M6 Reflection – Challenges Implementing STEM

What do you view as some of the challenges associated with implementing an effective STEM model given your current teaching context? What are some potential solutions and/or innovations you can create to eliminate some of these challenges?

As a beginning teacher, I think I have been more adventurous in the ways I approach lesson plans and creating curriculum that of some of my teacher peers. One of my greatest challenges is my content knowledge for teaching interdisciplinary topics. In efforts to construct lessons that incorporate complex scientific topics or technology (such as computer programming), I am limited by my experiences working in those fields. Even providing students with context specific activities, I only have academic settings to apply my understanding of application. I have never worked in industry so I cannot provide real world experiences. Thus, I rely heavily on other sources, such as textbooks and the internet to provide high quality content for my students. This is a lot of additional work for me as a teacher, I’ll discuss this later.

Practice five of the Next Generation Science Standards suggest the importance of the connection between mathematics and sciences. Mathematics is a way to explain many scientific phenomena, and so mathematics can be taught through many scientific ideas. The whole reason Calculus was created was because Sir Isaac Newton was interested in physics and needed a way to explain how things changed over very short periods of time. Hence, we should be taking an approach to mathematics in with this idea in mind: “If math is the aspirin, how do we create the headache? (Meyer, 2014)” My fear in generating math content, is that I am unable to create such a headache for my students.

Another, probably more common response to the lack of implementation of STEM is the time constraints faced by teachers (Petrinjak, 2012). Within my context many teachers are more worried about a students ability and content knowledge than their ability to create well integrated STEM classes. It is not in the job description for teachers to collaborate with others to design a STEM integrated learning unit. According to the principals at my school, many teachers are independent workers in an environment that needs more collaboration. Luckily, there are new initiatives to entice teacher to collaborate more with others.

Earlier this year, I read a book called Teaching as Inquiry (Weinbaum, et al, 2004) about engaging in inquiry groups with other teachers. This book provided insight into how to create a collaborative work environment with other teachers to help improve my own teaching, be that STEM integration, classroom management practices or the like. Many anecdotes throughout the chapters empowered me to view colleagues as a support team, especially when teaching similar content. Other teachers have a lot of background knowledge too, collaborating with them to build a unit both teacher can use greatly reduces working time overall. Similar to the way that we are working collaboratively for the STEM Research class to design a project based learning unit, the time spent working collaboratively is much more useful than time spent along attempting to integrate STEM.

Working as a team can help a developing teacher find the “headache” needed to inspire some learning around STEM which can serve as the “aspirin.” Over the past year, I’ve had many headaches trying to figure out a STEM application, I could have cured that so quickly by asking a colleague for a simple application, someone who had the content knowledge I was lacking. Part of the Weinbaum book talked about creating a colleague climate. The saying, “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch my back” is all too true, as a new teacher working to implement STEM, many favors will need to be asked.

ICCSS2NGSSn my current context, I will be teaching Algebra 1 which is taught primarily to the 9th grade class. My school has a freshman program meant to help reduce the dropout rates early on. These cohort groups include science, English, history, and health, but Mathematics is missing from this equation. The teachers of these cohorts have a very special, administration facilitated, opportunity to work together, get to know students and collaborate in learning. Unfortunately, I am out of this collaborative look because students entering 9th grade are at vastly different levels of math (unlike the other topics). In the coming years, I want to start creating a structure around how to improve this cohort model to include math classes, even when students are not on track. Mayes & Koala (2012) published an alignment between mathematics and science practices, if teachers are able to work together could help with the collaboration process. These show important 21st century skills students need as a STEM model.

As mentioned earlier, time is a significant constraint on teachers as they work. In our lecture this week, Dr. Henrickson mentioned the need for teachers reject the need to create their own materials for every class session. They do not! A lot of curriculum out there is perfect for the needs of our students, there is a lot to pick from. Teachers DO need to be able to assess students needs and be able to select lessons that meet the standards aimed to be met. By selecting content rich activities, using an engagement learning method, students learn much more by inquiry than by traditional forms of education (Eddy, 2015), including IRE (Initiate, Response, Evaluate) or by providing students with copious amounts of worksheets (Wiliam, 2011). According to Eddy (2015) students need to have some background knowledge before the active learning is effective, but when students are asking questions about what they are learning, what learning that does occur is much stronger. She claims that the process may be slower, but the learning is significantly better (yes, statistically significant).

A few weeks ago, I attended a Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) workshop. Their process was developed for a chemistry undergraduate classroom to engage students in inquiry learning, but help guide them through the process. The POGIL workshop helped me understand that the scientific process is an inquiry based model and can be implemented in any classroom. Through active learning and student inquiry, along with “hinge point” questions or other formative assessment (William, 2011), teachers can improve their students content knowledge in a STEM integrated classroom. Some lecturing is required to help students gain essential skills, but overall, regular questions can be adapted to fit this model when facilitated by a teacher.

Overall, the challenges with implementing STEM is a challenging project. The major obstacles for me include content knowledge of STEM topics the the teacher collaboration to improve a rounded STEM program. The connection between math and science is strong, engineering can be incorporated in the problem solving aspect and technology is a tool to help scientists and mathematicians complete their work more economically, this is clear. What is not clear is how teacher will work together, either with each other or industry experts to create a learning plan for students to become STEM educated. Small steps as a new teacher will help get my school there, but many teachers will need to make larger differences to make a significant systematic impact.

Sources:

Eddy, S. (2015). Active Learning Across the Sciences: Does It Work in College Classroom and Can We Make It Inclusive? POGIL Northwest Regional Workshop. Portland: Lewis and Clark College.

Mayes, R., & Koballa, T. R. (2012, December). Exploring the Science Framework: Making connections in math with the Common Core State Standards. NSTA K-12 Journal .

Meyer, D. (2015, June 17). If Math Is The Aspirin, Then How Do You Create The Headache? Retrieved August 6, 2015.

Petrinjak, L. (2012, June 8). Gauging the STEM Effect. Retrieved August 6, 2015.

Weinbaum, A., Allen, D., Blythe, T., Simon, K., Seidel, S., & Rubin, C. (2004). Teaching as inquiry: Asking hard questions to improve practice and student achievement. New York: Teachers College Press

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded Formative Assessment. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

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P2 – Differentiated Instruction

P2 – Practice differentiated instruction. This means that teachers use a variety of instructional strategies or personalized instruction to help students acquire knowledge. Teachers will create opportunities for students to learn the same standards in different forms or with small modifications to fit the students’ needs.

The evidence is a series of mini-lessons presented over three days of instruction as outlined by a previous blog post found here. (LINK TO OTHER POST CLICK HERE) This post also includes some background information about the project, goals and outcomes. These lessons used student activities to help students to learn about and become familiar with vertical asymptotes, horizontal asymptotes, x- and y-intercepts and holes in a graph. Rather than providing students with direct instruction, the activities are built to facilitate student discussion around the topics and the teacher can target students with special learning needs during the activity. Each group was strategically selected to include students who brought different strengths (such as good communicator, critical thinkers in a single group). Group roles were assigned to draw out strengths or compensate for weaknesses of individual groups (quiet students were assigned as readers, critical thinkers assigned to questioner role).

Lessons 1 through 4 use student’s prior knowledge of polynomial functions to build on new understandings. Stations which revolved around asymptotes had students use limits by completing a table of values. For horizontal asymptotes, the values approached infinity and negative infinity. For Vertical asymptotes, the values approached a fixed value of x. Structuring groups with specific roles, students were able to converse and think critically about each of the four topics. Since the conversations were NOT teacher lead, students could explain to each other concepts they were unsure of. Most importantly, I would circulate the room during the activity to check on students progress and assess needs or misunderstandings with groups of about 4 students. I would target groups that were working fast to ensure they understood the intricacies of the activity and would provide challenge or extending information to groups who were able to build on more complex ideas.

After completing this activity, I learned that station learning can be valuable but should be thought through carefully. I would reconsider several processes to make this better.

  1. Allow more time for students to complete the activities. Some groups seemed rushed and were not able to complete ideas.
  2. Debrief with groups after each activity to ensure students understood the purpose of each question.
  3. Provide a little bit of direct instruction before turning to station learning activity to motivate the learning more.
  4. Remove the unit about holes since it is not a standard, but a good to know topic.
  5. I would remove the idea of making the students physically move around the room during the activity, this wasted time.

There are some pieces of learning that I thought were beneficial to the activity.

  1. Assigning students to groups to ensure there are a variety of learners in each group of learning.
  2. Assigning group roles to draw out strengths of students to benefit others in the group.
  3. Circulating the room to provide direct instruction as needed rather than lecturing at the front of the room. The dynamic of a teacher roaming helps students by providing small group instruction AND if the teacher is unavailable, groups must work together to problem solve before asking for assistance and receiving help. The delayed gratification is more effective because students are more receptive to the learning (Meyer, 2010).

While many of the suggestions above would help students learn and are keys to improving the instruction better for next time, I can continue to improve by learning and practicing differentiated instruction and providing alternate means of learning to students when station activities are not being used, such as times when direct instruction is used more. There is more research and practice that can be learned.

References: Meyer, D. (Speaker) (2010, March 1). Math class needs a makeover. TEDxNYED. Lecture conducted from TED Conferences, LLC, New York City.

HOPE Reflection – P3

P3 – Practice standards-based assessment. Teacher candidates use standards-based assessment that is systematically analyzed using multiple formative, summative, and self-assessment strategies to monitor and improve instruction. This means that teachers are regularly assessing students using standards that align with the goals of the class, the teacher regularly checks for student understanding through formative assessment and standards based grading. Additionally, I believe that the teacher should help students assess their own learning and teacher request feedback from students and other faculty to assess teaching. While the evidence in this bPortfolio reflection does not capture all of these types of assessment, they are regular parts of my classroom and are important for teaching and learning.

Practice edTPA Task 3

The evidence being submitted is a copy of a practice edTPA Task 3. This assessment was a comprehensive final assessment from semester 1 where students were asked to demonstrate understanding of several learning targets throughout the 20 weeks of learning. In this task, I identified the standards being assessed for each item of the exam and used three student work to provide student feedback and collect student reflections of the assessment. The best part of this assessment was my ability to grade students on understanding of specific learning targets, rather than just correctness.

Assessment has been the focus of my internship since the beginning. My mentor teacher has guided me in how to grade based on students’ demonstration of understanding on the page and subjectively deciding how items should be graded. My largest piece of learning has come from the development and implementation of grading rubric which helps me identify the level of understanding of my students.

TestRubric

My work in my internship and the assessment methods course have helped me in responding to the edTPA questions. For example, when providing analysis of what students understand, the above rubric helps me identify exactly what evidence is on the paper to support the students understanding. Since each question is related to a specific standard, students can clearly see the areas which need the most improvement. Writing the practice edTPA Task 3 has helped me gain insight into how to view assessment and evidence collection. Additionally, I was provided written feedback to students (which is not as frequent as I would like because of the time writing takes). This was effective for students, they have a tangible piece of writing for them to reflect on. Finally, I learned about the value in asking students “what are your next steps for understanding?” While this seems logical to me to ask when I’m struggling, I have developed this skill over the years of learning and students need to learn to self assess and identify ways to improve their skills.

I think standards based grading is a smart way of assessing students, it helps them identify areas of growth. HOWEVER, through our study of standards based grading, the implementation of the system seems to have many failures and has been met with some resistance. Because standards based is highly subjective (rather than objective) it is increasingly difficult to match a quantitative score to a qualitative analysis of student work. The feedback is better, but often unfamiliar to parents. To improve, I hope to bridge the gap between quantitative and qualitative feedback. Students like to know “percentage grades,” but there is also value in providing specific feedback about how students can improve and in which areas. There is no easy solution, i’m sure this pursuit will be career long, however through a wide variety of feedback (including student reflection, teacher reflection, informal assessments, student journaling etc.) students, teachers, parents and administrators can gain a wider view of a students understanding of the content material.

Instructional Strategies Observation

This observation compares two very different types of instruction instruction strategies between STEM related topics. The first strategy is project- and inquiry-based instruction the other is a game to demonstrate a concept. In the first class, a class titled “The Physics of Flight,” students are tasked with creating a protection system for a payload on a bottle rocket they will launch at the end of the week. Students are provided a budget, materials and a critical friend who must approve the design before the build. Students must use their knowledge of drag, friction, air pressure and mass (topics of physics) to design their payload protection system to minimize damage. Students who are careful with their design and focus on the prior knowledge built more robust systems.

The project is a long term project where students will revise their plans and rebuild their payload protection system many times as they learn more about the physics required for flying and space. What I like about this project and instructional strategy is that it is very real world. Students have to work within a budget, they need to be creative, their plans need to be approved by a critical friend and finally they can actually build and test their end product and have the opportunity to revise their original plans. I asked a student about what they would do differently, they mentioned that they would not have used such heavy material to protect their payload because the mass is difficult to slow down when the object is falling. They need a lighter protection system to be slower. I think these students are really learning about the concepts of physics in a real world environment. Some students were confident in their protection systems and the teacher didn’t challenge their thinking much after they took their mind off the task. If I were to provide feedback I would encourage this teacher to talk one on one with the students who claimed they were done and ask them about how their learning changed design elements on their product. This would re-engage these students who felt they already knew how to do the activity well. I think that mathematical modeling is one of the most useful applications of math, so I may use the project based strategy to provide a project for my students to apply their math knowledge to the real world.

The other instructional strategy that I observed was a game to unpack a scientific concept. The students were studying the carbon cycle and the teacher wanted to emphasize that particles of carbon get stuck in different areas. For instance, carbon that forms oil will be stuck in the ground for a long time until it is drilled up and then moved through the air as oil emissions. Students played a game were each student was a carbon molecule and they started evenly distributed. Students would roll dice and read a legend to determine their fate as a carbon. Some tabled became very full while others were less full because carbon stays in certain forms longer. Students recorded their fate and then at the end of the game the teacher had students discuss what happened to their molecule. I think this was beneficial since it was an activity where students could move around the classroom and see/feel what a carbon would be in the larger scheme of the carbon cycle. I especially liked that the class debriefed the activity so that those student who could not make the conclusion about the activity could be clued into what learning was supposed to take place. This type of activity could implemented in a statistics unit where randomness can be visualized.

Between these two instruction strategies, I think they were both effective because they had clear goal for the students and were well planned out. Students were able to articulate the goals of the activity and the activity was differentiated so learning could be achieved despite different learning styles. The take away from these observations was that I need to incorporate more movement into my classroom and differentiate instruction with intentional activities for students.

A Day in the Life of a Student

Today’s goal was to follow the school day of a sophomore student throughout their day. To protect the identity of this student they will be called MW. The goal was for me to observe five different classrooms during a six period day. Within each class, I was looking for teaching strategies and tools to use in my own classroom. At the end of the day, I asked MW some questions about their day. While the student interview was only a case study, MW provides several helpful suggestions to improve their learning experience.

The morning classes include Math, English and Biology. Within all of these classes, I noticed good responsive listening. Teachers would ask student questions and then summarize what the student said and repeated the comment to the class so all could hear. In English, the instructor was careful about making smaller comments to encourage conversation in class. The activity in English was to analyze a short story, a topic which can be shallow or deep depending on the students’ understanding. The instructor contributed to the classroom discussion as well to prompt students to analyze the short story more deeply. At the end of the classroom discussion, the teacher make a more sophisticated analysis than the students were able. This exposed the students to higher expectations. The teacher used OneNote to distribute materials to students and students were able to access copies of the teachers journal.

In math class, students started with an entry task to summarize their homework and clarify questions. The class activity was to debrief a challenging problem from the homework and clarify understanding of the basic elements of trigonometric ratios. Students had questions to prepare for a quiz the next day. The activity included a worksheet where students needed to use prior work to plot data and discover a relationship of a sine wave. The end of class, summarized their understanding of “accuracy” and careful procedures for getting more reliable results.

Biology was a very busy class, the lesson was very engaging and highly differentiated. One comment about the lesson that I particularly enjoyed was the presentation of the entry task. The day’s objective was clearly posted on the board and students were able download a copy of class activities from OneNote. Student’s shared out the Initial Thinking questions by popcorn method, students would choose others to “keep the conversation going.” The instructor was clear about the importance of understanding the Carbon Cycle and other biological systems and stated that this would be tested on the End of Course Assessment (EOC). The class activities included a dice game and students would mimic a carbon molecule in the journey throughout the day. Students seemed to enjoy the activity and learned about the many processes of the carbon cycle. Students were able to articulate what happens to a carbon atom as it moves from the sun to plants and then into animals and back into the atmosphere. The activity was followed by a debrief so students could articulate their learning. After the debrief, students watched a video that repeated the material again. This instructor was very smart about providing many learning opportunities for important content. The class ended with an exit slip that informally assessed students learning from the day. Students were instructed to make a carbon cycle as homework to use to prepare for their EOC test in the spring.

After lunch, MW was schedules to attend Current World Problems, Spanish and Health. Mostly, this class period was work time for students to finish a group project about government systems since 1500. MW shared with me the group project and the required elements for a grade. Before work began, students the teacher had a student present a “SHIELD” which allowed the student to comment about their past present and future. The intention of the exercise if for the class to know each other better. Students can share about their interests and goals. Next the teacher gave instructions of work time, he was very clear about presenting a product at the end of the period and made suggestions for groups to produce exemplary work (i.e. Review each other’s papers, get organized and then work together to produce a product). Essentially, the teacher anticipated potential shortcomings and took preventative measures to work through the project. We also talked about some of the functionalities of the grading system to optimise its use.

Next was Spanish in which students entered the class and listened to the instructor through an immersion lecture. The teacher spoke little english when teaching the material, but frequently broke into english to emphasize important points. He continued to discuss why immersion was used and why he believed in this philosophy for language acquisition. Most of this period was direct instruction and lecture based. Students did not respond frequently and when they did, it was brief.

The last class was Health where there was a lot of individual work time. Some of the lesson was direct instruction where students had access to a OneNote document to help follow the lesson and take notes. The period was an introduction to nutrition and involved the explanation of a project. The teacher clearly displayed the objective and the required elements of the project so that students knew what was expected of them throughout the unit. Many students who were in previous classes were also in this class. It was interesting to note the difference in classroom dynamic because of these students. Those who were quiet in the morning, we not more rambunctious and hard to get back on task. Teachers should consider this when teaching.

Finally, after the day, I asked MW some questions about their day. This student liked the biology lesson because there was an activity where she could move. She mentioned this was uncharacteristic of her typical day, but when she moves around, she claims she remembers more. Typically, she enjoys her math class because there are clear instructions and she tends to work hard. MW is also in a robotics class (which I did not attend) but this takes up a lot of her time. Sometimes teachers don’t understand that this is a challenging workload. Along these lines, MW claims that she becomes overwhelmed when projects are overlapping and she does not have the tools to manage this better. MW recommended teaching students in advisory time management and note taking skills. She also would like a space after school to get some work done and manage her schedule. Throughout the day following the student, I realized that the school has very high expectations for the students and teachers don’t often repeat information. This school expects students to understand verbal instructions the first time, which is a challenging skill for many people, even adults.