Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sharing is Caring

Three things to share:

1. Twitter Math Camp is July 19-22 in St. Louis. It's exactly what it sounds like. Some math teachers on twitter decided to get together, work on some math problems, and teach each other all sorts of stuff. It's free, small, and low key.  Think edcamp rather than NCTM.

2. Math52 is a Kickstarter from Mathalicious. If you pledge $52 you get an entire year's membership to Mathalicious.

3. Frank Noschese has a TEDxNYED talk up called Learning Science by Doing Science.

One request:
1. My schedule for next year is half 8th grade physical science (what I have always have taught) and half 6th grade (ack!) earth science (double ack!).

The California standards for sixth grade (page 27) are all earth and no space. I'm not too worried about the day to day (unless of course you have a killer lesson/unit you're dying to share) but more about the approach. I'm not sure how to lay this whole thing out so it flows together. My natural inclination is to build everything around the concepts of systems and cycles but really I don't know. In the pre-blogotwittersphere era I would have needed to teach the whole year to figure out how to fit everything together. I'm hoping to shortcut that process using all of you. If it helps, this is a non-tested subject so I have much more freedom to emphasize/de-emphasize certain parts of the curriculum.

  • What do I build the course around? What do I keep coming back to? 
  • I'd appreciate any recommendations for resources, curriculums you like, textbooks (gasp!) that do it right, etc? Anything and everything is welcome. 
  • If you teach this subject/grade level, what are the sticking points? Big misconceptions? 
  • If you teach HS earth, what is something, content-wise, that you wish students had a better understanding of?
Thanks for the help. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Purposeful Classroom

I'm writing a series about the different sessions at the ASCD virtual conference. My notes on last year's conference are here.

Full disclosure: ASCD is paying me for the posts but I paid for the conference myself. I'm coming out ahead in this transaction but the lifetime flow of money is still in their favor.

The first post is on Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey's Purposeful Classroom. Fun times. If you're a regular reader you will appreciate how difficult it was for me to keep my word count down.

Additional notes:

Fisher says they made a shift from "objectives" to "purpose"in order to include the idea of relevance. He says that relevance can be in three areas. Learning that has use outside of the classroom walls. Learning that gives a student opportunities to learn about oneself as a learner. Learning that is necessary for citizens in a democratic society. It's an interesting lens. I haven't thought about relevance enough to decide what I'd add, subtract, or modify from that list.

Fisher also commented on the Gradual Release of Responsibility model. He said the number one clarification he'd like to make is that GRR isn't meant to be a step-by-step recipe. You don't have to do it in exact order, just that the phases of GRR should all occur during a lesson. He doesn't make it clear in the talk but a lesson in this case doesn't necessarily mean one class period. This is an incredibly important point and was lost on the people who lead the GRR training the first time I heard about it.

Another important point was the difference between independent practice at home and in the classroom. He said that we give homework too early in the learning cycle. Students aren't ready to immediately apply homework.

They also shared two rubrics I thought were interesting starting points. A modeling and purpose rubric and a rubric showing indicators of success at establishing purpose.

Last: I've heard criticism of writers like Fisher and Frey for not being "transformational" enough. I get that. They're not. I classify them as "Better Now" types. They want to help teachers to improve what we're doing right now as opposed to razing the whole school system and starting over. Both types of writers have their place but I spend much more time reading and learning from the Better Nows. It's fun to think about what my ideal school would look like but I'm far more concerned with helping the kids that are in front of me each day.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Argumentation part 2

continued from part 1

Three suggestions:

1. I stole whiteboard round robins from Argument-Driven Inquiry (there are some good resources here. Try the first link under Papers for an overview). Instead of doing whole class discussion around group results, I have kids set up their whiteboards. One person stays behind while the rest of the group rotates from table to table to hear what each group found out. The roaming kids have a paper where they record some of the basic details from the other groups and it asks them to evaluate and respond to what they hear. Sorry. I wanted to post an example but I seriously can't find a single one. I don't know why. I know in the past I've asked them to comment on whether this confirms or contradicts their own findings, the quality of the experimental design, and suggestions for what might make their argument more convincing. We struggle with evaluating the quality of the argument. It's an ongoing thing.

After returning to their tables they are given the chance to revise their claim or reasoning and if I'm really on it that week, they can design a follow-up. The ADI folks suggest a presider to summarize the findings of the class. I've never tried that.

In hindsight, I think it would be kind of awesome to have students cite other groups in their write-ups just like in a scientific paper. "According to Lopez, Lee, and Silva........."or maybe just have them cite and end note. Or include a section in their CER papers for rebuttals where they specifically attempt to rebut a different group. Hmmm. Something for me to try next year.

2. ADI also has a nice double-blind peer review suggestion. I do standard peer review but haven't added the double-blind aspect. I think that could be interesting. There's a long template here and on page 5 here (both links from here). I think those are a bit unwieldy for MS or even HS kids. For their chemistry final I had my students attempt to explain the candle and flask demo. For peer review we used this:

I tailored it based on what my students specifically have trouble with. It was helpful but not amazing. Next year I'd add something more specifically aimed at persuasiveness (see? We're good with inquiry and content knowledge. Bad with argument). Also, like any peer review, if everyone was weak at something we didn't add a lot of value by peer reviewing. We have a lot of trouble with logical consistency. For example, saying that the heat made the air spread but then later arguing that the water was cold so that's why it spread into the flask. I think having students flow chart their arguments might help but this is something I struggle with. Any suggestions would be great.

3. Conditional language is critical. Once I, as the teacher and scientific authority, tell the students that matter is conserved in a chemical reaction their brains shut down. It sounds dumb and too New Age-y for me and I don't have any hard evidence to back this up. All I know is the longer I stick with "might be" and "could" or even "probably" I can see my students still working hard to convince me that they're correct. (The downside is I had a frustrated student blow up at me this year because we "never settle anything" and so he's "not sure what's right and what's wrong." There's a balance I'm still working to find.)

Brian left a comment pointing to another paper arguing that we need to make a clear distinction between argument and explanation. I agree to the point where we need to understand that giving opportunities to explain is not the same as giving opportunities to argue. I'm less sure how important it is to teach to students the semantic difference. To clarify, I'm sure it's important, I'm just not sure what it's more important than and what I would then cut out.

Claim Evidence Reasoning - Argumentation

Theoretical in part 1. Practical in part 2.

In Making sense of argumentation and explanation by Berland and Reiser, the authors argue that scientific explanations have three purposes: 1. sensemaking, 2. articulating, 3. persuading.

They summarize these nicely as constructing arguments, presenting arguments, and debating arguments.

I like these. A lot. The authors don't treat these three purposes as separate domains but argue that each of these serve to strengthen the other.

Other than being really interesting, why is this relevant? From page 31:
We suggest that viewing student work in terms of these three instructional goals can clarify students' successes and challenges in constructing and defining scientific explanations and consequently inform the design of supports for this practice......we suggest that each aspect of the practice may require different types of support for students.
This has very broad implications about everything from assessment to scaffolds to how to structure the entire class. The authors studied the CER framework and decided it was good for purpose 1 and 2 but not so much for 3. My personal experience backs that up. From the abstract:
Through this analysis, we find that students consistently use evidence to make sense of phenomenon and articulate those understandings but they do not consistently attend to the third goal of persuading others of their understandings. Examining the third goal more closely reveals that persuading others of an understanding requires social interactions that are often inhibited by traditional classroom interactions.

If someone were to ask me what the three legged stool of science education is, as of May 2012 at least, I'd say content knowledge, inquiry, and argument.  You can't have a complete science education without all three.

In science education, argument is our weakest area. I know for me, it wasn't even something I thought about until last year.

This is my way of qualifying any suggestions I have. I'm still new at this. I don't have a lot to offer.

What I can tell you is that if you want students to engage in argumentation, you need to give them something to argue about. Sounds obvious right? But if I explain a topic, then we do a confirmation lab, and then I expect students to engage in argument about that topic, I'm setting myself up for all sorts of disappointment. I haven't given them anything to argue about. I've just given them an opportunity to show me how well they've memorized what I've said.

I've got three other suggestions which I'll break into the next post.