Thursday, December 15, 2016

First Semester Reflection of our NGSS Physics Class

Last year, a small group of teachers (including me) wrote the NGSS Physics course that was put into effect this year.  We put together the scope and sequence, identified learning objectives, essential questions and key assignments.  The new NGSS Physics course was designed to be very conceptual but still had math components (specifically algebra).

As the first semester comes to an end, I wanted to take some time to reflect on what I have seen to be the biggest changes I have experienced with NGSS.
  
My AHAs and OH CRAPS:

1.  We did not have time to write and find all the resources for the key assignments last year, nor did we write any of the summative assessments.  That meant we HAD to write them as we were going through the school year.  This was tough, considering once the school year starts it is hard enough to run a class much less develop and put into play a new course.  We had the big idea of each unit, but not the detailed unit plans/day-to-day lessons.  We had to create that along the way.  Tough.  NOTE TO ALL OTHERS:  MAKE SURE all key assignments and assessments are written BEFORE the school year starts…or at least the first few units are ready to roll.  

2. Having a team of teachers that is willing to work together and communicate frequently is an absolute MUST!  NGSS is tricky enough as it is…but to do it alone would be REALLY hard.  My district does not have a lot of physics teachers:  4 total.  I was lucky enough to have a teacher at my site who taught two sections of physics but in order for a solid collaborative environment I had to work with people from other school sites as well (more minds, better ideas).  We set up a shared file in One Drive where we put resources.  We actively emailed, talked on the phone and worked as a team in our approach.  We were not lock step, but we all worked together to make the course a success, providing feedback and input as we went along.  I can’t thank my amazing coworkers enough for being a part of this process with me.  Tonya, girl, you are a rockstar.  For a first year teacher you were A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. and could run laps around tenth year teachers!!!!  Brenda…you are my hero (@bmminj).  Your passion as a teacher and creative ideas are out of this world!  I have also joined a few NGSS facebook groups and routinely track twitter for NGSS news/ideas.

3.  The pace of the first semester was just right but after discussion, we are going to break up the Kinematics and Forces unit into two separate units for next year.  As of right now, this will be the new layout for the PHYSICS course.

4.  I really focused on HOW I delivered the content.  I still had lectures, but I focused on asking more questions, involving the students during the lecture, identifying cool phenomena to make the content more tangible.  I noticed that lecturing decreased, but the content got richer.  This took time and effort because finding GOOD questions to guide conversations can be challenging.

5.  I had students whiteboarding A LOT!    My focus on these boards was having them create models:  graphs, math, equations, drawings, verbal explanations.  Get whiteboards in your class!  SOOOOO worth it.

6.  My daily learning objectives focused on science and engineering practices.  I focused on what I wanted the students to able to "do" and "know" by the end of the day.  In the past my daily objectives would be more focused on content.  But in truth, the idea of the SWBAT (Students Will Be Able To) lends itself to the science and engineering practices.  Keeping a list of those hand at all times is a must.

7.  My students did a total of 13 labs during the first semester.  My primary focus with the labs was to have students design their own experiments.  I wanted them to clearly identify variables and produce solid graphs of data.  I need to focus more on writing solid conclusions (which, in truth, is the claim/evidence/reasoning component of the lab report).

8.  To increase writing in the class, students were required to do lab write-ups for all labs as well as do weekly blogs on a digital portfolio.  All labs were maintained in a lab notebook.  I have created a really awesome system to grade these so I wasn’t grading labs all the time.  The digital portfolio worked, kinda.  I had a nice layout, but not all kids got into it.  I really need to rethink what the purpose of the portfolio is and does its existence support the purpose.  

9.  I need to get more reading happening in the class.  Must find a way to incorporate that effectively.

10.  We did two big projects (performance tasks).  One of those projects became the final exam for the class.  The projects were a great way to incorporate engineering into the class.  The projects allowed students to have freedom of creativity and choice.  I got great feedback from the students.  I would say 90% really enjoyed the tasks and learned a lot from their research.  WIN!

11.  I noticed that many of my students started showing mastery of the content toward the end of the first semester.  This course was designed to keep revisiting previous concepts through projects/labs.  It was so reassuring as a teacher to see kids have that huge AHA moment.  I love it when a plan comes together. 

12.  We wrote a completely different style of summative test for each unit.  There were a handful of multiple choice questions, but most of the test was very FRQ (free response questions) in nature.  After the tests my students agreed that the tests were fair and there was no way to do well unless you actually “got it”.  In other words, you couldn’t guess your way to an A.  I was blown away to see that my test averages were usually quite high (close to 80%).  In truth, my students seem to have a richer understanding of the content this year than other years.  These tests did take longer to grade and require a sort of rubric.

13.  I spent a lot of time asking myself how I should grade in the class.  I made summative assignments 80% (tests, lab notebook checks, projects) of the grade and formative assignments 20% (homework, classwork, pop quizzes, etc).  I hate the grading systems we have because they do not truly allow a teacher the ability to track mastery of content.    I don't know if this is the best way to assess the students, but I have to start somewhere.  At the end of the day if a kid can show me they know it, then that is what matters….not a missing homework assignment.  I had to be willing to look past a few assignments and really identify what does it mean for a kid to show me they GOT it.  Which means, I get to go through every single kid one at a time to analyze if they finally showed me mastery of content.

14.  Most of my coworkers have NO IDEA what NGSS is or that science classrooms are undergoing a huge transition. This is a shame because this transition effects everyone.  I need to offer to share what is happening at a staff meeting and just chat with the administration so they know what is about to happen.

Overall, semester one of NGSS Physics has been awesome.  The kids were smiling, learning, talking physics, doing physics, experiencing physics.  They were coming into class and sharing how physics was occurring in their everyday life.  Kids were going home and talking about science and having their parents get involved in their learning.  They were bringing their friends into the class to show them their projects.  These kids were taking ownership in their learning.

It was A LOT of work on my part but I know that all of my hard work will pay off…the community should reap the rewards of students who can jump into society as effective global thinkers, learners and doers.  I had to give up control and try new things.  I had to become vulnerable and willing to transform.

My biggest take-away as a teacher is that an NGSS Science class is not a handful of worksheets, readings from a text, cookie-cutter labs, and a multiple choice test.  NGSS is a hands-on, all-in experience that has students and teachers diving into the deep end of science together in search of an adventure that doesn't necessarily have a right answer.