I haven’t been to a conference in sooooo looong. And tomorrow I get to go to the NCCE 2014 Conference in Seattle! Just two hours away, and a ferry ride, from where I live and I’ll be there! Tomorrow morning! I’m so excited!
Our new Superintendent, @Rich_Stewart1 , is sending our District Tech Committee to learn all that we can as we plan our district’s tech future and write our new tech plan. Eric Sheninger and Gary Stager are giving the Keynotes! People I’ve been following on Twitter for years and I have a chance at meeting them face-to-face! I’ve only ever met one Tweep face-to-face since I started tweeting years ago! This is so exciting!
So if you’re going tomorrow maybe I’ll see you there!!
Oh I fall into the trap. I spend every morning and every evening checking my Feedly RSS feeds and reading many awesome blogs. Lately I’ve been reading a few who apologize for not having blogged in a while and I start to feel it. Holy cow! I haven’t blogged in a while! I need to write a blog post!
But you know what? If I have nothing to say, or more accurately, if all I’m going through hasn’t coalesced into words then I don’t push it. It isn’t going to work anyway.
I call that the Tao of Blogging. I write a post when it’s time. Not before and not after. So when I feel that I need to blog or should write another blog I have to stop and ask myself, “is it because it’s time or is it because of some external pressure?” If it’s because of some external pressure then I’m working on being okay not forcing myself to write a new post.
If it’s because it’s time, then the blog post flows freely. Sometimes a post flows freely then I stop and have to finish it later. That tends to feel more productive. Sometimes I have a few posts come out and then I do that cool things of scheduling them to come out in a few days! That’s so hard to do because I want to publish them all now.
But when it’s not time to publish, I have to stop sweating it. It’ll come when it’s time and when I’m ready.
In our last round of training on our new WA State evaluation system, Teacher/Principal Evaluation Project (TPEP), many of our small group discussions came back to the question of student learning (as it should!). I became fixated on one particular core idea from the CEL 1 Foundational Ideas Applied to Instructional Frameworks that read: “If students are not learning, they are not being afforded powerful learning opportunities.”
Now I’m not shirking my responsibility as the adult in my classroom and as the professional educator/teacher but I have observed many an occasion where the above statement is just not true. Are we saying that students will never willingly choose to ignore or disengage with powerful learning opportunities?
You can argue that A. I’m not affording my students powerful learning opportunities and that’s why they aren’t learning, or B. the learning opportunities I’m affording my students are not powerful and that’s why they aren’t learning. But what if the learning opportunities in my classroom are being afforded to ALL my students? And what if I have evidence, from reading and learning from educators all over the world, that the learning opportunities I’m affording ALL my students are indeed powerful? If I am truly affording ALL my students powerful learning opportunities AND some of them still aren’t learning, what else could be the reason?
Could it be that some students just aren’t interested in Science?
Could it be that some students are MORE interested in socializing and goofing around sometimes?
Could it be that some students are getting some kind of reinforcement or attention for NOT engaging or learning?
Could it be that some students just don’t care about grades, marks, rewards, or passing tests but they still are learning?
Could it be that some students don’t know they are learning even when they learn something new?
Could it be that some students don’t test well?
Could it be that some students learn at a different pace and they need a little, or a lot, more time?
Could it be that some students have other interests that are taking up most of their motivation to learn or most of their time?
Could it be that some students don’t value education or school?
Could it be a combination of the above or something else that I didn’t think of?
The statement, ”If students are not learning, they are not being afforded powerful learning opportunities,” that my evaluation as a teacher/educator is based on seems limited and assumes too much. The statement assumes that the only reason students in my classes aren’t learning is because I am NOT affording them powerful learning opportunities.
In our training we also came across this core idea from the CEL 1 Foundational Ideas Applied to Instructional Frameworks: “Student role in their own learning: agency and ownership,” where agency is defined as, “Students developing a learning mindset, which includes identifying strategies and habits that make their own learning effective. Students understanding that they can have an effect on their own learning.”
That makes me think that if we want our children to take more and more responsibility, agency, and ownership for their own learning then maybe we shouldn’t say that if they aren’t learning then they aren’t being afforded powerful learning opportunities. Maybe we should say that they need to be able to explain why they aren’t learning. If the reason is that the learning opportunities being afforded them are NOT powerful, then that’s something I can fix. If, on the other hand, we find that the reason they aren’t learning is because of some reason out of MY, the educator/teacher’s, control but fully in their, the student’s, control then they will be empowered to fix it (or not) as they see fit. And if that means reaching out for help, then we as a educators can better provide them help without having to do so much guesswork.
At what age can a child start to have such agency and ownership over his or her own learning? And will that happen earlier and earlier if children are taught and given opportunities to have agency and ownership over their own learning?
1. The CEL Framework is, “An evaluation system that truly builds the capacity of our teachers will lead to better practice, which ultimately will result in greater learning for all students. Stephen Fink, Executive Director” CEL refers to University of Washington’s Center for Educational Leadership.
In response to my questions on the Inquiry Dry Spell post I wrote Edna (@whatedsaid) posed some questions to get me thinking about inquiry in my Science classes. She wrote the following on her post, Response to the dry spell…
Inquiry encourages students to be actively involved in and to take responsibility for their own learning. Inquiry learning allows each student’s understanding of the world to develop in a manner and at a rate unique to that student. The starting point is students’ current understanding, and the goal is the active construction of meaning through:
exploring, wondering and questioning
experimenting and playing with possibilities
making connections between previous learning and current learning
making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens
collecting data and reporting findings
clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events
deepening understanding through the application of a concept
making and testing theories
researching and seeking information
taking and defending a position
solving problems in a variety of ways. (Making the PYP Happen)
Here are some questions Edna posted to help me think this through (my responses are included):
1. Do you think the learning in your science classes includes some of the elements mentioned above?
Yes, we definitely have some of the elements list above. Students are encouraged to explore, wonder and question but as that is left up to them it happens sporadically as different students get excited with different topics (which makes sense). We do experiments and students collect data and write conclusions based on their data and their hypotheses (which is exactly making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens). Conducting an experiment also involves applying concepts especially when doing a follow-up experiment if results don’t come out as expected. When learning new concepts students get to research and seek information, which includes asking their questions. A lot of the questions we investigate and research are posed by me regarding the topics we are studying. I task students with asking their own follow up questions and seek answers to those questions that naturally arise. I also teach students that research includes reading through the results of a search leading to either better or different questions as you learn more about the topic/concepts. Some concepts we study connect together so previous learning connects to future learning.
2. Have you considered beginning a new unit with a hook or provocation to stimulate curiosity, rather than introducing the topic yourself?
I think I do that, if I understand the question correctly. Using the 3D GameLab each assignment/task/activity/quest starts with some kind of a hook usually in the form of a question. Since all my students have the choice as to which quest to work on at any given time that hook has to be good enough to get them to start the quest instead of skipping it or saving it for later. If it’s an activity or project that I want everyone to work on at a given point in time I introduce it either with a question or by “selling” it and making it look really cool. For example, when I introduced the classification project to students I posed the questions, “why do scientists classify living things?” “How do scientists classify living things?” “How would you classify living things?” Then instead of figuring out how scientists classify living things students tried it themselves and then had to compare their classification schemes with the ways biologists do it. They found out that some of the ways they classified living things was very similar to how biologists did it!
So I’m not sure if that’s what you meant because I still introduce the topic even though I do try to start with a question or provocation.
3. Are you willing to shift from ‘delivering curriculum’ and, rather than covering, provide opportunities for discovering and uncovering by the learners?
That’s how my class runs, I don’t often deliver curriculum. I put the learning in the hands of my students. I’ve been using Mark Barnes’s Results Only Learning Environment (ROLE) methods to provide my students with autonomy, choice, and with multiple opportunities to master concepts before moving on. What I need to do better is provide more scaffolding for the students who aren’t used to this. I’ve had students leave me feedback on surveys that they are lost without direct instruction and without me telling them what to do.
We follow this cycle often in Science, especially when we do labs/experiments. I use Inquiry Boards to scaffold and help my students develop an inquiry cycle for conducting experiments. It’s not the only method but it’s a helpful one for providing some structure. By 8th grade our students are expected to develop and design their own experiments to questions or problems without the use of the Inquiry Boards. By 8th grade I also have my students write their conclusions using the Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) method.
I guess I am providing my students with opportunities to inquire, explore and wonder. It just seems like it should be happening in my classes more often. I get few students who ask questions and fewer still who actually seek answers to their questions. Often I am the one looking up answers to questions they come up with so at least I’m modeling what I want them to do. Maybe what I need to do is a better job of encouraging questioning and seeking answers. Maybe my assignments are to closed and not open-ended enough or don’t leave much room for students own questions. I’ll have to work on that. I find that if I don’t ask the questions then they don’t get answered so I will need to find a balance.
Your questions really helped. I hope I have given you some insights into how inquiry works in a Science class.
I use Carolina’s STC/MS Energy, Machines, and Motion kit (EMM) with my 6th graders. The lessons in this kit are well structured to take advantage of how people learn by making sure every lesson starts by eliciting prior knowledge of students with questions that students investigate through different labs. The procedures are laid out, step by step, in the lesson for each lab. Then each lab ends with reflection questions for students to ponder and help them figure out what they learned. Eliciting prior knowledge and reflecting on what you’ve learned is especially helpful in Science because in order to become scientifically literate you need to challenge your misconceptions with true science concepts until your misconceptions are replaced with the truth.
While following a step-by-step procedure is helpful for learning specific concepts it is also necessary to let the students design their own investigations and experiment including writing their own step-by-step instructions.
We started an inquiry on the Force of a Motor (Lesson 7 for those familiar with the kit) with the question, “How strong is your motor?” I showed the motors we would be using, pictured below.
Then I showed them the materials we would be using and I said that to be able to compare results all teams would have access to the same materials. Based on the materials shown below (not including string, a large paper clip to be used as a hook, large washers for the motor to lift, and rechargeable D-cell batteries) students brainstormed different ways they could arrange the peg board with all the materials to get the motors to lift as many washers as they can.
With 6th graders I use Inquiry Boards to help them plan the whole experiment for the lesson (Lesson 7, The Force of a Motor). That is a perfect lesson to let the students design their own investigations. When it comes time to think up different variables we could change to affect a change on the amount of washers the motor can lift each class came up with six or seven different things we could try whereas in the book they only used three (and frankly, two of the three in the book I had to share with students because they don’t usually come up with those on their own). So right from the start we get to try out different ways of arranging the equipment to see if it helps the motor lift more washers. Each table group then picked one of the variables to use as their one manipulated variable so that by the end of one or two rounds of experimenting each table presents which of their manipulated variable was the best one. With six different tables running different experiments we end up finding six different ways to optimize the lifting capacity of the motor!
So event though this EMM kit is really good at using inquiry to help students learn about energy, machines, and motion, putting the book away for one or more labs and letting students design the investigation from start to finish, with the help and guidance of the teacher and Inquiry Boards, adds another layer by having students wrestle with different ways to answer questions scientifically. It’s also great practice writing steps in a way that makes sense and can be followed by any reader.
Here’s a quick video I shot of one of my 6th grade classes testing their hypotheses out to see how many washers they can get their motors to lift depending on what their manipulated variable was:
I have question about standardized test remediation courses. I know the answer to my question but I still have a strong, almost masochistic, desire to ask it. So let me start with the answer to my question.
“You’re right, Al, and I agree with everything you say but (yes, I, Al, know there is a but – come on, you saw this coming) the REALITY is that WE HAVE TO PREPARE our students to pass (enter your number here) standardized or end of course exams in high school in order to graduate. They can have straight A’s, be in sports, participate in every club and after school activity ever imagined, have a part-time job, do community service, present an incredible senior project, have actual experience doing things that could land them a job right now, maybe even start their own company right now, BUT if they do NOT pass even one of those high school standardized or end of course tests they WILL NOT GRADUATE.”
Did I get the answer right? And if that answer is correct do we see what’s wrong with it?!? How can WE FIX THAT????
So here’s my question:
If our goal as a middle school is to help our students become independent life-long learners who will have a growth mindset and value working hard to learn does it make sense to take away a class they enjoy to give them more of a class in which they struggle?
Shouldn’t the purpose of the remediation be to have students work on activities that will lead to a love of the subject by using high interest, relevant, rewarding tasks will that make the class more appealing, and thereby increase learning in that subject? Or should the goal of the class be to teach kids how to prepare for or pass a test? I mean, one test?? And if the goal is or should be to lead to a love of the subject by using high interest, relevant, rewarding tasks do you even need another, remediation class for that? Shouldn’t’ the original class offer that? (That’s a different subject altogether because what if the original class doesn’t offer that because the focus, or even part of the focus, is on preparing kids for a one-day-a-year test?!?)
Let’s put that one test into perspective:
Our 7th and 8th graders take three standardized tests each year, spending approximately 9 to 12 hours bubbling in some multiple choice questions and writing some short answers to questions that may or may not have anything to do with what we teach here all year long.
By contrast a student who comes to school on time every day of the school year will spend 1,080 hours engaging in activities that are more involved than just answering multiple choice and short answer questions. Out of those 1,080 hours, 720 of them are spent in core classes. That leaves 360 hours a school year to develop their love of music and art, to learn about health and to stay or get fit or learn other skills not learned in core classes (meaning language arts and social studies or humanities, math and science).
If a student is struggling in a core class for 180 hours a year does it make sense to add another 90 or 45 hours to help them pass a test? Is that going to revitalize their love of that subject or galvanize their desire to work harder at learning that subject? By putting them in a remediation course their time to develop their love of music or art, learn about health, stay or get fit, and learn other skills will decrease to anywhere from 315 to 270 hours a year from the original 360 hours.
Does nine hours of testing (really three to four hours because that is how long they typically spend on one subject area) warrant 45 to 90 additional hours of test prep? Or, as research (Google Dr. Jo Boaler) shows, is it better to prepare kids to pass the test by engaging them in learning instead of teaching them how to take a test?
I’ll be the first to admit it, I don’t seem to have much of a green thumb. I have to work hard (see the growth mindset there) at successfully growing plants, especially from seeds, even though in nature they seem to grow just fine. Something about me meddling or maybe over thinking it.
I also don’t seem to be able to hatch things very well. I struggle with getting brine shrimp (aka sea monkeys) to hatch, especially this year where I tried to hatch a batch of eggs twice with not a single egg hatching. My 8th graders conducted an experiment using the brine shrimp eggs and they had the same results as I did where typically the eggs hatch so I’m concluding that I no longer have viable eggs. They are old so maybe they all died?
One of my 8th graders brought in a box of Triops. I had never heard of those but they have eggs very similar to brine shrimp eggs and their early stages of development resemble brine shrimp. Unlike brine shrimp, triops (aka tadpole shrimp) grow in fresh water and they exist pretty much as they did millions of years ago. Seemed like we had a save!
So I setup the fresh water and put half the eggs in there. Waited. Waited. Nothing. Hmm. The second time I decided to use creek water (the water they need has very specific guidelines, can’t be deionized or distilled, so I figured what’s better than actual fresh water from a creek!). I committed myself by putting all the remainder of the eggs in the creek water. I checked it everyday and checked the temperature to make sure the triops had the best chance at hatching. They need a lot of light so I put a lamp near the water so they had everything they needed.
A week passed and nothing. We checked and stared. The eggs were there but nothing hatched. I gave up on it and started thinking ahead to next year and making sure I buy fresher eggs whether I use brine shrimp or tadpole shrimp. Yesterday, I noticed the water had a bunch of dead plant matter in it so I figured it was time to dump it. I was getting ready to dump it when I saw something dart around. It looked like a tadpole shrimp!
One lone shrimp managed to hatch and survive all on its own without any help from me! I even had baby food all ready to feed the little babies and nurse them to adulthood but this little shrimp did it all on its own with just whatever was in the water from the creek. Yeah, again nature worked best when I stepped out of the way.
So here’s what a tadpole shrimp looks like after about two weeks:
And here’s what it looked like the very next day after the above video:
This little shrimp is doing fine and we are taking care of him as the lone survivor of a whole batch of about 40 to 50 eggs. Way to go little guy!
Our 6th graders are tested once a year, usually in the Spring around April or May, on Reading and Math. Our 7th graders are tested once a year on Reading, Math and Writing. Our 8th graders are tested once a year on Reading, Math and Science. We get the results of those tests usually in August. Too late to use the results to do anything with the 8th graders as they will be in High School by September. Fifth graders are testing in Reading, Math and Science so I do get a look at their Science scores before I get them as students in 6th grade.
The data I get from those one shot, some multiple choice, some short answer tests gives me some idea as to where my new students struggle and where they did well. Using that data to make tweaks on my curriculum and how I have students engage with it makes sense. To use those results to evaluate teachers or to determine whether or not a child can graduate seems excessive and makes little sense.
So let’s be 100% clear: what those one-day-a-year, one-shot, some-multiple-choice, work-in-isolation-with-no-internet, standardized-not-based-on-my-curricula tests measure is
1. how well kids felt on the day they took the test,
2. how well they take tests,
3. what mood they were in,
4. if they care about test/testing,
5. if their family is affluent,
6. if they have NO learning disabilities, and/or
7. if they can recall things they may or may not have learned.
Another things that bugs me, and the purpose of this post, is when people confuse the results of that one day a year test to classroom evaluation. I don’t feel it’s correct to compare say a student’s low standardized test score to a high grade in school. It’s like comparing two things that don’t have anything in common. Even if we were to teach to the test a class grade is based on more than just a standardized test-like assessment that is given on one day. Kids aren’t widgets. I work to provide learning opportunities for all my students and for some that does not translate into high test scores. What I could do is take those kids who score low on tests and train them to get better, high test scores. I think about my own children. I would prefer they spend their school days engaging in great learning opportunities and not practicing how to become better test takers. So for my students, I do not spend much time training them on how to take tests. I doubt too many of my are going to be professional test takers. In my professional opinion I think my students are going to be better prepared for their futures by learning how to work with others, how to think critically and deeply, how to problem solve, how to use technology to learn and solve problems and get work done efficiently and effectively, and how to share/showcase/demonstrate their learning (in other to provide evidence to back claims).
As a classroom teacher I provide information about my students’ progress either by providing a letter grade or a standards-based report on their understanding of the standards (I actually do both). Letter grades typically come loaded with all sorts of data including work completion, perceived effort, and maybe even practice. Standards-based reports include my perception of a student’s understanding, which may include a student’s own reporting on his or her understanding as well as evidence I see from the work turned in or discussions I have with the student.
If I give a student a passing grade, maybe an A, B or C letter grade, or a 2 (Basic Understanding), 3 (Shows Understanding) or 4 (Exceptional Understanding), it is based on the work I do with that student. It includes our conversations, the feedback I’ve given that student, completed work and sometimes even work in progress, formative assessments, summative assessments, group work, project work including the process to complete that work, and this all happens over time.
Now which evaluation or assessment do you think is more accurate?
Is it the process-oriented, teacher/student generated grade or standard-based report that happened over time with a relationship component that includes the teacher getting to know the person he or she is working with (for maybe 180 days a year, sometimes even for a second year when I get my old students back in 8th grade)?
Or is it the one-day-a-year, someone-else-we-don’t-know generated, some multiple-choice, some short answer question test that students cannot use the Internet, cannot consult their peers, and cannot ask me for much clarification test?
Without a doubt I place more weight or value on my test every time. Either way what I don’t do is compare my assessment score(s) to that score I get in August on a test that has very little if anything to do with all that goes on my classroom! They are not based on the same things. A student can easily score high on the standardized test and get low grades in class, just as easily as he or she can score low on the standardized test and high on their class grades. That’s the nature of standardized testing and classroom assessment and one does not necessarily equate with performance on the other.
Parting thought/question: In a world where one 8th grade boy is barely 4ft tall standing next to another 8th grade boy who is 6ft 1in why do we think it’s okay to standardize their academics/learning? Wouldn’t it be nice if all 8th grade boys reached the standard of 5ft by age 14?
Cross-posted on Inquire Within.
I wrote my first post for Inquire Within on Nov 29, 2010 and my last post was on Dec 5, 2011. I’ve gone two whole years without writing a post! Last school year, after many months of not writing a post for this blog, I asked Edna to keep me on as a contributor. I thought I was just going through a dry spell and an inquiry topic would brew in my head and bam! I’d write a post.
It never happened. A whole school year went by and I just wasn’t thinking inquiry. Even on my personal blog none of my topics were inquiry related and I was writing posts for my blog so it wasn’t like I wasn’t able to write. So far we are half way through this school year and still no inquiry posts are coming to me. I thought I was through. I told Edna to just remove me as a contributor because I just wasn’t contributing. She emailed me back and said that she wasn’t going to remove me, she would just wait until I was ready to post.
I am grateful to Edna for keeping me on and I told her that I didn’t know if I wasn’t thinking inquiry because I haven’t been doing any inquiry with my students or because inquiry is so well integrated that I just don’t think about it. So that’s the topic of my first post on Inquire Within after two years of not posting.
Personally, I’d like to think that the answer to my question is that I’m integrating inquiry so seamlessly into my Science classes that I just don’t think about it. But I’m not sure. One thing I’ve gotten better in my career is not answering my student’s questions right away. It’s not an easy thing! It’s especially difficult when I know we’ll be investigating their questions later, or way later, and I don’t want them to lose their curiosity. At the same time I also don’t want them to lose interest by having to wait. So I often say, “great question, we will be investigating that later.” I know that answering a question causes the questioner to stop thinking about the topic. In their mind they are satisfied that they got an answer so they don’t have to think upon it any further. By not answering a question the questioner is forced to continue thinking about the question and maybe even driven to seek their own answers. That’s what I want my students to do.
So why do I think that maybe I’m not doing inquiry and that’s why I haven’t thought of writing any inquiry-related blog posts? Because not all my students are asking questions. I’m not getting as much question asking as I would have expected. I get what looks like traditional schooling where I propose a topic of study and students undertake the activities, project, lab, or lesson pretty much as I introduce it. No questions asked, no push back, no offering of a follow-up topic or a different course. Well, I won’t say none of the aforementioned, just very little. Maybe one student here and there. It makes me wonder if I could be or should be doing something different to encourage or inspire my students to question more, to push back on topic ideas or on ways to show their learning, to offer follow-up topic ideas, or to offer different courses of study to learn.
I teach three 6th grade Science classes and two 8th grade Science classes. I deliver the curriculum using 3D GameLab, which can be described as a gamification learning management system (LMS), in a 1:1 environment where students have access to iMacs, netbooks, iPads, or their own devices. I have all the tools in place for a high-inquiry, exploration-driven, very-personalized classroom. Have my students been so well trained in traditional schooling that it’s hard to break the habit and go hog wild in my classroom? Is anyone out there experiencing similar lack of questioning in their classes?