When Russ and Mary Colson's inspirational book first arrived in my hands, dear reader, I did not know what to do with it. I had been teaching earth and space science to high schoolers for a few years, and I was proud that I had learned my way around some of the content. But Learning to Read the Earth and Sky is a master class, and I needed a few more years of learning before I was ready to leverage its powerful lessons in my classroom. Now, however, I'm gratefully using what it's taught me to transform all my science courses.
Mary is a middle school teacher and Russ a collegiate instructor; together, they've written a tremendous resource that provides ideas and techniques, broadly defined, for using the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as a platform for practicing real science with students. This is not a handbook, however, or a curriculum. Instead, the Colsons interweave simple but evocative examples of “teacher moves” with thoughtful stories and quotes from scientists and educators alike. The layout, rich with illustrations, sample student work, and callouts, is a powerful complement to the encouraging and detail-oriented text.
One of the biggest concerns for teachers who want their students to engage in more authentic science practices is that their classes will accidentally descend into chaos and pandemonium. To alleviate that concern, the Colsons have structured much of this book around frameworks they call Example Activity Designs. Each is based on a specific science practice, including iteratively making observations, asking questions, and graphing. I was particularly impressed with their recommendations for transforming a well-tested procedural exercise into one where students build controlled experiments; this technique, which I first learned from the AP Biology teaching community, is beautifully explained here.
There is an abundance of rich pedagogical content knowledge to be found within Learning to Read the Earth and Sky. My favorite, one that also drives my classroom, is the idea that teacher and students are colleagues and fellow scholars. I co-teach the most introductory inclusion science class at my high school with a special education teacher, and we find ourselves constantly working to rewrite the narrative that certain students don't have expertise or hold knowledge about their world. I also appreciate how the Colsons give the reader permission to intentionally focus their instruction. Teaching and learning a year's worth of science content shouldn't feel like a forced march; instead, teachers must find ways both to break big concepts into smaller pieces and to prioritize scientific experiences with some – not all – of the component ideas.
This may not be the very first book to reach for if you are new to science teaching. However, if you are looking for a breath of fresh air, new ideas, and unwavering support in helping students authentically practice the doing of science, I recommend this book without reservation.