Saturday, June 25, 2016

Reflections On An NGSS Field Test

My first field test with NGSS based curriculum has concluded.  By the numbers, I had fifty-six classroom teachers and around 1100 students participate (demographic breakdown below).  This represents five percent of the total K-2 population. It included students in behavioral programs, severely disabled students, and approximately 40%  FaRMS.  

  So, what do I know now:

  1. Teachers need to understand the performance expectations.  Without the "why" they focused on the "what".  See my previous post on unpacking the standards down to learning goals and success criteria.  
  2. Creating videos of teachers implementing the curriculum is time consuming, but highly valued.  Being able to watch another teacher do what you are about to do builds confidence.  I need to work on quality control, but it is a start.  
  3. Online assessments don't work very well when students are just learning to use computers.  While every student in the field test had a computer, it took them three months to get agile with it.  There are also significant technical challenges that need to be overcome before these assessments are truly viable.  
  4. Performance assessments get the most "bang for the buck".  They are also a great way to keep students engaged in learning when they know they get to apply what they have learned to solving a real-world, local problem.
  5. Don't expect teachers to be comfortable with NGSS based curriculum the first time they teach it.  It will have to grow on you.

 What do the kids think?  I took a risk this year and created a survey to allow students to comment back about their experiences in the curriculum.  Keep in mind that these were K-2 students.  The majority of responses came from grade 2.  I copied the text based responses into Wordcloud .

What do you want to change? 

Note: The word "nothing" was removed as it overshadowed the other words

What did you like? 

The words beach, wall, and flower are referencing the three units for grade 2.  You can get a full overview of all the K-2 units in my previous post.

What's next?  

The field test for grades 3-5 is next.  I just wrapped up the professional development for that on Thursday.  Great group of teachers hung out with me in a rather sultry and odoriferous elementary school. We covered the big parts to the first two units.  This included a large amount of time discussing scientific argument using the CER model and the KLEWS strategy.  We used the spandex model of the universe as our scientific phenomena.  That's right I introduced General Relativity to elementary teachers and it is part of our grade 5 unit on space.  I blame the folks who developed the NGSS.  They are the ones who put gravity in with the motion of objects in the universe.  I had to find a way to connect the two to maintain a good storyline.  I encourage you to build this model for yourself.  It is awesome!  

A subsequent professional development will occur in December for the last two.  I will have roughly equivalent numbers of teachers participating this year but with a lot more students.  In grades 3-5, almost all the teachers departmentalize.   

Next, I move forward with K-2 for the entire system.  Our board of education saw fit to approve the purchase of materials for all K-2 teachers.  That will be the largest purchase order I have ever signed. My thanks to them for their support.  

In July, a small group of K-2 field test teachers will update the curriculum based on feedback from this year.  That will be a very interesting two-week process.
Lastly, I will also be conducting professional development en masse in August.  1200 teachers in one day.  I provided an outline of the plan in a previous post.  The reality of PD at this scale is just now setting in.  

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Keeping My Girls in the STEM Pipeline and Coping with the Guilt

Apologies for the delay between posts.  I have not forgotten about my promise to expand more on small group instruction in the elementary science classroom.  The responses to the webinar really moved me down the path and there have been some technical solutions that I believe, under the right circumstances, can lead to needs-based, small group instruction in the elementary classroom.   I promise a post is forthcoming.

The focus of this month's blog is really about what happened last month.  My May was bookended by two graduations.  My oldest daughter graduated from Shippensburg University, my Alma Mater, with a degree in Geoenvironmental Studies.  Her senior project (click on the image to see the full poster) is based on a love of geology that started as a little girl with piles of rocks accumulated in her room.   She is looking for job if anyone is hiring.    

My youngest daughter graduated from high school with a 4.02 GPA, and a balance between the arts and sciences that is rare- a real STEAM prodigy!  She will be attending the University of Maryland-College Park this fall where she was accepted into their architecture program (a picture she was thoroughly embarrassed by, which is why I posted it).   

While I am doubtlessly proud of both girls, I have been asked on countless occasions how I got two girls into STEM related careers.  I will be the first to say that it had as much to do with my wife as myself.  The sad thing is that a two parent household is increasingly a rare occurrence. This is not to diminish the work single parents do everyday raising their kids, but I recognize the advantage it brought to my girls.  

Second, my children were marinated in science from an early age.  I am reminded of the last year's Verizon commercial (shown below).  My wife and I did not deter our daughters from engaging in science, getting outside, or getting dirty.  My wife and I have the means to provide experiences.  Another advantage my children had.  

That also meant not allowing either to back down when things got tough.  Whether that was AP Calculus or hydrology, perseverance is alive and well in both girls. Notice I did not say grit.  Recent research points to luck or cultural advantages as the likely the roots of success. 

Lastly, my wife and I model the value of lifelong learning.  For as long as my children can remember, either my wife or I have been taking classes, teaching, or graduating from college with our own degrees.  This value of learning is not shared by all families.  Not because they don't want to, but because they need to provide food on the table, pay bills, and hope the funds make it through the month or week.  In this case, it is the advantage of having time to consider additional schooling instead of finding basic needs on a daily basis (that is until the college loan bills start pouring in).

So where am I going with this post?  Part of it is to brag on my daughters.  How often does a father get two graduations at a time!  The other part is focused on the advantages my children have because of the privileges my culture and country provide.       

Over the last several years, my system has been grappling with the achievement gaps that continue to grow.  These gaps are present within races and low soci-economic classes.  I participate in monthly sessions were we've been breaking down the causes and solutions to these issues.  The last session was personally difficult for me as it made me painfully aware of the advantages I have.  While I could dwell in my "white guilt", I've realized the work I've done with the NGSS curriculum will at least help marinate more students in science and engineering at an early age.   It is a start, but the work must continue until we can achieve "all standards for all students".   It is hard for me now not to focus on the inequities that exist.  As one of my trainers put it "You can't un-see once you have seen",