Why Can’t Math Be Fun? Tips to Shift Mindsets and Push Motivation

math-chat“Math is plenty rigorous, but it’s not really fun!,” teachers so often tell me.  Followed by…you guessed it, “What can I do to make math more fun?” The answer seemed simple enough: do more fun things.  

But there’s more to it. As I reflect on the successful math teachers I’ve coached and observed, a trend emerges:When students are perceived to genuinely enjoy math, it has more to do with the classroom environment and culture of learning that the teacher has established than with the actual math.  

This more nuanced view on “fun” raises several questions. What role does the learning environment have on students’ attitudes towards math?  How much does the lack of motivation or knowledge or even the teachers’ approach to instruction contribute to classrooms where students’ engagement is perceived as lacking in effort, participation and persistence?

To some extent, all of these things are important. So let’s chat about all of them! Read more

Stepping Back: 7 Ideas to Transform Student Science Discussions

“The person doing the talking is the person doing the learning.”

stem-blog-121317There is little point in covering material if students don’t have the time to process and internalize it. We need to stop trying to fill students’ brains with so much information and focus on depth over breadth.

Now that we have Google, there is a plethora of information right at our fingers. We don’t need to store random facts in our heads. Carving out time for students to make sense of and apply those facts to new situations will have a much stronger return on investment in the long run.

Not only should teachers NOT be the ones articulating the science content to students (as this only serves to deepen the teachers’ understanding), but they should NOT be the only ones evaluating students’ ideas.

Put the onus on the kids! Read more

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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Your Best Year of Science is Here! 4 Guides to Start MBI Today

If we keep doing the same thing we will continue to get the same results.

The time is NOW to transition to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Our students can’t wait! The Chicago Public Schools transition plan below has us at FULL implementation of NGSS next year:

CPS Transition Plan

Two of the key shifts with NGSS are the following:

  • Phenomena: K-12 students should be using science ideas to explain HOW and WHY science phenomena occur.
  • Science and Engineering Practices: K-12 students should be engaging in the 8 science and engineering practices (e.g., developing and using models, engaging in argument from evidence) in order to learn the content and explore the crosscutting concepts. The days of teaching an isolated unit about the scientific method are over (note: the scientific method does NOT provide an accurate vision of the work of scientists–read more here).

Model-Based Inquiry (MBI) is one way to address these two NGSS shifts:

MBI Overview

The following MBI “How To” Guides were developed by AUSL teachers for AUSL teachers. Over the last two years, the teachers that make up the AUSL Science Teacher Network Team have been studying NGSS and best practices for science teaching. They’ve tried out and refined these strategies in their own classrooms and through Lesson Study, and synthesized their learning in these guides and Tch AUSL videos.

MBI Guides:

  1. MBI Guide #1: How to Come Up With an Engaging Phenomenon to Anchor a Unit (TchAUSL VIDEO)
  2. MBI Guide #2: How to Engage Students in Developing and Using Explanatory Models (TchAUSL VIDEO)
  3. MBI Guide #3: How to Use Summary Charts in the Classroom (TchAUSL VIDEO)
  4. MBI Guide #4: How to Enhance Discourse in the Science Classroom (TchAUSL VIDEO)

Special thanks to the following staff for creating these resources:

  • Darrin Collins (Phillips Academy High School)
  • Deanna Digitale-Grider (Solorio Academy High School)
  • Kristel Hsiao (formerly at Solorio Academy High School)
  • Kat Lucido (Phillips Academy High School)
  • Nicole Lum (Orr Academy High School)
  • Sarah Rogers (formerly at Howe School of Excellence)
  • Alexa Young (Marquette School of Excellence)
  • Chris Bruggeman (AUSL Technology Coordinator)

Post your questions and the examples of MBI from your classroom below.

Finish the Year Strong By Analyzing Student Writing

Setting aside time to discuss student writing can be hugely informative...and a lot of fun!

Setting aside time to discuss student writing can be hugely informative…and a lot of fun!

Every May, I find myself in need of a kickstart….a little shot of something to help me finish the school year strong and to carry the momentum of the mistakes I’ve made and the successes I’ve had into the fall.  Finally, after over a decade of working in schools, I’ve figured out what that kickstart needs to be or least what it should involve.

It needs to involve collaboration, reflection, and a changes in practice that are both quick wins that will affect students before school lets out in June and long term understandings that will affect students to come.  Analyzing student work with a really smart group of peers is the perfect combination of all those things.

And since none of us wants to reinvent the wheel (especially in May) here’s everything you need to know to replicate my favorite student work analysis protocol.  While I most recently used this protocol with network 9th and 10th grade history teachers to look at common DBQ essays, the beauty of it is that with a few tweaks it can be used across grade levels and disciplines. Read more

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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The Coach’s View: Immerse Your Students in Experiential Learning

Learning about WWI can be more engaging with a few planning adjustments.

Make learning about WWI more engaging with a few adjustments in planning.

As an AUSL coach, I have a great opportunity to see teaching and learning from both a bird’s and ant’s eye perspective.  Something special usually happens when the teaching and learning are in sync; not only can one see and hear learning happening but also feel it.  The inner history teacher in me is always seeking out that educational “sweet spot” where for 50 minutes the lesson just seems to take flight, and for me, more often than not it happened during an Experiential Exercise lesson. Read more

Supporting Student Writing: 3 Lessons Learned Through Collaboration

Social Studies teachers met for DBQ Day in February.

Social Studies teachers met for DBQ Day in February.

It’s a truly satisfying feeling when you start to see months of hard work and collaboration paying off. It may be the student you tutored for hours after school who raised her grade. It might be the Sunday night spent tuning a lesson plan that leads to an engaging learning experience on Monday. Recently, the first set of DBQ Days with AUSL history teachers revealed notable improvements in our students’ essays as well as three key reasons we can look to for these gains. Read more

Elements of Thinking: How Do Your Students Think?

homerHow do your students think?

Time after time, evidence from international examinations such as PISA suggest American students are falling behind globally in their ability to problem solve, work in groups or think critically.

But when we think about our jobs as teachers, is that what first comes to mind?  You probably find yourself asking, do I have a lesson plan, an exit ticket, extra copies, backup pencils, discipline referral forms, an up-to-date makeup work folder and so on. Asking those questions on a daily basis allows us to survive and live to fight another day. Read more

Special EDition: Leading Your Professional Learning

One of my resolutions for 2015 is to continue to improve my professional practice.  As an educator, I know how important it is to stay on top of the latest news, tools, and research related to my field. But I often find myself thinking that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to join a PLC, attend a conference, or read the latest issue of Exceptional Children. So what else can I do?

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