Students across New York state will soon notice a gradual roll-out of the state’s new science standards.

Recently, NewsChannel 9 was given a rare behind-the-scenes look at how the new standards incorporate lesson study and maintain a focus on engineering. The observation took place at Burton Street Elementary in Cazenovia while second-graders tackled a soil erosion project called, “Save the Sand Towers.”

OCM-BOCES is one partner in a leadership team that includes help from the Syracuse University School of Education. Members are helping teachers prepare for the new state science standards before they are fully implemented into curriculum at all schools at all grade levels.

“These were officially approved by the Board of Regents last July, so the state has picked a slow roll-out, which I think is really important,” said Whisher-Hehl, the OCM-BOCES coordinator of innovative teaching and learning. “The tests are not slated to change for a handful of years. Right now they are developing feedback from the field to make a road map for when the new test will be rolled out.”

Different than years past when standards for other subject areas such as math and english were approved, Whisher-Hehl says the tentative plan is to incorporate one new unit per grade level per year.

Studying erosion and figuring out how to solve the problem in small groups is something Whisher-Hehl calls “everyday science.”

The OCM-BOCES Center for Innovative Science Education was selected as one of two field partners in the stare by the Smithsonian Science Education Center for a $200,000 grant called “100Kin10.”

The grant focuses on supporting early elementary students in engineering practices and allows 75 kindergarten, first- and second-grade teachers throughout Central New York to participate in curriculum development in the first year of the grant.

“These standards were developed specifically for equity and access. They were developed to have a set of science standards that really work for all kids and that all kids could have a strong foundation,” explained Whisher-Hehl. “Secondly, they were designed to help kids gain skills and understandings that will move beyond science, so it includes content, but also includes the scientific and engineering practices.

During the soil erosion lesson study, students were not the only ones taking notes — each and every Burton Street Elementary teacher was observing the exercise for the first time. Whisher-Hehl says this approach will help teachers learn the new state science standards and make them successful when presenting it in their classrooms.

“We’re saying to teachers, ‘We know you’ve been asked to do a lot. We know we’re asking you to change science but we’re only going to ask you to do one new unit per year,'” Whisher-Hehl explained. “Hopefully, we’re setting teachers up for success which will set up students for success.”

The lesson study presented at Burton Street Elementary challenged students to argue from evidence collected in their groups during the lesson study.

“We’re giving kids intellectual tools that will help them no matter where they go after they graduate from us,” Whisher-Hehl said.

On this particular day, students were welcomed into the “cafetorium” by a round of applause from their school’s teachers.

“We normally applaud for kids at a sporting event or music event but to applaud for kids for coming into a space to learn and to applaud them engaging in learning and the learning that occurred is really powerful because it’s recognizing their work too,” Whisher-Hehl shared.

Lesson study facilitators such as Sharon Dotger, an associate professor of science education at Syracuse University, say the custom of clapping for students to encourage them is a Japanese teaching technique.

While lesson study has been a general practice in countries like Japan for more than a century — Dotger says the real roots of lesson study traced back to SUNY Oswego where a professor led the work that he called “demonstration lessons and object lessons.” Dotger says a Japanese educator came to learn from him and then continued the practice in Tokyo.

According to SUNY Oswego, Edward Austin Sheldon founded the Oswego Primary Teachers’ Training School 157 years ago, adopting the then-revolutionary object teaching method to bring learning alive. 

Dotger, who works in SU’s Department of Teaching and Leadership in the School of Education, says the teaching form of lesson study lost steam in the United States but then popped up on the radar again for researchers in the ’90s.

As the momentum builds, Dotger says there are now several lesson study conferences across the country. Dotger has also visited Japan to study how they use lesson study.

“We’re in our beginning stages with the long 40- to 50-year view of eventually building a local system that looks something more like that,” Dotger shared.

At Burton Street Elementary, teachers watching the students and observers watching teachers and students all found a common takeaway — collaborative learning.

“What’s most exciting to me about this is what it’s going to offer all the special education students, too, regardless of what their needs are,” said Jenny Valente, a fourth grade special education teacher. “A chance to really work with their peers in a positive way, so that part is really exciting to me. That’s my big takeaway from today.”

For Dotger and Whisher-Hehl, watching students use a variety of skills and critical thinking in one lesson is refreshing in the classroom setting.

“There was a little bit of math work involved, a lot of talking and a lot of writing, so there was literacy and mathematics, science and engineering and tech because we use the iPads,” Dotger said. “We had a fully-rounded, well completed STEM lesson.”

Dotger and Whisher-Hehl noted the positivity and excitement Burton Street second-graders expressed during the soil erosion lesson study.

Students clapped within their groups and some even cheered, “Oh my gosh, our plan worked! We did it, you guys!”

To “slow down or the stop the erosion” in their trays — students were given a small-scale budget of $100 to figure out what supplies to buy in order to make a design that solved the problem. Supplies included trees (kitchen sponges with screws in them), grass (toothpicks), sandbags (cotton balls) and retaining walls (popsicle sticks).

Rather than referring to their materials as sponges or cotton balls — these second-grade students used the scientific terms assigned to them. The conscious decisions made by students to do this impressed teachers as they participated in a debrief session following the lesson study.

“Anytime you can give a student a model of something that’s real and get their hands dirty and get their hands on it — it does help them,” Valente said. “Most kids will really appreciate that opportunity to touch it, feel it, look at it.”

At different times of the lesson study, students were discussing how they came up with their plan and then how they could improve it based off their findings. Without a prompt, students were actively raising their hands to share their group’s ideas.

“At one time, all kids’ hands were in doing the building,” Whisher-Hehl said. “To see all kids be included and and involved and to take on different roles…and they didn’t argue. They were in it as a team and they truly wanted to work together for the success of their design as a whole that was amazing.”

Dotger says the new state science standards are “ambitious,” and will push students and teachers a little farther in each lesson study.

“When kids have positive experiences in their learning, they’re going to learn more,” Dotger said. “Some of what we’re after is trying to really build these basic dispositions of positive learning opportunities for these kids.”

The roots of the new state standards focus on how the skills of an engineer can be used in all career paths, according to Dotger.

“Our goal is not necessarily to turn every child in Onondaga County into an engineer,” Dotger explained. “But to help them grow and learn having those kinds of dispositions and that they have the skills necessary to communicate in a world where science and engineering are going to continue to be a big part of what we live with.”

To find more information about the new NYS Science Standards, click here.