Category Archives: professional development

In Need of Inspiration? Meet Eva.

Last Friday found me at Lincoln Elementary School in Calumet City, Illinois. Lincoln is one of our STEM Institute partner schools, sending eight teachers through last summer’s Introduction to Inquiry. One of the benefits and joys of the program is the relationships we build with each of our teacher participants over the two years of the program, as we visit their classes to support their transition to the NGSS and a more inquiry-based practice.

Evangelina Sfura teaches 4th grade at Lincoln and is on Lincoln’s iTEAM.  I stopped by her classroom to see the STEM Career Fair her students were putting on for each other and for students in other classes. Eva is an extraordinary teacher, and her passion for teaching, and for teaching science in particular, is contagious. I asked her if I could interview her and share her journey. Happily, she said yes.

Eva Sfura in her Classroom

I was fascinated to see the students engaging each other in your STEM Career Fair. They were riveted. How did that come about?

“My class participated in the event ‘Hour of Code.’ Afterwards, I was talking about STEM careers and why they are so important. One of my students raised her hand and said, ‘I know what STEM is but what kind of jobs do people have in STEM?’ That stopped me in my tracks, and I realized what a profound question that was. Students know what doctors, lawyers and teachers are, but they know nothing of engineers, analysts and programmers. How can students aspire to professions that they have never heard of?

I decided to turn that question into a project. We looked up a list of STEM careers. Student pairs were given a chance to look over the list and do some quick research to find a career they were interested in. Once they settled on a career, they used Google Slides to create a presentation. The students were especially interested in salary information, but I wanted to put that information in context so that it would have an impact. We researched 2010 US Census Data for our city to find the average salary of a person living here. We looked at the 2010 US Census Economic Data and found that the average income of a full time worker in Calumet City, Illinois, is $18,900 a year. They thought that was huge until they investigated their STEM careers. The careers the students researched had average starting salaries between $58,000 and $120,000. As one of my students told me, ‘Wow, college really is worth my time!’

During the course of their research, many groups came across the word ‘resume’ and had no idea what it meant. That led to lessons on what a resume is and how to create one. Students used a template on Google Docs to make their own resumes which became part of their presentations. The students asked me if they could present their projects to other classes. Thus, the idea of a STEM career fair was born. The groups made posters announcing their career and other classrooms were invited. My class did an amazing job presenting their information over three days.”

Two Students Learn about Environmental Engineering on STEM Career Day

Can you tell us about the Dyson connection you made, what that was like for your students, and what impact it had on them and on you?

“A colleague told me about the James Dyson Foundation and how they are promoting STEM in classrooms. Any teacher can go on their website and put themselves on a waiting list for a Dyson Ideas Box. This box contains a free month long engineering unit that allows students to explore the idea of product design. They used Dyson products as an inspiration point. My class and I were able to investigate an actual Dyson Air Multiplier to compare it to a conventional fan. This allowed my students to see that many inventions are as simple as taking an already existing product and making it more useful and efficient. By the end of the unit, students were redesigning products that are used in a classroom. My favorite was the group that decided the worst thing about a pencil is how small the eraser is. They came up with a model that had a longer, encased eraser that twisted up as the need for more arose. It was quite ingenuous!

My students loved this unit and begged me not to send the Ideas Box back. I know that it had an impact on my students. The very first lesson in the idea box had the students drawing what they thought an engineer looked like. They all drew men in suits with briefcases. The lesson was repeated at the very end of the unit. This time, without any input from me, they drew themselves, explaining that they realized they could be engineers if they wanted to!”

4th Graders in Ms. Sfura’s Class at Lincoln Elementary in Calumet City, Illinois, Exploring Engineering (Thank you, Dyson!)

What have you learned since completing year one of STEM Institute? Have you changed as a teacher? If so, in what ways?

“I have learned so much that I hardly know where to start. Science was my least favorite subject to teach. I really had no idea how to make it come alive the way I could do with reading or math. That is why I jumped at the chance to be part of the STEM Institute. I feel like I understand Science more than I did before. By learning to make these topics engaging for my students, I understand them better as well.

I love how the STEM Institute presents information. Instead of the usual lectures, everything is presented the way teachers should present in their own classrooms. This made me feel confidant that I could actually implement changes in my teaching immediately. My first science lesson this year involved using glow sticks to understand chemical energy! It was messy and noisy, but now at the end of the year, my students are still talking about that!

If fact, the most productive tidbit I learned is that a little chaos, noise and mess can lead to some of the most amazing conversations and explorations with my students. It is now so important to me that students get a chance to explore, investigate or research a topic before I explicitly teach it.”

What has been the most valuable take away from the program?

“One of the biggest takeaways has been to place more trust in my students. They know and can handle more than I ever gave them credit for. I am so much more comfortable letting them take the lead on investigations and projects. It is an awesome experience to sit back and watch what they are able to come up with without me guiding them step by step.

We start every topic in Science with an inquiry lesson. I often just give them the supplies and let them explore before I teach anything. By the time we get to the textbook, they already have a real world understanding of the concepts, and it makes the reading less confusing and dry. This has also changed the way the students take their science tests. I leave out any materials or equipment we used during the unit. During testing, they will often get up and repeat an experiment quickly to make sure their answer is correct! I love it!

I am using this exploration time in other subjects as well. For example, in math, I will display a problem for the students on a topic they have never seen. I have them work in groups to try to figure out the problem using what they already know. At first this scared my students. I heard a lot of whining and complaints, but I just kept reassuring them that they could figure out something and to keep trying. As they explored, they got more confident, and it was exciting to watch their enthusiasm grow. Now, they love new problems and can’t wait to tackle them. They view it as a challenge rather than a chore. My scores in math have improved dramatically as well!”

Experimenting with Circuits in the Dyson Engineering Lab Ms. Sfura Brought to Her Classroom

How has your thinking about STEM changed over the past year?

“I was mostly drawn to the technology aspect of STEM. I, personally, love technology and have enjoyed implementing it in my class where I am lucky to have one-to-one computing. My school has provided me with a large amount of math professional development. It was the engineering and science that I was having trouble incorporating. I will admit that I made a lot of excuses. My students were too young or too noisy. The students would act up if I tried it. They probably wouldn’t get it anyway. The truth was that I lacked the confidence to try.

Being part of the STEM Institute changed that, and not one of my excuses came to pass. My students rose higher than my expectations most of the time. Sure it was noisy, but the students were on task and excited about what they were doing. They understood what we were doing and could articulate why. I didn’t have any behavior problems during these lessons because they were so intrigued and engaged! STEM and by extension inquiry-based learning has become a large part of classroom routine. I would never revert to the way things were.”

Is there anything you want to share with other teachers who might be considering an inquiry-based approach or a more STEM-based curriculum? Any words of wisdom based on your own experience?

“My first bit of advice is to learn to be more comfortable giving up some control to your students. Set the expectation and then trust them to accomplish it. Not only will learning improve, but it has the side benefit of improving your relationship with your students. When trust is running both ways, you can accomplish more than you can imagine. I am so bonded to this class and I think it is because they feel safe, heard and trusted. They have made me so proud that on a few occassions I have teared up!

The second bit of advice would be so stop being afraid of chaos. There is such a thing a purposeful chaos. Loud is okay if students are on task and collaborating. Messy is okay if it leads to better understanding. The world will not end if students are out of their seats, exploring concepts together.”

What has been the impact on your students of your more STEM focused and inquiry-based approach? Do you see any changes in them compared with previous years’ students?

“Several times a year, I send a survey to my students asking questions about the classroom, their likes and dislikes, any changes they would like to see, etc. Every year, when I asked about their favorite subjects, science was dead last. No one really liked it. This year, however, most of the class put science first! I am really proud of that because it means the students and I both agree that changes I have made are positive ones.

I can see a change in the students themselves. They are not afraid to explore topics. In fact, they have no problem asking me if we can extend a topic or take it in a different direction than I intended. They really enjoy a challenge instead of shying away from it. I have heard conversations where my students have discussed and debated the best type of engineer to be. They discuss the best ways to code on computers and even now suggest experiments they would like to try! They are so much more involved in their learning than any group I have previously taught.

I teach many ELL students who are typically shy and do not like to speak. It has been particularly gratifying to see those students gain more self confidence. I was so proud to see all of them talking to groups during the STEM career fair as much as the students who are native English speakers!”

You Simply Can’t Make Up This Level of Engagement

Eva, it is so inspiring to hear about your evolution as a teacher. I’m curious about how long you’ve been teaching and what brought you to this profession.

“I am finishing up my 11th year of teaching! I have only taught at Lincoln. Teaching is my second career. I was a marketing executive for five years before I realized that I was very unfulfilled. I was influenced by my father who had been a teacher in East Chicago, Indiana, for 42 years. We couldn’t go anywhere when I was child without running into his former students. Once we went to Atlanta, Georgia, and we still ran into a former student! All of his students adored him. He died when I was 19, and his funeral was packed with former students from all over the country. I couldn’t help thinking that he died having made a huge impact on so many people, while I was sitting in front of a computer all day. I got laid-off from my job, found a program at Roosevelt University that allowed business professionals to obtain a teaching license and never once looked back!”

What a legacy! And how proud Eva’s father would have been.

~ Penny

You can learn more about STEM Institute here.

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Filed under Calumet City, children as engineers, children as scientists, Dyson Education Foundation, inquiry science, professional development, resources, science teaching, STEM education, Uncategorized

Do It Yourselves NGSS Planning Guide: Resources for Building an NGSS Aligned Curriculum

In an earlier post, I reviewed an excellent free resource from the National Research Council that addressed the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards and surveyed some of the stumbling blocks to a seamless and effective transition from earlier standards and curricula to the new curricula, largely teacher developed, that the NGSS requires. The Guide to Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards was released on January 8, 2015. (It’s free here.)

But we’re two years past the publication of that still helpful guide, and there are now many additional resources available for you and your colleagues to tap as you develop your curriculum maps, units, lessons, and activities in alignment with the NGSS.

A Team of Teachers Assembled to Work on NGSS Aligned Curriculum

So where to begin?

Top Go-To Sites

First I’d like to point you in the direction of several “top go-to sites” for anyone planning NGSS aligned lessons. There are three sites that I highly recommend as starting points for your work, sites where content is vetted and reliable. NSTA, the National Science Teachers Association, has been developing NGSS aligned resources and guidelines, and Next Generation Science, the parent organization for the NGSS, has a wealth of resources for you to use free of charge, including guidelines for and examples of model course maps. You’ll find lots of helpful resources at both of the first two sites. The third, Bozeman Science, offers a series of videos, one for each of the fifty-nine NGSS standards, provides a good overview review of the science by grade level bands in short, easily digested programs, each under 15 minutes. Once you know your content topics (the disciplinary core ideas), the crosscutting concepts and the science and engineering practices you want to focus on, watching these video can help jumpstart the actually planning by serving as a content refresher and by getting everyone on the planning team on the same page. Paul Anderson, the Bozeman, Montana, high school teacher who created this series, is a hero of mine, for providing, free of charge, such a helpful and reliable resource for his fellow teachers across the country.

For Your Resource Collection:

Laura Chomiak, our Golden Apple STEM Institute Program Coordinator, recommends two additional sites your team might find helpful. They are the Teaching Channel and STEM Teaching Tools.

Laura also recommends signing up for the monthly newsletter NGSS Now, which focuses on a different standard and phenomenon each month with how to incorporate them into your own classroom. Each month they also respond to a teacher’s question about NGSS implementation. You can sign up here.

Specific Guidelines for Getting the Job Done:

Next, I’d like to suggest several useful documents from the National Science Teachers Association to help with organizing the work itself. They describe how to organize a team  in planning an NGSS curriculum and how to design units and lessons aligned with the NGSS.

Key Concepts in NGSS Planning:

There are also some key strategies that have emerged since the release of the NGSS to help organize your thinking about the standards, so that you can efficiently and effectively implement them in ways that are genuinely engaging to students. Here are three of the top concepts, which, along with using a “backward design model” focused on the NGSS Performance Expectations, can help you and your team create exemplary units.

Golden Apple STEM Institute’s “Backward Design” Lesson Plan Template

Bundling:

  • What is bundling? “Bundles” are groups of standards arranged together to create the endpoints for units of instruction. Bundling is just one step in a curriculum development process; many other steps are required to create instructional materials designed for the NGSS.
  • Why bundle? Bundling is a helpful step in implementing standards because it helps students see connections between concepts and can foster more efficient use of instructional time.

For a webinar and other resources, including example bundles, check here.

Phenomena:

  • What are phenomena? “Phenomena” are things that happen in the world, things that we seek to understand. A phenomenon becomes the starting point for building the science knowledge that helps us figure it out. There is a strong recommendation, consistent with the NGSS, that teachers should start their units with phenomena, not with science content knowledge or vocabulary. Let curiosity about the phenomenon drive student learning.
  • Qualities of a good phenomenon:
    o A puzzling observable event or process that
    o Generates student interest and questions and
    o Intersects with numerous PEs (Performance Expectations) which
    o Can be explored through science and engineering practices

There are some great example phenomena that can jumpstart your planning and a helpful short (3 min.) video on phenomena based instruction.

Storylines:

  • What are storylines? Storylines are statements that describe the context and rationale for the Performance Expectations (PEs) in each grade band and section. “A storyline is a coherent sequence of lessons, in which each step is driven by students’ questions that arise from their interactions with phenomena. A student’s goal should always be to explain a phenomenon or solve a problem. At each step, students make progress on the classroom’s questions through science and engineering practices, to figure out a piece of a science idea. Each piece they figure out adds to the developing explanation, model, or designed solution. Each step may also generate questions that lead to the next step in the storyline. Together, what students figure out helps explain the unit’s phenomena or solve the problems they have identified. A storyline provides a coherent path toward building disciplinary core idea and crosscutting concepts, piece by piece, anchored in students’ own questions.”  (Next Generation Storylines)

Example storylines are increasingly available online and by grade level, and you can find even find a PowerPoint on the topic of storylines to use with your team. Think of every unit as telling a story … perhaps a mystery to be solved by the clever detective work of your students.

Storylining is a Team Effort. Here Jason Crean Leads a Group of Teachers in Developing an NGSS Aligned Unit on Albinism.

Bundling, phenomena, and storylines all work together in creating engaging, coherent STEM units. When done well, they comprise a seamless whole.

Finally, I want to share some of the timeline/tasks you might find helpful as you organize your planning process, along with  some of the elements that should be in place to help you develop a successful end product.

Timeline/Tasks:
1. Identify who will be on the planning team – 3-5 teachers per band (primary, early elementary, middle/upper elementary).
2. Create a timeline for the work and be generous.
3. Devote a period of time, for the group and individual team members, to becoming familiar with the task/process and with the NGSS, identifying a target unit for each team to develop. Review some of the resources listed above individually or as a team before beginning to work on your own plans.
4. Study together one or two existing plans to become familiar with what a successful unit looks like, which elements are included by the planners. You can find these on the “top go-to” sites.
5. Begin the actually planning work by identifying 1-2 target performance expectations, then backward design the unit so that students have the learning experiences necessary to successfully accomplish the learning expectations.
6. Finalize the unit plan and teach it.
7. Evaluate and tweak the plan for the following year and to inform the next plan. What worked? What didn’t?

Todd Katz Developing a Student Activity for the Albinism Unit

Necessary Elements
Adequate time: Find time for teachers to work together. Allot enough time to do a good job on the first plan, e.g., begin work in the spring; allow some summer planning time; execute the following school year.
Passion for the work: Assemble a team that genuinely wants to do the work (get the right people on the bus). Pick teaching colleagues who are curious and who are willing to take some initiative, working with the team as well as independently outside of the designated team meetings.
Incentives and recognition: Find a way to reward the team for making the commitment. Publish the results of their work so that other teachers can benefit, and we can all learn from each other. And always have food on hand.
Patience: Be very patient with the people, yourself and your team, and the process. This will take time. It is deeply intellectual work.

It’s clear from all of these concepts and the accompanying resources that we’ve entered a brand new age in science instruction. There is no more covering the content chapter by chapter in a linear fashion as in days of old. Instead teachers are called upon to be creative in designing instructional roadmaps for their students to construct their own understanding of the world around them. And central to that new role is the importance of team work.

Happy planning!

~ Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.

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Filed under backward design, bundling, NGSS, NSTA, phenomena based teaching, phenomenon based teaching, professional development, resources, STEM lesson planning, storyline, teacher resources, Uncategorized

TGISF … Happy Science Friday!

Earlier this year I reviewed The War on Science by Shaun Otto. While the author spends most of the book recounting how corporations, making common cause with religious groups and supported by a corporate media that has come to believe that being “fair and balanced” means giving equal weight to the settled science on such issues as anthropomorphic climate change and patently false opinions, Otto also reserves some of the blame for the public’s distance from science to the scientists themselves. Scientists, he contends, have not done a very good job of communicating with the public, both about the nature of their work and about their findings.

Enter Science Friday, as one means by which that dynamic is changing.

images-1On this last Friday of 2016 and just in case you haven’t stumbled on it yet, it seems particularly appropriate to spotlight this great resource for teachers, students, and the general public, and a vehicle by which scientists can share their work beyond academia. Science Friday airs every Friday on National Public Radio (NPR) from 2 P.M. – 4 P.M. Eastern Time, and you can also subscribe to podcasts or go to their website to listen to previous shows.

Science Friday, which boasts 1.7 million public radio listeners per week, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016. For 25 years, Ira Flatow and the Science Friday staff “have been devoted to helping people understand the world around them, and to making learning fun for everyone.”

In 1991, Ira Flatow, a young journalist whose initial forays into science reporting were stories about the first Earth Day in 1970, brought the idea for Science Friday to NPR as “a weekly conversation with researchers who discuss their discoveries in depth.” The show broke new ground as the first talk show dedicated solely to science. Now, as then, Flatow interviews scientists, mathematicians, inventors, technology innovators, and other researchers, “giving them the time they need to explain their discoveries and inventions. Over the years, Ira has spoken with some of the most celebrated thinkers and doers in the world of science, including Carl Sagan, Jane Goodall, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Sylvia Earle, Oliver Sacks, Richard Leakey, and many more.”

Ira Flatow, host of IPR's Science Friday, discusses communicating science in his keynote address.

Ira Flatow, host of NPR’s Science Friday, discusses communicating science in his keynote address for the 50th Anniversary of NIH Environmental Health Research, November 1, 2016.

Flattow has written three books that popularize topics in science and technology: Rainbows, Curveballs, and Other Wonders of the Natural World Explained, They All Laughed… From Light Bulbs to Lasers: The Fascinating Stories Behind the Great Inventions That Have Changed Our Lives, and Present at the Future: From Evolution to Nanotechnology, Candid and Controversial Conversations on Science and Nature.

For a taste of Science Friday programming, give this conversation a listen — “How Much Math Should Everyone Know? (Show Your Work.)

I also love their science year in review and their science books of the year recommendations.

More recently, Science Friday has expanded to include opportunities and resources for participation and education. You can, for example, take a virtual field trip to explore the Columns of the Giants in California, complete with opportunities to collect evidence and apply your geological skills to other sites around the world.

And educators are offered free STEM activities and resources developed by the Science Friday Educator Collaborative, a group of six creative and highly accomplished teachers from around the country. “Starting in the spring of 2016, educators in the collaborative worked with one another and with Science Friday’s staff to create ready-to-use educational resources, all of which were inspired by the work of scientists and engineers featured in Science Friday media. The result is a collection of challenging and fun STEM resources for a variety of educational settings. And like all of the resources we share at Science Friday, they’re totally free and don’t require expensive materials to implement, so use as many as you’d like, and share them with your colleagues and friends.

Here are some of the ideas that these talented teachers developed:

  • Backpacking into the Columns of the Giants to create an immersive virtual field trip;
  • Drenching Colocasia plants to demonstrate hydrophobicity in nature;
  • Painting watercolors to bring climate change data to life;
  • Planting thermometers in a school parking lot to gather data on the urban heat island effect;
  • Building kites to visualize and demonstrate Newton’s Second Law; and,
  • Creating scale models of mud cores to simulate a timeline of tropical cyclones and hurricanes.

As you will see, each activity is unique. But they’re all designed to develop students’ critical thinking skills and encourage scientific exploration.”

Applications are now open, due Sunday, January 8, 2017, by 11:59 p.m. EST, for the 2017 Science Friday Educator Collaborative. You can learn more about that opportunity here.

Educators, you can sign up here to receive a monthly newsletter with free experiments and lesson ideas.

You might also be interested in the Science Friday weekly newsletter. It will let you stay up to date on all the fascinating science topics they’ll be covering on the program. You can sign up here to receive it.

In addition to being fascinating to listen to each week, Science Friday offers wonderful opportunities to build your science content knowledge in a fun way. They say, “We make science an ‘action’ verb.” But what I find particularly impressive is the fact that children as young as six can become addicted to the show. A mom recently tweeted “@scifri podcast is amazing. My 6 yo has binge listened to 4 hours of it. He loves it.” Why not introduce your students to Science Friday? Who knows, it just might inspire them to consider a STEM career. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

~ Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.

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Filed under Ira Flatow, mathematics, professional development, resources, Science Friday, scientist, Shawn Otto, teacher resources, Uncategorized, war on science

A New Tool for Teachers and Principals from STEM Institute

If you are looking for clear evidence that a classroom, including your own, is on its way to becoming inquiry-based, NGSS aligned, and just plain supportive of students developing their science and engineering skills, ask yourself these questions

  • Are the students seen as scientists and engineers by themselves and by adults?
Sending a Clear Message That Students are Engineers

Sending a Clear Message That Students are Engineers (Kozminski Elementary Community Academy, Chicago)

  • Are the students gathering, organizing, and analyzing data and in other ways experiencing the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (SEP)?
NGSS Science and Engineering Practices — Are Students Using Them?

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices — Are Students Doing These Things?

  • Is the science instruction inquiry-based and hands-on rather than textbook based? (You know, the old memorize the vocabulary, read the book out loud, and answer the questions at the end of the chapter?) How often are students engaged in hands-on, minds-on work? (This should be frequent, not once or twice a month.)
  • Are the students keeping science journals/notebooks, recording their observations, doing scientific drawings or designing solutions to engineering challenges, and reflecting on their observations and experiences, and is this a consistent practice? (For example, “Three months into the school year, when I look at their science notebooks, do I see pages and pages of recorded experiences of the children doing science rather than simply content notes, vocabulary, or pasted in worksheets?”)
  • Are the students using the Wheel of Inquiry to develop investigable questions? Are they asking, “How does ________ effect ________?”
Student Developed Wheels of Inquiry (Steven Taylor, Crowne Community Academy, Chicago)

Student Developed Wheels of Inquiry (Stephen Taylor, Crowne Community Academy, Chicago)

  • Are there photos in the classroom of students doing science? Are students’ scientific drawings posted? Are their engineering solutions on display? In other words, is there a visible documentary record that these are valued activities and engaging to students and that the students are doing hands-on, inquiry-based science/engineering on a regular basis?
At Tonti Elementary in Chicago, Photos of Students Doing Science are Nested Among those of Adult Scientists, Answering the Question "Who is a Scientist?

At Tonti Elementary in Chicago, Photos of Students Doing Science are Nested Among those of Adult Scientists, Answering the Question “Who Is A Scientist?”

  • Is the science/STEM question-driven? Is there a central question being explored through the activity? (This might be called the framing question, essential question, or focus question.) Are there more high-order questions (Bloom’s Taxonomy) being asked? Are students asking high-order questions too? Is there appropriate wait time so that all students have the opportunity to reflect and respond? Is the classroom management conducive to the questioning process and to students conducting scientific investigations or responding to engineering challenges?
  • Are the lessons based on the 5 E approach? Are they Engaging the students in an intriguing observation or question, giving the students ample time to Explore the materials up front before proceeding to have them conduct an investigation and Explain what they observe? Are students given opportunities to Extend their investigation (possibly by using the Wheel of Inquiry and reflecting in their science notebooks) and Evaluate their results and understanding?
  • Are the students excited when they hear they are going to be doing an investigation? Do they know what to do and immediately spring into action? Do they clearly understand the process and procedures because they are doing science and engineering on a frequent, preferably daily, basis? How much ownership do you see students taking for their own learning? Are students framing questions? Are students suggesting other possible investigations? Can students discuss their learning or communicate their understanding in a variety of ways?
Tonti Children

Tonti Elementary Students Learn about the Properties of Water by Building Pencil Rafts … Hands On and Engaged!

  • Was the lesson or unit constructed using backward design? Is there evidence of a clear instructional goal, an assessment, and something to hook the interest of students … rather than simply an activity? Are the NGSS and CCSS clearly identified and tied to the lesson or activity in a meaningful way and with multiple standards addressed? Are the subjects integrated in such a way that more science and engineering can be done because language arts and math support them and vice versa?
  • Are students generally working in groups with clearly defined roles for each student in the group? Is it clear that the students know what to do, the protocols and procedures, when it’s time to conduct an investigation or meet an engineering challenge? Are materials managed in a timely and efficient way?

Using an inquiry-based, constructivist approach takes time because it’s a new way of teaching for many teachers. Seeing four or five of these success indicators in a classroom is a good sign. With enough time and encouragement, teachers are likely to build out their repertoire of inquiry-based activities and lessons into entire units of study and to increase student ownership of learning. Getting to that point is a multi-year process even for highly talented, committed, and experienced teachers. So be prepared to give it time and patience. Working with colleagues as a team to develop a lesson or unit can help speed the process along. To assist you along the way, our Partners in Inquiry website includes many activities from our summer institutes and school year follow-up sessions that teachers are free to use, activities that are already aligned with the above principles.

To make it even easier to gauge whether or not the principles STEM Institute promotes are present in a classroom, we’ve developed an infographic that can serve as a reminder of the things we think you should see.

Our New Info Graphic Reminder of What to Look For

Our New Infographic Reminder of What to Look for in a Great STEM Classroom

I hope it proves useful to you. I’d love to hear from you if you do use it or have suggestions to make it better.

Have a great start to your new school year!

~Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple’s STEM Institute here.

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Filed under 5 E Model, children as engineers, children as scientists, Crowne Community Academy, inquiry science, Kozminski Elementary, NGSS, professional development, resources, science teaching, STEM education, teacher resources, Tonti Elementary School, Uncategorized

Golden Apple STEM Institute TED Playlist: 10 Inspiring Talks for Inquiry-Based STEM Teachers

If you’re a follower of TED talks you are probably already familiar with TED playlists, TED or curator created groupings of TED talks around a particular theme. You know the power of these collections to spark your thinking about a  topic. If you aren’t familiar with TED, the following short videos will provide you with an introduction to these inspiring and entertaining talks on the cutting edge of human understanding.

By the way, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, but the talks are much more wide-ranging that those three words suggest, delving into science, mathematics, education, and numerous other fields. The talks themselves are given at an annual TED conference. This year’s TED conference was in Vancouver and just just concluded. Attending the conference is by application and invitation and costs $8,500, not including airfare, lodging and food. In the coming weeks, the talks from that conference will be posted online and are free. Cities around the world have created their own TED conferences called TEDex, and those talks are posted on the TED site as well.

STEM Institute has assembled the following ten TED talks that capture the spirit of inquiry, curiosity, and fun that are at the heart of our program. They suggest what we hope students will experience in their STEM classes.

 

Why we need the explorers

This talk could be subtitled “on the importance of curiosity driven science.”

 

Three rules to spark learning

A high school chemistry teacher shares insights he learned from his surgeon that changed how he practices the craft of teaching.

 

Hey science teachers – make it fun

Why textbook driven instruction isn’t the way to go — be playful and use storytelling to awaken your students’ interest.

 

Science is for everyone, kids included

This talk is on the importance of play; science as a way of being; children’s questioning; and experiments as play.

 

Math class needs a makeover

Although this talk is about high school math, the takeaways apply equally to elementary math and science – the importance to students of formulating the problems; here’s some great teaching advice to lead students to patient problem solving.

 

Hands-on science with squishy circuits

Make some homemade play dough for little kids to build circuits.

 

Kids can teach themselves

Sugata Mitra explores how you can indeed feel confident in turning over more responsibility for learning to kids themselves.

 

How I harnessed the wind

Inspiring talk by a young man from Malawi that could lead students to explore the maker movement, engineering, and the power of young people to make real world contributions; a good hook for a unit on energy or for Earth Day.

 

Biomimicry’s surprising lessons from nature’s engineers

Why immerse students in nature? This talk explores the intersection between science, design, and engineering.“Learning about the natural world is one thing; learning from the natural world, that’s the profound switch.”

 

Do schools kill creativity?

Saving the best for last, I close with the most popular TED talk of all time. It gets to the heart of what is wrong with most schools, the deadening impact they have on students’ creativity, creativity that is essential to success in the STEM fields.

 

Enjoy! And if you have a favorite TED talk or comments about any of these, please share in a comment below.

~Penny

You can learn more about STEM Institute here.

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Filed under children as engineers, children as scientists, creativity, curiosity, engineering, innovation, inquiry science, professional development, resources, science teaching, scientist, STEM education, teacher resources, TED, Uncategorized

Inquiry in Action, Part 2

Several years ago, I visited Horace Mann Elementary School, at that time one of our STEM Institute Partner Schools on the south side of Chicago. Horace Mann has been the bedrock of the community for generations and exemplifies what its namesake stood for — universal, non-sectarian, free public schools for all children.

A strong abolitionist, Mann (1796-1859) said some pretty powerful things that bear repeating today . . . repeating and taking to heart. “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” Horace Mann Elementary is a Science and Math Academy, and in today’s world the STEM subjects are perhaps, more than others, the great opportunity generators for our youth and therefore great potential equalizers of the conditions of men and women.

Nationally, there is a tremendous focus on these subjects for the promise they hold to improve our economy. But before that can happen, our children have to have good science instruction, the kind of grounding in doing science, being mathematicians, using technology in sophisticated ways and responding to engineering challenges, to equip them for the advanced study that careers in these disciplines require. They have to have teachers who are well prepared to teach STEM content and who have the contagious enthusiasm to engage them in the work itself. Horace Mann also said, “A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron.” So being able to inspire students is key.

At Horace Mann, Cynthia Thompson and Yolanda Thompson (not related) opened their classrooms to each other and to me, so that Cynthia, who had take our Introduction to Inquiry the previous summer, could model for Yolanda how to conduct an inquiry science lesson. Modeling is a very powerful way of fostering teacher professional development and one we base our summer program and school year follow-up sessions around. You and I can read about how to teach science more effectively and watch endless PowerPoints while listening to a speaker, but absent effective modeling, we’re still left to wonder “What does it look like?”

On the day of my visit, Yolanda was about to find out. Rather than watching Cynthia teach her own class, Yolanda assisted as Cynthia facilitated a lesson for Yolanda’s students.

Cynthia came to Yolanda’s classroom during her own planning period and led Yolanda’s students in an activity that had them out of their seats and on the floor …. experimenting, measuring, collecting data, tweaking their experimental designs, and generally having fun while learning. Remember Jim Effinger’s #5, “Have fun!” The students were and so were their teachers, because Yolanda wasn’t just observing. She was right there in the thick of things with her students. Teachers who genuinely love kids and who delight helping them learn, live for those moments of seeing them totally engaged and having fun while learning. So for Cynthia and her friend and colleague Yolanda, this was a great experience.

Engaged Students … Inquiry in Action

Engaged Students … Inquiry in Action

We call it “Inquiry in Action,” and it’s a highly effective strategy for building a professional learning community around STEM at your school. Teachers who have learned how to develop and facilitate an inquiry lesson invite a colleague who hasn’t had that experience to observe … or to team teach … or to combine their classes and let the students of the inquiry trained teacher teach their peers how they do things in their classroom. The thing that makes this so powerful is that it’s real. And that’s the best kind of professional development, site-based and contextualized. Observing is at the heart of science, and I will argue, also at the heart of becoming a more highly skilled teacher. But once we have our own classrooms, the opportunities to observe other teachers practicing their craft are usually minimal. Inquiry in Action can change that, if we’re open to it. On that note, you might want to check out a 2015 publication by Tonya Ward Singer, Opening Doors to Equity: A Practical Guide to Observation-Based Professional Learning (Corwin Press), for some useful tools and strategies.

The summer after my classroom visit, Yolanda participated in Introduction to Inquiry, the same program that Cynthia was in the previous summer, while Cynthia went on to Advanced Inquiry. Today, Yolanda, remembers this time fondly. “It made me enjoy Science, and my students benefited from it as well.”

Teachers Yolanda Thompson and Cynthia Thompson during summer professional development with STEM Institute.

Teachers Yolanda Thompson and Cynthia Thompson during summer professional development with STEM Institute.

As they continue on their respective paths as educators (they are no longer at Horace Mann but are still close friends), Yolanda and Cynthia remain models to me of the colleagueship that is essential in maintaining teaching as a true profession and building excellence in classroom practice.

~ Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here. And you can read our first Inquiry in Action post here.

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Filed under classroom management tips, collaboration, Inquiry in Action, inquiry science, professional development, science teaching

Walking the Walk, Part 2

“The best scientist is open to experience and begins with romance – the idea that anything is possible.”  Ray Bradbury

Citizen science and working with STEM professionals in your classroom can both help in forging a connection between the world of school and the real world beyond the classroom walls, and they constitute a level of experience “doing” science that can build your confidence and credibility as a teacher in helping students understand what scientists do and how they think. But there is a way you can work even more directly as a scientist, side by side with other researchers, and contribute to the humankind’s ongoing acquisition of knowledge about the world. And doing so will give you rich experiences, deeper content knowledge, and a better understanding of the practices of scientists.

Research Experiences for Teachers

Carla Stone is a 6th grade Science and Social Studies teacher at Martin Luther King Literary and Fine Arts School in Evanston, Illinois. Last school year she entered her classroom on a cloud of exhilaration over her newly acquired skill-sets and with improved confidence as a teacher because of her summer experience with the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program hosted at Northwestern University and funded by the National Science Foundation. (You can find other RET programs by clicking on the link above.)

As she embarked on her 16th year in School District 65 ready to teach 6th grade Earth Science, Pre-History and Ancient Civilizations for another year, Carla felt no fear that she wasn’t fresh and wouldn’t be engaging for her students because because she had experienced, in her words, “the most amazing summer research program of my life.”

Carla Stone (Center) Working With Colleagues

Carla Stone (Center) Working With Colleagues at STEM Institute

The program Carla was part of is a partnership between Northwestern University and the Art Institute of Chicago to conduct research on 19 monotypes and prints by the French Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903).

You can read more about the technical aspects of Carla’s program on her blog post. But Carla’s takeaway from her stint as a researcher is inspiring. “At the end of my experience, I conducted 28 experiments and produced image sets that were sufficient enough for qualitative analysis. I was thrilled to have been a part of this amazing project! I lived the life of a research scientist for 8 glorious weeks. At the end of my experience I felt as if I were a full-fledged contributing member of this team. Also, along the way, I gained a deeper understanding of cultural heritage, art conservation science, and the history of computational imaging. More importantly I made some very great networking connections for my classroom. For example, NU-ACCESS would like to continue to work with my 6th grade students seeing if 11 year olds would be able to conduct RTI analysis on their own works of art! I am a middle school science teacher who can now walk the walk as I steer my young minds into fields of engineering and research! I loved my professional team of art scientists, and I will forever be grateful for this learning experience.”

Carla brought her insights from art science research into her classroom.

“As a result of my experience, I immediately started having my students ‘think like a scientist,’ and now I could model and articulate to them what that meant. Part of that was maintaining patience through observation and data collection. I was able to say ‘scientists are extremely patient.’ Sometimes you will get 24 errors before you get something right. I had to do 24 trials before I got an accurate image. It can’t upset you. You have to persevere. If I could teach my students these very essential skills about being a scientist, perhaps more of them would endeavor to pursue science careers. Kids and adults are too quick to give up. Thinking like a scientist lets you know it’s okay to be wrong and encourages you not to give up.”

Former Women's Basketball Player and Teacher Carla Stone Brings Her After School Girls Basketball Team to a DePaul Game

Teacher and Former Women’s Basketball Player Carla Stone With Her After-School Girls Basketball Team at a DePaul Blue Demons Game

Similarly Louise Huffman, a native-born Floridian whose favorite place to be is walking barefoot on a white sand beach, wound up in Antarctica. So how did a warm-blooded beachcomber like her skip all the way to the Antarctica? It’s not often that people can point to a moment in time that changed their lives, but in Louise’s case it happened in 1989 at the National Science Teachers’ convention. By chance she chose a session where polar explorer Will Steger spoke of his plans to cross the continent of Antarctica by dogsled. Louise admits at the time to knowing little more about Antarctica than its location at the South Pole, but Steger’s stories of the harsh climate and challenges he would have to meet were intriguing to her. He was at the convention to enlist teachers and students in an effort to raise people’s awareness about the fragile nature of the continent and the need for the continuation of the Antarctic Treaty to protect this wilderness. Louise was hooked and wanted to know more.

In 2002, Louise traveled to the Dry Valleys of Antarctica as a TEA (Teacher Experiencing Antarctica) and worked on the Stream Team. She and Jenny Baeseman, a member of that science team, have continued to work together on outreach efforts since that on-Ice experience. They both chaired subcommittees on the International Polar Year (2007-2011) Education and Outreach Committee. In 2007, when she retired from the classroom, Louise took a position with ANDRILL as Coordinator of Education and Public Outreach and was able to return to Antarctica.

Teacher Louise Huffman in Antarctica

Teacher Louise Huffman in Antarctica

Teachers Experiencing Antarctica (TEA) no longer exists. It has evolved into PolarTREC. The 2016-2017 application submission deadline is Tuesday, 8 September 2015 – 5:00 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time.”

Louise described her Antarctica adventure for this blog:

“Going on a research experience, for me, challenged me in ways I never would have guessed but made me grow as a result … physically, emotionally, cognitively, professionally. Being in such an extreme place added to those challenges. But what I learned was I am much stronger than I ever thought. My biggest lesson was that my limits are self-imposed, and I came away thinking ‘wow, I wish somebody had told me that when I was twelve.’ That lesson happened when I was driving an ATV across lake ice and the front end crashed into an ice hole. I knew my right wrist was broken and because of weather I couldn’t be flown out of our field camp to the base hospital right away. The next day a helicopter reached us and took me and another injured colleague, a man, to the hospital where Dr. Betty said, ‘You’re wrist is broken. I’ve got to put it in a cast and send you home.’ In my head, I picture a nice warm bed, my family all around me, a hot shower every day … but that thought warred with ‘I’ve wanted this so long, I need to stay.’ So I said, ‘Dr. Betty, you can’t send the girl with the cast back home and the boy with the cast back into the field.’  Dr. Betty said, ‘Oh, Louise, you’ve played the girl card, but can you do your job?’ The answer of course was yes, but with difficulty. Overcoming those difficulties allowed me to see that I was much stronger than I ever thought. There were many times when we were met with seemingly insurmountable challenges, but no one ever said ‘I can’t.’

That was such a huge lesson. That changed my thinking. From then on, I will try something before I will say ‘I can’t.’ That really and truly was my light bulb moment and something I share with kids. Every field experience is different but they are all transforming. I learned how scientists work. I had been teaching the process of science but as a rote list. But science is a living, breathing, evolving thing. It has all those parts but it’s much more than that. That’s what I teach my students.

Louise Huffman in Antarctica ... The Adventure of a Lifetime!

The Adventure of a Lifetime!

And to fellow teachers I say, ‘Scientists need educators to work with them because while they are superb communicators with their peers, some are not good communicators with people outside their peer group. They need us because educators know how to communicate with a lot of different audiences. And educators ask good questions and get scientists to simplify down to the essence of their work, so it can be better communicated to non scientists.’

When I first applied to go to Antarctica, I looked at the enormous application and the time it would take to apply and I thought, ‘They’re not going to take me. I’m too old, too out of shape, have too many responsibilities at home,’ but then I thought, ‘I definitely won’t get chosen if I don’t apply. So, go for it!’ I would encourage other teachers who dream of having a similar field experience to search out opportunities and apply. If you don’t get accepted the first time, try again. These are highly competitive, and I’ve known teachers who have applied multiple times and not been chosen but kept at it and finally succeeded.”

Experiences like those Carla and Louise had, working as teachers alongside scientists, are life changing. Such experiences build confidence, provide great resources, knowledge, and stories for the classroom, and add an entire new level of expertise for teaching STEM. Walking the walk beats talking the talk if you want to drive up your authenticity quotient and inspire students by your example.

Opportunities are out there in abundance. Most are free. Some include stipends and classroom resources. Some are competitive and involve an application process. But if you get the opportunity, they are a gift that will keep on giving for the rest of your professional career. The National Science Foundation and the National Science Teachers Association are good starting points. Other government and state agencies, museums, zoos, nature centers, and universities are also worth investigating. Some offer shadowing opportunities or internships for teachers, or perhaps you could persuade them to. Partners in Inquiry, the STEM Institute website, lists field experiences and travel opportunities for teachers as well.

If you find these possibilities intriguing, start Googling. And if you know of other opportunities for teachers to do real world STEM, please let us know by posting information about them in the comments section.

~ Penny

You can learn more about STEM Institute here.

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Filed under PolarTREK, professional development, science teaching, teacher as scientist