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Accessible Middle School Life science curriculum

Accessible Middle School Life Science Curriculum

Teaching middle school students can be equal parts challenging and rewarding. We as science teachers, understand the importance of teaching our students rigorous, grade-level science.

However, we are also tasked with making those grade-level science concepts accessible to all students, regardless of their reading levels, English language proficiency, and/or special learning needs. 

This post explores the components of a strong life science curriculum, who is responsible for creating said curriculum, and ways to ensure your middle school life science curriculum provides students with a solid foundation in the fundamental content and skills related to life science while also being engaging and comprehensible to learners with various abilities and learning styles. 

What is an accessible Life Science Curriculum?

While the answer to this question may seem obvious, it was ambiguous to me in my first year as a teacher. Simply stated, a curriculum is an educational program that outlines the knowledge, skills, and experiences that students are expected to learn within a particular subject or course of study.

Whether the focus is life science, physical science, or earth science, a curriculum typically includes a set of standards-aligned learning objectives that describe what students should know and be able to do by the end of the unit or school year.

A curriculum for a life science course can include a unit overview and a unit map complete with standards and learning objectives. It can also include notes for the teacher on materials and preparation, an answer key, and student-facing handouts such as readings, guided notes, and graphic organizers. Some also include interactive tools and a downloadable student textbook.  

Are Teachers Responsible for Creating Curricula?

Ideally, educational professionals, such as curriculum developers and subject area experts, design curricula. Although curriculum writing and development are full-time jobs, many full-time classroom teachers spend hours creating their own curriculum or modifying an existing curriculum to fit the diverse needs of their students. 

According to EdReports, “Teachers spend 7–12 hours per week searching for and creating instructional resources (free and paid). Let’s be real: that is time teachers do not have to spare.”

edreports.org/resources/article/3-common-misconceptions-about-high-quality-instructional-materials

In other words, it is neither fair nor sustainable for teachers to spend this many hours of their free time each week searching for the materials they need to do their jobs.

The Importance of High-Quality Instructional Materials (HQIM)

If you Google the term “high-quality instructional materials,” you’ll get thousands of different definitions. So what are they? I like the definition in a report published by The Center for Public Research and Leadership. 

“High-Quality Instructional Materials Learning materials that have “specific learning goals,” “lessons aligned to content standards, student-centered approaches to inquiry-based learning, research-based teaching strategies, teacher support materials, and embedded formative assessments to effectively help teachers implement instructional units and courses that are integrated, coherent, and sequenced.” High-quality instructional materials are designed to be educative, which means they should enhance users’ (e.g., teachers’ or family members’) instructional capacity and ability to guide student learning. For instance, the materials may guide users to try new instructional approaches, deepen their content knowledge, or provide more effective scaffolds in response to student misconceptions.”

The Center for Public Research and Leadership
Picture of a male teacher holding a microscope and surrounded by students. High Quality Instructional Materials (HQIM). Specific learning goals, lessons aligned to content standards, student-centered approaches to inquiry-based learning, research-based teaching strategies, teacher support materials, embedded formative assessments.

Moreover, when teachers have access to high-quality instructional materials, they can focus more on teaching the content and the best ways to meet the diverse needs of their students rather than burning out in trying to “build a plane while flying it.”

The Next Generation Science Standards

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are NOT a science curriculum. Instead, they are science education standards that describe what students should know and be able to do in science, engineering, and technology. 

Because The NGSS were developed by educators, scientists, and experts in science education, they are based on the latest science and science education research.

An image of a science teacher with her students working on an experiment. The text reads, "What are the Next Generation Science Standards - Science education standards that describe what students should know and be able to do in science, engineering, and technology.

Therefore, the focus is no longer on rote memorization of isolated scientific facts and teaching the scientific method in isolation. Instead, the NGSS were designed to focus on the true nature of science and real-world connections through three main dimensions: disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts. 

You can think of the Disciplinary Core Ideas as the science content. The DCIs are the fundamental concepts and principles essential to each scientific discipline. 

DCIs are the content, and The Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) are the skills. These skills focus on habits of mind (such as problem-solving) that scientists and engineers use to investigate the natural world and design solutions to problems. 

Crosscutting concepts (CCCs) can be viewed as interdisciplinary practices. In other words, they are the overarching themes and patterns that apply across all scientific disciplines (as well as other subjects such as language arts and social studies).

Dimensions of the NGSS - Picture of the layers of the Earth  - Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs) Content reflective of science fundamentals. Picture of five pins connected by strings - Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs) concepts that apply to all the sciences as well as other subjects. Picture of a student and teacher engaged in a science lesson. Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) - The activities in which STEM professionals engage.

The NGSS also emphasize the importance of student-centered learning, where students actively engage in the scientific process through inquiry-based investigations and problem-solving activities. The NGSS promote the development of critical thinking skills, scientific literacy, and an understanding of the role of science and engineering in society.

NGSS Aligned Curriculum

The NGSS have been adopted by many states. Because they are not a curriculum, the NGSS provide a framework for designing curricula, assessments, and instructional materials that align with the standards and support student learning in science, engineering, and technology.

Because the NGSS are still relatively new, we as teachers were not educated in how to create NGSS aligned curriculum, units, and/or lessons. And as previously mentioned, curriculum writing is a full-time job that IS NOT the teacher’s responsibility.

Therefore, some education companies have created NGSS-aligned curricula and professional learning to implement the curriculum. 

High-Quality Instructional Materials and Diverse Learners

In addition to alignment with learning standards, an effective life science curriculum should be engaging and relevant to all students and meet the needs of diverse learners.

Unfortunately, in my experience using NGSS-aligned published curricula and working with teachers, a huge gap that still exists is making grade-level science accessible to students reading below grade level, students with special needs, and English learners. 

A simple note in the teacher’s instruction on scaffolding and differentiating parts of the lesson is not enough. An equitable curriculum also includes student-facing materials created with diverse students in mind.

Lit Science’s Goal

I created Lit Science after teaching middle and high school science and serving as an instructional coach and professional learning facilitator. While in the classroom, I quickly became burnt out trying to create all my instructional materials from scratch. 

Therefore, through Lit Science, I create resources that are accessible to all learners, regardless of their reading level, diverse needs, or English language proficiency.

Thumbnails of plant and animal cells project and cell organelle poster project.

Our student-facing resources scaffold and amplify as opposed to watering down. My passion is creating the materials you need to save time and allow you to focus on what you do best; teaching your students. 

As our offerings continue to expand, we want to hear from you! What life science resources do you need to meet the needs of your diverse learners?

As we wait to hear from you and continue to grow, shop our current life science resources here. 

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