I am a most effective teacher when I am not talking. It’s not a new idea that students learn and retain more when they take ownership of their learning rather than being an information sponge during a lecture. But also, when I talk less I can differentiate more. I am more in tune with where each individual student is at when I am sitting and meeting with them one-on-one to discuss their learning and what support they need to move their learning forward. Students move at different paces, they have different needs, and a conversation is the best way for me to uncover those needs.
Here’s what that looks like for me: multi-day projects or assignments that ask big questions. Recently my partner and I assigned a protein project where students had to choose a protein and conduct research to construct an argument for how its structure affected its function. The result of this was a research page (I say page, not paper because it wasn’t a structured essay and it required creative inclusion of visuals to explain). To accomplish this task, we front loaded some content that students could use to describe structures and functions of proteins, then set them loose for 3 days to research and form their arguments.
During this time I could have just wandered the classroom looking for blank faces, but I decided to be methodical about it. I created a project check in using Google Forms and asked the students to complete the form at the beginning of each class. I pre-loaded the form with what I predicted would be common sticking-points in their research, then got to work. Within the first 5 minutes of class I had a list of people to need help and could prioritize based on their needs.
Let me walk you through my workflow:
I load the form responses in Google Sheets in my iPad and look for the responses that indicate the kid is completely lost.
I go talk to that kid and see if I can get them started. For one I might provide scaffolding from our ed. specialist, for another I might chunk the assignment and direct them to a specific web page, quick fixes that will get them started.
If I feel that the kid is able to move forward without further support I mark their response in green on my Google Sheet. If I want to come back to them I mark their response in yellow.
I move on to the next kid that needs a lot of support.
I also shared the responses with the ed. specialist who is in my room during one class period so we could tag team. The other great thing about this method is I was able to get a snapshot of what the class was struggling with overall and could do some clarification for the whole class on those things:
I love Google Forms (they’re super versatile!) and will be sharing more about how I use them in my classroom.
So right after Thanksgiving break we got a class set of laptops (netbooks?) for our students and with all the tech talk in all my classes I was more than a bit eager to bust them out and get to work. So I’ve been playing around with them, incorporating some tech tools into my lessons, and learning a bit about what does and doesn’t work…
Problem #1: The first few logins So far we’ve had 2 lessons with the netbooks incorporated and something happened that I didn’t anticipate: slow login time. Like 5-10 minutes for the computers to get past the login screen, resulting in a slew of frustrated 16 year olds opting to use their smartphones instead and ragged beginning that threw of the tone of the class. How to fix it: After speaking with seasoned 1:1 teacher Jen Roberts, it seems probable that the slow login is due to the netbooks having to connect to the district server and download all of the files the students have ever saved ever. After a few logins and full shutdowns of the computers this problem should dissipate. The takeaway: for the first few uses plan for lag.
Problem #2: Getting Everyone on the Same Page Even though we are living in a technology world it is still hard to get every student to go to the same page. Some are playing games, some don’t know where to go, some mistype the link several times, some are using Internet Explorer… In general they all know how to navigate to a webpage but be prepared for a chorus of “Where am I supposed to go? It’s not working!” How to fix it: If possible use links. I had huge successes getting students where I wanted them to go when they had a link to click. Alternatively have typed (or written) step-by-step direction on where to go and what the site should look like. Screenshots included. And with typed directions, make sure you use a font where capital “I”, lowercase “l” and the number 1 (one) are distinguishable. It can mean the difference between getting where you want to go and ending up on a Japanese surrealist’s art portfolio.
Problem #3: Trying to do too much too soon I got a bit overenthusiastic about fully incorporating technology into my last lesson. The resulting chaos and confusion as half the netbooks took 10 minutes to login, students couldn’t figure out the website, incorrect email addresses were given, and using an unfamiliar new tool devastated the amount of instructional and practice time in the day. How to fix it: Start out slow. Unless you plan on devoting multiple classes to troubleshooting the problems of some students while the others grow increasingly restless, their fingers twitching at the keyboard, just aim for one thing at a time until everyone is comfortable with the technology rather than planning a whole lesson online.
One thing that worked fabulously for me was devoting 30 minutes at the end of class to getting started with the netbooks. I left an Internet breadcrumb trail for the students to follow. They started out on my homepage and were instructed to find the link to a Google form which asked for their name, email, and things they wanted to do more in class. The submission confirmation page led them to a Socrative quiz on the content for that day. The final question asked the students to find the homework assignment on my homepage. The final feedback page in the Socrative quiz instructed them to Mahjong Chem where they could play a review game until the end of class. Bonus: by the end of class I had a student roster of name, period, and email address sitting in my Google Drive.
When I first started digging into NGSS so much of it made sense to me. The science and engineering practices were clearly things my students should be doing in class and they all fit together. The science and engineering practices clearly rely on each other. To engage in argument from evidence you must be able to analyze and interpret data and to get data you need to conduct investigations. The disciplinary core ideas were the big enduring understandings that we keep coming back to throughout the course. Those things that kids will remember for the rest of their lives when they have forgotten all the details.
The crosscutting concepts were a bit fuzzier. I get structure and function. When I was in college that was a huge epiphany for me: that almost every behavior of an atom or molecule could be predicted by knowing its shape and electronegativity. Cause and effect: obvious. But energy and matter? Patterns? What do they mean by patterns? I asked my students what a pattern was and they all gave me blank stares until one of them pointed at the stripes on the American flag. These seemed like a random assortment of big ideas; obvious or sometimes intuitive ideas with many possible interpretations. I mean, I guess that’s why they are called crosscutting. But how to teach them? And are they really that random?
So after struggling to reconcile with the crosscutting concepts for far too long I finally did what a good researcher does and went to the source material. After digging in and doing a close read of Appendix G, I had another epiphany. I strongly recommend all science teachers take the time to read Appendix G. It’s really helpful. Here’s a link so you don’t even have to google it.
The crosscutting concepts do rely on each other and science and engineering practices to make sense of phenomena. In our math curriculum they have Mathematical Habits of Mind and Interaction and they have instructional strategies for addressing these.The crosscutting concepts are our habits of mind and I’m still working on how to be more explicit about teaching the crosscutting concepts. I want to learn what that might look like from our math department, but I do know that they have the Habits on their walls as anchor charts so now I have this hanging on my wall.