What will you share at NSTA 2020?

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The due date for submitting proposals to present at NSTA 2020 in Boston is just one month away. Why not share the great learning do you and your students do everyday with the broader science education community?

The best part about having the National Conference in your backyard is the opportunity to connect with other local educators and share relevant strategies, lessons, units and nearby partnerships. How would I know? Five years ago Burlington teacher, Jane Lynch and I presented a science-social studies interdisciplinary unit on engineering water wheels connected to student learning around the industrial revolution and Lowell mills. We presented alongside three Burlington third-graders, who had a wonderful time exploring the exhibit floor before proudly sharing their learning and expertise in designing, testing, and improving water wheels. They practically ran the workshop for us! Of the several educators who attended, four of them went on to adapt the unit for their own classrooms, sharing their thanks and appreciation with us long after the conference was over.

Students and Mrs. Lynch ready to present and facilitate a water wheels engineering challenge!

There are four learning strands associated with every national conference. While not required, proposal that align with one of these four domains tend to take higher priority when being accepted to present at the conference. 2020’s learning strands are:

  • The Long View: Building a Lifelong Passion for Science
  • Learning Science in All Spaces and Places: Near and Far
  • Thinking, Acting, and Communicating Like Scientists: A Focus on Disciplinary Literacy
  • Aligning the Lenses: Authentic, Three-Dimensional Measurement of Student Learning

Greater detail about what precisely these strand titles are referring to can be found here on this Google Doc developed by the local planning committee. To learn more about proposal guidelines, tips for writing a successful workshop proposal, and to submit a session proposal online visit nsta.org/conferenceproposals. Remember that the due date is April 15th. It will creep up on you so don’t wait!

 

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Pathways to Personalization and Science for All Students

Science educators now familiar with the Next Generation Science Standards and the Framework for K-12 Science Education are likely aware of its emphasis on recalibrating science classrooms to be for all students. The NGSS dedicates an entire appendix to this motto, including seven separate case studies on non-dominant student groups to illustrate different models for implementation of effective classroom strategies that meet the specific needs of student subgroups that historically have exhibited persistent gaps in science education proficiency.

This motto was on my mind while participating in a PD short course titled, “Pathways to Personalization.” Highlander Institute facilitators, Shawn Rubin and Cathy Sanford charged us with the need to “update our one size fits all [education] system to meet the specific needs of the students we serve” while recognizing the great challenges that come with making such a shift. Together they presented a roadmap for district and teacher leaders to work together to actualize such goals using a framework that could just as well be a roadmap for many school changes.

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I found several points to be valuable across my work as both a science coach and district improvement committee member, most notably the following:

1: The importance of articulating “the why?”

During our district breakout session, one of the facilitators emphasized the importance of “articulating the why” when and planning and piloting personalized learning models. Why are we pursuing the initiative? What characteristics of the initiative are our priorities? Four domains of change were highlighted in a tool titled the “Walkthrough Tool Domains and Indicators” which included several indicators that overlapped with the Framework vision and goals of the NGSS. Among them just to name a few (with my own science contextualization in parentheses):

  • “Students are engaged in work that is authentic” (phenomena based sense-making, constructing explanations and/or designing solutions to engineering problems)
  • “Teacher uses a variety of techniques to assess student progress toward learning goals” (through explanations supported by modeling, various forms forms of media, etc.)
  • “Teacher uses data to inform instruction” (as done through formative assessment)
  • “Students are given the opportunity to apply learning from one task to another” (as seen when teachers take on a ‘storyline’ approach to curriculum sequencing)
  • “Students present evidence that supports their thinking” (via sense-making approaches to curriculum and instruction)
  • “Students design or create a product to demonstrate their understanding” (such as models, claim arguments, etc)

These indicators were later used to develop a vision statement for what sorts of changes we would come to expect to observe happening in those classrooms piloting our personalized learning programs. To this effect, what we selected as our priorities were to be baked into how we would go about assessing both our students and the new system. Bringing me to my next takeaway…

2: The need for clear goals tied to valid assessments

During one of the workshop’s exercises, we absorbed start-of-year and mid-year datasets for our personalized learning pilot school in the form of qualitative classroom observations, standardized test data aggregates, and then some. The data was overwhelming in part because what our mock-district aimed to achieve had not been articulated outright, leaving us to wonder whether certain data points should be looked up as good, great, outstanding, or short of the mark.

One of the greatest challenges NGSS shifting teachers fess-up to is the need for more formative and authentic assessment of students that require a shift in what kinds of assessments are being used and how. A diversity of methods of assessment allow for a wider range of student scientists to show what they know in different ways, but not without challenges.

Without clear goals and exemplars about what new learning should look like, educators fall back on the methods and strategies traditionally used, methods which likely do not reflect what new student understanding should look like under the NGSS. Disappointing “results” lead educators to feel insecure about their learning path, frustrated with the process, and may lead to teachers abandoning the initiative all together. A February KQED Mind/Shift series on equitable grading practices (thank you, PLN member Cari Williams!) highlighted this fact through a standards based grading exposé, attributing such an assessment system as one that whittles away at the gap between dominant and non-dominant groups.

A featured teacher quoted in the article noted that, “teacher experiences will drive change — they must have opportunities to try out strategies and see the effects themselves — but district leaders also have to provide the tailwind for this to become a reality. And that’s where [I see] the biggest challenge to this work.” Such tailwinds include instruction and assessment models to adopt or adapt as well as “cover” from skeptical community members and students familiar and/or successful with the more traditional system. Leading me to my final point:

3: “Bottom-up” research & development with “top-down” support

Boxed curriculums dropped from the heavens marked with well polished NGSS-ready tags may ‘equip’ your classrooms, but with what? For genuine implementation of the shifts necessary to meet all students it will take work from classroom educators and support staff familiar with the strengths and challenges of their specific student bodies. Work that will be need to be done day-in and day-out over several years. Not only will curriculums need to be vetted but classroom instructional strategies and practices will need to be looked at critically to evaluate which will meet the needs of all.

Teacher leaders who innovate and try new approaches will need understanding from administrators and evaluators who may see untraditional learning at work, as well as support in the form of time and resources, commonly resources only administrators have control over. They will also need coaching and time as they recalibrate their own instructional strategies, highlighted in a recent read from the California Science Teachers Association blog titled, “Re-novicing of Science Teachers and the Science Coach” (thank you PLN member, Kristen Rademaker!) Administrators themselves will need to come to more deeply understand the shifts being undertaken in their NGSS classrooms, both the why and the how.

4: “The chasm” is a problem and requires an engineered solution

Even with all this work, it is likely that uptake of these shifts will be slow, with “innovators and early-adopters” taking the lead, before new curriculum, instructional practices, and methods of assessment jump “the chasm” to their school and district colleagues.

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The challenge is real (observed in everything from educational initiatives to technology adoptions) and the stakes high, for “pockets of innovation” in a school or district can only go so far while being held to standards like the NGSS that build over time. Without foundational knowledge in elementary and middle grades, high school students will be ill-prepared for classrooms where the shift has been made and calls to return to “what worked” (for historically dominant student groups) will become louder.

“Pathways to Personalization” presents a path under the context of personalized / blended learning, but the idea of paths is important. Like an engineer, failure points will be identified as curriculum, practices, and assessment evolve, leading to refinement, and additional redesign cycles. It’s important that we all share such learning through our PLNs from local to global so that we can bridge the chasm as a collective, pulling ourselves ever upwards to the goal of meeting the needs of all our students.

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Coded Communications Thanks to Teacher Collaboration

Time is tight in the elementary schools to meet all the expectations of our state’s science standards. So when opportunities knocks for collaboration with teachers who have face time with students outside of their allotted science time – I answer! Recently, Francis Wyman library and media specialists, Michelle Ardizonni and Megan Carney sat down with me to develop some station experiences for our fourth and fifth grade students to explore some different ways humans communicate through code, a learning expectation that overlaps Computer Science objectives as well as MA STE standard 4-PS4-3: Develop and compare multiple ways to transfer information through encoding, sending, receiving, and decoding a pattern.

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Student investigate how the cable transmits light signals from one end to the other before encoding a three letter word, and sending it to a partner to receive and decode via morse code. Francis Wyman fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Janis looks on.

Building on the existing structure of table stations around their elementary school’s library, we selected four different methods of communication that required students to encode and/or decode a pattern shared with them by a fellow classmate with the help of a key.

After some brainstorming, research, and materials gathering we settled on four coding models outside of the “coding” realm students have come to expect through their hour-of-code / LEGO robotics experiences. In each instance, we reinforced the language of the standard “encode, send, receive, and decode” when introducing the materials and in the on-site reference sheets students could consult at each station.

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Mrs. Ardizonni introduces the key vocabulary posted at each station: encode, send, receive, and decode.

Before exploring the stations, students were read a simple book from EPIC sharing different methods of using light and sound to convey a message. Written for first graders, Meg and Michelle used the imagery and simple text to probe students current understanding of signals such as stoplights, light houses, tornado sirens, and emergency vehicles of how all these technologies send coded messages received and decoded by humans to help us make smart, safe decisions.

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Along with the read-aloud of the text, “Light, Sound, and Communication” on EPIC, Mrs. Carney had a wide selection of sound and light non-fiction texts on display and for check-out.

Students were sorted and told to move to four different stations with the expectation that students would likely only spend their time at that one station. Over the course of four sessions (after book selection and check-out of course) students used…

Morse code to encode, send, receive, and decode” a beam of light sent through a fiber optic cable using flashlights…

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Fiber Optic Wire / Morse Code Station

Bells to represent signals on boats, indicating which sides they would be passing fellow seafarers in harbors on…

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Bells and Boating Station

 

Bit bracelets demonstrating how binary codes can be used to communicate letters…

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Bit Bracelet Station

And 0’s and 1’s to fill grids and generate pixelated images of letters as well as illustrations.

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Pixelation Station

After a few days Michelle and Meg tweaked the experiences to make them easier for students to execute and complete in the amount of time available (only about 15 minutes!) The stations stayed out for one month while the students rotated through each station, roughly one a week for three-four weeks.

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Students decoding the numerical pattern to construct their pixelated Saturn. The pattern was later modified by Michelle Ardizonni to be completed in a shorter amount of time and with a larger grid which improved student decoding success rates.

We are freely sharing these resources in a Google Folder accessible here for use and/or adaptation by other educators. For more resources produced through the Burlington Science Center visit our website and the K-5 curriculum tab.

 

 

 

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Leading through Celebration of Successes Big and Small

There are many successes that can go unnoticed in our lives everyday. This afternoon I cheered in jubilation upon confirming that, after research via online discussion boards, measuring, catalog flipping, and web browsing… the 36 plastic plastic tubs I purchased for our district’s wade into FIRST Lego League Junior were a bonefied perfect fit for the after-school program’s materials to be distributed after break! My colleagues and a few Science Center high school volunteers were bewildered by my hooting, fist-pumping, and immediate move to share the discovery/victory via Twitter with FIRST and those that follow their hashtag:

Eyerolls and raised eyebrows withstanding, I felt my reactions were vindicated this evening while watching this TED Talk by Drew Dudley titled, “Everyday Leadership” as part of the NSTA’s Professional Development Cadre Team own PD. In it he talks about the reluctance for many to embrace the title, “leader” in part because of its association with the misconception that leaders are only those who have accomplished world-changing achievements most would never dare to undertake. Dudley noted that “when we convince ourselves that these are the only things worth celebrating we devalue the things we can do every day, We take moments where we truly are a leader and we don’t let ourselves take credit for it, or feel good about it.”

 

Plastic bins are not going to be seen to most as a big deal. In fact, I’ll likely forget about this tweet and the reply to the forum post I previously checked out during my own research sharing my solution as time marches on. But for those out there mentoring an FLL Junior team for the first time, trying to figure things out through their own forum and Twitterverse investigations, this share is going to move the needle. It’s going to save them time so they can focus on the more important aspects of mentoring. It is also most likely going to go unnoticed by me. It’s a moment that takes on the spirit of what Dudley defines through his own personal vignette as a “lollipop moment“: A moment in which we make someone’s life better through something we say or did. Sometimes you catch it, and sometimes it happens in what would otherwise be a forgettable moment to ourselves.

This past November NSTA received tremendous positive feedback on a workshop co-facilitated by me, Ted Willard, and several other outstanding cadre members from across the country. Feedback wins for me included comments about the facilitator “doing a great job of delivering the material.” One evaluator expressed gratitude for the instructor’s “kindness” and another the “ability to justify and reinforce key points through classroom experiences.” Empathy and authenticity matters!

The blended work environment I live puts me in the spaces that do this kind of professional development with my Burlington colleagues almost everyday. Their  recognition and move to a student-oriented, “sense-making” space is what drives me. Gratitude is never expected… after all we don’t expect our younger students to thank us when they have their own “a-ha” moments… though as in Drew’s story when they do share it hits home.

I can continue to grow by explicitly “celebrating” more successes I observe, instilling others with the mindset that they can lead this kind of learning in their classroom, and be a leader themselves amongst their fellow faculty. By acknowledging and supporting a fellow educator’s efforts and growth toward the preparation, instructional practices, and shifts in assessment needed we can instill greater confidence in those that find the New Vision for Science Education intimidating or even unattainable.

I’d also like to practice what I preach by thanking my table-facilitators, Rachel Manzer, Aaron Mueller, and Shannon Kenyon. They also received explicit praise for the support, feedback, and insights they provided to the participants they stuck with through the entire two-day experience. Having expert eyes and ears in a large ‘classroom’ clearly made all the difference to the participants and they are well on their way to sharing their own expertise with larger audiences as well.

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Community Building through Curriculum Mapping

“Bundling” core ideas from multiple science domains. Saving class time and bringing our faculty domain experts together!

“It takes a village” can be used in several contexts, particularly when it comes to education. While overhauling the Burlington elementary science curriculum the saying has only been reinforced as Wendy Pavlicek and I have leaned on classroom teachers, curriculum coaches, language specialists, and our own professional networks to bring together Burlington’s (mostly) open source K-5 STE curriculum.

So with my middle school colleagues at the precipice of undertaking their own curriculum journey I had the pleasure of dusting off some old PD experiences that helped move our elementary thinking forward. Both lessons were adapted from NSTA Press’ title, “Introducing Teachers and Administrators to the NGSS: A Professional Development Facilitator’s Guide.”

One of my favorite staff experiences from this PD facilitation tool is the Course Mapping lesson found toward the tail-end of the book. It first connects the facilitator with NGSS’ Appendix K, a primer on the three frameworks for course mapping middle school and high school pathways for students. The text then details an experience meant to give teachers some creative, non-binding licensure to freely explore the possibilities of bundling two or more Disciplinary Core Idea elements while generating creative topics that might come together with others to form a course or courses for students.

Graciously, all participants put their personal allegiances toward a “layered” or “spiral” curriculum aside and dug into the challenge, reading Disciplinary Core Idea elements ranging from the unfamiliar to almost second nature. More importantly, the faculty reveled in the opportunity to engage with their peers they rarely connect with due to the all-too-common grade level divides persistent in many schools and departments across the country.

The split squad of grade 6-8 educators managed several delightful and creative associations between physical, life, and earth/space science standards (easily distinguished as such by color.) Many group innocently enough stumbled upon several of the crosscutting concepts (the ‘implicitly’ included third dimension of NGSS-MA) such as matter & energy and natural systems. All groups honored the process, even when I told them to “jumble their hard work all up and try again… possibly by building on the DCIs left behind in the first round.”

As time wound down we taped down each groups “preferred” arrangements for future reference and consideration. The experience not only brought colleagues together, but even conjured some novel models of thinking around the plausibility of breaking away some DCIs from their traditional domains. “Maybe trade the layer cake for a marble cake?” mulled a small group before departing. Such decisions were appropriately left for another day.

If you’d like to run your own mapping and bundling workshop using the Massachusetts middle school disciplinary core idea elements, simply follow this link to my google doc which can be printed, then cut and pasted to fit standard size index cards. Be sure to share with me how it goes via email or the comments below.

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Incremental Improvement through Student Discourse

Over the summer I took in a rebroadcast of the Freakonomics podcast episode titled, “In Praise of Incrementalism”. The featured authors, economists, and guests of the show touted the power of incremental changes in a world where our attention is often yanked in the direction of “moonshots” and other eye-catching initiatives. The episode and its co-conspirator, “In Praise of Maintenance” resonated with me because of their relevance to my work (though my connections to the maintenance episode will need to be saved for another day!)

Incremental changes are at the heart of curriculum and instruction improvement in the Burlington Public Schools this year. All of the subject coaches have committed to centering their council work around lifting classroom discourse, using an adapted version of the table developed by Hufford-Ackles, Fuson, and Sherin (2014) to support Burlington educators exploration of student discourse in its many forms and levels.

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Burlington’s modified “Levels of Classroom Discourse” table

During our one-hour gathering with representatives from each grade level from each school we asked educators to first, independently reflect and share on Post-it Notes how “doing science” and our science curriculum as it stands supports each of the five facets of classroom discourse.

From here teachers contributed each of their stickies to five posters (one for each facet) before working collaboratively to organize the stickies into groups or patterns as they saw fit. This strategy was one we stole from John Antonetti who used a similar format to engage administrators during their own professional development around Learning Walks. After the groupings were completed teachers were given the second task of reflecting on how they and their colleagues supported their particular facet in their classroom and schools. Their groupings and strategies were ultimately shared out to the entire council.

For veteran science curriculum council members, our attention to student discourse isn’t novel or completely out of the blue. Before curriculum councils were temporarily disrupted last year our science council had explored Page Keeley’s Science Probes and the “science talk moves” necessary to effectively facilitate their use. With our science council’s ship steadied we will be honing in on the updated science curriculum we have been incrementally introducing to our K-5 educators over the past three years.

Teams of grade band teachers will meet in separate, afternoon meetings to systemically revisit our units and lessons. Teams of teachers will 1) Identify the level of classroom discourse being asked of the teacher and students and 2) consider and tweak lessons and units that are lower on the spectrum incrementally forward, preferably to levels 3 or 4 on our table.

The work won’t be worthy of click-baiting, head-turning headlines in our news outlets, but presumably the work will improve classroom discourse forward, supporting new teachers using the curriculum for the first time and veteran teachers refreshing their memory on desired lesson level outcomes and strategies to meet those expectations.

To empower our teachers with some tools and strategies they may use right away to drive their classroom discourse forward we are also providing our teachers with resources freely available online that have proven themselves in moving student discourse forward in classrooms at a wide range of grade levels. These include:

To wrap-up our time, teachers composed an exit ticket, answering two questions:

  • Which of these facets of classroom discourse do you aspire to develop this year personally or collaboratively?
  • How do you plan to develop this form of discourse and/or how can the Science Center support you in meeting your aspirations?

Our teachers responses will help inform the directions we take during our grade level curriculum council meetings later this year to move the needle forward and deepen the level of classroom discourse. Such aspirations may not sound much like a rally cry, and will not solve all of society’s ails, but it will almost certainly raise our capacity to engage our students, deepen their thinking, and improve their own capacity to communicate with each other and the world.

If you are interested in facilitating a similar conversation in your school or district, you may access a view only version of our presentation and make a copy for your own records and modifications here.

Posted in Curriculum, Professional Development, Professional Reflections | Tagged | 1 Comment

Developing Learning Strands: The Making of a NSTA National Conference – Part 1

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A crude rendition of our title and theme for the #NSTA2020 National Conference

It can be a surprise to many (including me!) but a conference as big as the NSTA’s National Conference takes more than two full years to develop. As the chairperson for the upcoming 2020 NSTA National Conference in Boston I joined a half-dozen New England educators and NSTA brass this week hammering out the focus strands on which many of the conference’s workshops, presentations, and guest speakers will be aligned with.

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Taking the results of our peer input request and turning them into strands.

Blessed with some advance notice of this volunteer assignment and great leadership in our state’s science teacher organizations our team of educators and administrators was able to draw on a diverse set of voices with the help of Google Forms and the list servers of MAST, MSELA, NSSSA, and MITS. Despite only about a week of advanced warning we received 44 thoughtful responses to our call for suggestions in building out the four learning strands that would dominate our conference. Suggestions ranged from engineering to computational thinking, to human impact, to three dimensional learning and assessment, all of which we were determined to weave into our strands.

Almost two days of conceptualization, revision, and peer feedback reviews sessions with our Area Conference planning colleagues formulated the goals of these strands. With the added touch of a “20/20 vision” theme they boiled to the surface as:

  • The Long View: Building a Lifelong Passion for Science 

  • Aligning the lenses: Authentic, Three-Dimensional Measurement of Student Learning

  • Thinking, Acting, and Communicating like Scientists: A Focus on Disciplinary Literacy

  • Learning Science in all Spaces and Places: Near and Far

Exciting, right?! Though flights needed to be caught and over a dozen hours of work had already been put into place, I left our table in a poorly ventilated conference room with team members still chattering about possible speakers and potential educators to recruit for future conference development stages.

Speaking of which… are you interested? The draft threads have been completed, but you can still share your interest in volunteering your time and support for the conference by adding your contact information to our NSTA Boston 2020 Google Form. Be a part of NSTA Boston 2020 and help us expand our vision of what this conference will offer and be to its participants!

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