Last week, I spent an afternoon with my region's Science Syllabus. This is a terrific document they put together outlining a scope and sequence of the important science topics for each grade level, along with suggestions for activities and loads and loads of resources that could be used for each topic. If it were mandated that we all had to follow the syllabus to the letter, it would be annoying, but as a guide, I really like it.
We get our students in sixth grade, but in 8th grade they take a state exam that covers grades 5-8. Now, I'm not exam-obsessed, but I think the test is mostly reasonable and I want my students to do well on it. I really wish we had a fifth grade, because as it is now, some students enter our school having had a lot of science in fifth grade, some having had little or none. Life science, which I will be teaching next year to my eighth graders, is split between two grades in the science syllabus - the animal kingdom and some parts of ecology are supposed to be taught in fifth grade. These are some pretty important topics, yet I can't count on the kids having learned them since they come from such widely varying fifth grades.
So, I made a list of all the Life Science topics included in both grades, along with the number of weeks allocated by the syllabus for each topic.
The grand total? 67 weeks!
I spent the rest of the afternoon thinking about ways to combine topics so that the kids will get most of the big ideas without moving too quickly over everything. For example, I am planning a project for the animal kingdom where pairs of students research reptiles, amphibians, etc. and teach their classmates about those groups. I will model the type of work I expect using birds and mammals, two groups which I want to be sure they all know pretty well.
Similarly, a lot of ecology ideas can be woven together with studying the kingdoms of life.
For the record, I do NOT think it's essential to cover everything. Yet, there are lots of interesting and important topics in Life Science, and choosing what to focus on in depth, what to touch on briefly, and what to leave out altogether is tough.
On another note, it seems that our teaching staff next year might be ten teachers rather than the twelve we believed we could hire. This is brand new information, I don't know for sure or any details, and I am really trying not to freak out. But it seems like every time we finally think we've got our staffing issues sorted out, someone changes everything on us. I don't know whether my administration is being naive in how they interpret budget information, or whether the region is screwing us, or both. Ultimately, blaming is not that useful, but I have to admit my first thought is "Why do we ALWAYS have the wrong information?!?" And given how much this raises MY blood pressure, I can only imagine how my colleagues must feel who just - just
- finished doing all the programming for next year.