Nov 27

Hindsight is easy, I Need Foresight!

This post was originally published at the CORELaborate Blog here!

a handyman awkward trying to hammer a nailIsn’t it fun to find out your plan didn’t work AFTER students start turning in work? I see my error NOW and I even have an idea for how to fix it but I won’t know how well the fix works until next time students do a similar assignment. Thank goodness more are coming! Still, making a mistake that ends up in confusing students, or steering them in the wrong direction, is disturbing. If I had been working with widgets the failing-trying something new-then seeing if that new fix works iterations would be just fine, but it’s entirely different when you’re working with living, breathing human beings! And if that wasn’t bad enough, I shared the document, with the confusing part, with readers of this blog and readers of my personal blog! I shared my Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) sheet with sentence starters and CER rubric and after using the CER document with sentence starters, I found one of my sentence starters led all my students astray. Yes, ALL of them! I had to send all their first drafts back for editing. Thank goodness I was using Google Classroom so editing was a matter of re-writing just the one section.

Here’s what students did. We were working on Lesson 3 from the STC/MS Energy, Machines, and Motion (EMM) kit on rechargeable batteries.

Student teams got a rechargeable D-cell battery, a charger, wires, a light bulb with a holder, and a small motor.

Teams started by charging their dead batteries (batteries are difficult to drain and it takes weeks!) and charged them for three minutes then connected them to the light bulbs. They timed how long the light bulbs stayed on.

Then teams charged the battery for another three minutes, connected them to the small motor and timed how long the motor stayed on.

We averaged our data and in all three classes the light bulbs stayed on for about 13 minutes and the motor stayed on for about 6 minutes with the same three minute battery charge! One of the reflection questions in the EMM book asked students which needed more energy, the light bulb or the motor. I thought that would make a perfect CER conclusion. So that was the question I asked of students for their CER. I uploaded the CER with Sentence Starters document to Google Classroom to give each student his or her own copy to type on. Here’s what it looked like:

The Claim and Evidence sentence starters worked fine. Most students were able to write accurate claims based on the question asked and they shared their class averages as part of the evidence. Easy and straightforward.

Last year, and the year before for that matter, I dealt with students struggling to write their Reasoning section. Sixth graders can make a claim and share the evidence that supports that claim but they struggle with writing about how their evidence actually supports or proves that their claim is actually correct. I can’t remember why, but last year at some point I used the sentence starter you see above for the Reasoning section: I think this happened because…

I had read somewhere that having students explain the science behind why their claim happened the way it happened could help them write a reasoning. Well, it helped students. They were able to write about the science and why they thought their claim happened the way it happened, but they never actually explained how their data supported or proved their claim was correct. That sentence starter got kids writing but not the direction they need to be going for a CER.

Here is an example of a typical CER using the sentence starters:
We charged a battery for three minutes and then we connected cables to it and a little light bulb the light bulb lit up for 8:41 then we charged it for three minutes again and did the same thing but we hooked it up to a motor and it only kept going for 3:37. My claim is the motor needs more energy. My evidence is the average time for the motor is 5:80 and the average time for the light bulb is 13:85. I think this happened because the motor is moving and the light bulb is sitting still and maybe that buses up the energy really fast.

In the above CER conclusion, the student starts off wonderfully. When he gets to the reasoning he did just what the Reasoning section asked him to do and he used the sentence starter perfectly. It just wasn’t a Reasoning! Every single student was led astray that way. I loved their explanations of why the motor needed more energy so I kept that. I just added the following:

I’m hoping adding the above to the Reasoning section and adding another sentence starter will help students think about how their data actually does support their claim! So after sending back their first drafts with instructions to add how their data supported their claim, sometimes more than once, I got CER conclusions more like this one:
We charged a D-cell battery for three minutes and then saw how long it would power a lightbulb. Then we did the same thing but with a motor instead of a lightbulb. My claim is that the motor took more energy than the lightbulb. My evidence is that the motor lasted for 6.00 minutes, and the lightbulb lasted for 12.86 minutes. I think this happened because the energy just had to pass though the lightbulb, and for the motor the energy had to make the motor turn really fast. I think that the motor took more energy because the lightblub and the motor had the same amount of energy, but the motor used it up faster. This caused it to run out of energy at just 6.00 minutes while the lightbulb lasted more than twice that.

We’ll see if the new and improved CER Document with Sentence Starters (click to get the document, it’s updated) will actually get better reasoning sections! And here’s a copy of the CER document without sentence starters.

Here’s an energy hungry motor in action!

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