@NGSS_tweeps

So there are times that I find myself just putting my head down pushing through whatever I’m doing in the classroom. During these moments, I find myself frustrated and overwhelmed in my attempt to implement NGSS. Now we all know that this is a marathon in the every sense but I also feel the need for urgency and created that NGSS culture within my classroom and school. My cure for these moments is getting online and interacting with my amazing professional learning community. I look forward to participating in #ngsschat and reading NGSS Blogs. These give me a fresh perspective and additional ideas to think about.

 

Personally, I love the big picture. I enjoy taking a topic and talking through how we are going to tackle it with a group of middle school students. I love hearing the project ideas or phenomena that people are using in their classrooms. The big picture is often where I live. So the question I have and the conversations I enjoy is how do we go from this big idea and make it happen? My friend Patrick Goff came up with the idea of starting a weekly feed where anyone working with NGSS can share their PROCESS. What is it that you are doing that makes NGSS come alive for your students, teachers, or whoever you work closest with? These conversations are so exciting and it reminds me to slow down and enjoy each step. Each of us has something to share about our experience and I hope that you will follow and engage with @NGSS_tweeps in the coming weeks and months.

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The Challenges in Planning

Maybe I am growing as a teacher and being more aware of the needs of my students or NGSS forces me to allow more student voice into what we are learning/doing in class. Whatever the case may be, I am being challenged in new ways.

 

As we plan out a unit we have very predictable and logical path we see it going. Starting with an engaging phenomena, students are engaged and begin to ask questions. As their discussion continue and they build on the comments of others it becomes very clear our unit just got turned on its head. Or did it? This year I have allowed student’s conversations and their interest to become the new focus of the unit. (I guess I could just listen and just continue to teach the plan but that’s not right). It has been so great to see their excitement and the connections they are making because they see how the topics are relevant to their every day life.

 

The problem, I can’t get materials and resources quick enough for them to truly explore the topic. We end up talking about things in theoretical terms rather than students actually creating. While the conversations are amazing and the students are making connections that make me look smarter than I am, I still feel like I am not providing them with the true learning experience.

 

Am I the only one running into this issue? How are you dealing with students running with the topics?

 

When you realize you could have done things different

My seventh graders have been working through NGSS PS3-3 where they design and construct a device that minimizes/maximize thermal energy transfer. In years past I have worked through the “Save the Penguin” activities and really struggled through it. I have felt like there are too many variables and students do not ultimately understand what aspect of their design truly affects heat transfer. We decided to do things a little different this year and gave students can that they had to insulate and keep water hot. From start to finish this has gone well and students really used data to support their decisions/modifications. As we finished this part of the unit I felt as though I wasted their time and an opportunity.
Now my students have learned about thermal energy transfer and were able to communicate this through their writing and redesigns, but why do they care? I mean why would my students care about keeping a liquid hot or cold in a can. It is a goal of mine to get my students to care about their learning not because I say so but because they see a real use for the information and skills. I had a unique opportunity to do my student teaching in Cape Town, South Africa at Grove Primary School. This was an experience of a lifetime and one that I communicate with my students every year. This year it came at the perfect time.

I looked around my classroom at the posters that my students had made and a common theme was, family. My students will do anything for their family. How can I use this to help them see the purpose of understanding heat transfer? Then it clicked, South Africa. While teaching at Grove, I got to visit one of the townships just outside the city. This was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I got to share with my 7th graders some of the histories of South Africa and the Apartheid government. (This resonated with my students). When I showed them pictures of the condition of the homes no one said a word. (My school is surrounded by government housing and many of my students have very difficult home lives) They began to realize that although they have it rough, they are living large compared to MANY people around the world. I asked them to come up with ways they could help these families stay warm through the winter using their understanding of heat transfer. They worked so hard and came up with some amazing ideas. While they were sharing, I realized I had done it “wrong”.
Maybe it was not wrong but I missed an opportunity to make this unit something they could really care about and help them take action with the needy in our community and around the world. See what I want to do is have them build a shack using basic materials like cardboard, plastic bags, and wood. I would like to bring in some guest speakers that share first-hand experience with them about these living conditions and help them design their shacks. Ultimately, I would want them to construct them and stay in them overnight on the school grounds. I want my students to understand that in homes like these minimizing heat transfer could be the difference of life and death. I want them to see those in our community that live on the streets and find ways of helping them stay warm through the winter. I want my kids to be able to apply the content and skills in order to help others.

So now I must decide, do I try and make this work right now or do I plan to make this the focus of next year? I am not sure, but I hope that I can continue to find ways that make learning relevant for my students.

I would love for you to share how you get your students to buy into their learning or any feedback on my experience.

IB, NGSS, and Dr. Seuss

So school has officially started and I feel like the teacher I always wanted to be. So many of the things last years group taught me, I am actually using, to build relationships and set the tone for a great year. The kids are responding. Another teacher came up to me to let me know that a student told her, “Mr. Lockhart’s class is my favorite. It is a safe place and he cares.” Can’t express how much this means to me.

My school is an IB MYP school and with that we have decided to do grades a little different. We have separated out the Approaches To Learning (ATL) (these are in many ways VERY similar to NGSS SEP), the skills students use to access the content, from actual Achievement assignments. We even have a category called progress that allows the student to struggle and work through material without it impacting their grades. I will probably write a post soon that will walk through this but it has been amazing the discussions I have had with my students. They are working harder and taking more chances because they are not worried about the grade. Isn’t that what learning should be about?

I told them on day 1 that throughout the year they will fail, and during our first design challenge they did. The goal was to build the tallest free standing tower with 3 sheets of paper and 6 in. of tape. They designed, constructed, evaluated, and reflected. They then repeated the process.

As they reflected on the activity and what they learned from it a couple of themes came to light, 1) Time and material management, 2) group selection (+ and -), 3) Not having a well thought out plan, and 4) NEVER GIVING UP. Even though they “failed” (did not meet the goal) they walked away with valuable life lessons. I told them that I want them trying. If you fail ok, but what is your next step? Always be thinking about what you can do to improve. I am here to help.

After doing this activity I wanted to know who these students were and what they cared about. I have no chance to reach them unless I show them I care and that they are special. So I read them The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. I did not read it for the science content but rather the second to last page. See IB MYP has these things called Global Context. It is a way of helping students understand their role and responsibilities in a global society.  On the next to last page the Once-ler tells the boy, “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” But I did not stop there. I asked my kids to design a graphic that took it one step further. “What do you care enough about that would cause you to take action?” See we all care about a lot of things but only a few that we would actually take the time to do something about. Family, friends, faith, illness, environment, sports, the list goes on and on. Many of my students have never thought about what they care about. But during this activity they were starting to think of ways they could use their passions to HELP. So by the start of next week I will have a wall full of the passions of my students that they are willing to use to help.

Now a wall is nice, but it will be my goal to help them see that the NGSS: SEP, DCI, CCC and IB: ATL, Learner Profile, and focus on community service, will give them skills and tools to make a difference. Because each student is in my room for a reason, and UNLESS you (student) care a whole awful lot nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

Loving my Job,

Nathan

Reflecting and Preparing

Last school year was one of the most difficult school years of my young professional career. I was faced with a group of students that were dealing with some mental health issues, crummy home lives, and an expectation that I hold their hand through everything. I wished I would have known this going in. I approached the year like any other except for the excitement of NGSS! My plans were big and expectations even bigger. Little did I know that I was in for a year of hard lessons.

Lesson 1: I underestimated the challenges.

We jumped right in with NGSS SEPs and talked to kids about how we would be developing these throughout the year. We looked at the progressions and determined that we were in the lower elementary years and no where near the 7th grade levels. We agreed that it was OK and we would spend the year working on them while focusing on improvement. What I didn’t take into consideration was how difficult this would be. Students have “learned” a certain way for 6 years and have developed habits that are HARD to break. My frustration would often show with the students I couldn’t afford to lose. I spent the rest of the year working to earn their respect and trust.

Lesson 2: Earning the respect of my students.

I screwed up with several students. Once I realized that I was the problem we sat down and talked. I made the changes they requested. It was amazing to see how this impacted the kids as well as me. This year’s students will have a better teacher then my students did last year.

Lesson 3: NGSS is DIFFERENT

My students wanted the answer, the right way to do _______, and reassurance that they were doing it correctly. When they struggled they would give up. This was different then just teaching kids facts to memorize. I knew right away that I couldn’t do this alone. I began to work with several teachers in the district to bounce ideas off of and learn from their experiences. I also sought out a Professional Learning Network through social media. Following blogs and twitter feeds like #ngsschat, and #Sci4allSs allowed me to learn from teachers and experts from around the country. They gave me a new perspective and reminded me the importance of the Framework for K-12 Science Education. This was a must read this summer and really helped me understand the standards.

Lesson 4: Students are the key

I know this shouldn’t have been a lesson, I should have known this. While participating in Next Generational Instructional Design Network this summer we did an activity called Shark Tank. I love the show but did not think the same for this activity. We were going to begin the planning of a unit and then pitch our ideas to students. In my head I envisioned the students coming in and being yes people because they were scared to tell a table of adults their true thoughts. I didn’t expect quality feedback and believed it would be a waste of time. I WAS WRONG. As we shared ideas you could read so much into the student’s facial expressions and responses to our questions. Their passion for people, community service, and helping showed through in a way that I never imagined. For me they changed the focus of the unit from very straight forward to engaging students. This was not something difficult and it did not take a lot of time, but the ramifications of these conversations allowed us to make changes and move forward on a truly engaging NGSS 3D learning experience.

What is new this year.

  1. A renewed excitement for getting to know my students and allowing them to drive the learning.
  2. I will be more patient with my students and work through their learning habits to get them to be independent thinkers and problem solvers.
  3. A true focus on phenomena based instruction while using all three dimensions (Cross Cutting Concepts, Science and Engineering Practices, and Disciplinary Core Ideas)
  4. An increased presence on social media
  5. Inviting students into weekly planning meetings and allowing them to share their opinions on what we have created. If they can’t get engaged then we MUST do something different. My hope is that this will also empower them to have conversations with their other teachers…
  6. I want to support the elementary teachers in our feeder schools and work with my department to bring back a passion in science education.

Hope everyone has a fantastic year and I look forward to learning with you.