By Yvonne Lopez
The Elementary Science Teacher
Did you know according to a 2003 study by Richard Ingersoll, nearly 50% of beginning teachers leave their jobs in the first five years?! Although this is pretty hard to believe, considering today’s economy and the cutting back of teachers jobs, teacher burn out is a very real phenomenon and presents a concern not only for the teacher but most importantly for their students that are affected. It is essential for the new teacher to build a strong support group in her beginning years of teaching and to continuously add to her foundation of experience and knowledge in order to remain an effective teacher. In addition to the stresses new teachers are presented with, many teachers feel uncomfortable teaching science. In the elementary schools in which I have student- taught, it seems almost normal for science, which is not tested till fifth grade, and other non-high stakes tested subjects to be kicked to the back burner while subjects like reading and math receive exceptionally more attention. In an article I read from TIME magazine, “Is America flunking Science (2006)”, researchers reported that U.S. elementary teachers are not presenting science to our children in a highly engaging and inquiry based way. Thus a lack in role-models is contributing to our country’s steady decline in engineers and scientists.
If this is the case what is a new teacher to do? What support in teaching science will she receive? I thought it would be interesting to provide insight to some opportunities for professional development as well as outstanding teaching resources found right here in our own backyard…well, in Houston that is. Enjoy!! Please feel free to add more resources in the comment link.
Resources around Houston:
Nature Discovery Center:
Located within the 4-acre Russ Pitman Park, The Nature Discovery Center, in Bellaire, Texas provides science and nature education to families, educators, and students. The center offers educational and developmental appropriate classes, outreach programs and field trips. In addition the center has outstanding professional development training for teachers and offers traveling science exhibits that can be used in your classroom to facilitate hands on discovery.
John P. McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Science:
This museum offers an outstanding way to spark an interest in health and medical science in children of all ages. If you are teaching anything about the human body you will want to bring your students to the museum for hands on and interactive experiences. The museum also offers outreach exhibits that can be rented for your classroom. All teaching material can be directly related to the TEKS!
Houston Arboretum and Nature Center:
Located along Memorial Park, the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is a 155-acre nature sanctuary. Take a walk along its trails to explore the vegetation and animal life (no charge). Take a discovery class or visit the Discovery room filled with interactive exhibits and activities.
John C. Freeman Weather Museum:
The Houston Zoo offers outstanding overnight teacher workshops. Check out the Zoo Mobile outreach program for your next science event. Topics include: Living Creatures (K-6) ,Night Creatures (K-3), Habitats (K-3), Texas Animals (K-6), Aquatic Animals (K-6), Survival Gear (4-6), Zoo Careers (4-12), Island Survival (7-12), Texas Conservation (7-12), Wildlife Conservation (7-12) , Adaptations (7-12)
Mad Science has many locations around Houston and they will even come to your school! They offer out of this world: inquiry based workshop for students, after school classes, camps and a very useful TAKS preparation program to cover a wide array of science content.
Armand Bayou Nature Center:
One of the largest urban wildlife preserves in the United States, this center provides a wealth of knowledge to students, and educators alike. If you are teaching about habitats, wildlife, wetlands, and or adaptations why not see what this center has to offer! There are plenty of developmental opportunities for teachers and a wide variety of TEKS friendly educational programs for students
Museum of Natural Science:
In addition to the wonderful teacher workshops offered at the museum, HMNS offers TEK based field trip curriculum, teacher guides, science discovery hunts, and TAKS Discovery Hunts. Or you could take advantage of their outstanding exciting and educational outreach program to bring the museum to your class!
Space Center Houston:
Provides out of this world teacher resources such as: the Space Exploration Educators Conference, the educator’s resource center- that provides classroom curriculum, thematic units for your classroom, and STARS- Student Teacher Academic Resources Services-for pre-service teachers!
In the Comfort of Your Home Accredited Professional Development:
The National Science Teachers Association offers a ton of content related professional growth resources. The learning center, which can be found at the website http://learningcenter.nsta.org/default.aspx, offers online developmental learning activities, seminars, and training classes, as well as books, and articles for teachers and administrators of all grade levels from elementary to the college level. All the information at the website is designed to meet state standards. The subject areas covered include: earth/ space science, life science, and physical science.
The NSTA website has a tool to pinpoint the teacher’s individual needs for growth and then allows her/ him to pick from “targeted” sections that are specific to that area. All of the activities and resources are of high quality. What I found very helpful is that teachers are able to build individual plans and digital portfolios to track and reflect on their progress. Using this tool, you are able to communicate with other teachers to share ideas, modifications and activities you are using in class. You can also upload photos of student work and record reflective notes.