teachingcognitively

Just another WordPress.com site

Category: Uncategorized

Establishing Success Criteria

I have not written a blog post since last September’s letter to my students.  I have a lot of reasons/explanations (excuses) but that is probably a whole other blog post.  I say this only to point out how inspired I was by the video from @bigpicturelearning by @tiomikel tweeted by @EagleRockSchool.  Most striking to me was that a four minute ten second video watched casually during lunch made me go get a piece of paper to take notes.  The notes were not enough so I wrote this blog post to serve as a way to clarify my thinking, save for later and share with my Alternative Education Program Department colleagues.  We met with our new principal last week to share our work and goals for next year.  Identifying  and collecting data on learning targets, goals, skills etc. was one of those goals.  This video so succinctly summarized what I could not articulate it garnered notes and response.

I was especially struck with the clarity of organization.  This is something a lot of teachers probably do but to have it articulated, especially when it is going to be implemented in a team (4 core subject teachers with common students) is very helpful.

The process starts with identifying learning targets in knowledge, skills and reasoning.  There are then performances during the learning to demonstrate the targets are met measured by criteria that can be simple like “look fors” or more complex like a rubric.  Its crucial teachers have ways of communicating these learning targets, performances and criteria for success to students.  I especially like the idea of having students rewrite the targets in their own words and using “I can” statements so that they are well informed about the learning targets.

How do you establish success criteria for students? What really works?

The best part of this amazing video is that @tiomikel will be talking about #successcriteria tonight, July 14th, on the #TPOfficeHour at 6 PDT/8 CDT/9 EDT. Hoping to hear a lot of feedback about these ideas and how to implement.

 

 

Advertisements

Wraparound Services

In the Alternative Program I work in we have been discussing what ways we can proactively help to support students to be successful in school.  We know this means that basic needs (food, housing, clothing, security and mental health) need to be met before we can ask them to “do” school.  I know we are not the first group of educators to tackle this topic so I have been very interested in reading about and learning from individuals and/or groups who are working on these challenges.  Here is the list I’ve been inspired from so far.  I am hoping that others will add and comment on this really important topic.  I am constantly reminded “I don’t teach SCIENCE, I teach CHILDREN/PEOPLE science”.  

Patricia A. Spradley Springfield, MA Parent Academy

Tiffany Anderson Superintendent Jennings, MO

Holistic Life Foundation

Habits of Mind Curriculum:Community School of Vermont

Brainology Growth Mindset Curriculum

A letter to myself to start the school year…

We all have hopes and dreams for the year.  Instead of writing my goals or thinking about hopes I am more interested in a letter to the my mid-year self reminding me about what I want to accomplish and what I want to remember from this summer.  Summer for a teacher is a time of reflection and learning and this summer was no different.  It was a tough summer.  In the beginning of July I had brain surgery to remove tissue that formed over a shunt that had been put in with no problems 12 years ago. The surgery itself went great and I recovered well but it was a tough way to start the summer. I had just started a yoga teacher training when I had surgery. After being home recovering for a week I returned to the Yoga Teacher Training that I had started before my surgery.  The YTT (Yoga Teacher Training) was a powerful and time consuming part of my summer.  Maybe due to this I am more reflective on what I want to take with me into the year this fall and less likely to jump into doing stuff, layering on worksheets and questionnaires, quicker to get to the meat and the important stuff.  It was in this midst of this reflection that three key ideas began to crystalize for me.

  1. Take care of Self
  2. Open your hands and breathe
  3. Take time on the things you think are important

Obviously taking care of self emerged after my surgery. It just so happens that the time right before the surgery I had overloaded myself. It was the end of the year that is always crazy, I did a half-marathon in Vermont for Memorial Day weekend, I had started a fellowship and was finishing a class.  I was stretched in all directions.  It was not a good month without the surgery and the surgery certainly stopped me in my tracks.  I hope that I do not need these sorts of wake-up calls in the future.  Sadly, the first brain surgery I had to put in my shunt also came when I overbooked myself as I was graduating from college…coincidence?

During the YTT we had to assist yoga classes. The classes were very crowded and it was stressful helping while not being the teacher.  Our teacher constantly emphasized our energy in the room as a tool to assist.  She urged us to walk with our hands open and breathe deep.  When commenting on our assisting after the classes she often referred to our breath and body language.  I hope to remind myself to open my hands and breathe often. If nothing else is working at the very least I can be grounded and open to my students.

In August of this summer I went to a workshop at the Green Engineering Lab at Newton North High School.  This Nationally recognized STEM program was impressive to visit and Steve Chinosi, the founder head of the program, was very generous with his time and ideas.  Of all we learned there, and there was a lot to learn, the most powerful was that Steve did not start his Innovation classes with a lot of guidelines or worksheets. He starts right away with building because he wants to emphasize what is important to him.  The time we put on things and what we chose to do emphasizes our values.  It’s why I am starting my year with hearing about where all my students are at after their summer.  I teach science but more importantly I teacher students and the science means very little if I am not teaching students well.

My students will be writing letters to themselves tomorrow.  I will be reading them this letter to start. Each interim and then each quarter we will go back and read our letters and add, revise or just notice where we are at.  I am excited to see how we all feel about our letters in June.  Here’s to a year of time and care for self, breathing and taking time on the things that are truly important.

 

 

The Value of Debate

I end up not blogging as much as I’d like (once a week) because I have too many things to say and I wait until they are going to be perfectly articulated in a perfect post and it just never happens. This post was originally three different posts; one about Bloom’s taxonomy, one about rubrics and one about the project I assigned instead of a midterm test this year.  Any teacher can guess what happens and maybe why teachers have trouble participating in all the conversations about education…everything got messy and muddled together. In the end what actually happened was better than what I planned because this blog post is about Bloom’s, rubrics and the project I assigned instead of a midterm but more importantly it is about  how to disagree as teachers in civil and productive way.  Like good things often are, it was not what I planned or what I expected to come out of this post.  Why I should remind myself to blog more often is planning to write the blog post is what made me realize that the disagreements and discussion with a fellow teacher was the most valuable part of the process, and it got me through a tough week.  I was sick, it snowed a lot, we had delays and changes in schedules.  There were some disagreements with colleagues, midterms and grades were due and their was a general sense of malaise amongst the staff.  This post kept me optimistic and even made me happy to get back to teaching.

Daniel Sharkovitz (@earthbird on Twitter) is an English Teacher and the Department Head of the English Department of our high school. He is a bit of a living legend.  The kids refer to him as Shark.  He is high energy, high opinion and high standards.  Last year in my first year at the school I heard about his method of teaching students vocabulary and met with him to try to incorporate it into my science classes.  He was very helpful and we had a lot of great discussions.  As a high energy, high opinion person I appreciated talking with someone who is right there with me. I never feel like I am too loud, too obnoxious too opinionated or silly talking to Dan.  When Dan came into my class to work with them about the vocabulary methods last year we realized that Dan started teaching in 1979, the year I was born.

I don’t know how it started this year but Dan and I started talking about Bloom’s taxonomy and rubrics and he did not like either.  Dan gave me a few articles with some explanations he supported criticizing both, (see why I love this guy.)  Dan came to talk to me when he was just starting out on Twitter and I showed him how I used and loved it (lifelong learner).  He was interested in my blog so so after he shared the articles with me I promised Dan a blog post as homework on my thoughts. My own learning style is read, highlight summarize so that is how I started.

Blooms Taxonomy 

I read Brenda Sugrue PhD from October 2002.  Dr. Sugrue “summarizes the criticism (of Bloom’s) and presents two alternatives strategies for classifying objectives in order to design appropriate instruction and assessment.”  Since I was using Bloom’s to design projects for my students and to assess them it was a great place to start.  Below I summarized some of the key points and respond.  I used a lot of quotes since I wanted to make sure not to distort Dr. Sugre’s views and mash them with my own.

Invalidity

Dr. Sugrue argues that Bloom’s is 50 years old and has not evolved with current research.  She says that the levels “are not supported by any research on learning.  The only distinction that is supported by research is the distinction between declarative/conceptual knowledge…and procedural knowledge.”  As a cognitive psychology/science geek I really had to think hard about this one.  My first instinct was “I don’t care.”  Teachers can easily (and sometimes rightfully so) dismiss researchers as out of touch and irrelevant. However, I would hope one day that teachers are more in step with educational researchers.  This sounds funny but my favorite cognitive scientists is Daniel Willingham and he wrote a whole book, one of my favorites, about how teachers should be accessing the research from Cognitive Science in our classrooms (“Why Don’t Student’s Like School?  A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How The Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom”).  His book was the inspiration for this blog.  So not caring seemed a bit of a cop out to say the least.  First I tweeted Willingham this questions.  He needed more clarification than 140 characters could provide so clearly this not an open and shut topic in his eyes. I did a Google Scholar search.  It turns out that in the 1990’s Dr, Lorin Anderson, a former student of Bloom’s, led a group to update the taxonomy to make it relevant to the 21st century.

ImageImage

This group changed the nouns to verbs and moved some of the levels around.  I was trying to keep an open mind but if a one minute Google Scholar search reveals this I think its hard to image that these levels aren’t supported by ANY research.  Dr. Anderson was on the faculty at the University of South Carolina from 1973 to 2006.  He is now a retired professor emeritus.  Its hard to believe that in that time he wasn’t conducting any ongoing research.  He authored or edited 17 books, contributed chapter to 18 books and is the author or co-author of 37 journal articles.  That seems to indicate some reliability and with the fear of looking lazy I will admit this is where I stopped. If I wasn’t a classroom teacher I might have the time or energy to look a bit more into this but as far as use in my classroom I think this research has reached my bar of validity and reliability.

It was hard not to share this with Dan immediately.  It was with this I realized the most important part of this blog post is not about rubrics or Bloom’s taxonomy (although I still have some more to say so stay with me here).  What is most important is that two professional teachers have strong, differing opinions and we can discuss them passionately and joyfully while learning from each other all the time. If we lose this ability in schools, in districts, on Twitter, in blogs, in school committees and in the larger political realm than think of all we are missing.  The nuances and discussion are harder and messier but as classroom teachers that is where we live.  Our world’s are not about making controlled experiments they are about meeting students where they are and that place is often messy and difficult. We have to hang on and speak up about the nuance. Its harder but we cannot give up.  

Unreliability and Impracticality

Dr. Sugrue argues that there is not way to consistently apply Blooms in instruction and assessment.  She proposes that it would be more reliable to “separate objectives and practice/assessment items into those that elicit or measure declarative/conceptual knowledge from those that elicit or measure task performance/procedural knowledge.”  I agree with Dr. Sugrue on this one.   Consistency in teaching is difficult and I would argue a dangerous goal to achieve.  Teachers are not (nor should they be) robots. Teaching is very personal and subject to any one teacher’s personality.  The biggest argument against teacher reform is that it tries to make all teachers the same and does not account for individual differences among students. The best solution to this problem I have seen is to have teachers make their own application of the levels visible to their students, colleagues and administrators.  You may not resolve the unreliability but in small groups (two teachers teaching different sections of the same class) you can negate its negative effects.  I find the unreliability worth it. When students are just beginning to do work in the higher conceptual levels (analyzing, evaluating, creating) or trying to get there I think they need more than two levels to guide their journey.

Dr. Sugrue also argues that Bloom’s makes “no practical difference in diagnosing and treating performance gaps.  Everything above the “knowledge” level is…treated as higher order thinking anyway, effectively reducing the taxonomy to two levels.”  As I described this is not how I used Bloom’s and I think students needs feedback on these distinctions for motivation and improvement.  This is especially true for students who tend to struggle in school and “live” in the attempting zone (60’s) rarely meeting or approaching standards.  At the conclusion of the midterm project I returned the students grade on each sections of the rubric as well as written comments for each section.  The students then completed a reflection on their project to help me improve implementation.  One question asked:

Decide which of the following is closest to your project/presentation and choose one below. Explain your choice and make sure to use examples of your work throughout.

  1. Explaining a topic
  2. Applying your understanding of a topic
  3. Analyzing the pros and cons of an issue or evaluating something critically
  4. Creation of something

Universally students were able to explain what their project did accurately.  In follow up to what they would do differently in the project some students explained that they would like to “create something” “make something” “paint”.  Their responses showed that the use of the levels helped them to see exactly where they were on this project and guide their future work.  As a teacher and not a researcher I would hardly call this rock solid data however I am hopeful that in future work these, guidelines, feedback and reflection will help to improve their use of both declarative/conceptual knowledge ( recall comprehension or understanding) and procedural knowledge (application and task performance).  These are the distinctions that Dr. Sugrue says are supported by research, reliable and practical.  I find that as a teacher only using two distinctions isn’t as helpful to me or the students.  I find Bloom’s useful and practical because it helps students see more with more clarity what the distinctions are between declarative/conceptual knowledge and procedural knowledge.

I actually found responding to Dr. Sugrue’s gave me a better vision of what I really want from my students beyond their recall of content.  In fact I spend most of my time and energy as a science teacher trying to avoid endless march to cover content with little regard for depth of learning or acquisition of valuable procedural skills to enable application and performance.

This is as good a place as any to address the frequent criticism of rubrics that can be similar to the arguments about Bloom’s; they are too simplistic, too vague, do not allow for analyzing the true complexity of tasks.  Some of those things are true about SOME rubrics. Here is another chance to reiterate my hope that our discussion does not ignore nuance and complication.  I think well-written specific rubrics give students a vision of the many places a student can be on their journey to “meeting or exceeding the standards”. Although I think meeting the standard level should have the most detail its important to specify what approaching and beginning looks like as well.

Its Not Mutually Exclusive 

As I read Dr. Sugrue’s alternatives I find myself saying, as I do often, the use of Bloom’s is not mutually exclusive with these alternatives so really what is the harm in using it?  She proposes the following alternatives.

Content Performance Alternatives

The Content Performance Alternatives offers a description of the information to present (fact, concept, principle/rule, procedure and process) and how to remember or use the content type on a practice or assessment.  I find her table connecting the content type (fact, concept, principle/rule, procedure and process), what information to present for each and what the practice (remember) and assessment (use) looks like helpful and will incorporate it into my class.   However it does nothing to dissuade me from how I used Bloom in my own rubric and think they complement each other well.

Pure Performance Alternatives  

In the Pure Performance Alternative Dr. Sugrue suggests that students could be assessed on “the particular performance in representative task situations” such as having a loan officer distinguish between types of mortgages and describing the pros and cons of each.  This option seems interesting but not sure it is mutually exclusive with Bloom’s.  I would want to know if the loan office could merely explain the various loans or could he decide what was best for a particular client (apply) and then analyze and evaluate why the choice had been made and lastly create a loan agreement.  This would incorporate all levels of Bloom’s.

They need an entry point (explaining), a place to go (applying) and a place to to reach towards.  This is why rubrics for struggling learners are also valuable.  They distinguish and give concrete feedback and coaching.

I show this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_BskcXTqpM) which summarizes how students learn and some basic cognitive science to my students at the beginning of the school year.  I also show it at each quarter to guide their reflection on my teaching and whether I do these things in our class.  Some of Ned’s 8 such as “it stretches me”, “I have a coach”, “I think back on it” and “I plan my next steps” need or do better with a rubric. Within the rubric for my midterm project were the elements of Bloom’s.  I included the rubric below and look forward to feedback and comments on it.

Item and Criteria from Guide

Beginning (60-69)

Approaching (70-79)

Meeting (80-89)

Exceeding (90-100)

Prioritize, Plan and Manage for Results

Recognize a plan is necessary for managing a  task to meet a deadline.

Begin using the necessary steps to create plan to meet a deadline.

Create a plan and timeline and prioritize tasks in order to meet an assigned deadline.

Manage multiple tasks and critically review work to meet self-assigned deadlines.

Explore Ideas Creatively

Reproduce or restate familiar content.

Produce work that occasionally goes beyond familiar content.

Use information to produce new ideas and make connections.

Try approaches that result in connections beyond conventional subject boundaries.

Evaluate Solutions

Recognize with support that a given solution may need revision. Explaining content is an example of this level.

Recognize independently that a given solution may need revision. Applying your understanding of content is an example of this level.

Understand whether or not solution are sound and appropriate for a given context and revise as needed. Analyzing pros and cons and evaluating critically are examples of this level.

Understand critical factors that led to the success or failure of a solution. Creating new solutions to problems, new content or new technologies are examples of this.

Solve Complex Problems

Identify the problem and predict an outcome.

Understand a problem and begin to formulate steps to solve it.

Sequence steps to solve problems and create a solution.

Understand, utilize and evaluate different approaches to the problem.

In the moment

I gave a project for my midterm.  I decided to after contemplating these two questions that I later gave to my classes as their “do now” during the class where I introduced the midterm:

  1. What is the purpose of Midterms?
  2. What do you think are some of Ms. Cotton’s goals for her students are?

I had contemplated these two questions as I tried to write tests and realized all the important things I taught this semester would be hard to assess in a test.  I wanted to know if my students could:

  • Complete work independently outside of school for HW
  • Ask essential questions that are non-googleable, inferential or evaluative
  • Make connections between topics we have learned and the world
  • Explain, analyze, evaluate and create

Most years midterms are stressful since we have to turn them in, get them evaluated, prepare kids and wrap up the 2nd quarter.  There is a pretty clear exam criteria provided by the administration and it was a lot of work to make my exam fit this criteria.  I added Bloom’s Taxonomy terms to my rubric and pulled a variety of interdisciplinary links.  I have been almost giddy the last 3 days as my students worked on their midterms in class. It has been a very reflective 3 days and I feel very filled up with ideas for the next semester.  I have kids who have done very little suddenly engaged. I have realized the power of art (one of the options for interdisciplinary link to the project) as a gateway to critical thinking. Most importantly I have gotten to check in with each of my students individually as they develop essential questions, choose the standards from the 1st semester to plan their project around and brainstorm their projects.  Some students are a bit miffed at not having the option for a test and to those I gave them the option to design and complete their own test.  There have been a lot of moments where I realize how much I am interacting with my students about things I really care about.  One student who is designing a website I got to help:

  • Revisit and refine his essential question
  • Distinguish the tools for research, note-taking and presenting
  • Develop an explanation for the layout of effective web sites

 

These are the things I want to work on with my students.  I think I have a clear idea where we are at the end of the first semester and where we need to go in the areas I really care about and that is really the purpose of midterms so mission accomplished.

This was the cover sheet of the project packet:

For your midterm you will be creating and completing a project to show your understanding of the objectives we have covered this semester.  You will be assessed on your understanding of the standards using the criteria below and the attached Project Rubric :

Section 1: 20%  Restating the semester 1 standards below.

Section 2: 20% Prioritize, Plan and Manage for Results: You will be given two grades each worth 50%:

  • Grade 1 will be how much of the project planning guide you have completed by January 14th

  • Grade 2 will be given at the completion of your project.  This half of is based on using your planning guide to complete all the parts of the project specified.

Section 3: 20% Explore Ideas Creatively: You will be given a grade for this section using the guidelines described in the Project Rubric.  For this section you will need to show:

  • Presentation of new ideas or ways to explain/show content from the first semester

  • Development of an essential question that is non-googleable and inferential or evaluative

  • The essential question makes connections between content from the first semester and the world.

Section 4: 20% Evaluate Solutions: You will be given a grade for this section using the guidelines described in the Project Rubric.

  • This section assesses the type of project you create to answer your essential question.  The various types are specified in the project rubric along with their associated grades.  Further descriptions of the types of projects are outlined in the Blooms Taxonomy diagrams in Project Inspiration Packet.

Section 5: 20% Solve Complex Problems: You will be given a grade for this section using the guidelines described in the Project Rubric.  This section is assessing if you created a project that:

  • Shows development of a solution to your essential question

  • Meets standards specified

  • Is appropriate to its intended audience

  • Reflects craftsmanship

  • Uses a variety of sources

Below is the project rubric:

Item and Criteria from Guide

Beginning (60-69)

Approaching (70-79)

Meeting (80-89)

Exceeding (90-100)

Prioritize, Plan and Manage for Results

Recognize a plan is necessary for managing a  task to meet a deadline.

Begin using the necessary steps to create plan to meet a deadline.

Create a plan and timeline and prioritize tasks in order to meet an assigned deadline.

Manage multiple tasks and critically review work to meet self-assigned deadlines.

Explore Ideas Creatively

Reproduce or restate familiar content.

Produce work that occasionally goes beyond familiar content.

Use information to produce new ideas and make connections.

Try approaches that result in connections beyond conventional subject boundaries.

Evaluate Solutions

Recognize with support that a given solution may need revision. Explaining content is an example of this level.

Recognize independently that a given solution may need revision. Applying your understanding of content is an example of this level.

Understand whether or not solution are sound and appropriate for a given context and revise as needed. Analyzing pros and cons and evaluating critically are examples of this level.

Understand critical factors that led to the success or failure of a solution. Creating new solutions to problems, new content or new technologies are examples of this.

Solve Complex Problems

Identify the problem and predict an outcome.

Understand a problem and begin to formulate steps to solve it.

Sequence steps to solve problems and create a solution.

Understand, utilize and evaluate different approaches to the problem.

 

Listen, Take Notes, Tweet, Talk, Teach #LB36

Last weekend i returned to the Learning and the Brain Conference in Boston (http://www.learningandthebrain.com/).  Three-years ago that conference was what inspired this blog.  The conference was an amazing mix of neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists and educators.  The push was once again that school is changing, the world is changing and educators need to be learners and rethink how we educate.  The keynotes were funny and smart and inspiring.  I tweeted throughout (@avcotton) and in fact have referred several colleagues to my Twitter feed to get a overview of my take-aways from the conference (#LB36). I took a lot of notes too and have shared those with the Alternative Education Department.  Learning and the Brain puts together an amazing, 650 page PDF program so I also shared that to supplement my notes.  Going through the program reminds me of all the amazing ideas I heard. I hope I remember to go back through it when I need some inspiration.  

My favorite connection/take-away was sharing John Bergmann’s idea to use the flipped classroom to do writing conferences with the English teacher in the Alternative Program.  She is new to Twitter so it was a great learning experience to Tweet him to get the link. We were absolutely giddy that he Tweeted us back and we watched it together and discussed.  John Bergmann also inspired me to visit a 5th grade teacher in our district to see how she is using the flipped classroom.  

It felt good to share some concrete artifacts since there was so much information and inspiration that I felt pretty overloaded by Sunday.  I love to plan and delude myself into thinking I have more control than I do so was stressed about how to bring all the inspiration and information into my classroom, luckily I didn’t need to work has hard as I thought.  First, with my physics class I had them make graphs of a table of velocities over time.  We put the graphs up on a bulletin board and brainstormed what we noticed.  It was smooth sailing right into slope of a line and voila…acceleration.  In my biology class I had a really confusing textbook image and then collected a bunch of Googled images on photosynthesis.  I was going to have the students comment on the images but was inspired to have them actually create their own.  One of my students asked if they could make another bulletin board (they had just created a food web at the local Massachusetts Audubon center) so voila…we made a board of those, compared them, generated a list of the components in a diagram and specifically what was important about photosynthesis.  My chemistry class needed to wrap up their understanding of the Periodic Table so I had THEM use their work to tell ME what they thought was important…voila, assessment, reflection, product.  

After all the notes, all the Tweets, all the discussion and phone calls I think my biggest take away from the conference was to have students be more active in their learning.  Every time I thought of something I should do as the teacher I questioned it and developed an activity for the students to take an active role in making meaning and disseminating the information.  Not only did the lessons go smoothly the students were really engaged and excited.  They were producing good work that was meaningful to them and to me.  My brain might have been overloaded but the conference was well worth it once again.  

Meaningful Maker Mistakes

I put a high premium in my classroom on honoring mistakes as part of the learning process.  Students are encouraged to try and try again.  My grading system is set up around this concept (see my syllabus post).  Knowing this, it should not have been a problem when yesterday I made a whopper mistake.  In my physics class we are using the LEGO Education advanced simple and mechanized machines kits for the first time. I could not find a color brochure for the simple machines building so I spent a large portion of my prep period making color copies and laminating.  It was incredibly overwhelming (6 building activities – 3 or 4 builds in each one – 4 versions of each for the class…a lot of color ink and a lot of lamination) so I took a break for lunch.  I  gave one last look through the kit to clarify the challenges I did not need to copy and miraculously found color brochures of what I had just spent an hour making color versions of.

This seems silly to spend even a paragraph writing about but it put me in a total funk.  I could not get over it.  I still had at least an hour of the day left of prep period and my time is valuable but it was a mistake and mistakes are part of learning…yada, yada, yada all the things I tell my students all the time weren’t working.  Department meeting and some chatting with another physics teacher ended my day without the run I wanted and I got deeper and deeper into my funk.  Then it came to me early this morning lying awake, (doesn’t it always?) why I was so upset.

Trying to make an engaging, hands-on “maker” physics class that integrates art and design is a messy process.  I would love to make pretty color copies, organized into color-coded folders of simple machines. I would love the content that links to the hands on projects to be organized into perfectly sequential order into shared notes with my class but this isn’t going to happen right away either.  This mistake was made out of wishful thinking and spending time on something that I cannot control or make better or fix right away.  The mistake was important and I did learn something.  Not only was I reminded that LEGO is super organized and has already though of anything I could ever imagine to need, but I was reminded that learning can be messy. Planning can be messy and teaching can be messy.  It is both an art and a science and the art piece cannot always be put into boxes in a neat planning document to be shared during my teacher evaluation.

So I have learned from my mistake and that is what makes one truly embrace the mistakes.  Based on what I learned things are going to get a little messy and there are going to be more mistakes so hang on for a bumpy ride.  I guess we will draw some force diagrams about it!

 

Its all about the questions

The most dramatic shift I noticed moving to high school from 5th and 6th grade was that the students struggled with asking questions.  Since we are teachers and “supposed to” (my yoga teacher says there are no shoulds), provide answers this was an odd conundrum.  By the end of the year I also noticed that the students who struggled to ask questions also struggled in science in general.  Then I did what teachers often do not have time to do, I Googled and I started to read.  Not shockingly because this always happens, I was not the first person to make this observation and think asking questions was really important.  I felt better and got really excited.  Then April, May and June came.  I tried a few things but didn’t get very far but in glorious summer it started to come together.

I found http://rightquestion.org and their book Make Just One Change, Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions.  I found Ewan McIntosh on Twitter and changed my entire planning method based on their lab at http://notosh.com.  They had lessons and ideas on Googleable and Nongoogleable questions and September has come and I am back (and better than ever I hope).  Simply just asking students to differentiate between Googleable and Nongoogleable questions has been invaluable already and we are only in week 2.  Googleable questions are lead to the background for our lab reports and students are eager to find the answers.  They love that a teacher is giving them permission to “Google it”.  Students who are developing self-directed projects in our “genius period” are using it to help them find essential questions to guide their project.  Nothing seems more valuable to me that a students struggling to identify what she is passionate about and then what she might want to know more about that topic.  Isn’t that what learning is all about.

Now before any assumes that this is smooth sailing, its not.  In my focus on student directed questions I have started from scratch on how I plan (7 years of UBD is hard to walk away from).  I am constantly struggling with the balance between being well prepared and open to student inquiry.  I still buy into Daniel Willingham’s (not his but he shared the cognitive science data in my favorite book Why Don’t Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answer Questions About How the Mind Works and What it Means for the Classroom) notion that higher order thinking is not accessible without a base of factual knowledge and so I do not want to abandon that.  Having done project/product/design-based learning for a long time I know student-directed doesn’t mean free and demands scaffolding especially with those who it is new for (most of my students).  I am still struggling with this.  I think I am getting better by picking better immersion opportunities that lead where we want to go.

We made paper airplanes in 12th grade physics.  There are an endless list of sources of errors and maybe it will not reveal the best position over time graphs but we got some great questions about force, position and motion and its all about the questions, right?

Learning science will be the easy part

Today I started all my classes asking students “What do you expect from class today?” It was interesting to see what they expected and that the younger the student, (I teach 9th-12th graders) the less they were sure about what they expected. We were going to spend the day getting to know each other but I was curious what THEY thought the first day should be. This year I hope I lean more toward following student direction and worry less about planning. My strength is planning and organization so there is some room for exploring. I will choose more interesting questions because I really want to know what they have to say. I hope if I give them enough chances and really listen they will feel their thoughts and their voices matter. Although I did not identify Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by name I described how their personal lives impacted their schooling so I never can ignore that. Learning how to overcome personal adversity is an important life skill. We can’t learn much science without having thoughts and voices and overcoming when the going gets tough.

We finished with generating ideas on the roles and responsibilities of teachers students and parents/guardians. I have done this activity before in elementary and middle-school and think it might be part of Responsive Classroom (I am level I and II certified). Last year I abandoned the “foundation week(s)” so common in elementary school probably because in my first year teaching high school, I was insecure about being a “serious high school teacher” who spent the first day going over the syllabus then jumps right in. Not so this year. We are laying the foundation now. Tomorrow we discuss being social, communication and social thinking. It might have been called classroom rules and expectations at one point in my classroom. Tomorrow I want to describe why certain behavior gives other students and teachers good thoughts and feelings and how your behavior influences what people think your intentions are.

Right now all is rosy, everyone is happy to be back in school but our foundation week(s) will hopefully be what gets us through when things are not going so well. When we are tired, grouchy and sick of each other we will hopefully remember why we are here. The syllabus will come, grading and units of study will be next but for a few days we are going to remember we are all people first and students and teachers second. If we treat people well, learning science will be the easy part.

Curiosity

No teacher wants to say their students are unmotivated or unengaged but I will. Sometimes my students are unengaged and unmotivated. I teach in a small program that includes a higher ratio of these students so maybe I encounter it more but based on discussion with my colleagues I think it can be true in any class.

I have been wondering lately what the role of curiosity is in engagement and motivation. What are the roots of curiosity? Can we foster it and how? Can we use it to help students persevere when they want to stop? Will it help with work production, performance and achievement? If so, and I think it will, what role does curiosity play in our planning? What role does it play in our decisions? Where does it fit on the totem pole of priorities? Too often I have sacrificed engagement for covering material or have I? Maybe there does not need to be a sacrifice; maybe I just need to do a better job of weaving it into my teaching. I designed a web explore that played out more like an outline that I had hoped. Should I have kept it as an outline to guide students who often struggle with organization or left it more open ended? Am I confusing curiosity with interest and enjoyment? If everything is engaging is that good preparation for life? How we as teachers keep curiosity in our vision is a challenge but a good challenge and one I want to work on more. How can we scaffold curiosity? How can we get students in the proximal zone of curiosity development?