Sunday, June 29, 2014

How far does 2100 minutes go?

Back in April I created an estimate of how long each unit would be.  The ranges on those estimates were wide ranging due to not knowing how much classroom time we would have.  As of now, time for science is set at 30 minutes a day for 70 days in grades K-2.  For grades 3-5, it goes to 60 minutes a day for 70 days. Science alternates its units with Social Studies.  The bottom line for now is that I have 2,100 minutes of curriculum time.

With this in mind, the tables below illustrate the order of the units, a brief statement about the PBA, the current estimate of unit lengths and what I estimated back in April.  Keep in mind that these are still estimates.  Three weeks from now, I will have a better idea.  

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Look Back After Week One of Curriculum Development

First, let me offer my appreciation to the twenty-six members of my NGSS Transition Team that labored through the week to craft storylines, rubrics, unit outlines, and unit assessments.  My strong suggestion to anyone moving to the NGSS is to build a team of classroom teachers.  This group has worked with me since October and twenty of them will continue during curriculum writing starting on July 7.

The NGSS Transition team starts unit planning by thinking about how to reach all students.

In my last post, I discussed the unpacking document.  I can't emphasize enough how important a step this is.  It makes you really consider all three dimensions (DCI, SEP, and CC).  Once the team unpacked the PEs, they began drafting the performance based assessment using the GRASP.  

As the teams worked, I found them going back and forth revising the unpacking document as well as the PBA.   Once that process stabilized, the rubric started to evolve (insert collective groan).  Rubrics are the necessary evil of PBAs.  One tip on rubrics.  Maryland is a PARCC state so we used the four point rubric (0-3) format used throughout those assessments.  

Another tip.  Take advantage of pedagogies, templates, and vocabulary already in use rather than creating unique ones.  For example, the NGSS refers to argument in many of the performance expectations as early as Kindergarten.  The Common Core does not use argument until late elementary.  In the primary grades it is called opinion.  Yes, it is a nuance, but to elementary teachers already under intense change, any use of language they are comfortable with will gain you buy in.  At this point, buy in is really important.   We also realized with primary grades, we needed to really develop two rubrics.  One with teacher language and one with student language.  

The next step was to begin work on the unit outline.  This is where the poetry starts.  From the unpacking document,  all the enduring understandings and driving questions have to be organized to build a coherent storyline that leads to the PBA.  As I illustrated in my earlier post, the unit layout starts with students getting hooked by the scenario.  Right after that, they solve the problem as a form of performance pre-assessemnt.   As the teams worked on this outline a major obstacle had to be addressed.  After the third day of work, I reviewed the preliminary work on the unit outlines to see how they were addressing all three dimensions.  They were doing a great job writing the DCIs but the SEPs were almost absent.  This is the legacy of No Child.  We write to the content and "weave in" the process.  Alternatively, there were units that focused on the "scientific method".  So here is the book I want written:  

Learning to Do:  A Practitioners Guide to Building and Assessing the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices within Context.  

It is a working title.  

It is simply not enough to have students create an investigation, they have to be conscience of the fact that they are learning how to develop an investigation.  This is a real mind shift.  Teachers are becoming used to the hands-on side of science, but now they have to balance that with the "minds-on".  

By Friday afternoon, I had the teams evaluate their unit outlines using the EQuIP Rubric.  The preliminary evaluation shows a pretty good match.  The hard part will be when the lessons are written.  

So, in summary, here are your tips of the day.
  1. Get a team.
  2. Spend time unpacking the performance expectations.
  3. Make sure your curriculum speaks the same language teachers and students are accustomed.  
  4. Figure out how to teach the practices and not just the content.  Hands-on.  Minds-on.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with A Lot of Templates- Part 1

Schools are closing which means curriculum development work is spooling up for the summer.  Next week begins the official transition of my curriculum to the NGSS.  I am excited and a little nervous.  I equate it to going on vacation.  You are excited to go, but worry constantly about what you forgot.  Fortunately,  my regiment of curriculum writers has been prepped to be flexible as we go.  I have a plan, but it will undoubtedly need alterations.  With that said, let me reveal my current plan.

As stated in a previous post I introduced you to my cracker jack transition team.  They constitute the vanguard of this development process.  Their mission is to take a topic page full of performance expectations (PE) and mold them into a performance based assessment scenario.  These scenarios must be locally based and culturally relevant.   The odd workflow, shown below, will serve as our plan of attack.

First, my thanks to Peter A'Hearn for his post in California Science.  His notion of storytellers verified the direction I wanted to go and provided the basis for my first template. The NGSS is a very different species of standard.  There is a critical need to really dig deep into the NGSS documents as well as the Framework which caused them.  I evolved Peter's template a little and tried my best to match the colors.

This is a very non-linear process.  The storyline and driving question will actually come last, sort of.  A table like the one shown above has been developed for each performance expectation on a topic page.  I had initially thought we might need to split some of the topic pages into multiple assessments, but the K-2 pages hang well together.   The one exception to this is the grade 1 page on Waves.  I find it difficult to talk about light as waves without bumping into the fact that light also acts like a particle.  I know if I don't do this, I will have one of the local physicists on me.   Don't laugh, I've had a Nobel Prize winner complain about my treatment of gravity at grade 2.     Despite this, we will use them as is.

A couple of things about the document.  First, the PE  is colorized based on the three dimensions.  I liked how the NGSS webpage highlights the PE by its parts and links them to the boxes.  Below this are the prior knowledge (What they should know) and the terminal knowledge (What they learn next). As generalist, I find many elementary classroom teachers do not see the big picture of science and how it develops.  It also emphasizes how the NGSS is developmental. .  Without a firm foundation in science and engineering, students can not catch up (e.g. science has to be taught as a performance based content.  Reading about science is not enough).

The colored table below that simply breaks out each dimension of the PE.  Note the highlighted word in the DCI box.  I am also keeping spatial connections front and center as we develop the curriculum (See the three part series on why spatial thinking is important).  The writer's job is to think divergently.  Come up with as many enduring understandings and driving questions as possible with the goal of pulling all three parts together.  As they do this, I am hoping their minds are whirling on possible ideas for the scenario.  Cue next template.

GRASPS originated from Understanding by Design as a Mad Libs for developing performance based assessments.   Similarly,  the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) has a variant called the Tubric.  Whichever one you use, the premise is to establish the parameters of the performance.

You will note that my workflow is non-linear.  It was not always so.  I initially had a checklist of steps, but each time I read it found myself rearranging steps.  It then dawned on me that my source of consternation came from that fact that these early steps would not be linear.  The premise for the scenario will evolve while the PEs are unpacked.  Likewise the driving questions would need to focus on applying knowledge in order to create a solution to unit the problem.

I will let you know in a week how this step goes, before going to much further down the workflow. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Once Upon A Time and Why It Matters Today

Once upon at time, I was told to share my story and how it influenced my path in life.  When I was in Kindergarten at Lower Chanceford Elementary School (now demolished), I distinctly remember being asked to come into a small room with a strange little man and asked a lot of questions.  I even remember being asked when Columbus discovered America.  Afterwards, I would watch everyday as a small group of students would move to the back of the room, behind a chalkboard.  Something mysterious and magical happened back there that I was never part of.  Fast forward to my second year in college as an education major.  I was taking the obligatory educational psychology class when the inevitable discussion about IQ testing came up.  It sparked a memory.  I called my mother that night and asked how I did on what I deduced was an IQ test back in Kindergarten.  Her response was something to the extent that I had missed the "cut score" by two points and that I had an learning disability called auditory processing disorder.  In short, it means that unlike most men, I have non-selective hearing.  This was a lot of fun in the era of open classrooms.  As I would later learn in my special education courses, I am what is referred to as Twice Exceptional or GT/LD.  Yes, you can be "gifted" and "learning disabled".  

Once upon a time, this used to be called gifted, but the label was the primary focus rather than the service provided.  This takes us back to my story.  I put "gifted" and "learning disabled" in quotes because the terms are so nebulous.   For some reason we recognize that there are a variety of learning disabilities but less likely to recognize different types of giftedness.  We tend to lump gifted kids into broad categories with narrow expectations.   The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) defines gifted children as  "gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude or competence in one or more domains."  I don't see this as a functional definition.  That is to say, I don't know how to meet the needs of those students or even if the curriculum is not meeting their needs.  The assumption is that we are not meeting their needs.  

So, what does this have to do with transitioning to the NGSS.  Well, it has more to do with the curriculum philosophy we are using to develop the new science curriculum.  As we work towards a personalized learning environment, the selection of student learning objects becomes very important.  Perhaps more importantly, will be what we decide to do for students who already demonstrate mastery of content.  Rather than coming up with elaborations after the fact, why not build them up front.  The great challenge we as educators face is seeing improvements in ALL students.  This includes those that have demonstrated competence in an area of study.

Historically, we spent vast quantities of time trying to bring the bottom up and leaving the top to fend for themselves.  However, in this age of "Student Learning Outcomes" where all students must show growth, what do you do for the students already performing at high levels of expectation.  For example, the student that comes into your class already able to demonstrate their knowledge of physics by building a paper rocket that can reach an expected height and discuss how forces influence the flight of the rocket.   If that student builds the same rocket at the end of the unit and shows no improvement, have we not failed that student?    It is not that we have to stop worrying about students with special needs, but we have developed great skills in having these students show growth.  Indeed, I believe Title I schools will get the recognition they finally deserve for the work they have been doing.  The shock will be when traditionally high achieving  skills do not show gains.