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Using FOSS to Prepare Undergraduate Students as Exemplary Teachers of Science

Dr. Marla Wagner Jones, University of Pennsylvania, Millersville, PA
September 08, 2006 | FOSS in Schools

As an instructor of elementary science teaching methods, I have 12 weeks to guide my students from that dark place known as "science phobia" to that brighter place where they are prepared to teach science to elementary children. Although this is not a small task, it is one that I relish each and every semester. I view this contact with my students as the one chance I have to inspire them to become "science enthusiasts" and enter the place the Albert Einstein described as "...exciting, interesting, and fun."

There is a lot for the students to do in those 12 weeks: reflecting on their science readiness at the beginning and the end of the semester, reviewing journal articles, developing inquirybased lessons, scrounging for cheap and free science materials, and developing their own science kits. Beyond the goal of developing competent classroom teachers of science, students must also know how to discriminate between science lessons that are mediocre and those that are exemplary. Because there are so many sources for science lesson ideas (textbooks, Internet sites, trade books, other teachers, and sciencefocused workbooks) and so few that qualify as exemplary, it is essential that students have the opportunity to examine, explore, and analyze those materials that model and describe the "best" science has to offer.

One way I provide such an experience for my undergraduate students uses a twopart process. During the first part, students engage in the FOSS Variables Module as an introduction to the format and focus of the FOSS program as a whole. By doing the investigations, they experience constructivist teaching and learning and develop a personal understanding of how multiple lessons build one upon the other to provide deeper conceptual understanding of the science topics. The second part of the experience is an assignment titled, Exemplary Materials Analysis and Report. Students are placed in groups of three or four, and each group is assigned a different FOSS module to analyze and report on.

At first this task seems overwhelming to the students. I often sense that anumber of them are even a bit resentful and may not comprehend the value of such an assignment, even though they are aware that 40 percent of the 501 school districts in Pennsylvania are using FOSS. I do explain to them the instructional value of the program, as well as the advantage they will have over other candidates who do not have any experience with FOSS.

Well, as the saying goes, "The proof is in the pudding." Once the students go out into the schools for their field experiences, they fully understand the value of this assignment. I get phone calls, emails, and visits from them.

They excitedly share with me how they got to use the FOSS modules in their field placements. Following are some actual experiences my students shared with me:

"I just wanted to send you a quick e-mail to say hello, but also to let you know that I will be teaching a FOSS unit during my second half placement of student teaching. Both my teacher and I are very excited as it is a new unit for her to teach, and my previous experience with FOSS from professional block will be put to the test. I look back at those couple of super-stressful days of evaluating kits and chuckle as I remember thinking ‘What will I ever do with this? Why is she making me do this? I'll NEVER use them.' However, due to the rigorous evaluation process of the kits we went through, I have a sense of confidence going into the teaching of the unit I would not have had otherwise. Therefore, I just wanted to say thank you for stressing me out those few days as I am now confident in my ability to teach the unit, thanks to my familiarity with the structure of the kits. Thanks again!"

Keri K.

"Hello! I just started my second student teaching placement and guess what? My school uses FOSS. My teacher was very excited to know that I knew how to use the program. I am really glad we had the opportunity to use the FOSS kits in the class because I felt very comfortable teaching it. I just thought you would be happy to know that."

Jennifer T.

"...I wanted to tell you that my district started using the FOSS kits while I was there. It was very neat because I got to explain it to my teacher and the other fifth-grade teachers. Thanks for introducing them to us. I got to teach a few lessons from the Landforms Module, and it was so great to see the students' reactions. It was also very fun for me to teach. I felt comfortable working with the kit thanks to you. The assistant superintendent was very impressed that I knew what the kits were about. Thanks again and keep up the good work. I just wanted to let you know that at least one person appreciates the work you made us do."

Melissa K.

"I am going to be doing my TWS [Teacher Work Sample] on electricity! I am so excited because I am going to be able to utilize my shoebox kit on static electricity in the unit. [The school] has the FOSS Magnetism and Electricity Module that will be the meat of my unit, but my fourthgrade co-op [cooperating teacher] would also like to see my input on other things (like my shoebox kit) to make my TWS more special. My co-op was more than willing to let me handle the electricity unit...I am looking forward to spreading some science enthusiasm around."