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‘Fundamentally Changing the Conditions’ for Teaching

At Mission Bay Hub, in the San Francisco school district, the goal is to provide high school students with opportunities to explore careers in health and life sciences fields.

Students come to the specialized program for half the day to learn more about science disciplines and receive work-based learning opportunities that show them how those topics can apply to different careers.

Students have praised the program, saying that it has not only helped them figure out what career they want to pursue, but also made the learning experience more engaging.

But for Erik Rice, the program director, it’s not just about changing the environment for students so they can engage in deeper learning. It’s also about “fundamentally changing the conditions” for teachers so they can better facilitate deeper learning.

In a 2023 survey sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation, nearly all teachers (95 percent) said it is their job to prepare students for their future careers, yet more than one-third (37 percent) believe they are not preparing students for those jobs. Educators and researchers have cited a lack of resources and industry experience as some of the reasons.

In separate conversations with Education Week, Rice and Tess Carlson, the founding science teacher for Mission Bay Hub, discuss how the program provides the conditions teachers need to better prepare students for future careers.

The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

What does an average day look like in the program?

Carlson: It depends on the day. Some days, my co-teacher [who teaches English] and I split the time. Some days, what we’re doing is more interdisciplinary. Maybe they’re working on a project, like writing a narrative that includes some science content, so the English teacher’s helping them craft their narrative and I’m there helping them with the science aspects. We’re tag-teaming together for 2 1/2 hours.

A lot of the time, it’s just normal science class. We’re doing a little experiment, or we’re doing something hands-on, or we’re talking about proteins or DNA or whatever. Then the next day, we might have a guest speaker from the [University of California San Francisco] who’s going to engage them in some activity, or the next day they’re doing site visits and they’re going to different labs across the university. Some days are totally kind of normal, and some days are much more exciting.

What do you like about teaching here?

Carlson: I like that there is so much collaboration between my co-teacher and I. It is easy to get feedback on a lesson or activity, and I know I always have someone to bounce ideas off of.

I also like that students are getting work-based learning experiences in addition to my curriculum. It’s been exciting for me to think about how to adapt my curriculum to meet the differentiated experiences they are having at their fellowships or when guest speakers come in.

The work-based and experiential learning is definitely different than teaching at a traditional school. I didn’t use to have the time or space to get scientists to come into my classroom. Now, because of the design of the program and the geographical proximity to the university and hospitals, it’s become much easier.

The model of having two teachers for a longer block is also really different, and it has definitely made teaching in this program feel more sustainable than my prior experience.

What has your professional development looked like?

Carlson: Professional development at our program is interesting because we are so small right now. Our SFUSD staff is just our director, the English teacher, and me. We do some work around project planning and [project-based learning] together.

I have found some of my own professional development to match my interests and have been able to pursue that this year as well. I attended a neuroscience conference earlier this year, which was intended for scientists but they were gracious enough to have me. I got to enhance my knowledge of current topics in neuroscience research.

I would enjoy having more colleagues with a background in science so we could engage in professional development around the content and best pedagogical practices for science teaching.

Was it challenging to come up with the curriculum?

Carlson: It surprisingly was not that challenging! I took online neuroscience courses over the summer to brush up on those topics. I had a lot of fun designing the first semester of content, which was all neuroscience. I was making most things from scratch, but because we are given a good amount of prep time, I didn’t find myself taking this work home or struggling to get it done. Instead, I had plenty of time to think deeply about how I wanted students to engage with neuroscience concepts and make these accessible for them.

How is this format helpful for teachers?

Rice: Often, you have to move heaven and earth to try to coordinate for somebody to go in and watch a couple of colleagues teach. To have a common planning time, you have to negotiate the ultimate master schedule. Otherwise, you get your once-a-month, hour-and-a-half common planning time. Adults are being told that, in order to do it, they have to be staying after school and up late at night and all those sorts of things.

What this [program] does is it gives them not just common planning time, but common teaching time, where they can make adjustments live in the room at that moment, or that one teacher can be facilitating and maybe the other one is pulling the students to check in with them for academic purposes or for social-emotional check-in.

I also think the quality of life for teachers is so important. We know this is a luxury that schools can’t just automatically create. We’ve got the students from 9 to 11:30 in the morning, and then another group from 1:30 to 4. What happens between 11:30 and 1:30? It’s not a two-hour break but a designated common planning time. There’s time built into the school day [for administrative tasks]. They can breathe and take their lunch.

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