Dana Center’s Essential Science Concepts for Exit-Level TAKS—and talented high school science teacher—get rave reviews from Wichita Falls High School seniors

Posted on July 2, 2009

In Wichita Falls, Texas, high school science teacher David Holbert has hit on a strategy for preparing students to succeed on the science TAKS. Holbert’s strategy includes adopting the hands-on lab techniques outlined in Essential Science Concepts for Exit-Level TAKS (ESCET), developed by the Dana Center science team. Holbert uses both ESCET modules, Biology and Integrated Physics and Chemistry, and sets up 33 stations where students can experience science concepts—such as resonance and viscosity—for themselves.

In the article below, reprinted with permission from the April 10, 2009 Wichita Falls Times Record News, education reporter Ann Work takes a close look at the science TAKS, Holbert’s use of ESCET strategies, and students’ enthusiastic responses to Holbert’s approach.

Teacher takes hands-on approach to TAKS

Wichita Falls High School science teacher David Holbert is attempting one of the most difficult feats of TAKS preparation in the high schools—readying students for the science TAKS.

But the way he’s doing it has earned him the “best teacher I’ve ever had” designation from senior R. J. Flores and several seniors like him—seniors who must pass the science TAKS to graduate in May.

Some of Holbert’s well-liked strategy is wrapped up in a 33-station science lab full of hands-on experiments that’s currently spread out in the Old High gymnasium.

The simple science experiments teach students science principles like viscosity, density, resonance, reflection and refraction. Each station gives instructions, simple tools like beakers and tuning forks and pulleys, and a final “did-you-get-it?” TAKS question on the exact principle, drawn from a released TAKS test.

Students record what they learn in a red-and-black notebook that contains the basics of each experiment, questions to answer, and a final things-I-need-to-remember box they fill in themselves.

These experiments, which Holbert has used all year to help his students, are now clustered together for the comprehensive review that is so crucial for scores of his students whose need is dire: They must pass the science TAKS to graduate.

Educators agree the science TAKS is the hardest test of all, partially because it covers so much—all the scientific principles from a student’s freshman, sophomore, and junior years. It also requires the most correct answers to pass.

A school’s science scores ultimately reflect the difficulty, usually showing the poorest pass rate of all the subjects. The challenge becomes even more daunting in a student’s junior year, when he must pass the science TAKS to graduate.

If he doesn’t, he will still be trying to pass it in his senior year—the situation of Flores and his friends.

“I started out as a failure. Now I’m succeeding,” Flores said. “He’s done a lot for us.”

Flores was working Thursday at one of the 33 stations, reviewing.

So was Robert Gomez, 17, a senior.

“In my junior year, I failed by 10 questions,” Gomez said. “Then I got in Mr. Holbert’s class. I started doing labs. It made science so much easier. Last time, I failed by one question. It brought me more confidence. I know I’m right there.”

Holbert borrowed the idea from a Region 9 conference and the Dana Center. “They are neat hands-on activities but very purpose driven,” Holbert said.

In one, students learn the principle of “resonance” by tapping a tuning fork and watching the sound waves make the salt dance on a piece of plastic wrap stretched over the top of a beaker.

Then they answer a TAKS question on resonance.

That final question is part of the magic, Holbert said. Students write their answer to the TAKS question on a sticky note and post it on a wall labeled “Sticky Science.”

Science teachers like Holbert scan the sticky notes to see if students answered the questions correctly. “If I see that on one lab there are all four different answers, that gives us something to work toward. We see we better teach a little more about (that subject),” he said.

Preparation for this test is notoriously difficult because an environmental science teacher may be teaching his class to juniors, but he also needs to help them review science principles from their freshman and sophomore years.

WFHS Science Coordinator John Davison has no beef with the TAKS. “You look at the stuff they ask students to know—it’s good science,” Davison said. “It’s fair science material that they should know.”

The labs have put Flores and Gomez at the top of their science game, they said.

“He’s brought all of us up,” Flores said. “We will get TAKS this year.”