Teachers pleased with new science curriculum

Jodi Schellenberg
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Although there have been changes made to the science curriculum, teaches at Carlton Comprehensive High School have been pleased with the results.

Jenna Welsh, one of the science teachers at Carlton Comprehensive High School, shows off some of the equipment students get to use in the new Health Sciences 20 class.

In the fall, Carlton was chosen as one of the 75 schools in the province to roll out the new Grade 11 science classes as part of a Ministry of Education pilot program.

Instead of teaching Physics 20, Chemistry 20 and Biology 20, the educators were instead teaching Health Science 20, Environmental Studies 20 and Physical Science 20.

Jenna Welsh, one of the teachers at Carlton, explained the classes offer students a more specialized view in some subjects and may help them when it comes time to decide an area of post-secondary study.

Although the Grade 11 students can no longer take biology, chemistry or physics, the content is still included in the new classes.

Physical Science will replace both chemistry and physics. It has elements of both the classes and bridges the gap between the two subjects.

In place of biology, students can chose to take the more earth-based subject, Environmental Studies, which incorporates more geology and the environment, or Health Sciences, which looks at the human body and the health field.

“We really haven’t had anything that really covered the health field before so this is a great opportunity for kids to explore,” Welsh said. “The new curriculum also has a career component and also a student-directed study component where students kind of lead the direction of their learning.”

The focus of the new curriculum is on scientific literacy and using inquiry.

So far, the teachers at Carlton have had a positive response.

“The health science and the environmental science has really engaged kids in a different way than I think we have in the past because I think they see the application to real world in those courses,” Welsh said. “Before, it was a bit more difficult for students to make those connections.”

For example, in the Health Sciences class the students get to use heart rate monitors and other technology to learn about the health field.

“We have had some challenges along the way too because it is new for us as teachers, new for the students and a new way of approaching it,” Welsh said. “Overall, we are able to meet those challenges probably because we have such a big team here at Carlton.

“We have several expert teachers in the science area. With each other and supporting each other we are able to overcome any of those challenges in implementing the new curriculum.”

In order to make the curriculum the best it could be, the teachers worked on the new curriculum through professional learning communities before and after school, on lunch breaks and during other free time, including the summer break.

“The courses are quite a bit different from what some of us have been trained in,” Welsh said. “I’m not saying we don’t have the expertise here, we do, but I might not have that particular expertise but I can find someone who does or I can learn it from somewhere.

“There is a huge learning piece that teachers put a lot of work into to be good teachers.”

They also asked the students for feedback about the new curriculum so they can make improvements in the future.

“There was a positive response and we are looking forward to next fall for sure,” Welsh said.

Although the courses themselves changed, Welsh said one of the biggest changes was moving to an outcome-based curriculum, which is different from the way things were done in the past.

“If I think about past classes and future now, in the past it wasn’t bad,” Welsh said. “Students came out learning and we all went through that system and it was fine but what were students getting out of it? Were they getting all the skills the same way as they are now? I don’t know.

“I think we are trying to move to the direction of critical thinking and deep understanding more and more,” she added. “I don’t know if that is what I was always achieving before when I was teaching Physics 20 previously.”

With the old classes, there was more focus on the content instead of critical thinking.

“The ultimate goal is not to remember exactly what they took in my class -- I want them to understand the bigger picture.”

The other thing Carlton teachers are focusing on is the idea of teamwork.

“One thing you will see more and more in our science classrooms is fewer desks and a lot more tables,” Welsh said. “The idea there is that students can then work as a team to solve a problem rather than as an individual. As our view and the way the curriculum is now written, really reflects more of how society works. We work in teams more than we do as individuals.”

Welsh said the students seem to enjoy the new curriculum.

“The students really like the direction of the team environment and the chance to explore things they are interested in within the class,” Welsh said.

One of the only challenges they faced was when students wanted to take just physics or chemistry.

“There was a little bit of that but as teachers we have to have some flexibility to help those students as well and supplementing them with whatever extra they need to make sure they are ready for the other courses.”

So far, both teachers and students have accepted all the changes.

“Carlton (and other schools) really thrive on the growth model,” Welsh said. “We want to grow in our learning and that is why we look at it in the perspective of what are the big ideas and how can we get there instead of let’s just learn content and move on.”

More changes coming to curriculum

Welsh explained that now with the Grade 11 changes, there will be changes coming to the Grade 12 curriculum as well.

“This is going to be more consistent with what we see in Grade 9 and the Grade 11 courses,” she said.

Although there will still be Physics 30, Chemistry 30 and Biology 30, the courses will be more outcome-based and related to real world careers.

In addition to the regular three classes a third class, Earth Science, will be added. It will focus on things such as geography, earth families, plate tectonic theory and mineral resources.

“It is a pretty neat course and really specific to the field of geology and quite an academic field too when you think about it.”

According to a Ministry of Education spokesperson, changes to the curriculum are paused while they consult with the Student First engagements in order to determine the best approach to meet students’ needs.

Organizations: Ministry of Education, Environmental Studies 20, Health Sciences

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