Success Story: Mr. Bass

Mr. Bass is using Vocabulary.com to boost his students’ reading and writing skills in the science classroom. We visited his classroom and sat down afterward to talk shop.
Subject:Science
Grade Taught:6th
Years Teaching:24
Using Vocabulary.com for:3 years
  • ...whenever children come into science it’s almost like learning a different language.
    Vocabulary.com: What do you notice when it comes to your students’ ability to read and understand the language of the discipline — the science vocabulary?
    Mr. Bass: One of the issues that we have is that whenever children come into science it’s almost like learning a different language. So much of it is in Latin for starters, and also because the words are so different compared to what they would normally see every day, and a lot of the words that they do recognize have double meanings or multiple meanings. So we have to work on teaching what these words mean in the science field compared to what they are on the street.
  • And they remember it better if they learn the whole word because they see it in other contexts and they can recall or connect it to other things.
    V: Can you talk more about the value of having students learn the whole word, as opposed to just the single definition they might see in a textbook glossary?
    B: A lot of the science terms are words pairs — what I mean is using two different words to mean something, and each has a definition on its own. For example we’ve been studying consumers and producers and students used the terms “active transport” and passive transport.” And they remember it better if they learn the whole word because they see it in other contexts and they can recall or connect it to other things. So if they know what active really means and that transport is to carry something, they remember the concept better and understand it better in the science sense. Just to expose them to these words is important.
  • ... with Vocabulary.com the kids start doing words for the warm-up while I’m getting ready to get into my lesson, and they’re working on words that I want them to have for that lesson ...
    V: This was your first year using Vocabulary.com. What was your approach before?
    B: In the old days I’d have everything written on the board before they came in, then they’d sit down and open their notebooks and of course copy it word for word. And then they’d have to memorize, and then I’d give them a quiz. I’ve been doing this for 34 years, before there were computers. This just saves so much time. Now with Vocabulary.com the kids start doing words for the warm-up while I’m getting ready to get into my lesson, and they’re working on words that I want them to have for that lesson so they’re actually playing with those words and learning them, whether it be 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes. Vocabulary.com just really works for these kids to practice and to understand the words that are necessary for whatever lessons you’re teaching in the classroom. It doesn’t matter whether it be science or social studies. It works just the same.
  • I don’t have to spend all my time going over the terms because they actually learn them.
    V: How does that preparedness support your instruction?
    B: I don’t have to spend all my time going over the terms because they actually learn them. I’ve found that in my classes — particularly two of my classes — the students were so intent on learning these terms during the warm-up that you could literally hear a pin drop in my classroom. They were so quiet. I think that what happens is instead of me having to explain what the actual meaning is like “active transport, this is what it means,” they can know what it is before they hear it. Now when I do a demonstration they can explain to me in scientific terms what they’ve learned, how or why something is happening.
  • ... they have to understand all the terms that are involved with that concept ...
    V: In STEM education, performance based assessments have really changed the way students are asked to demonstrate proficiency in the subject. Reading and writing skills are as essential as content knowledge in many of these tasks. How can a stronger vocabulary support students in those assessments?
    B: Well, that’s really easy. When we give a performance based assessment, we give a scenario, and we use like homeostasis and things of that nature [for example we’d ask] “what is the effect of homeostasis on the body” and then they’d have to design and conduct an experiment in the lab. And they have to understand all the terms that are involved with that concept, whether it be “temperature increase” or “acceleration of temperature and things like that. As well as all the language in the task itself - the directions, the requirements - what it’s asking you to do. What I’m saying is that every time that we can expose these kids to these terms, when they see something like the performance based assessment that’s nothing but words in front of them, they have to read it and they have to understand it because we can’t go in there and explain it to them. They have to be able to do that themselves. In order for that to happen, we work on those that are likely to appear in that PBA on Vocabulary.com to get to that point to get them to understand it.
  • He was impressed that these kids knew what the terms were, and a lot of that had to do with what my colleague Ms. Campbell and I were doing with Vocabulary.com.
    V: Your grade-level teaching team has designed some pretty amazing interdisciplinary projects. In addition to content knowledge, those task demand strong literacy skills.
    B: Oh, absolutely. Take our prosthetic limb project for example. Before they even think about building a prototype, the students have to read case studies of people who have lost a limb and how it happened and why did it happen and what are their needs to make a better life for them. Then we incorporate the the mathematics, with the kids creating blueprints where they have to design to scale. Then they create a business model and put together a digital portfolio with PowerPoints on their concepts, and mock resumes and bios, and of course the prosthetic limb that they actually build in science class with the written specifications and descriptions. So it’s all interdisciplinary. Even in Social Studies they have to contact a legislator or someone in public service so they are using their communication skills to be an activist for increasing care for people who have lost limbs. We just had a career day here and we had a guest speaker that deals with prosthetic limbs. He was impressed that these kids knew what the terms were, and a lot of that had to do with what my colleague Ms. Campbell and I were doing with Vocabulary.com.
  • They they were so geared into it. When I did Vocabulary.com with that group — every kid in that classroom — was so intent on doing and learning and winning that they just got better and better and better.
    V: On another note, Margate has integrated Vocabulary.com so deeply into your curriculum and your school culture, and that has led your school to its first Vocabulary Bowl win. You were saying that there’s a particular group who really responded to the competition this year.
    B: Yeah, my lowest group. We have different levels even in science class based on their reading skills. And this one group of kids that I have — it’s also probably my smallest class - maybe 17 — these kids were so competitive and wanting to win, so much more so than all my other classes. They they were so geared into it. When I did Vocabulary.com with that group — every kid in that classroom — was so intent on doing and learning and winning that they just got better and better and better. They performed so well that on Vocabulary.com within our school they actually performed better than any of our other classes. And then as a school together we went all the way.
  • V: What’s that like to see — when students really own their learning, own their vocabulary, to see them be in a place that’s solid?
    B: One way is Dante — that’s just it right there. When he came out of the bleachers that day to get his award as the number two student, that’s what it’s all about. That excitement of a kid learning and being successful because the thing is, is that Vocabulary.com has allowed even my kids who may struggle in other areas to be successful at something. And as I see Dante and other kids who don’t often win other things and school is not easy for them and how proud they are, it makes me feel good to watch them too.
  • V: Yeah, those are the days when you’re really glad you chose this profession.
    B: Yeah, especially seeing Dante. Even last night, we had an awards ceremony and we had all the kids come in and get their science awards, English awards, the outstanding student awards. And before we did that [our principal] Mr. Toliver showed the presentation that Vocabulary.com congrats video made for us. He showed it for all the teachers and the parents and the students to see. And to hear the cheers — it’s actually brought a lot of pride to this school, and I think that’s been a really good plus Margate. We’re quite happy with Vocabulary.com, and we’re extremely extremely happy that Ms. Campbell brought this program to the school.