Effective Use of the STEMscopes Toolbox

Posted by Science Explored on September 21, 2012

Last week we made the journey to the Houston Ship Channel to visit Port Houston Elementary.  Port Houston Elementary is a Title I school in Houston ISD that rests on a backdrop of oil refineries and throngs of eighteen-wheelers. We imagined the teacher who invited us to be a gruff, battle-hardened educator.  Instead, we found the most charismatic, approachable, and thoughtful teacher we could imagine:  Teresa Godoy.  In our brief interview with Teresa, she revealed her mastery of using the STEMscopes™ toolbox and demonstrated how the resources in the toolbox can have an impact on not only classroom management and procedures but also on improving instruction.  Check out our interview with Teresa below:

Two of the most powerful things we took from Teresa’s expertise were the way she wove the process skills into her classroom environment and her democratic, flexible use of the lab manager cards.  By clearly displaying the tools of inquiry across her classroom cabinets, Teresa created not only clear expectations for her students but also high expectations for what their lab work should include.  Teresa noted that the development of these skills (observing, questioning, hypothesizing, etc.) were essential to developing student’s critical thinking skills. Once the students have ingrained in their minds that science is a process and not just a question and answer, they can meaningfully investigate and understand science in the world around them.

Teresa’s other big takeaway was her use of the lab manager cards.  As former elementary, middle school, and high school teachers, we can echo how poor classroom management can take your greatest lesson and crumble it.  In the science lab this is especially true as students can squabble, fight, and even shutdown if they do not get each partake and lead hands-on activities.  STEMscopes™ is full of great hands-on activities – it makes perfect sense that a strong management system is needed to maximize those lessons.  Teresa solves this by using a rotating color scheme whereby the students get different lab roles every time.  Furthermore, she keeps her lab groups small (4, 5, maybe 6 students) in order to allow an equitable use of materials and prevent any student from feeling that there is no room to participate.  Within her scheme is a hidden gem – not only can she switch the lab roles using her lab manager chart color system but also make students feel that the system is fair and balanced.  It’s absolutely no wonder her students deeply enjoy her class.  Science is supposed to be fun, messy, and real; Teresa accomplishes all of that.