Teacher Committee Aligns Science Education, Skills

The high school and its feeder middle schools are seeking to ease the transition between junior high and high school science classes. Two years ago, a committee made up from teachers from both district high schools and local middle schools had its first meeting to discuss ways in which this goal could be achieved. The committee is scheduled to meet for a second time early next semester.

The idea to form a committee came from biology Suzanne Williams. According to Williams, too many students were lacking some skills necessary for the high school earth science and biology courses, a problem which could be solved via better communication between the high school and feeder junior highs.

“It’s not about how smart you are, it’s about how you use what you know,” Williams said. “Considering all the curriculum we have to get through, it can be frustrating when kids don’t know how to use the microscopes, when to use a bar or line graph, etc.”

According to Williams, a similar committee used to exist 11 ago, when Williams was a teacher at Graham Middle School. One chief element of the program was a day in which the middle and high school teachers would switch schools for a day. Williams said that such an event allows high school teachers to understand the middle school students and what they have learned; the middle school teachers can discuss with their former students how high school is different and what students need to know to be prepared for more advanced science courses.

In its first meeting, the articulation committee discussed common problems that the students were having and what are “realistic expectations” from the middle schools and “realistic realizations” from the high school.

According to science teacher Lisa Bolton, a primary part of this is not repeating labs in high school that have not already been done. Bolton also said that the alignment would entail a discussion of the exact standards of what students are expected to know in middle school, allowing the high school teachers to know which concepts need to be covered more deeply and what can be treated as review.

The committee plans to meet every other year and is slated to have a meeting early next semester to further discuss how to better prepare students for high school science.

“[Having this committee] is a good idea since the students come from different junior high schools,” junior Shalaka Bhat said. “If they’re all going to be in one class together freshman year, it’s really important that they have the same backing and the same knowledge.”

Egan Junior High School recently obtained science textbooks for the students that are, according to Egan seventh grade science teacher Curtis Schneider, “much more in-depth than the worksheets that we had in our Xeroxed packets.”

The school is also striving to increase the caliber of lab reports. It hopes that the high school will find the science writing of next year’s freshman class to be superior to that of previous classes and that next year’s freshman class comes in with better study skills.

Egan teachers said that they look forward to another meeting with the articulation committee this upcoming year to discuss further changes.

“It was a good, fruitful meeting,” Egan science teacher Damon Weitz said. “We’re long due for another one.”

Although the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District did not initiate the meetings, it has been incredibly supportive of the committee, according to Williams.

Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Brigitte Sarraf acknowledged that there is definitely “a concerted effort” on the part of the teachers at both middle and high schools to have more ongoing dialogue about their respective programs and performance expectations.

“If properly sustained, this dialogue should result eventually in better articulated programs across grade levels,” Sarraf said in an e-mail. “Last year, teachers started visiting each other’s programs to learn more about instructional approaches, course content, assessment, etc. All of this helps to create a deeper understanding and will bring us more in line with one another. The greatest challenge for our partner districts continues to lie in the fact that the entry level science course at LAHS for most students is biology, while at MVHS it is chemistry. We are very aware of the difficulties that this creates for our middle schools and we are exploring this issue at different levels.”