Publication Type: Web Article
Year of Publication: 2007
Sherry L. Annee, of Indiana, discusses Allen's book with topics including trends in secondary education, planning a curriculum of essentials, bringing the curriculum to life in the classroom, fresh approaches to teaching urban and minority students, professional development, and assessment of learning. Annee says that this book is particularly useful because it "contains current information about science education from many different sources, while also honoring the voice of classroom teachers through interviews and classroom examples."
Allen, R. (2007). The essentials of science, grades 7-12: Effective curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Alexandria, VA: ASCD
The Essentials of Science, Grades 7-12: Effective Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
$23.95 ($18.95 for members)
Reviewed by Sherry L. Annee
Science Department Chairperson
Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School
Rick Allen’s book, The Essentials of Science, is an excellent resource for all 7-12 grade science teachers because it contains current information about science education from many different sources, while also honoring the voice of classroom teachers through interviews and classroom examples.
The author masterfully accomplishes the goals listed on the back cover of the book:
* How to make use of research within the cognitive sciences to foster critical thinking and deeper understanding.
* How to use backward design to bring greater coherence to the curriculum.
* Innovative, engaging ideas for implementing scientific inquiry in the classroom.
* Holistic strategies to address the complex problems of the achievement gap, equity, and resources in the science classroom.
* Strategies for dealing with both day-to-day and NCLB assessments.
* How professional learning communities and mentoring can help teachers reexamine and improve their practice.
The book is divided into six chapters which may be read concurrently or in isolation. These topics include:
Trends in Secondary Education – Allen introduces a new inquiry wheel developed by science education researchers after “comparing the typical five- or six-step version of scientific inquiry as understood and practiced by scientific researchers.” He then makes compelling arguments in support of inquiry in the science classroom, regardless of whether a teacher feels as though he or she “has time” for it. Allen also discusses metacognitive strategies, student demographic changes, student literacy, global competition, and technology as examples of current trends in science education.
Planning a Curriculum of Essentials – The majority of this chapter is spent discussing backward design, a curriculum concept popularized by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Allen encourages teachers to “further hone” backward design by complementing it with a Japanese teaching strategy called lesson study. The lesson study format requires a group of teachers to design a lesson, observe implementation of the lesson in a classroom, and then critique and refine the lesson as a group. Allen also spends some time discussing learning progressions, which “focus on essential aspects of a scientific concept and introduce it in developmentally appropriate stages.”
Bringing the Curriculum to Life in the Classroom – While innovative teachers often motivate students to learn, Allen cites research that supports the claim that a “well-written standards-based curriculum, when faithfully adhered to, can also make a difference in student learning and achievement.” He identifies vital components of effective curricula and provides several rich examples of teachers who use the curriculum to directly engage their students. In this chapter, Allen also discusses the following: hooking students to science, emphasizing problem solving, writing communication, presenting data, intellectual standards of critical thinking, value of models, and the purpose and structure of a science laboratory.
Fresh Approaches to Teaching Urban and Minority Students – This chapter identifies cultural disconnects found in many classrooms that have populations of minority students. Allen offers a compelling example from the Haitian American community, where children are expected to be quiet and to behave in a classroom. American teachers often confuse this with an “I don’t care” attitude because Haitian American students are raised to quietly acquiesce to teacher instructions and expectations. Allen discusses several different ways teachers can bridge cultural gaps within their classrooms, one of which is through a process called cogenerative dialogue. Allen describes this dialogue strategy in detail and offers a step-by-step format that aims to foster proactive communication between students and their teacher. Another approach involves the SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) model which “provides teachers with a practical way of conveying content to English language learners by embedding features of high-quality, research-proven ELL instruction.” Again, Allen discusses the model in detail and offers a great deal of insight into the possible positive outcomes of using the model in a classroom.
Assessment for Learning – This chapter focuses on formative assessment techniques, science notebooks, and No Child Left Behind. Allen cites one school’s policy of not mixing “behaviors like tardiness, absenteeism, work completion or effort” with academic achievement because the teachers strive to assess “what students really do know and understand about science.” Allen discusses the merits of district-level formative and summative assessments (like Nebraska’s STAR program) versus state-level tests
Implications for Professional Development – While reading the final chapter of the book, it becomes apparent to the reader that new teachers are in desperate need of good mentors, and that all science teachers must continually seek to improve their practice and the practice of their colleagues (a leadership idea, for sure) by forming and joining professional learning communities, participating in science workshops and field trips during the summer, and sharing what they learn with fellow science teachers.
The Essentials of Science is highly recommended and ought to be a valuable addition to the professional library of any 7-12 science educator. Warning: Make sure you have a highlighter and sticky notes available when you read the book! This book will not sit on the shelf but will be referenced and read often by its conscientious owner.