into a single unit. And, generally, the science content, or DCIs, are avoided in this first piece.
Why is this a problem? First, it takes away from the amount of time that you have to cover course content. Second, when skills are taught out of context, they don't make as much sense to students. This unit can feel random and unproductive.
What to do instead: Start your NGSS aligned class by looking at content early.
I know this sounds crazy, but there is nothing wrong with jumping right into your content. Teach students skills in context. For example, save review activities about measurement until the day before students need to apply them to course content.
Students are ready to start the school year. But, be sure to start slow. While they are learning the content for the first unit, you will be acclimating students to your procedures so you won't be ready to move at full speed right away.
This, of course, kind of depends on your school. One of the schools I worked at made schedule changes for up to two weeks into the new school year to balance classes. With five teachers teaching the same subject, this could be really tricky, especially if your team isn't on the same page about how to start the year.
Back to School Science Activity #3: Teaching the Scientific Method
The thought of avoiding the Scientific Method is blasphemy in many science teacher circles. But, the scientific method is problematic in many ways. According to the Framework for K-12 Science Education, it's time to let go of this tool. To learn more about why it's time to ditch the scientific method, read this post.
What to do instead: Teach students how to use one of the Science and Engineering Practices (and then another one!).
True, we aren't teaching the Scientific Method anymore. But, that doesn't mean we aren't teaching those vital science skills. In fact, I suggest that provide explicit instruction on each of the science and engineering practices.
I have seen several teachers talk about teaching students how to use ALL of the Science and Engineering Practices as an introduction to the class. I would strongly advise against this. Instead, start with one.
For example, start with a Notice and Wonder Activity to introduce the practice of Asking Questions. You can grab my Notice and Wonder Template in my back-to-school bundle here.
With my 7th graders, we start the year by discussing particles and particle motion. MS-PS1-1 and MS-PS1-4 require that students develop and use models. We start discussing modeling right away. We discuss the different types of models, how they are used, and how to make them. Once students have the basics of modeling down, they can start creating their own.
Then they learn about argumentation. Students share their models and discuss similarities and differences and learn to argue (nicely!) about the differences. In the first few weeks, students start to become familiar with two practices.
The practices are always taught in context. When I teach students about modeling, I explain it is one of the practices used by scientists. I show them where the other practices are posted on my wall, and leave it there.