The top team of secondary school science teachers in Utah is located in Tooele County, according to the Utah Science Teachers Association.
The eight-member science department at Clarke N. Johnsen Junior High received USTA’s Science Department of the Year Award at the organization’s annual conference held Friday at Thanksgiving Point.
“Clarke N. Johnsen Junior High was nominated and selected because of the efforts the whole school and the science department have put into teaching students science,” said Duane Merrell, executive director of USTA and an associate teaching professor of physics and astronomy at Brigham Young University.
One reason Clarke Johnsen Junior High won the award was programs like “Super Science Days” which allow students to explore concepts like density, convection currents, and lighter-than-air vehicles by building hot air balloons, or motion and air drag by building paper drag racers.
“The award recognizes a school and the school science department for efforts to change the students’ attitudes and show growth in student achievement in science,” said Merrell.
Core test results show that students improved 20 percentage points in science competency from 2007 to 2011, from 65 percent to 85 percent.
Collaboration and teamwork are responsible for the science department’s success according to Clarke Johnsen Junior High science teacher Cheryl Dearing.
“We’ve coordinated our lessons so our students are studying the same thing at the same time and work together on lab rotations,” said Dearing.
For lab rotations, each teacher prepares two or three stations on the unit being studied and then students rotate from room to room participating in each lab.
“It allows students to benefit from the expertise of each science teacher,” said Thane St. Clair, the school’s science department chairman. “Students get more of a hands on experience than I could do if I were preparing these labs myself.”
Last week, the school’s science students were doing a lab rotation on weathering, erosion, and deposition.
In one room, students observed a miniature glacier as it made its way down a simulated mountain slope. In another room, they made piles of sand in a wave tank and then noted the effects of various waves on the sand. In a third room, they recorded observations of the patterns of settlement of different size of rocks and sand in a jar of water.
Dearing displayed in her room a picture of the Stansbury Mountain range covered in snow so students could make the connection between what was going on in the classroom and what they could see out the window.
Science education goes beyond memorizing facts, said Dearing.
“Each student is given a worksheet for the labs to record their observations, and it also asks them to make conclusions based on their observations and facts,” said Dearing.
Merrell visited Clarke Johnsen Junior High on a day the science teachers were studying density.
“They did a human dunk tank to calculate body density,” said Merrell. “It was wonderful. Students were willing to get wet for science.”