We recently asked Amanda Bennett, an 8th grade science teacher at Robert H. Jenkins, Jr. Middle School, Palatka, FL, to tell us about her experience teaching with IQWST in the classroom.
Activate Learning: In what ways has using IQWST affected your classroom culture?
Amanda: Students are more engaged in activities, critical thinking and discussion. They seem more willing to share their ideas because they now have common experiences from the activities in IQWST that they can use to explain and support their ideas.
AL: What are some ways that your students are demonstrating success in science as they use IQWST?
Amanda: Students are mastering benchmarks because each lesson has scientific phenomena to engage students and benchmarks are spiraled throughout the course, unlike [other] curricula where students only engage with content for a short amount of time. This allows students to truly learn science content and apply their knowledge instead of just becoming familiar with concepts. The discussion in IQWST helps lower performing students hear and see from peers, which supports their ability to use science content to make connections and find success in science. The experiences within IQWST are allowing students to be successful because it greatly reduces the barrier of students lacking background knowledge since we have common science experiences.
AL: How have the materials themselves supported you as a science educator?
Amanda: Teacher Background has helped me remember things that I hadn’t used as much in the past and has given me a foundation for concepts that I was less familiar with. The checkpoints are wonderful for me to make sure both the students and I are honing in on the correct information. Differentiation strategies help when my students struggle and I have used several suggested in the book.
AL: IQWST focuses on reading, writing, and talking science--as students also “do” science. How do the reading and writing activities support your students as learners?
Amanda: At first it was killing the kids. They were not familiar with learning in this type of environment and the reading and writing was a challenge because it was new and different. As students progressed through the program, their skills improved and they can now complete the reading and writing more efficiently and effectively. They are seeing the literacy connection in both science and language arts classes, and we are improving!
AL: How did the initial professional development (PD) prepare you to teach IQWST?
Amanda: The initial PD gave me a great overview and I was able understand how and why IQWST was structured so differently from other curricula. The most effective section for me was the Elements of Effective Science Instruction that has changed how I teach, even non-IQWST classes. Modeling of lessons, time using the teacher books, completing and conducting lessons as the student, and the facilitator helped me gain a firm understanding of how I would enact IQWST in my classroom.
AL: What particular pedagogical practice or strategy has been particularly useful to you? (e.g., reading strategies, the Driving Question Board, assessment strategies, CER framework)
Amanda: The assessment strategies, primarily through discussion, and CER framework are my favorites as they allow me to assess students’ level of understanding and allows them to practice speaking vocabulary in context and more practice engaging in science content rather than just reading or writing alone. In my class, the discussions are what drive instruction. I use it as formative assessment, students practice constructing understanding by using their knowledge and it creates a culture of success and belonging.
AL: What differentiates IQWST from other science curricula?
Amanda: Two things stand out most for me: discussion and engagement with science phenomena. Each day students are hands-on with a piece of science content that makes science real, accessible and reduces barriers of background knowledge, academic strengths and typical dislike for science. The discussion allows students to hear misconceptions and information that can extend their understanding which helps them practice and learn without even picking up a pencil.