NOTE: Each week throughout the school year, we will visit a school across Eastern Carver County Schools. Some weeks the plan may be to stop in multiple classrooms by grade, or by subject. Other weeks it may highlight a certain specialist group. The purpose is to give families and our community a glimpse into the every-day learning environment happening in our buildings. A chance to spotlight the incredible work our teachers and staff do on a daily basis for our students, and to showcase the incredible work our students produce as well. So, keep your Eye on ECCS!
When Eastern Carver County Schools’ Teaching and Learning leadership, in collaboration with secondary staff, set out to establish new science standards for the 2022-23 school year – a practice the Minnesota Department of Education requires of each district every decade – they identified what was most essential for students to learn and understand.
Middle schoolers will now have Earth and Space Science in sixth grade, Life Science in seventh grade and Physical Science in eighth grade, while all freshmen in high school will now take Environmental Science followed by Physics or Chemistry in 10th grade and Biology in 11th grade.
The standards go beyond order and sequence change. More hands-on, activity-based instruction, using the five Es (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate), are critical in lesson planning.
Teacher Whitney Eipperle bounced between the five Es in a recent 10th grade Chemistry block class. Students first engaged in lab work by burning a marshmallow and then working in teams to measure matter. In both activities, students were asked to explore and explain what they were seeing.
When the classroom came back together to wrap up their analysis, students concluded the color and texture of the marshmallow changed due to a chemical reaction. Weaving in and out of these instructional practices helps students secure a firm grasp on the science concepts they learned.
“If there is one thing you write down today, make it be this. We will use (conversion factors) every single day from now to June 9,” Eipperle said.
Students in Taylor Hamilton’s 10th grade English class were also using many of those same five Es in a discussion group. Students discussed both book choice and required reading. The assigned articles centered on a disconnect many students feel with required reading the older they get in school.
While the group started slowly, they broke through the engagement stage; the deeper into exploration of the articles, the more comfortable the students felt in sharing their opinions. Not only did the group evaluate what each article stated, but they also elaborated with their own ideas based on their own experiences.
Common themes from the students were having a choice in assigned reading; a vote among students, perhaps. Students also shared that the teacher’s attitude toward the book, how it is initially presented, potentially influenced their perception of the book before even starting it.
Hamilton told the students their ideas were “super helpful” to her when thinking about future reading assignments.
‘I wish every school had BARR’
Eipperle and Hamilton are both involved in BARR (Building Assets, Reducing Risks) at Chanhassen High School. The program is now in its fourth year at the high school, and the program is in place for all ninth grade students and most 10th graders.
According to the BARR website, the model is ”designed to create strong schools and communities by empowering students, teachers, and families with data, so that schools can realign existing resources to nurture a unified and personalized culture of support and success for every student, both inside and outside of the classroom.”
So, what does that mean?
High school can be a major adjustment for freshmen, and sometimes sophomores. It’s not just added expectations in course work, but also learning about personal responsibility and organization. Through BARR, school staff can track the progress of students to see trends. When a student is heading in the wrong direction in a class, staff works together to create potential solutions.
The staff BARR team builds on relationships that counselors have with students. They attempt to make connections with all students, not just those in their classes, learning their “interests, strengths, hopes, and dreams.”
The responses in a recent meeting from teachers, a counselor, a special education coordinator, a dean, and a principal, about having BARR at Chanhassen High School all were glowing in praise.
“I wish every school had BARR.”
“If I were starting at a school, BARR would be the first program I’ve have.”