How do you find time for SciJourn given the already overloaded curriculum?

No matter how carefully this book has been organized or how convincingly we argue for science journalism in the classroom, we understand that teachers operate in the real world, with real time constraints. What we can say, however, is that, teachers who struggle with these same issues—a prescribed curriculum; tests, tests and more tests; a discomfort with teaching writing; a discomfort with science—have decided that it is worthwhile to spend time with science journalism. For many of them, the chance to relate what they know and care about to real world concerns has become essential to their identity as teachers. And so they have made it a priority to find the time.

There seem to be several basic ways that teachers have folded SciJourn into their curriculum:

  • The mini-lesson. Short lessons, something like 5–10 minutes a day, spread over a long period of time.
  • Dedicated, full-blown lessons spaced throughout the year, e.g., SciJourn Fridays. Teachers spend time with lessons that result in a science news article (and sometimes even more than one!).
  • The “blitz”. Over the course of the year teachers may try two, three or even four SciJourn Blitzes. This means that for one or two weeks at a time they work intensively with students to produce an article. Often it takes students more than one blitz to produce something usable, so students return to a topic they were working on as homework or during the next blitz period.
  • The collaborative approach. The science and English or Journalism teachers work together to build a science journalism program. The research may take place during science time and the writing during the English period. Alternatively, science students may write in one class and a different group of students peer edit in English class, or English students write the article and the science students fact check it.
  • This coordinated approach can also work in an English or Journalism class; in one Parochial school, students were required to address a social justice theme so the teacher required students to write a news article that involved science and social justice. Helping students move from the editorial stance to a news article proved to be both challenging and productive. In addition to teaching students about the subject content, it also became a platform for exploring issues of genre and audience.
  • A local science event or speaker. An easy way to gather a story, talk to experts and get reactions is to cover a science event (see Chapters 6 and 7). It can be something happening at the local science center or college, or during a school field trip. The key is advance preparation in order to ask the questions needed to put together a story.

Teachers have also used invited speakers, for instance an expert on hybrid cars or waste treatment, to launch a science journalism “unit”. In advance of the speaker’s visit, the students do some research, listen and take notes while the guest is talking, and then look for an angle they want to use to follow up on a topic the speaker made them think about.
Year-to-year, or semester-to-semester, teachers often change their approach and timing. Since our goal is not to produce a curriculum per se, that makes perfect sense. Circumstances change, opportunities for collaboration wax and wane, and teachers find that the project works better in some classes than in others. What we have learned, though, is that even something as nontime consuming as SciJourn read-alouds (Chapter 5) can make a huge difference in terms of students’ ability to think critically. It also appears that the more frequently SciJourn lessons are used, the more scientifically literate students seem to become, and the better their teachers become at responding to student work. Research to explore this correlation is currently in the offing.

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