A teacher can learn a lot by taking a close read of the classroom.
However, the pace of a typical school day doesn’t allow for much time to step back and take it all in. That’s why video is a great tool to help teachers understand what’s really happening in the classroom as students engage in learning activities.
In the videos I collected of students, I began to notice there was a pattern to their conversations. Based upon the task at hand, my role was to be a facilitator. As teachers embark into NGSS territory, it will become more obvious that students are highly engaged in their tasks. They’re excited and need help making sense of their thinking.
Constructing Explanations and Engaging in Argument from Evidence are two Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) practices I have heavily emphasized in my classroom over the past few years. My immersion in NGSS professional development that focuses on these practices has allowed me to develop new ways to engage my students and assess their abilities.
I teach seventh grade in a selective enrollment school in Chicago. When I first started teaching, I used a traditional lab report rubric (Figure 1) to help scaffold the conclusion writing of my students. The rubric focused on the skills we had started at the beginning of the year, collecting and analyzing quantitative and qualitative data, explaining data, and reflecting on the work done in the lab.
In the beginning, some students had difficulty explaining their data; they could only state some numbers or a qualitative change they had seen. As I reflected on their data, I realized they were providing me with a lab analysis that was still very surface level. The assessment structure I used also restricted the explanations they were making to lab reports, which happened only a few times per semester.
As a first generation college graduate, a decision I made early in life was to have a growth mindset. If you’re new to the term growth mindset, or maybe just on the hunt for resources, check out Teaching Channel’s Growth Mindset Deep Dive. While many people assume things in my life have come easily, I’ve spent my entire existence struggling to succeed. Blessed or cursed (depending on your perspective) with an insane amount of drive as well as a natural curiosity toward all things, my life has been a constant cycle of discovery, failure, retooling, and — mostly — eventual success.
This lifestyle has carried over into my classroom, as I believe that regardless of the content I’m teaching, it’s my duty as an educator to prepare all of the young people that walk through my door to face the challenges that lie ahead of them. That’s why I’m such a staunch advocate for the incorporation of the engineering design process into all classrooms. The EDP is the epitome of growth mindset and transcends the classroom into every facet of day-to-day life.
In that spirit, I continue to refine my practice. Every year, I identify one area of my instruction as a point of emphasis. In the past, these areas have ranged from classroom management, to individualized learning plans, to the integration of technology. One area I’ve been putting off is refining the writing process that occurs within my STEM course. Why have I been putting it off? Quite honestly, I struggle with writing. I believe in the value of writing, but freely acknowledge that it’s not a strength I possess. Opening up this area of my practice could be humbling, but it’s my hope that we (myself as well as fellow educators) will all benefit from this experience.
Phenomena can be the special ingredient that brings both intrigue and relevance to an otherwise ordinary lesson. It’s no surprise anchoring phenomena have become a part of the conversation whenever educators discuss NGSS science instruction. This is exciting because anchoring phenomena and driving questions can be the key to student engagement.
When I was first introduced to the importance of anchoring phenomena in NGSS instruction, I remember Googling “NGSS anchoring phenomena” and getting two, maybe three results — and even they weren’t really what I needed. Today, the same search returns more than 2000 results. In a very short time, knowledge and resources have increased at a breakneck pace. Today, I know I can find the resources I need to help me anchor phenomena to the standards with relative ease. I’d like to share some of my favorite results from my search with you.
The National Board Certification process was one of the most effective exercises I’ve been involved in. The initial process, as well as my subsequent renewal, have proven to be invaluable to my development as an educator. The challenges presented to me have encouraged continued growth within this profession.
I found one of the most difficult aspects of the certification process to be the videotaped reflective piece. This component forced me to critically analyze virtually every aspect of my practice. Lessons learned through critical analysis of the recording have compelled me to find solutions to a wide variety of minor issues that were possibly hindering the success of my students. The videotaping has had such an impact on my classroom that I continue the practice to this day.
Imagine being 12 years old and being told that you’re made up of tiny bits, that are made up of tiny bits, that are made up of tiny bits; and all those bits are going to interact in different ways and have AWESOME names that sound more like spells from Harry Potter than English. For me, teaching cell transportation at the middle school level has been a challenge.
When students walk into our classrooms many of them have no concept of cells other than the ones they’re carrying in their pockets. We, as science teachers, have long relied on analogies to demonstrate concepts; although this method has worked, I find there’s always a student who is confused by the “endoplasmic reticu-what” and cannot work their way up Bloom’s or grasp the Depth of Knowledge (DOK) I’m seeking for mastery,
This fall, I decided to change my approach when teaching the topic of cells. Instead of having my students dance out the process of endocytosis (think the hokey pokey: “things move into the cell, things move out of the cell… and they move all about”), I would try to align more to NGSS using an approach rooted in phenomena.
Teaching in elementary school is a challenging task and educators are often confronted with many obstacles. One obstacle to overcome is carving out the time for science classes. With all of the subjects competing for young minds, it’s difficult to create a flexible schedule that can accommodate all the valuable information children need to master. Another potential hurdle is a feeling of uncertainty among teachers about science itself. I often hear teachers say, “I only took a few science classes. How can I teach science effectively and efficiently?”
There are ways to teach science well and manage time efficiently by counting on just a few resources. I find it’s easier to remember these resources if I organize them by theme: Teachers Helping Teachers, Teachers Helping Themselves, and Communities Helping Teachers.
Like most teachers across America, I have students that are described as English Language Learners (ELLs). It seems an opportune time to raise awareness among educators about the state of flux in the demography of learners in our classrooms and to offer research-based principles and approaches for their education.
As the school year is approaching its second semester, I’ve started to both reflect on the progress I’ve made as well as look ahead to the standards that need to be addressed by the end of the school year. As a STEM teacher within Greenon Local Schools, my primary focus is on Science and Engineering Practices. Something that has always been a major challenge is how to accurately take inventory of the standards and then develop an outline that ensures the needs of my students have been met by the time they leave my classroom.
Teaching is personal. In fact, according to my principal, teaching is a work of heart. It’s heart work, not just hard work. And not only is it heart work, the only thing more personal than teaching is going to the bathroom.
As part of a district initiative, I started video recording my teaching practice to improve higher-order thinking and student-led conversations. At first blush, I was mortified at the thought of a camera catching every moment of my class. Not because I was fearful of what anyone would find, but because I was fearful of what I might not find. I thought as an experienced teacher, I knew what was happening in my classroom. Why would I need to video record my teaching and watch it when I was there live?
What I didn’t realize was the power of recording my instruction, watching, and seeking constructive feedback from my peers.