Takeaways from Today’s Science R&D

Our Science R&D team meets as a K-12 group three times throughout the year, for 90 minutes each time. It’s a rare opportunity for all grade levels to be in the same room, focusing on a few key initiatives and sharing best practices.

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Today’s meeting was especially valuable for me as a learner, especially relating to the day-in, day-out, “boots on the ground” pieces of instruction and assessment. We focused on wins and “non-wins” from the year, relative to our focal points. Next we shared assessments in small cross-divisional groups, offering ideas, questions, and suggestions for iteration. Below are my takeaways, items I found interesting and useful, organized chronologically as they came up throughout the meeting:

  1. An Upper School biology teacher recommended looking at the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. It’s a wealth of true, real-world problems in just about every scientific field and context imaginable.
  2. Another Upper School teacher shared a strategy for grouping students. At the start of the year, he asks all students to create an index card that includes their name and a few facts about them (likes, interests, etc). Not only does this givea little insight into students’ passions, but it also provides the instructor with a “deck of cards” that can be shuffled to create random groups at any time. This teacher also uses the deck to draw names to help elicit participation in class discussions.
  3. A third Upper School science teacher shared the progressions of a project he recently assigned. Students were tasked with creating a sketch first. Then they made a rough prototype with maker cart supplies (popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, etc). They continued to refine their prototype but along the way they were asked to document their iterations using photographs so that the learning and growth were clearly visible. The photograph idea especially resonated with me, because I am always eager to “show not tell” a story.
  4. A Lower School teacher showed me a rubric with four columns, where 1 = novice; 2 = emerging; 3 = proficient; and 4 = advanced. The target is 3, proficiency. In some rows on the rubric, she clearly defined what each stage might look like. In others, she left column 4 blank, leaving room for students to write in what might be an example of advanced work. Another teacher built upon this idea by suggesting that students use the blank space to justify why their work qualifies as advanced rather than merely proficient.

 

Part of our ticket out the door included identifying questions or items we want to explore more deeply. Some are captured below:

  1. How might we increase vertical alignment, understanding better what content our colleagues teach and assess?
  2. What does neuroscience research tell us about ways to maximize retention?
  3. How might we create proficiency scales around the science process standards?

While I would never openly advocate for more meetings, I wonder how we might get this incredible team together more often to share, ask questions, and help each other.

Reflections on PBL Coaching (Part 1)

Today in the middle school, Jill Ackers-Clayton came on campus to work with two teachers and two entire grade level teams as part of our yearlong focus on project-based learning. Jill has been Skyping with a few members of our team this year, and it was so powerful to spend time with her in person. Today helped to deepen the relationships between Jill and our teachers, as well as the relationships among teammates. It’s critical that these relationships are strong, because designing and implementing PBL (as well as coaching teachers in their design and implementation) can sometimes be messy or stressful. Navigating these waters with trusted teammates leads to an improved experience for all learners involved.

I’ll recap today’s learning experience in 3 separate posts:

  1. Two individual teachers
  2. Grade level team #1
  3. Grade level team #2

Takeaways from Two Individual Teachers

I was so impressed with both teachers who met with Jill this morning. Both came to the table with great ideas for a project, and both welcomed Jill’s feedback with eager optimism and a growth mindset. My biggest takeaways:

  • Aim to write the driving question at the “create” level of Bloom’s taxonomy. This allows us to truly hone in on the “why” of the project. That said, it’s incredibly helpful to also write questions for each of the other levels of Bloom’s. Doing so allows us to scaffold and differentiate for students who might need help understanding or reaching the creation level. 

  • It’s ok to run a project at the same time as “running content” aka utilizing direct instruction. One teacher expressed difficulty reconciling student voice & choice with the specific scope/sequence of required learning outcomes in her math curriculum. Jill suggested taking the approach of dividing the class in two, having half of them working on the project and the other half involved in direct instruction or mini-lessons with the teacher. The groups could flip in the middle of class.
  • The possibilities for connecting with the community are endless. Jill shared examples of students counting and mapping elk migrations in Colorado, and butterfly migrations in Texas. Golf courses partner with the Audobon Society, and students can plug in to map bird species and movement patterns. Police departments might give a school closed cases, with all the important information redacted, for students to solve using math or science.

Goals Check In

It’s important to revisit goals we set, on a regular basis. (I don’t do that very well – yet.) Upon revisiting, we can see what we’ve accomplished and what our next steps might be. If we haven’t made any progress yet, it’s a chance to recommit or perhaps iterate the goal.

Here is an attempt to hold myself accountable for the goals I set a few weeks ago…

  1. Find a church home with my husband.
    1. Not yet. I have watched online sermons from two different churches occasionally, but we have yet to visit a church in person together. I think we have different visions of what we would like in a church home. I am partial to the church I grew up in, but I’m not sure Scott feels the same way I do.
  2. Create a budget and stick to it each month.
    1. Oh man. We go between not spending money frivolously at all… or we spend it frequently, on little things like lunch/dinner/drinks, especially on weekends or spring break this past week. Generally, we are pretty frugal and live well within our means, but we’ve yet to create a budget. Something about thinking through all those details seems painful to me and I am avoiding it.
  3. Perform a muscle-up.
    1. Check! I can do a muscle up (or two) on a pull up bar.
    2. Next step: muscle-up on the rings.
  4. Host my parents for a dinner in our tiny condo.
    1. Not yet. We talked about it but that’s about as far as it’s gone. April might be a good time…
  5. Blog twice a month.
    1. Not yet. Obviously working on it.
  6. Read at least one book (outside of required work reading) every month.
    1. Check. I read and enjoyed the following titles, all of which I found through Amazon’s Kindle deals of the day over the past few weeks:
      1. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
      2. The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party
      3. The Girl With Seven Names: Escape from North Korea
      4. (currently reading) Where’d You Go Bernadette
  7. Take a break from Facebook in January
    1. Check, kind of. I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook, but I do continue to use it to keep up with certain groups, like my gym. My reasoning behind this goal was to break the habit of spending time scrolling through newsfeeds, and I think I have accomplished that.
  8. Drink only water, coffee, skim milk, and tea in January.
    1. This was a fail up moment. I think I lasted a week into this challenge.
    2. Next step: I might try again from March 18-April 18 (that’s my birthday). I might also try to drink at least 2 liters of water a day during that month.

For the rest of March, I am excited to focus on on finding a church with Scott. I’m also excited to commit to blogging a few more times (or at least one more time).

Shadow a Student Challenge

On Thursday, February 8, I had the pleasure of participating in the Shadow a Student Challenge.

“The Shadow a Student Challenge is a fun, illuminating, and supportive journey where school leaders come together to empathize with their students and take new kinds of action at their school. Educators and researchers have long known that shadowing can lead to powerful observations and insights to drive change. The Shadow a Student Challenge provides methods and a network to help school leaders achieve Deeper Learning for all students.” –shadowastudent.org

Because I work closely with eighth grade students, and this time of year signifies the beginning of their transition to Upper School, I wanted to learn firsthand about the ninth grade experience. It probably is not very often that an administrator follows a student around for a few hours, so in selecting a student to shadow, it was important to me to have already established a relationship with the student I shadowed. I felt that both the student and I would be more comfortable going to classes together (and eating lunch together!) if we already knew each other pretty well. Therefore I chose to shadow a ninth grader named Josie. Josie ran on my cross country team in middle school, and I taught and coached her older brother too, many years ago. Due to scheduling constraints, I could only join Josie for a few hours, rather than a full day. I am grateful for the opportunity to spend time with an Upper School student and learn more about Upper School programming firsthand.

Here are my initial takeaways and reflections:

  • Teachers who are passionate about their discipline have a tremendous impact on the learners in their class. I first joined Josie for honors biology with Dr. Spahr, who infused movement, a simulation, and music into her instruction on DNA replication. I thoroughly enjoyed her sense of humor, upbeat energy, and enthusiastic approach, and I suspect her students do too. In class, they eagerly approached the performance task after Dr. Spahr launched it by playing space-y music and conspiratorially stating, “Scientists have just discovered alien DNA in Arizona. It’s true! And we can identify the types of aliens by looking at their DNA.” Students grinned and sang along when Dr. Spahr played two music videos whose lyrics explained details about DNA. As a student in this class, I felt cared for, supported, relaxed, and excited to learn the material.
  • Use of hallway space differs from Middle School to Upper School. In middle school, teachers and students have become accustomed to using hallway space as learning space. Because the middle school classrooms are smaller, and because we have intentionally built a culture around the belief that “learning demands flexible and interactive spaces” middle school students often spill into the hallways to work as individuals or in groups. In the Upper School, Josie’s biology class comprised the only students in the hallway, and while we were there, another teacher stepped out of the classroom to ask us to quiet down. I wonder how regularly and for what purpose Upper School students use spaces other than the classroom?
  • iDiploma students collaborate with each other like a well-oiled machine. Josie’s Thursday schedule  follows biology with iDiploma, a program designed to foster students’ curiosities and develop skills around communication, collaboration, and innovative thinking through project-based work. I was amazed to discover how maturely and thoughtfully Josie and her teammates Alex and Catherine spoke to each other as they worked to advance their project of constructing hexagonal shelves in an alcove at school. Not that I expected them to be anything other than mature and thoughtful; rather, the level at which they operated far exceeded what I might expect from a freshman in high school. They framed questions with, “Should we try it this way…?” and “What might happen if we…” Respectfully and naturally, they built upon each other’s thoughts and physically manipulated their prototype to show each other their ideas. From my perspective, it didn’t seem like there was one clear leader; they each contributed equally. This was impressive to observe. I wonder to what extent (and how) these skills were intentionally developed through iDiploma, and how might we incorporate those particular instructional techniques into other classes as well?
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Josie and her peers discuss different approaches to procuring exact measurements. Photo is blurry because they never stopped moving!

 

  • iDiploma utilizes interdisciplinary modes of thinking, yet “disciplinary” teachers might not realize it. Josie and her teammates were building hexagonal shelves in a vertical nook in the Hive (the makerspace and meeting place for iDiploma). Their project incorporated an extraordinary amount of calculations and geometric thinking, in considering the angles of the hexagons and triangles in their design, measuring how much wood to purchase, and reasoning how to navigate from a two-dimensional plan to a three-dimensional prototype. I was blown away. When I asked how much their geometry teacher know about their work, Josie and her teammates responded, “I don’t think she does.” It left me wondering, how might teachers (and students) intentionally share the work they undertake with each other?
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Josie and Alex utilize their measurement skills in planning how much particle board to purchase.
  • I noticed students on cell phones, particularly at lunch. In middle school, students can use their phones if it is directly incorporated into the teacher’s instruction, like using it to film a video for a project, for instance. For the most part, we ask kids to keep them in their lockers, so it’s rare that I see a student with a phone at school. In Upper School, I noticed only one phone out in biology, and I saw a few in iDiploma, particularly in a group of students developing a virtual reality experience (I was disappointed not to see more of that group’s work!). I was amazed to see so many at the lunch table. The group of ninth grade girls I sat with talked with each other as they ate, and all the while, they were looking at photos, videos, snapchats, texts, etc. on their phones. It struck me as very different from my own experience at lunch as a high school student and very different from our current middle school culture, too. I wonder, what is the best and most developmentally appropriate approach to utilizing cell phones in older grades?

 

  • I was on my feet as a “student” much more than I normally am in my professional role. When I moved out of the classroom a few years ago, I found myself sitting much more as an administrator than I did as a teacher. I honestly haven’t done much about this realization, but my relatively sedentary style at work contrasted sharply with how much I stood, moved, and walked with Josie. I climbed two flights of stairs to get to her biology class, in which we stood in the hallway and acted out the process of DNA replicating. I descended the same stairs to get to iDiploma, during which time I didn’t sit down once (for about an hour). Down one more flight of stairs for lunch, and then up all three flights again for enrichment. Truthfully I enjoyed the movement and exercise, and I wonder how we might incorporate even more movement and kinesthetic learning opportunities into the school day.

I’m still thinking through my brief experience as a ninth grader and may post more reflections soon. I appreciate Josie’s willingness to share part of her day with me, so that I could gain a firsthand glimpse of a day in the life of an Upper School student.

2017 Goals

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In no particular order, here are some things I’d like to work on this year:

  1. Find a church home with my husband.
  2. Create a budget and stick to it each month.
  3. Perform a muscle-up.
  4. Host my parents for a dinner in our tiny condo.
  5. Blog twice a month.
  6. Read at least one book (outside of required work reading) every month.
  7. Take a break from Facebook in January.
  8. Drink only water, coffee, skim milk, and tea in January.

What are your goals or resolutions for this year?

Global Thinking Routines

Over the holiday break, I’ve been catching up on reading. I loved the article in ASCD’s December/January magazine titled, “How to Be a Global Thinker.” It outlines some skills and dispositions that students need in order to be globally competent and it provides thinking routines from Harvard’s Project Zero to help students practice these skills and dispositions:

The 3 Y’s (Learners explore significance of a given topic)

  1. Why might this topic/question/event matter to me?
  2. Why might it matter to people around me (family, friends, city, nation)?
  3. Why might it matter to the world?

How Else and Why (Learners move through reflective iterations of a particular claim)

  1. What I want to say is… (The student makes a statement)
  2. How else can I say this? And why?
  3. How else can I say this? And why?
  4. Continue as needed

At each turn, the same student considers intention, audience, and situation to reframe his or her language, tone, body language, and choice of media/technology in communicating their idea.

Step In, Step Out, Step Back (Learners practice taking other perspectives)

  1. Choose: Identify a person or agent in the situation
  2. Step In: Given what you see and know at this time, what do you think this person might experience, feel, believe, or know?
  3. Step Out: What else would you like or need to learn in order to understand this person’s perspective better?
  4. Step Back: Given your exploration of this topic so far, what do you notice about your own perspectives and what it takes to take someone else’s perspective?

Circles of Action (Learners recognize opportunities to take responsible action)

  1. What can I do to contribute…
    1. In my inner circle?
    2. In my local community?
    3. Beyond my community?

 

Wasted Time 

I love Keith Urban’s new song “Wasted Time.” My favorite lyric is from the chorus:

Ain’t it funny how the best days of my life

Was all that wasted time…

For someone like me who practically makes a game of crossing items off my to-do list in the most efficient way possible, it’s a great reminder that not all my time needs to be spent moving at a top speed. It’s an especially valuable reminder in the summertime, with endless professional and personal projects. The work will always be there. My tendency to keep moving and keep doing will always be there too. But to quote another figure who also appreciates wasting time, the great Ferris Bueller once said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”