Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Science Sensations

I wonder...

Why can't we live on other planets? Who was the first "person" on earth? Why did the dinosaurs die? Why is the sky blue and does the color of the sky tell us the sky is healthy? What will happen when the sun dies? What causes one crystal to grow faster than another? Is there life on other planets? Do animals behave like humans? How are dolphins behavior and social issues similar to humans? Why are there 365 days in a year? How do speakers work?

Writing Class? And Science !

These are just some of the questions grade six, seven, and eight students wonder about and have found a way to answer their questions: Personal Persuasive Project. Mr. Johnson, our math and science teacher, and myself (Ms Edwards, language arts teacher) have joined our objectives into a project for students to learn science and practice reading and writing skills and strategies. Students choose a topic of interest to them. Their main task is: "Your task is to pursue an area of interest to you and to others to learn and understand the information and issues, and prepare a solution or recognition of the issue that persuades a leader outside of school to understand your solution or to recognize the issue." Check out the site to see the process and possibilites students envision and explore while pursuing their interests.

A Framework for Feedback and Flexibility

Through our Google Apps, Mr. Johnson and I are able to guide students in their ideas and progress, so even though the PPP website seems like a linear flow of student directions, it's really a framework that keeps us focused on science, reading, and writing. Student questions, research, and interests guide the direction students take in developing their project. 

Student Process and Possibilities

Students monitor their learning process as they "think about thinking." They track their learning in forms they created, such as this one:

This form saves their summary or log of their work in a spreadsheet, which students review and evaluate their learning as well as share with their teachers:

Students have many options for taking notes. Here are a few examples:



Resources and References

For Students

How do they find the answers? Once students log in to their Google Apps, students open their Gooru Learning resources, which look like this:

Goorulearning.org is a site that brings in the best videos and texts on math and science objectives from Discovery, YouTube, StudyJams, Science Buddies, VisionLearning Skoool.ie, PBS Nova,  etc. Students build their own personal collections (top box) on the topics they want to study.

Goorulearning is "is developed by a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to honor the human right to education and make high-quality education free and accessible to the world’s one billion students. This means, of course, that Gooru is – and will remain – free for students and teachers to use."

We are so excited to have this resources added to our Google Apps for Education. Students can access all their work anywhere they have a computer connected to the Internet. 

The classroom is noisy and active as students listen to videos and share with each other the science concepts they are discovering. 

For Teachers

 provides lessons and connections for teachers as well as students. By adding to collections, teachers also build a resource library for their instructional needs.

Teacher Dashboard is the teachers' management system to manage student work efficiently. All student work is automatically shared with teachers, and teachers see a "dashboard" of organized folders and student work. Our middle school staff love Teacher Dashboard by Hapara. It is so easy to monitor each student's work, choose one doc for feedback, and click it to access. Picture "iGoogle gadgets" as a class/subject set of student folders, and each folder/ gadget  displays one student's documents organized by most recent. Hover over a doc to preview or click to access and provide feedback/ assess. Very nice. Just Google " Teacher Dashboard by Hapara and take a tour. They provide templates (spreadsheets) to create the organizational structure for our needs and then screen-share with to set up the system. It took less than an hour with great support. We are so appreciative of the convenience of this program; it helps us keep current on student feedback, which keeps our projects on time and interesting.

With our project presented in a Google Site ( Personal Persuasive Project ) from our Google Apps for Education, a fantastic resource for science (and math) in Goorulearning.org, and a management system through  Teacher Dashboard by Hapara, we are soaring in science and roaring in reading and writing. 

Check back again for updates on our projects.  

I wonder...

I wonder what students think? In preparation for our student-parent-teacher conferences, one student wrote this:

The project motivates students to do more than just "write what I know;" they actually enjoy the research. It's a joy to watch them hover around a computer, sharing what they found.

Technology rocks because it provides us all with access to the latest information in many forms: images, text, videos. It helps us all learn in the ways that our minds understand, which brings us back to metacognition, or "thinking about thinking." The students are sharing their strategies and skills as well as their content. They help each other search and find, summarize and compare, synthesize and share.

What do you wonder?  Our students know how to help you find your answer!

This is a school related site so please respect others and comment appropriately. Please contact Ms Edwards if you have any questions or need to report any inappropriate activity. Thank you. Reflect Curiosity and Wonder... Go boldly and scatter seeds of kindness...

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Strive for Success

February 27th, 2012 was a teacher training day. These "Waiver Days" provide important training for staff to focus on how to improve our instruction by monitoring what students are learning. What do teachers do on these days?

The question this day was "Change in Practice: What practices can be changed with curriculum, pacing, instruction and/or assessment to address the content-centered problem? What practices related to our strengths can be helpful?"

What follows is my process of improvement to strive for success:

Background information
Our middle school students participate in two reading classes. Mr. Erickson's class focuses reading instruction through our anthology (Language of Literature) and Weekly Reader Connects (print version).  They practice the required reading standards in weekly stories and written responses and discussions for fiction and nonfiction, graph and caption reading, and vocabulary development. Ms. Edwards's class provides time for independent practice of reading standards through books the students choose. Students have ample time to read and respond several times a week using reading stem prompts (questions similar to those on the MSP test). We also read short sections of print to discuss and respond; we respond in comments on blogs by others for real world reading. Always we focus on evidence from the text to support answers.

Still, many students do not respond in ways that earn the "points" needed to score. They write answers that summarize, infer, or generalize without using text-based evidence. If asked follow-up questions, the students usually respond with the text-based response that is "score-able."

Possible Instruction
First, students need strategies for these tests: re-reading, re-reading for question words, understanding the question, and underlining the evidence that supports the chosen answer. Our short paragraph instructional texts work well for this practice to understand the question, find and underline the answer sources.

Second, students need a strategy that helps them write responses with text-based evidence that earns their points. I had recently read Helping Students Motivate Themselves by Larry Ferlazzo. A strategy he taught his kids was the ABC format (Answer the question, Back it up with a quote, and Comment or Connect) (p. 36 of 210 digital version). We discussed, practiced, and learned this strategy using our paragraph section texts with our reading prompt stems.

Results of Instruction and Modifications
While analyzing their responses, I diagnosed patterns: a) some students chose only one detail to quote; b) some students made irrelevant comments or connections. We therefore revised our ABC format: 

A: Answer the question (restate, and be sure to understand the question)
B: Back it up with at least two details (or include more than the question asks)
C: Conclude by connecting the evidence (B) back to your answer (A), much like a concluding sentence in a paragraph.

We practiced in our usual responses and in small groups or with individual feedback as needed.

Finally, another issues arose: answering the right question. We modeled, practiced, and applied how to carefully read the questions. 

Our strategy now includes:

1. Read and understand the question.
2. Find the evidence to answer by re-reading with key words from the question.
A: Answer the question (restate, and be sure to understand the question)
B: Back it up with at least two details (or include more than the question asks)
C: Conclude by connecting the evidence (B) back to your answer (A), much like a concluding sentence in a paragraph.

As we daily practiced our responses, students consistently improved their standard scores from 1s and 2s to 3s and 4s. They could see and enjoy their improvement. 

However, on the day of the practice test, when "standardized protocols" were in place, when the directions were read as if it were the "real" test, students did not re-read, did not underline evidence, and did not use their successful "12ABC" format. Those that did: passed the practice test. Those that did not, did not pass the test to demonstrate understanding of the standards. They again reverted to simple "summarize, infer, or generalize without using text-based evidence" responses. In one class (and they are sooooooooooooooooo proud), 84% met standards, and one student just missed by one point.

Furrowed Brow
What evidence do you have?
Our students know the answers. They simply are not demonstrating it in a "test" situation where the teacher is unable to remind them to "remember to re-read" and "remember your 12ABC format." They read the text, read the test question, and write their 'gist' answers without backing them up. There is no 'face' to respond to, no face with a question mark in a furrowed brow that would prompt them to expand on their answers, as they do orally in their story-telling culture, and as they do when "the teacher" queries them to follow the format and write their evidence.

And that's the result of the 2/27/12 Teacher Training: 
  • a revised reading and response strategy
  • continued student success in our daily prompts and work
  • a need for internal motivation to want to continue on the "test" days

I'm proud of my students for listening and practicing so much during this required "Response to Intervention" phase of our teacher training. They know they can succeed, and so do I; it shows in their daily responses.

Keep it up, students! You read and you rock!

Photo Credit:
Found 4/6/12 on Flickr  CC 2.0  Furrowed Brow By ErinTaylorMurphy

This is a school related site so please respect others and comment appropriately. Please contact Ms Edwards if you have any questions or need to report any inappropriate activity. Thank you. Reflect Curiosity and Wonder... Go boldly and scatter seeds of kindness...