Workshop helps science educators prepare for new state standards

  • STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald Astronomer Connie Walker with the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, leads a session about light pollution during a workshop about the Next Generation Science Science Standards Friday at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.

A light bulb burned brightly in the center of an inflatable dome Friday morning at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.

There was no lamp shade, and the looming light fixture representing the sun illuminated the 10 Big Island educators and Alyssa Grace, an education outreach specialist at Gemini Observatory, who gathered around it.

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Each person represented Earth, and in their hands, they each held the moon — or rather a Styrofoam ball on a stick that represented the moon — as they learned about eclipses and ways to teach the subject to their students.

Journey Through the Universe, a science education and outreach program organized by Gemini Observatory to promote science education and literacy in Hawaii Island schools, in collaboration with the state Department of Education and others in the astronomy community, last week held a two-day workshop for teachers, where educators were taught about the Next Generation Science Standards and ways to incorporate those standards into their classrooms.

During Journey to the Universe, “our whole entire goal is to bring astronomy and science into the classrooms,” said Janice Harvey, community outreach and education programs leader for Gemini. And when the state adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, “we, through our Journey Through the Universe Program, reached out and said, ‘Let’s help you.’”

The Next Generation Science Standards were adopted by the state Board of Education in February 2016 and will be fully implemented in schools during the current academic school year.

According to the DOE, the new standards encourage more hands-on student engagement and discussions, as opposed to teachers providing information to the whole class or posing questions with just one right answer, among other changes.

For teachers, the new standards are about “how do we encourage kids to ask the questions about their natural environment,” Hilo-Waiakea Complex Area Superintendent Esther Kanehailua said. “And when we think about Hawaii, there’s so much around, so how do we make sure we kind of let go and let kids discover and guide that to what other questions you have.”

Kanehailua said the workshop is “all about exploration and giving them that experience themselves as teachers, so we (can) replicate those experiences for our students.”

Teachers of all grade levels were invited to the workshop and over two days were introduced to the new science standards, Harvey said, “and then we’re actually giving them resources to take back to their classroom, so they can immediately move forward.”

“I think for me, what I’m thrilled about is just the fact that we were able to immerse our teachers in the science that they’re doing, science they’re getting excited about … and really reframing their thinking about how to teach science,” said Darrell Nekoba, school renewal specialist for the Hilo-Waiakea Complex Area. “… You see sort of this shift in thinking towards science. It should be such a more active rather than passive experience for kids, and I think we’re giving (teachers) that experience and, hopefully, they’ll take back to their classroom.”

Astronomer Connie Walker, with the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, led a session regarding light pollution and its effect on animals, where teachers played a game in small groups.

That exercise and others “fit exactly into the Next Generation Science Standards,” she said.

Educators are “just learning at this point how to implement the Next Generation Science Standards,” Walker said. “It is a totally different approach to teaching. It’s not definitive steps, it’s just sort of a process and a way of getting the students to explore on their own and really relate to whatever topic is at hand.”

The new standards allow students to “really relate to what they’re learning and experience what they’re learning and do the critical thinking that’s necessary to come up with solutions,” she said. “And then when they do that on their own and make that discover on their own, they’re going to embed that knowledge forever. It’s not going to be something that’s a one-day thing and it goes away.”

Coty Miguel, a fifth-grade teacher at E.B. de Silva Elementary, has been teaching for 11 years. She said the workshop helped teachers know science from different perspectives.

“It really helps, as a teacher, to get different ideas … .”

“It’s kind of nice, because I haven’t really had too many opportunities to participate in an NGSS workshop, and I know that with the adoption of it, for myself personally as well as other teachers, we always want to try and implement something with fidelity,” said Adrian DeMello, a chemistry and physics teacher at Waiakea High School.

“We don’t want to just say that we’re doing something and not be effective and be doing it appropriately to the benefit of students.”

He said it’s good to have a chance to listen to and talk with other professionals.

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It’s also “really nice being in a place where we’re surrounded by a bunch of professionals that all have the same goal of trying to better their practice and their art of teaching,” DeMello said. “So we’re lucky enough that we have people here that are spreading and sharing their lessons … and we’re actually able to go through while they implement their lessons so that we can learn firsthand how, (for) lack of a better word, how it should be done.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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