Thursday, March 31, 2016

NSTA Nashville DAY 1 Complete

Between the great workshops, excellent conversations, amazing food, epic music and Southern hospitality, I am IN LOVE with Nashville!

I woke up at 5:30 Nashville time (3:30 to my body) to be on the first shuttle to the conference center.  But I was excited!  Got my awesome goodie bag and immediately attempted to identify my agenda.  There were so many awesome talks, it was hard to pick.  Below are the talks I attended and my take-aways.

  • Cell Phone Physics:  Mr. John Clark rocked this presentation with how to introduce the concept of how cell phones work into a physics class, with the emphasis on waves (specifically the doppler effect).  Not only did I learn more about how the magical devices function, he also shared an amazing resource, OCTAVE, that is free and similar to Matlab.  He then, in passing, mentioned the "Pasta Car Lab".  Not gonna lie...this made me excited.  Kids build mini cars out of pasta and run them down a ramp, explaining how  Newton's 3 laws apply.  AWESOME!  Over all, great presentation, even if it was 8 am.

  • BioInteractive's Free Resources to Teach Math,Statistics,and Data Analysis (HHMI BioInteractive):  Paul Strode and Valerie May delivered. Even though the focus was stats in a bio class, I wanted a quick refresher on basic stats.  Got what I wanted.  Really nice review of standard deviation, standard error, confidence interval and t-test.  AMAZING FREE Resources.  Check out the LINK.

  • NGSS Toolkit Pathway Session:  Using a Tool and NGSS Performance Expectations to Plan for Classroom Assessment:  Dora Kastel and Jo Topps did a nice job introducing their unique methodology for NGSS curriculum development.  This session introduced us to a tool to help consider what evidence of learning is needed to plan for assessments.  Though this session wasn't exactly what I thought it would be (I thought it would be focused on the assessment for NGSS), I did get some pointers about unpacking the standards.  The method we used to create units of study was different (and I prefer our method), but I can see why they chose this method.  Their useful TOOLS can be found here.  Tomorrow they have their assessment session, so I might just go back to that one.

  • Standards Based Learning:  Matt Senese (@MrSenese) and Eric Janshego led us on their journey of how they turned the traditional grading methods to a standards method.  They break up their learning as follows:  95% summative assessment, 5% everything else.   Students do online portfolios that are not graded (interesting).  If students want to do a test retake they have to show their portfolio is complete.  Student grades are based on whether the FULLY Met (20 pts), Met (17 pts), Minimally Met (14 pts), Not Yet Met (11 pts) or No Attempt (8 pts).  Though I like what they are doing,  they are lacking the project component that I feel is an absolute NEED in a science class.  I also didn't see evidence of lab notebooks or assessing the LAB/engineering component, but I was unable to stay and ask. Good presentation, engaging presenters, they clearly have a method that works for them....but I still need more time to digest standards based learning...I want to do it...I just need the right tool.
I only got to participate in 4 sessions, but my brain is FRIED.  I got to kick it with some of the vendors for a bit....but not super long.  I will have to talk to the Vendor peeps more tomorrow.  Need to hunt for a new physics book.

However, I did consume and unhealthy amount of fried food (fried green tomatoes, fried pickles, fried peppers, fried catfish), brisket, roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, cornbread....yeh....My gut is full...ARNOLDS is FLIPPIN' amazing food.  Like, my mouth was sooooo happy.  I love this place.  If you go to Nashville...this local dive is a MUST!  The price was so right and their food is just like grandma made it.  BB King's was really good too, just expensive; however, the music made it worth it.

After dinner I walked 2 miles back to my hotel with all sorts of country music filling the air.  Love myself some it.

Overall...AMAZING DAY 1.    Now, I need to get some sleep.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Preparing NEW Teachers for the NGSS Classroom

I've been teaching for a long time...over 14 years.  Wowzers.  And this is the first time, EVER, that I have a student teacher.  I was a bit apprehensive at first for a few reasons:

1.  I'm a control freak.
2.  I was never a student teacher so wasn't sure what my "role" as lead teacher would be.  I wasn't sure how to best support this new, emerging teacher.
3.  What if the teacher sucks?  My students deserve the best.
4.  What if the teacher doesn't listen to neighborly advice?
5.  What if I realize I suck and that this person is better than me?
6.  I'm a control freak.

As you can see...dilemma.

But I took on this student teacher and have learned so much from him. It has really allowed me to reflect on my own teaching as well as observe someone else...but in truth, I spend most of my time observing the students, watching their reactions to his prompting and guidance.  FASCINATING!!!!

Anywho, what I have learned from my student teacher is that the credentialing program IS NOT fully preparing new science teachers to walk into an NGSS style classroom.  This is a HUGE issue.  This man was aware of the Next Generation Science Standards, and said that he felt that he had a good understanding of what they were asking.  But when I asked him how much time his program has spent covering NGSS he stated that they talked about it one day in his science methods class and that the teacher of the class (who is no longer in the classroom) stated that everything he was giving the new candidates was NGSS aligned.  Ummmm...what?

I asked, did the teacher give you lesson plan to show you HOW the lessons were aligned to NGSS?  Answer:  No.  Hmmmmmmmmm

It made me wonder: what are credentialing programs are doing to make sure they are properly preparing science teachers for the classroom?  Because let's be frank, teaching in the NGSS style is NOT like the old style.  So, if these programs are not changing/adapting, then they are not adequately preparing the teacher for the classroom.  Sure, they teach classroom management, ESL strategies, educational philosophy, bleh, bleh, bleh...but what about SCIENCE?

What should these credentialing programs be doing to support developing science teachers?  Here are some of my ideas.

1.  They should dive into the Science and Engineering Practices of NGSS by
  • ...teaching experimental method and inquiry based experimentation.  They should have teachers LEARN by DOING.
  • ...teaching how to design and implement projects in the classrooms.  
  • ...explain what the engineering process is and have teachers DO the engineering process.

2.  They should make sure that teachers have a strong understanding of the Disciplinary Core Ideas associated with not only their content area but other areas of science as well.

3.  They need to ensure that teachers can tie the cross cutting concepts to their content area.

4.  Give teachers the experience of NGSS lessons.  Teachers need to DO actual NGSS lessons to literally see, feel, partake in the experience of this learning.

5.  Show teachers how to take a lesson and align it to NGSS....and then create a worthwhile assessment.

In truth, most of the classes I took for my credential were not of much value.  I picked up a few tips and tricks, but most of the content was a waste of time.  I learned the most when I was in the classroom.

My student teacher told me the other day that one of his professor's told him, "There is no reason to design your own curriculum.  There is plenty of good stuff out there.  Go find it and adapt it to your classroom."  I've seen this usually comes with a textbook.  There are worksheets, lab manual, mini labs, test banks, and usually a CD of powerpoints for lectures.  All of the material is good, and it aligns perfectly to the text that was purchased.

This comment didn't sit well with me at the time and I couldn't figure out why.   Now I know.  This professor is correct, there is a ton of good stuff out there, but that is OLD school material.  The curriculum for NGSS science isn't in a textbook.  It isn't a few worksheets or one single project.  The curriculum is an ongoing, ever developing, ever changing content adapted to changes in science and students.  It should be a living curriculum that is NEVER set in stone but comes with an eraser and whiteout to change and fix as needed and as new discoveries emerge.

The fact that a professor is making this comment to a soon to be science teacher is a bit of a red flag, in my opinion, especially if you are not providing an NGSS lesson plan template OR showing a teacher how to adapt content to NGSS.

Science teachers are being asked to not just teach science anymore but teach HOW to be a scientist/engineer/critical thinker/problem solver.  Considering many science teachers did not go to school to become a scientist, I hypothesize that the credentialing program is NOT addressing this issue.  Maybe I'm wrong...but if I'm not then new teachers are NOT prepared for NGSS and districts/school sites will be stuck doing additional training.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Our NEW, SHINY NGSS Physics Course

Well, after months of hard work, myself and two other amazing coworkers have assembled the first draft of our NGSS Physics course.

The basic layout of our new Physics course is as seen below:


  • Introduction to Physics (2 weeks)
  • Kinematics and Forces (6 weeks)
  • Gravity and Circular Motion (3 weeks)
  • Energy (5 weeks)
  • Momentum (3 weeks)
  • Thermodynamics (3 weeks)
  • Waves (5 weeks)
  • Electricity and Magnetism (5 weeks)
We adequately identified Performance expectations, Disciplinary Core Ideas, Cross Cutting Concepts as well as Science and Engineering Practices for each unit.  We came up with unit objectives, key unit assignments  as well as common assessments.  We aren't done with the development of these assignments/assessments, but the ball is rolling.   Once completed, I will post more details of the course.

This is a very conceptual course, but kids will still need to understand the equations and how to use them....not all of them, but a lot of them. This is definitely NOT a math-based class.  It is a SCIENCE class!  WOOHOO!  

This processes was mentally exhausting but well worth the time of investment to date.  Here are a few things this process forced me to do as a teacher:

1.  Really look and understand what NGSS is asking kids to do.
2.  I got to collaborate with an amazing teacher and learn from her.  Google became our friend!
3.  I really had to reflect on what I've done in the past and what should be done in the future.
4.  It exposed some major gaps in my content knowledge.
5.  I was really forced to question the purpose of assessment and how to assess.
6.  I found TONS of freedom in creating assignments.  As a curriculum designer, this was FUN!!!!!

NGSS curriculum doesn't exist in a book.  It isn't just a few additional worksheets or activities.  NGSS is turning traditional science teaching upside down.  It's not about vocabulary terms or cookie cutter labs.  NGSS is forcing us to get back to the roots of science.    It is conceptual understanding of concepts, integrated learning and applicable to the real world...and I'm really damn excited about being a part of it!

UPDATE (7/13/16)

As can be imagined, redesigning an entirely new curriculum takes work...a lot of work.  And for the most part there are just a few of us doing all of this work.  But, I have provided a LINK for those who are looking for the basic course outline as well as which standards, key assignments and assessments that we will be doing.  If you have any questions, please ask.  I'm all ears as we progress forward.

NSTA 2018 - Final Reflection

I'm at the airport, waiting for my delayed airplane to get to Atlanta so that I can get back home to my amazing three kids and husband. ...