Lawrence Hall of Science, 50 years: 1968-2018; University of California, Berkeley

How one district used Title IV funds to provide high-quality, NGSS-designed field trips for students (and teachers)

By Emily Weiss, School Program Director at the Lawrence Hall of Science

One morning in early November, 30 third-graders from Commodore Stockton Skills School eagerly examined and dissected squid to answer questions they’d generated after going on a virtual field trip (video) to observe squid in the wild. As I walked through their classroom at the Lawrence Hall of Science, every student had something they were excited to share with another student or an adult. “Look, Miss! These two arms are longer than all the others. I bet these are the ones that shot out and caught that shrimp in the video,” pointed out one 8-year-old girl. “Wow! I just found the beak!” shouted a boy from another table. The teacher came over, helped him and his table mates figure out how to remove the beak, and then sent them off as ambassadors to make sure all other students successfully found and removed the squid’s beak. Together, the class worked with their observations from the video and their own squid specimens to develop an explanation for how squid catch and eat their prey.

Within this lesson, aligned with the science and literacy standards at their grade level, students observed engaging phenomena (squid behaviors in a video), generated questions based on observations they found interesting or perplexing, explored real squid structures and functions, and worked together to construct explanations that answered their questions using evidence from their squid observations. They also reflected on how they had acted like scientists. They engaged in a fully three-dimensional science lesson as called for in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

In many ways, Lawrence Hall of Science workshops offer double the impact, engaging both students and teachers. Each of our workshops offers a “Look-For” observation sheet that teachers can use to help focus observations around three-dimensional NGSS learning during the workshop. Teachers receive the Look-Fors in advance of their field trip so they know what to expect and come prepared to make focused observations. In this way, our workshops not only engage students in high-quality, engaging STEM learning experiences, but they also provide significant benefits to teachers. Teachers see the type of instruction they are being asked to provide in their classrooms modeled with their own students.

Like most school districts, Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) has been working to implement the visionary and complex approach to science teaching laid out in California NGSS. STEM Curriculum Specialist Ryan Sedillo explained the present challenge in supporting all teachers in the district. Because district priorities for professional learning are focused on the implementation of new K-12 Math and English language arts (ELA/ELD) curricula, their schools' science professional learning opportunities are still voluntary. Mr. Sedillo has only been able to reach around 33% of SUSD K-8 science teachers through such voluntary initiatives, and was looking for alternative ways to support the rest.

In addition to Mr. Sedillo’s concerns about reaching all elementary and middle school teachers with science professional learning opportunities, SUSD’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) Needs Assessment showed a need to implement more STEM activities. SUSD’s State and Federal Programs department looked to Title IV, which funds activities that support providing students with a well-rounded education and suggests appropriate STEM courses and activities. SUSD created a plan that included incorporating certain STEM activities (such as robotics, coding, and science) in after-school programs as well as field trip opportunities. Mr. Sedillo then worked to flesh out the district plan for field trips in a way that not only would provide enriching STEM experiences for students, but would also address his concerns about professional learning for teachers.

Because of his own positive childhood experiences at the Lawrence Hall of Science, Mr. Sedillo explored opportunities at The Lawrence and discovered that all of our field trip workshops are NGSS-designed and include embedded “in real time” teacher support. In SUSD, this is one of the only science professional learning opportunities that K-8 teachers have, and the benefit is that they engage in this professional learning while interacting with their students. He knew this would be a great step toward supporting both teachers and the district’s vision for the improvement of their science program, as well as their mission to graduate every student as being ready for college, career, and community service.

Mr. Sedillo then created a portfolio of field trip options, including the Lawrence Hall of Science, that would support STEM and outdoor learning for students. By providing standards- and environment-based descriptions of each field trip, schools could easily ensure that their field trips aligned with district goals and had clear educational outcomes. His plan was incorporated in SUSD’s Title IV LCAP Addendum.

If you are interested in creating a custom contract to support your teachers and students through Lawrence Hall of Science field trips, please contact School Programs Manager Reyna Hamilton at rlhamilton@berkeley.edu or 510-642-9019. If you are interested in coupling student field trips with additional professional learning experiences for your teachers, such as an introduction to NGSS, opportunities to debrief their observations of the student workshops, or other pedagogical support in science, please contact Emily Weiss at weisse@berkeley.edu or 510-643-6350.

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