At last, Unit 1 for each grade level are complete! Over the past five months, I have been editing and revising the learning progressions found in Unit 1 of the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade curriculum. At first, I thought this might be a relatively easy task since the majority of the research, brainstorming, and designing of the lessons had already been done. But I soon realized that revising the learning progressions takes just about as much time as it did to write each one the first time.
One reason for this is that we have continued to learn and improve our teaching and grading practices through the lens of the vision presented in the NGSS framework since first implementing the four-part learning progression model. The parts of each learning progression are more deeply connected to the anchoring phenomenon and teachers are learning how to use student questions to help drive the mini-lessons they implement between the parts. The rubrics have evolved into thorough peer/self-review checklisks to help guide student learning and new mastery/standards-based rubrics have been created to help teachers evaluate essential learnings and help students refelct on three dimensional learning.
As a member of the Science Peer Review Panel for Achieve, we have been trained to complete the EQuIP rubric by looking for evidence of the bullet point “elements” found in the appendices of the NGSS framework; Appendix F: SEPs and Appendix G: CCCs. This practice helped me to incorporate the appropriate grade-band elements into the mastery/standards-based rubrics found within the 4-part learning progression curriculum. My hope is that identifying these elements for each part will help students and teachers better understand the interconnectedness of the three dimensions that should be occuring during the learning process and demonstrated within student products.
I have also included ideas and resources for mini-lessons and additional supports for struggling students within the teacher direction documents. My intention here is to help teachers understand that there is more to the learning progressions than the four parts. It is an expectation that additional mini-lessons, hands-on activities, and supports will be provided along the way to meet the specific needs of students and their classroom.
While prepraing for my presentation at the CSTA California Science Conference, I updated the teacher and student workflow infographic to more clearly show how the 4-part learning progression promotes student-directed learning through the release of responsibility to students.
The infographic can be found here. Notice the role of the teacher follows the blue arrows.
The role of the teacher is to jump back and forth between struggling students who are needing additional supports and those who are more self-directed. Most teachers find that flexible seating groups are a great help in managing this type of learning environment. As students progress through the parts of the learning progression, they sit with others who are also working on the same part. This allows 1:1 conferencing to become small group conferencing, saving time and energy for the teacher.
Although some students may feel as if they are being punished to be assigned a front of the room seat, it is important that the teacher builds realtionships with these kids and conveys the message that they just want to help the student find success. As soon as they have figured out some strategies to help them become more self-directed, they will have more choices in where they sit. It is also important that the teacher does not make a big deal about where groups are seated to avoid embarressing anyone who is moving more slowly through the curriculum. The idea is to respect that we all learn at different paces and in different ways and provide student choice in where they sit.
Shifts Made by Teachers
Strategies That Work
In the video below, teachers provide a few strategies they used to help with their mastery grading practices and providing feedback. When you hear the word "Classroom", teachers are referring to "Google Classroom".
5E Instructional Model
For further explanation, please read the NSTA Article: BSCS 5E Instructional Model.
To see how the 5 E model is evolving, please read Expanding the 5E Model.
5E is Good Teaching
One misconception that may occur when using the 4-part learning progression model is that student-directed means that teachers are not helping students progress through the learning tasks. The opposite is true. Teachers need to provide differentiated support through one-on-one and small group discussions and feedback as well as providing some whole class direct instruction and discussions. This is the struggle many of us are in at the moment. Some common questions are:
- How much support or direct instruction do I offer?
- When do I stop the student-directed work to teach the whole class?
- How do we have class discussions if students are not all working on the same thing?
Where are the 5Es?
Hope your year is off to a great start!
Make Reflection a Priority
Reflection is a powerful learning tool to use with students in your classroom as they try and make sense of phenomena and scientific concepts. It is also a powerful learning tool for teachers to use as we shift our teaching practices and transition to the NGSS. Here are a few articles from MindShift to deepen your understanding of reflection in the classroom:
Reflection: What Makes Learning Stick
What Meaningful Reflection Can Do For Student Learning
Don't Leave Learning Up to Chance: Framing and Reflection
A few strategies to help students reflect on learning are:
Reflecting on Your Teaching Practice
Set a Schedule
Join the MS NGSS Blog Team!
Please email me your gmail address and grade level(s) you teach and I will add you as a co-blogger. It will then appear on your Blogger app as seen below. Take a risk and share your journey! Please email me at: email@example.com
Shifting to Mastery and SBG
Time to Set Up a New Gradebook
I have put together the document below to revisit the idea of a 4-point mastery grading system. This might help you get a better understanding of how to begin shifting to the 4-point mastery grading system. It might also help you communicate this system to students, teachers, administrators and parents. Feel free to make a copy and edit as needed!
Please understand that the 4-point grading system was developed by Dr. Robert Marzano and is grounded in research. A link to his website can be found in the document below.
4-Point Grading Explained
If you think you are ready to make the switch and you use the Aeries grading system, here is the blog post that helps you set up your gradebooks. If you use another system, there should be a rubric score setting that gets rid of percentages.
Be very careful to not use the 4-point rubric system with a percentage based gradebook!
A 2 on a 4-point rubric scale is a C and communicates that a student is progressing towards the learning goal. A 2 out of 4 in a percentage based gradebook is a 50%, which is typically an F. The fact that over 50 points on the percentage system equates to an F is just one of the many issues educators are beginning to realize.
Your grading system is an extremely important idea to ponder, and I suggest you start the dialogue with your professional learning community and administrators and soon as you figure out the direction you want to take. It might get a little messy, but it will be well worth the effort.
And a quick side-note: 4-Point rubrics are MUCH easier and more efficient to use!
Best Book of Summer
A Few Insights From the Book
- "Empowered students are part of a learning environment where unlearning and relearning is the norm." (pg. 19) Students need to be able to find information, analyze it, apply it, create with it, and evaluate their own learning.
- "Many students will end up getting jobs in fields they think are "safe" or "practical" but don't have a personal connection or interest to the work they are doing." ( pg. 38) This is in part due to the education system that values status quo and compliance rather than risk and innovation.
- "We rob the world of our creativity when we never make anything." (pg. 92) Students have often been the consumers of information or the takers in education, we need to shift them to the creators and the makers in education.
- "Sometimes creative work requires structure. Students often struggle with a completely open process." (pg. 99) Using checklist rubrics can help with their creative process and planning. It will also help to avoid rushing and becoming disappointed with the results.
- "They (students) often go through a phase of copying and mash-ups that occur before creating something truly original." (pg. 116) Students will go through a series of stages in order to move from consumers to creators.
- "Data has to be real and relevant to the students. They need to know what it means and why they are analyzing it." (pg.134) This is true when they are collecting data in class during an investigation or when they are tracking and graphing their progress in your class.
- "A rubric allows students to think categorically and to see a sense of progression in their work". (pg. 137) Students who assess their own work have a much greater sense of ownership in the learning process.
- "Actually, we don't want students to fail. We want them to succeed through iterations." (pg. 153) Try and rephrase failure in your classroom to iterations and allow for revisions. This works well in the NGSS with the engineering design process and using mastery based grading.
- STUDENT SEATING: All students to choose their own seats to help with flexible grouping. Students will generally sit next to someone who is working on the same part as them. Students with behavior issues or who need a great deal of support can be placed in a group at the front of the room. This can be a temporary assigned seat that they can move out of with good behavior or by catching up on work. We have really seen this work in some of our more difficult classrooms to manage.
- STUDENT PRODUCTS: Allow students to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways. As long as they have the essential learnings included it does not matter the format or product they create to deliver their learning.
- STUDENT PACE: Allow students to work at their own pace. Many respond well to this and appreciate not being rushed. However, some will take advantage of owning this part of their learning. This is normal and a part of this transition. I have heard of teachers who hold an after school session for students who have wasted time or dawdled during the week.
- STUDENT DESIGNED LEARNING ACTIVITIES: I would even go as far as to allow any student who is interested in a topic found in a learning progression to create their own part or parts of that learning progression. I would of course expect a proposal of what they will be researching/learning and how they will be demonstrating their learning with a relevant checklist rubric that proves application of the three dimensions of the NGSS. But sky is the limit, let them go!
Year 2 Begins
I had lofty goals of revising all of the learning progressions in Units 1 and 2 for each grade level over the course of the summer. Unfortunately, my summer job of running the robotics and STEAM courses for the Tustin Public Schools Foundation Summer Academy took an unexpected turn and took up the majority of my summer writing curriculum and organizing materials. So, once again I find myself in a position of just trying to stay one step ahead of the teachers while writing the NGSS curriculum for the 17-18 school year. For those of you who may not know, I write this curriculum on my own time. This is not a part of my role in the Tustin Unified School District, but something I found necessary as I coached middle school science teachers during the 16-17 school year. The curriculum helped me to shift teachers into using three dimensional teaching practices and a more student-centered approach to learning. The results were outstanding and I am honored to work with such an amazing group of educators who took the risk to follow me on this journey.
As we head into Year 2, my role is changing in TUSD. I will be focussing on growing programs related to robotics, coding, engineering, design and innovation in TUSD. However, I will continue to write and revise the curriculum throughout the school year on my own time. An indicator if a lesson has been revised will be in the title and copyright symbol in the footer of the teacher directions documents. Bear with me as I try and get the revisions done as quickly as I can.
I will now be moving my work outside of TUSD as other teachers from around the country are beginning to follow along. The theme for the direction of our journey in Year 2 of this curriculum is REVISE, REFLECT, and RISK. I will explain each below.
REVISE- reconsider and alter (something) in the light of further evidence.
Teacher Revisions: It is just as important that we revise our work in order to improve as well. To do this, it is imperative that teachers communicate what worked and what did not work for each learning progression on the Padlet boards. This helps us document our needs and aids in revisions for next year. I can not stress how important this is to contribute to our PLN (Professional Learning Community). The more brains we have collaborating on this curriculum, the better!
REFLECT- think deeply or carefully about.
Middle School NGSS Standards Checklist- to keep a record of the DCIs and PEs that have been mastered by each student and the number of times a student has demonstrated SEPs and CCCs throughout the year.
Reflection Journal- to help students make sense of phenomena, reflect on learning, and set goals. This could be used strictly to make sense of phenomena and as a formative check for understanding by removing the goal setting and reflection of learning if using the tracking and monitoring sheet for parent communication. Or, a system could be setup to communicate with parents through the use of the journal.
Example of Standards Based Rubric: Although this example rubric is complete, these take a very long time to think through and complete. I will be setting up the template for each standards based rubric this year, including the appropriate bullet point descriptions of CCC and SEPs found in Appendix F and Appendix G of the NGSS Framework. They can still be used for reflection this year, but will not be ready for standards based grading until Year 3 unless you edit them yourself.
Teacher Reflection: Reflection is one of the strongest forces in learning. Just as we expect students to reflect, it is important for teachers to reflect on their learning as we continue this journey in transitioning to the NGSS. Please consider joining our blogging efforts within our PLN to facilitate reflection and make your learning visible to help others on their journey. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in becoming a co-blogger this year. You will need a gmail account to join the collaborative effort.
RISK- is the potential of gaining or losing something of value.
In dealing with students, be transparent about the fact we understand what we are doing and how this is making them feel uncomfortable. But through taking this risk, we are teaching them how to find information and learn on their own. We are teaching them how to evaluate and improve their own products. We are teaching them how to collaborate with others and reach consensus in a respectful way, even when their ideas are not used! We are teaching them time management and how to own the learning process. All of these life skills are used in the real world and will be necessary for the jobs and careers of their future.
Most importantly, be compassionate and empathetic about the risks students are taking in transitioning to this new learning style and encourage them through feedback and support.
Teacher Risk: If you think students feel uncomfortable, the teachers have it even worse! Many have been teaching for a long time and this transition is not easy. There are many risks we are taking as teachers. We are learning how to shift the responsibility of learning to students, we are learning how to assess actual learning goals and not compliance, we are learning how to provide more student choice, and we are learning how to shift our grading and teaching practices to meet the requirements of the NGSS.
Be transparent in the fact that we are all taking risks and that this is hard for both students and teachers alike. That we may not get it perfect for a few years, but this is a part of the learning process and trying new things. However, we do know that through taking these risks, we will grow. We will grow to become better teachers, better students, and better contributing members of society. The potential gain from these risks far outweighs what we might lose.
Most importantly, model risk taking and the learning process for your students.
Summary: Action Steps for Teachers
Reflect: Write a blog post and share your learning.
Risk: Go outside of your comfort zone and try new things.
You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
A Missed Teaching Opportunity
Explicitly Teaching the CCCs
1. Patterns: Observed patterns in nature guide organization and classification and prompt questions about relationships and causes underlying them.
Bozeman Science Video for Teachers on Patterns
Mini-Lesson for Students: Patterns
Video for Students: Patterns in Nature
2. Cause and Effect: Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted. Deciphering causal relationships, and the mechanisms by which they are mediated, is a major activity of science and engineering.
Bozeman Science Video for Teachers on Cause and Effect
Mini-Lesson for Students: Your Senses
3. Scale Proportion, and Quantity: In considering phenomena, it is critical to recognize what is relevant at different size, time, and energy scales, and to recognize proportional relationships between different quantities as scales change.
Bozeman Science Video for Teachers on Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
Mini-Lesson for Students from Nano-Sense: Scale of Objects
Mini-Lesson for Students form OUSD: Organization of "Living Things"
4. Systems and System Models: A system is an organized group of related objects or components; models can be used for understanding and predicting the behavior of systems.
Bozeman Science Video for Teachers on Systems and System Models
Mini-Lesson for Students: Modeling Your School System
5. Energy and Matter: Flows, Cycles, and Conservation – Tracking energy and matter flows, into, out of, and within systems helps one understand their system’s behavior.
Bozeman Science Video for Teachers on Energy and Matter
Mini-Lesson on Matter and Energy: Eating a Strawberry
6. Structure and Function – The way an object is shaped or structured determines many of its properties and functions.
Bozeman Science Video on Structure and Function
Mini-Lesson for Students: Bicycle Structure and Function
7. Stability and Change – For both designed and natural systems, conditions that affect stability and factors that control rates of change are critical elements to consider and understand.
Bozeman Science Video for Teachers on Stability and Change
Mini-Lesson for Students: Human Body Responses
Read Appendix G!
Phenomena Do Not Need to Be Phenomenal
With the many shifts we are making as we transition to the NGSS, I have seen teachers struggle with knowing when it is the right time to revisit a phenomenon and finding good phenomenon that best fits the learning progression. However, the phenomena do not need to be phenomenal! Teachers should not worry if they have don't have the perfect phenomena, because we can always change what we present as the phenomena over the years. Just like we will continue to revise and improve the curriculum, we will continue to revise and improve the phenomena we present to students. So don't worry if your phenomenon is not phenomenal, just begin the shift to using phenomena-based instruction and we will all get better at this over the next several years!
Anchoring vs Investigative Phenomena
What does this look like?
Anchoring Phenomenon Unit 1:
Investigative Phenomenon Assessment 1.1:
After Thinking More About it..... (update July 2017)
- The four "Units" found in each grade level sequence are too broad to really find an anchoring phenomenon that can be used to anchor the learning. There are just too many concepts found within each unit to find a single phenomenon to cover them all.
- Each learning progression is a series of lessons that should begin with an anchoring phenomenon and revisited throughout the learning progression. Additional investigative phenomenon should be integrated at the lesson level.
- The piktochart I originally made as shown above for anchoring phenomena, is a good way to explicitly teach the idea of systems and subsystems throughout the unit. More on this in the next blog post.....
Rebranding the Assessments into Learning Progressions
Learning Progression Research
Learning progressions are simply a path a learner takes when trying to reach a particular learning goal. We all take these paths whether we are learning to play guitar or how to play a sport. Achieve uses the "stones across a river analogy", to describe the stepping stones that exist between a student’s beginning learning state and desired learning goal. However, learning progressions are not a linear path and students will need extra stepping stones added for their personal journey. To read more about learning progression research by Achieve, please read "The Role of Learning Progressions in Competency Based Pathways".
What We Learned
- We need more stepping stones including direct instruction and reinforcement activities.
- We need to shorten the parts of the learning progressions so they seem more attainable.
- We need to add the dynamic personalities of the teacher back into the learning progressions. Many teachers seemed fade into the background to allow students to direct their learning. However, sometimes the stage show the teachers put on is what engages the students.
- We need to add a pre and post assessment to each learning progression to let us know what students actually learned and if the students are able to transfer their knowledge to a test similar to the CAST.
This year we have observed:
- A transition in students to a growth mindset through the use of mastery grading, feedback and revisions.
- A transition in teachers to more of a facilitator role while students drive a more personalized learning experience.
- Evidence of much deeper and complex scientific thinking.
- Evidence of students becoming proficient in the use of science and engineering practices.
We have much work still to do, but what an amazing start. I could not be more proud of the teachers who took such a huge risk to try and figure this out together. Although almost all felt like new teachers again and many had sleepless nights, the work that has been accomplished this year is nothing short of extraordinary. Your students are lucky to have you all as teachers who model risk taking and true passion for life-long learning! Bravo
Cari Williams has over 16 years of experience designing curriculum and teaching middle school science and STEM courses. After receiving her MS in Instructional Design and Technology from Cal State Fullerton in 2006, she has been focused on integrating transformative educational technologies and next generation teaching into science and STEM classrooms. She currently works as the Computer Science and Engineering TOSA for the Tustin Unified School District after spending four years as a Digital Learning Coach for middle school science and STEM teachers. She also serves as a member of the Science EQuIP Review Panel for Achieve in order to help identify lessons that best illustrate the cognitive demands of the NGSS. She is the lead STEAM curriculum writer for TPSF Summer Academy and leads the TUSD Robotics program servicing over 400 students in grades 4-12 and growing. To learn more about this program, go to www.tusdrobotics.com/