What has been the impact of the science rotation on our school climate, teacher development, and student learning in science?
Context: Clarendon Elementary School has two distinct programs within one school facility. The two programs are: Japanese Bicultural Bilingual Program (JBBP) and Second Community (SC). The programs are funded by one site budget, overseen by a single principal, and share all building facilities. The district sees Clarendon as one school, and records all testing and other data accordingly. Yet, the two programs struggle in their mutual need to distinguish themselves. Generally, the programs get along well, but through the years, there have been tensions over resources, arguments over program size, and issues of equity. In addition, the faculty has observed that the students self-segregate themselves on campus, leading to school yard tensions.
The desire to improve the campus climate began our discussion for the science rotation. The four main objectives of the science rotation are: 1) Improve student relations between the two programs 2) Enable the teachers to cover all the science standards in a school year & allow teachers to focus on one science strand at a time, to enable them to become more expert at each topic 3) Help prepare students to transition to middle school by replicating the process of working with different teachers 4) Serve as a model to other schools with similar needs.
Method of Instruction: In the science rotation, each teacher picks a topic from the 4 science standards to teach for the year. Students are then organized into mixed groups that stay together all year, traveling to each class on a five-week basis. Students have a lab notebook and are expected to write up lab reports in a consistent manner for each class they attend. In the first year, teachers blended all the 4th and 5th grade students. This was mainly because the teachers of the upper grades have historically worked as a unit. However, by the end of the second year we discovered that trying to manage to schedules of all 6 – 8 4th and 5th grade classes was too difficult. In the current (third) year, the teachers decided to group the students between the programs at grade level.
Findings: The science rotation is more complicated that any had ever imagined. The bottom line is that the rotation is effective, but still needs a lot of work. One area of need is tracking student progress and assessment. Students reported that they hate write-ups, and loved experiments. Teachers need to find a way to support student communication of understanding. Teachers reported that they have been able to refine their science instruction. Teachers reported doubt that the rotation is effective at improving student relations on campus. However, all teachers noted that it has been very helpful for the students to get to know the other teachers. By knowing more students, the teachers are better able to identify student needs, communicate on campus, and build community.
Key Recommendations: The SFUSD will soon implement a new science textbook adoption to meet the state standards. With this adoption, there should be a series of professional development classes to assist teachers to meet the new goals. Teachers will inevitably complain that they cannot add the load of four complete science content standards to their curriculum. In this context, the Clarendon Science Rotation could serve as an example for how teachers can collaborate to effectively meet the goals of the science standards.
Bio: Peter Hippard has been a teacher at Clarendon Elementary School JBBP program, which offers an enrichment of Japanese language and culture. He lived for four years in Japan where he was an ESL teacher and helped create a bilingual magazine in the city of Sendai. He is currently teaching 4th grade, and has been a Site Council member at his school for three years.