I teach four sections of 9th Grade Integrated Science; a survey course that integrates the concepts and ideas of Chemistry, Earth Science, and Physical Science. My classes are heterogeneously grouped, meaning that there are a wide-variety of skills and abilities in one classroom, and the range runs from students who are enrolled in the special-education program and are on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and students who are and/or could be in the gifted and talented program. The idea behind heterogeneous grouping is to create a diverse learning environment for all students and more importantly to help all students find success by allowing them opportunities to express their strengths in the classroom and in so doing each student helps each other with their weaknesses and their varying understanding of the content and/or activities. With a heterogeneously grouped classroom I must create activities that are catered to a variety of learning styles and ability levels. The school that I teach at has small class sizes, between 12-15 students, and the classroom is organized so that the students have mobile lab benches, which was designed specifically for laboratory investigations and for collaborative group-work. The classroom is also arranged in a way that allows for whole group discussions and for students to take notes during introductory lectures. I meet each section four times per week, 2 class periods are 60 minutes in length and 2 class periods are 70 minutes in length.
The Integrated Science course is designed around the scientific method and inquiry-based learning. The students learn how to use the scientific method as a way to organize and explore their curiosities about their world and about Science in general. The inquiry-based learning is an extension of the scientific method. It allows students to develop their knowledge and understanding of a topic by asking questions that will guide them to finding the answers. It's a skill that takes the entire year to develop fully, but is so important because they're not just passively receiving their education; they're taking an active role in it. All of their laboratory investigations require the students to ask the questions and develop the procedures, and determine what data they will need to collect and analyze to answer in order to answer the focus question. This is designed specifically with the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) in mind, which is a test that all 10th grade students have to take and has students using their critical thinking skills to analyze laboratory scenarios and performance tasks, so the New Haven Academy 9th Grade Integrated Science curriculum allows students to develop these critical thinking skills that will help them to successfully take the Science portion of the CAPT.
The 9th Grade Integrated Science course has a lot of content that gets covered throughout the year. After spending time covering the basics of Science such as the scientific method and measurement and conversions, we move into Chemistry where students learn about basic chemistry and chemical reactions. From chemistry we move on to physical sciences and energy, looking at energy sources and their role in global warming, and we finish the year with earth sciences, looking at weather patterns, earth's evolution, and human impacts on earth. These are just a sample of the many topics that get covered in the course. The course moves rather quickly, but in a way where there is a deliberate connection between all of the topics so that students can see that all of science is connected and that each part is equally important for understanding how the world works. The idea behind this survey course is to allow students to become exposed to the many concepts, theories, vocabulary, skills and techniques as a foundation for the remaining science courses that they will take throughout their high school career. The students at New Haven Academy are required to take at least three years of science, and this course is aimed at building the foundation that the students will need for their successful completion of their science career at New Haven Academy. Ultimately what I want the students to take away from this course is an ability to use the scientific method to design and conduct research about their world, organize and report results in a meaningful way, and make real world connections with their investigations of the content.
The goal of the New Haven Academy science curriculum is to develop scientifically responsible citizens who will use their knowledge and their understanding to become active agents of change in their community, to develop a curiosity that will allow them to seek information and consider multiple perspectives and make informed decisions, that will allow them to use the past and the present to make a better future for humankind.
New Haven Academy is an interdistrict magnet school in the New Haven Pubic School System. The magnet school is a school of choice, which has a specific theme designed to attract a variety of students from all facets of a community to create more racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity within a school, so it's not just students from within the inner city, it's also students from suburban populations as well. The students come from all over the greater New Haven area, including Ansonia, East Haven, Hamden, New Haven, Shelton, and West Haven. New Haven Academy opened in September of 2003 and is graduating its first class this year. The school's mission is to "provide a rigorous education that prepares all students to succeed in college and become active citizens able to make informed decisions about their lives and their communities."
Our philosophy follows the idea of keeping class sizes small to allow for more personalized curricula. We also look for students to demonstrate learning in a variety of ways including, but not limited to, written laboratory research papers, oral presentations, and projects with a visual component that gets displayed and evaluated. The final project for my unit will require the students to collect scientific evidence to argue a debate topic relating to global warming and tropical cyclones and will write a final reflection paper on what they learned throughout the unit and describe their own belief system on the topics of the debates and explain and provide evidence as to why they have the opinion that they have about the topic of global warming and tropical cyclones.
The magnet theme is taken from the international organization, known as Facing History and Ourselves. It follows "a curriculum that engages adolescents in citizenship education and encourages adolescents and adults to examine profound ethical questions about history, decision-making, prejudice, and violence."
Basically students analyze history and think about why certain events in history happened and reflect on how it was allowed to happen, and what could have been done differently by humans to prevent such events from taking place. More importantly it gets them to look at the history that they are currently making, and allows them to find ways of taking action so that their history can be healthier and/or more productive. We are also a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) founded by Ted Sizer, an organization guided by ten common principles, seeking "personalized, equitable and intellectually challenging schools."
We ask our students to use five habits of mind as they learn and process new information.
1. The question of evidence: How do we know what we know?
2. The question of multiple perspectives: Who's speaking?
3. The search for connections and patterns: What causes what?
4. The idea of supposition: How might things have been different?
5. The question of why any of it matters: Who cares?
The Global Warming and Tropical Cyclones Unit will be taught in conjunction with a larger theme in the 9th Grade Integrated Science Curriculum which focuses on Global Interdependence and the impacts of humans on their natural environment. This unit will be designed to have students enhancing their critical thinking skills, as they will explore the controversies surrounding global warming and the lasting effects of global warming on the environment. The unit will take approximately 6 weeks and will be taught in three parts, the first part will focus on learning about what Global Warming is and understanding our role as humans in Global Warming, the second will focus on understanding the Science behind the formation of Hurricanes/Tropical Cyclones, and finally the third part will focus on integrating the two concepts focusing on the question: Are Hurricanes affected by global warming? This question is not enough for a sufficient debate however. We're at the leading edge of this research at this point in time. Scientists don't have all of the evidence in yet. There is a lot of incomplete information out there for both sides of the argument, so the more important questions that the students will also be keeping in mind are: What do you believe (about the idea of global warming and its affect on the earth)? The other question is: How far are you willing to go if all of the evidence is still not in? Do you act without sufficient evidence and risk a major economic crisis? Or do you wait until it's possibly too late to avert ecological disaster? An analogy can be used here to help students to really think about the above questions. A person goes to the doctor and complains of chest pain and discomfort in the arms and jaw. The signs are pointing to a heart attack, but the doctor decides to run more tests to determine that it is really a heart attack, but the results of the test take too long and the patient dies before the results come back. When the results come back the doctor discovers that it really was a heart attack. At what point should the doctor have started treatment? Should the doctor really have done those extra tests or should the doctor have looked at the signs and symptoms and said, this patient is having a heart attack and something needs to be done for him/her immediately. The same case holds true for global warming; at what point do we stop speculating about global warming and finally start taking action? We can't wait until we see the effects that cause us discomfort because that will be too late, and we may never see and/or feel that discomfort. Al Gore uses an analogy in
An Inconvenient Truth,
to help us understand the idea that we may not feel a difference before it becomes too late. The analogy is a frog put into a beaker of water on a hot plate. If the heat is slowly turned up to boiling, the frog adjusts its body temperature to the slowly and steadily rising temperature and does not notice the change, therefore boiling itself to death because it didn't realize what was happening to it. If, however, the temperature is increased too rapidly the frog can feel the difference and jumps out to safety. The problem right now with global warming is that we have not seen or felt much of a change, so we don't see a need to change our behaviors that could be resulting in global temperature change.
Some guiding questions that the students will focus their research on is: Is global warming really happening? Is Carbon Dioxide (CO 2) causing the global temperature to change? Are natural disasters affected?