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SD Department of Education Nov. 2016  
 

  Teacher Feature: Mark Iverson TEACHER FEATURE: Developing ‘doers’ of science

Watertown Middle School teacher Mark Iverson’s Twitter feed (@misteriverson) is a great illustration of his primary goal as an educator: making his 8th graders “doers” of science.

Iverson served on the work group that helped develop South Dakota’s new science standards, which were adopted in spring 2015. He says, “It’s really hard to teach these concepts from the more traditional way of teaching—lectures, notes. These standards really lend themselves to students rolling up their sleeves and getting into science. It’s a lot more fun to teach, because you’re doing things.”

There are no textbooks in Iverson’s classroom. Because of the new standards, the school is using a new curriculum, and instead of textbooks, the school district gave science teachers the chance to purchase new equipment.

Watertown Middle School Principal Dr. Todd Brist says, “Our goal is to transform teaching and learning in each and every classroom at WMS, and Mr. Iverson is leading the way through a student-centered classroom that makes learning meaningful and engaging. His passion engages kids immediately; he also understands and implements the best practices necessary to make science hands-on and relevant. Students don’t just learn science in his classroom, they do science."

Among the equipment Iverson and his colleagues have purchased are Vernier sensors, which can measure temperature, pH, carbon dioxide and oxygen levels, even electrical forces, all while graphing data in real time. The school has also gone one-to-one with Chromebooks.

Photo of Iverson's Classroom

Iverson likes to use Twitter to connect with educators across the state and country. One group continually inspires him to expand on a project his students have done for a number of years: launching weather balloons.

This year, the goal is for students to attach a 360-degree camera to their balloon, so they can use virtual reality glasses to take a virtual trip 110,000 feet above the earth. In addition, Iverson’s 8th graders will use video footage and the corresponding data they gather to work with 5th graders as those younger students study weather and atmosphere standards.

Class outside

Student with googles

view of earth from space

A typical week in Iverson’s class starts with research: “We’ll research, do some experiments, then synthesize the information and apply it to a real-world application of some sort,” he says.

Flame tests were among early experiments this school year. Students learned that different chemicals burn in different colors, so the question became, based on the color of the flame, what chemicals make up the mixture? It’s the science behind fireworks.

Students in science lab

As with instruction, Iverson’s methods of assessment aren’t traditional either: no more lecture, notes, study, test, repeat. Assessment is ongoing: Google Forms with 10-15 questions to determine whether students are grasping vocabulary and concepts; observation of lab groups to see that all students are contributing and having productive discussions; reflections on labs. He seeks to make it a safe environment where students feel comfortable asking questions and testing their hypotheses.

Iverson’s students have made rollercoasters, Maglev trains (trains that don't touch tracks) and trebuchets. The list of activities is long, and it’s not surprising to learn that his students rarely ask, Why do we have to do this, or learn that? “Science is all around us,” he says. “So it’s pretty easy to make those connections.”

Students experiment with cars

Iverson and Kim Rohde, Watertown Middle School’s other 8th grade science teacher, stagger their instruction so they can provide each other feedback on strategies (i.e. Here’s how this lab went. These are a couple concerns…).

Professional development is important to Iverson. As President-Elect of the State Science Teachers Association, he hopes to build on the group’s ability to be a go-to resource for teachers across South Dakota. He regularly serves as a cooperating teacher for education students from South Dakota State University.

In addition, having just been nominated for potential recognition with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, Iverson will soon be embarking on the in-depth application process which requires demonstration of strong content knowledge and mastery of pedagogy.

 
 
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