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Upping the ante in science classroom

Educators are focusing heavily on future ready practices in their classrooms. One way to do this is through personalized and authentic learning experiences where students engage in the Universal Constructs (skills like critical thinking and problem solving) by working on a local project or solving a local problem through collaborative efforts with businesses, organizations, and community members.

Naturally, these projects are interdisciplinary and in them, the Iowa Academic Standards can really come to life for student learning. Teachers at Danville Community School District are approaching the Iowa Science Standards through an innovative learning program called Iowa Learn Excel Achieve Develop (ILEAD). With the adoption of the new standards and the shift toward a more student-centered learning of science – moving from covering materials to discovering concepts and ideas – students are engaged in their learning by exploring natural phenomenon and are challenged to come up with solutions with the new focus on Science and Engineer Practices.

Danville CSD and New London CSD have piloted an authentic, student-centered program in which 11 pilot students receive core and elective credit. Through a sharing agreement, two teachers from Danville and two teachers from New London are the project mentor teachers who oversee the student work. Through the ILEAD program (which occurs during 6th, 7th, and 8th hour of the school day), students engage in authentic projects in partnership with local businesses and industry.

Danville CSD science spotlight

Through ILEAD, Danville students are able to get an Environmental Science credit. Gail Kunch, Danville’s secondary school science teacher, worked with students in an independent study fashion, providing feedback on students’ projects and guiding them through the necessary learning that comes about in engaging in authentic projects.

“The students not only gain valuable science experience but they really are gaining those 21st century skills we need to see more of in our core classes,” Kunch said.

One of the big projects students are undertaking as part of the environmental science course involves a partnership with local Department of Natural Resources representative, Caleb Waters. The students have been following the work of the Lake Geode Restoration project; the lake is just six miles away from the Danville High School.

Throughout the project, students were engaged in writing professional emails and setting up meetings with Waters and were an integral part of the planning efforts for the Danville’s Earth Day Clean Up of Lake Geode and Geode State Park on April 20.

ILEAD students lead their peers in this day of cleanup to show that teams of students can make an impact on their environment. The students are currently working on a second part of the project involving GPS mapping and naming of new trails around Geode. Students will have cross-disciplinary experience integrating technology in their map design of the trails and they will physically be able to go out and explore the trails for their project. Some of the standards that rise to the surface through this experience are the following:

HS-LS2-7. Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.*

HS-ESS3-4. Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.*

HS-ETS1-3. Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural and environmental impacts.

When students take on a project they are passionate about, it creates the need to know more. Learning becomes relevant and this is where the learning comes alive and can reach students beyond a textbook or a paper they will turn in and forget about. When you put them in a position to make an impact and have an authentic audience for their work, their buy-in is great and long-term memory prevails.

The ILEAD projects such as the Danville environmental science project are supported with the help of consultants at the Great Prairie Area Education Agency (GPAEA) and the Iowa Authentic Learning Network (ALN), a network for resources, projects, and professional learning originating in GPAEA and Green Hills Area Education Agency. In this case, the 21st Century Learning consultant at GPAEA helped to serve as the broker of local projects by working with local chambers, city partnerships, community colleges, IOWA STEM, and other stakeholders who are passionate about future ready learning.

In part, this work is just a foreshadowing of what is yet to come with the recently approved Statewide Work Based Learning Clearinghouse. The clearinghouse will be an online repository of various work-based opportunities for students statewide. Not only will it include a place to post opportunities such as internships, job shadows, tours, and connection to experts in different fields, but it will offer a wide variety of projects from which students from all over Iowa can engage that teachers can easily embed into their classes as curriculum.

For another example check out this 7th Grade Social Studies Example and for more on embedding authentic learning as curriculum contact Laura Williams, or attend the Future Ready Learning Event on June 13.

For more information about projects as science curriculum, contact