Using Summary Charts to Press for Evidence and Promote Coherent Science Instruction: 8 Tips!

To the average student, science class feels like a series of disjointed learning activities. They don’t really know why they are learning what they are learning, nor how what they’re learning connects to the real world.

There are two things teachers can do to address this lack of coherence:

  1. Plan each instructional unit around a specific science phenomenon (read more about how to plan science units around intriguing phenomena here).
  2. Use a summary chart to help students keep track of what they learn from their lesson activities and then use their learning to help them explain how and why that phenomenon occurs.

In this blog, I focus on summary charts as a high-leverage tool in science classrooms.

What is a summary chart?

Alexa Summary Chart Nabisco Factory

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Spring [Your Science Instruction] Forward: 5 Steps to Implementing MBI

Model-Based Inquiry (MBI) is an engaging, NGSS-aligned, research-based approach to scienceinstruction (Windschitl, Thompson, & Braaten, 2008).

There are 5 steps to implementing MBI:

  1. Plan your instructional units around meaningful real world phenomena
  2. Elicit and work from students initial ideas
  3. Engage students in ongoing and in-depth sense making
  4. Provide students with opportunities to revisit and revise their thinking
  5. Have students apply their learning to a new, related phenomenon

In the following video, we introduce you to Model-Based Inquiry and provide you with a peek into what it looks like in action (in our very own AUSL classrooms). After you watch the video, scroll down to read more about the 5 steps to implementing MBI, as well as 3 tips for improving your teaching practice immediately. Enjoy!

Welcome to MBI


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Join the Theme Team: Making DBQ Work in Middle School

lucassmithFor me, DBQ has been the best way for me to blend my reading and writing instruction.  In the past, I was never really very good with my writing instruction, but after learning and using DBQ I felt like the students began writing about what they read in a very natural way.  It made the “instruction” part of the lessons very easy and seamless and my students didn’t even realize they were in “writing class.”  In fact, having a separate reading/writing class disappeared all together and it became a fully integrated “Literacy” class.

I appreciate the structure of DBQ: short texts that speak to a larger essential question which are followed by comprehension questions that connect the texts to that essential question. When I couple this structure with Think-Write-Pair-Share, the writing component felt so organic for them and their ability to express their “academic thoughts” became simple.

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5 Planning Tips to Ensure an Engaging DBQ Experience

Editor’s Note:  This week’s blog comes to us from Laura Bean, history teacher at Phillips Academy High School and member of the Network History Team.

Our blogger Laura Bean in action at Phillips Academy High School

Our blogger Laura Bean in action at Phillips Academy High School

Quarter three is coming to an end. Are you ready for our 4th quarter common world studies DBQ? If you’re anything like me, you’re up to your eyeballs in grading and not even close to wanting to think about whether the Reformation or Exploration was the most important consequence of the printing press.

Fear not! We’re here to get you started down the path of making this DBQ meaningful before our Q4 DBQ Day.  In fact, even if you’re not teaching the world studies DBQ, the tips below might spark some great planning ideas.

The Printing Press DBQ – what’s it all about?

This DBQ is all about comparing and evaluating the effects of innovation. Students must first be able to describe how the invention of the printing press shaped the Reformation and Exploration and then compare and evaluate their effects.

Below are our top five tips for teaching this DBQ, based on our AUSL Historical Reading and Writing Framework.

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How to Achieve the Core: Make Powerful Connections Across Texts, Schools and Initiatives

His heart is in the right place…

The third quarter AUSL Instructional Shifts focus is Reading Across Multiple Texts.  This shift is the most obvious example of how the CCSS break from traditional standards.  Reading has traditionally been defined and assessed as comprehending a single text.

A recent conversation at a Critical Thinking Cohort 2 workshop showed that in order to meet such standards, we need to make powerful connections not only across texts, but across schools and initiatives as well.  Teachers were sharing the results of rigorous, CCSS-aligned performance assessments they had developed.  Meghan O’Keefe from Chicago Academy HS shared a freshman performance assessment she created with her teaching partner E. M. Miller.  It was an authentic task requiring students to write an editorial for a Chicago paper, making an argument for how citizens and authorities could improve Chicago’s communities by nurturing healthy adolescent identities.  This task required them to engage in “intertextual rhetorical analysis”, including analyzing central themes from “legacy” texts (canonical, complex texts that the CCSS emphasize, e.g. Romeo and Juliet) and connecting these themes to contemporary nonfiction texts (e.g. a 2 News Chicago report on challenges facing Chicago youth) to support their argument.  Clearly, the task required students to apply critical thinking skills such as comparison, analysis and evaluation across multiple texts.

As Meghan described how they developed the assessment, I was immediately struck by how many school and network PD initiatives contributed to this work.  They designed their unit backwards mapping from CCSS with the 9-10  Planning Guide 1.0.  They assessed student writing using the Argument Writing Rubric developed by the CAHS ELA and History teams in a half-day workshop led by their department chairs and supported by History Coordinator Carolyn Henderson and myself.  To prepare students for this work, they applied strategies shared in earlier Close Reading PD and their Content Cluster cycles.  Prior to writing, their students engaged in Paideia discussion, an approach developed by the mastermind behind Shared Inquiry, which has been at the center of our Instructional Shifts workshops (and additional coaching visits to several elementary and high schools).  They used Critical Thinking workshop tools such as the Elements of Thought and the Critical Thinking Rubric to help students refine their thinking and give feedback to peers.  Meghan and E.M. fine-tuned their co-planning in the Co-teaching PLC led by Tiffany Ko.

Meghan shared that they were pushing their freshmen further than ever before.  I asked her what made the biggest impact on her work and her answer was a combination of all of these experiences:

“I’m fortunate to have been included in the Critical Thinking Framework PLC for the past two years.  The work we’ve done in that PLC around the Common Core, performance tasks, and critical thinking has set me up for success during this major instructional shift.  The changes that teachers are having to make with the advent of new standards and assessments is profound.  We will be most successful if we’re all able to participate in quality PD like the Critical Thinking Framework, Close Reading, and Paideia PD I’ve been fortunate enough to receive.  I appreciate the investment our administration has made in my professional development, and I hope that everyone in the network has the same opportunities”. 

mountain clipped

Even with the support, it still took a leap of faith to give the performance assessment to her students since the task was far beyond what had been previously asked of them.  She realized the task itself didn’t have to be perfect, and the kids wouldn’t master it the first time.  Rather she was giving them the opportunity to show what they could do, and then examining their writing to determine their needs.  In this case, her students made clear claims and supported them with evidence, but they understandably need more support in combining evidence from different sources (e.g. learning and utilizing complex sentence structures that will help them integrate ideas across texts).

This discussion made me realize how intentional we need to be in making connections across schools and initiatives to insure all of our supports and PD opportunities work in concert with one another.  We need to highlight connections across initiatives for teachers as they make these “profound”, and intentionally share learning across schools.

Indeed, there is no shortage of good ideas worth sharing.  For instance, at that same Critical Thinking Cohort 2 workshop, Caprice Banks at Phillips shared her own powerful inquiry project.  Students learned that their school was a historic landmark, but few knew its rich history.  They researched their building, synthesized their learning, and served as tour guides for community and school groups.  At Collins, Chase James’ team is applying strategies from Close Reading PD beyond the ELA department and making connections to their school-wide focus on argumentation.  At Orr, Dr. Debbie Caise-Fitzpatrick led the ELA team in anchoring and scoring argument writing in a process similar to the one used at CAHS.  Their department recently hosted a Great Books leader to learn how Shared Inquiry discussions can raise the level of reasoning in student writing.  At Solorio, teachers have received monthly coaching in Shared Inquiry.  Their recent work includes preparing students to serve as discussion leaders and bridging shared inquiry discussions writing literary analysis essays, ideas they shared at the recent High School PD Potluck.

Resources for Reading Across Texts

Instructional ShiftsIn the spirit of making connections across texts, schools and initiatives, I will share a few resources for reading across texts piloted and approved by our teachers.  At the recent Instructional Shifts workshop, leaders from the Great Books Foundation shared two approaches, using an anchor text such as a poem about immigration to unearth key themes of immigration and spur inquiry across several types of texts, and an overlapping venn diagram approach, where two or more similar complex texts are intentionally paired and analyzed.

CaptureAt the aforementioned Critical Thinking workshop, Jo Hoglund at Solorio shared an approach to planning with multiple texts from Sara Wessling, former National Teacher of the Year (and teaching channel luminary).    Here, Sara shares an approach for unit planning using “Fulcrum, Texture, and Context” texts (see p. 23-28).  Patrice Turk initially shared Sara’s work with their team and strongly recommends her video series on Teaching Channel.

LDCFinally, the Literacy Design Collaborative came out with a version 2.0 of their CCSS-aligned planning Template Task collection.  You can use their Their Mad Libs-style templates to design your own prompts for researching and reading across texts.  The templates are also great for designing  inquiry-based performance assessments (should you be inspired and want to develop one yourself!).

Achieving the Core through the Power of Connections

To achieve the CCSS, it will take a coordinated, concerted effort by our entire network.  All of us are smarter than any one of us.  We will be working in the coming weeks to create structures for sharing ideas across schools.  How have you experienced the power of connecting across texts, schools or initiatives?  Respond in the comments section below!

Argument Writing–Where Do We Stand?

Ironically, it’s a recent morning where no students were present that has me so excited about where we’re heading with argument writing across the network.

I literally found myself running between the two rooms where teachers were discussing and scoring the “Was the War with Mexico Justified?” and “Asoka: Enlightened Leader or Ruthless Conqueror?” DBQ essays for fear of missing out on all the great buzz.

Seriously, check out this photo of Jess Hansen, Jessica Cippichio, Katie Hallberg, and Laura Bean leading one of the sessions.  Who knew that a calibration session could be so much fun?


And so informative, especially the debriefing discussion at the end of the morning.  Across both groups some interesting trends surfaced in 3 important areas. Read more

What’s Your Evidence?: Supporting Students to Construct Scientific Explanations

Every day we are bombarded with claims about how to lose weight, stop smoking, become a better athlete, or make quick money. Yesterday, at the grocery store, I picked up a jar of peanut butter claiming: “Reduced Fat.” The uninformed consumer may think, great, I’ll buy this kind because it’s healthier. However, if you check out the food label on the back, you’ll see some other not-so-healthy differences between this product and the regular option: more sugar and salt!

Skippy labels

Food companies will often dilute a product with water to reduce the percentage of fat and then add salt and sugar to make up for the lack of flavor. When we consume excess sugar it gets converted by the liver into fatty acid—yup, that’s right, the extra sugar turns into fat! So, is the “low fat” option really a better choice? (Check out this 60 Minutes segment for more info on the adverse effects of sugar.)

Implications for the Science Classroom

To evaluate claims and make strong arguments of their own, students need to learn the features of a scientific writing. This blog describes the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning-Rebuttal  (C-E-R-R) framework for constructing scientific explanations and includes tools for teaching this approach to students, including scaffolding tips, a rubric, and examples of this approach in each of the sciences.

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4 Keys to Making DBQ Work in Middle School


Deneen MRC Katie Lyons discusses whether the Code of Hammurabi is just or unjust in this DBQ lesson.

Think DBQs are only for Advanced Placement students?

Please think again.

While many of our history teachers use materials from  The DBQ Project’s Mini-Q binders successfully in 9th-12th grade classrooms, the original target audience was middle school.  In fact, because these Mini DBQs contain less documents to analyze and some really great scaffolded supports, students as young as 2nd grade have actually completed units. Read more