Special to the Reporter
Congresswoman Suzan DelBene recently co-taught an integrated science and English lesson in an eighth-grade classroom at Stella Schola Middle School in Redmond. DelBene represents Washington’s First Congressional District, which spans from northeast King County to the Canadian border, and includes parts of King, Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties.
National Board-Certified Teacher (NBCT) Brigitte Tennis says that, “Our elected officials really want to experience modern public education by being part of the teaching and learning process.”
Experiencing a real classroom with real students, and seeing what real learning looks and feels like on a daily basis “helps public officials make better decisions because those decisions are based on hands-on experiences,” she added. The students are excited because they notice that decision-making adults want to know that what they are learning is relevant, challenging, and applicable.
During DelBene’s visit, students analyzed two seemingly similar pieces of white paper so they could make a claim stating if the papers were more similar or dissimilar at the end of the lesson. After reminding students they would only get one of each sample, as is often the case in science when specimens are limited, students planned out and then conducted short mini-experiments to test the two papers. Students used a Venn diagram to record their findings. Grouped in teams of four, students began with basic scientific observations and then progressed to experiments such as dropping the papers from the same height to see how the papers behaved, to putting them into a microwave for five minutes.
“At first, I thought this was going to be boring,” commented Eric Song, “but paper A and paper B reacted very differently than I thought! Now, I want to try more experiments!”
DelBene was impressed when students wanted to test water absorption, how the paper accepted ink when written on, and the effects of fire on the paper.
“We just used a Venn diagram in a committee meeting in Washington, DC recently,” commented DelBene to the students, “so these skills are relevant and beneficial.”
“It’s amazing how we can use simple materials to integrate English and science,” said Tennis. She believes that the common core concepts and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) blend well. “Students need to practice thinking, so we must provide opportunities for students to support a claim by using logical reasoning supported with accurate data.”
DelBene, who has been co-teaching with Tennis for three years, enjoys working with the students and being part of the learning. The students will visit DelBene in Washington, DC in June where they will apply their knowledge of American history and the foundations of the United States government for six days.
“It’s great to see students immerse themselves in Washington DC and find their voices as young adults,” DelBene commented.
As an NBCT in a public school, Tennis has been building relationships with legislators and community members for a number of years.
“It takes courage to co-teach in a classroom, and I admire Suzan DelBene for wanting to learn about young people and how they learn,” she said.
Experiences like these allow legislators to see what goes on in a public school and to experience the role of a teacher as an instructor and facilitator of learning in the diverse classrooms of today.