Posts Tagged ‘Students’

STEM: Bringing Engineering into the Science Classroom

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

AUTHOR: Shawna Wiebusch, Secondary Science Education Specialist

Science courses are often grouped into the category of STEM, including in the STEM endorsement for graduation from Texas public schools. Science teachers attest to the value of math in the field of science and many have embraced the accuracy, precision, and increased student engagement that technology brings to the classroom. However, science teachers often hesitate when asked how they incorporate engineering into their classrooms. While our content based TEKS get most of the focus, our process standards are often an afterthought in planning. Through the lens of engineering design, teachers can integrate the teaching of process standards and content standards.

The engineering design process consists of a series of steps that can be thought of as a cycle. Depending on your source, there are approximately 7 steps. From the Teach Engineering website the steps are as follows:

1) Ask – Identify the need and constraints

2) Research the problem

3) Imagine: Develop possible solutions

4) Plan: Select a Promising solution

5) Create: Build a prototype

6) Test and Evaluate prototype

7) Improve: Redesign as needed

In a science classroom, these steps lead students to use the content they are expected to learn to solve a problem. A physics teacher might ask their students to design and model a house that uses series and parallel circuits to light 4 rooms with a specific current and voltage. A biology teacher might ask their students to determine what barriers a cell would have to overcome in order to duplicate itself successfully and come up with potential solutions to those barriers (and in the process, teach the concept of mitosis). An 8th grade teacher might ask students to determine the causes of and potential solutions for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In each of the examples listed above, students should also communicate their designs to their peers and use feedback in order to improve their initial models.

So now that you’ve seen a few examples, let’s explore exactly how the science process TEKS fit into the engineering design process.

In elementary school, students are expected to propose solutions to problems in Kindergarten through third grade (K.3A, 1.3A, 2.3A, 3.2A). This is the foundation of the engineering process and needs to be emphasized in the younger grades so that those skills are developed and practiced throughout a child’s education.

At every grade level, at least one student expectation touches on the use of models. In 7th grade, students are expected to “use models to represent aspects of the natural world…” (7.3b) and “identify advantages and disadvantages of models such as size, scale, properties, and materials” (7.3c). In the engineering design process, prototypes are the models. Students can use models to test out their ideas and explain them to other students and to the teacher. The important part of this is that the students are making and using the models more than the teachers.

At all grade levels, students are expected to “communicate valid results”. From third grade on, they are expected to “critique scientific explanations”. In Engineering Design, this falls under Test and Evaluate the prototype. Part of the evaluation comes from peer review. Students need the opportunity to bounce their ideas off of each other before being graded on them. The peer review process gives students that chance. Not only will they come away with ideas on how to improve their own models and ideas, but they will have practice in the art of constructive criticism and analyzing the work of others.

These are just a few places where the Science process standards overlap with principles behind Engineering Design. Engineering doesn’t have to be its own unit. It can be easily embedded in the work we already do with students and will give them opportunities to take ownership of their own learning.

References:

Engineering Design Process. (n.d.). Retrieved April 07, 2016, from https://www.teachengineering.org/engrdesignprocess.php

 

Observing Best Practices in a Mathematics Classroom

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

AUTHOR: Virginia Keasler, Secondary Math Specialist

Walking into a math classroom, an observer of the lesson may view many modes of instruction. The list may include:

  • Teacher shows students step by step problem solving and expects students to do problems in the way they are instructed
  • Students sitting quietly in rows
  • Students rotating around stations exploring challenging problems
  • Students are working on a problem together in groups, some individually, not necessarily doing exactly the same thing
  • Students engaged in critical thinking
  • A few students working at the board while others watch
  • Students who have completed their work and are waiting for the next problem
  • Teacher asking probing questions about the way students are attempting to answer questions

Generally you may see one or both of the two prevalent approaches to mathematics instruction. In the more traditional approach of instruction, skills-based, teachers may focus on how to solve the problem, show that problem solving strategy, and then require the students to quickly repeat that strategy. This method focuses on developing computational skills.

In concepts-based instruction, teachers have students solve a problem in a way that makes sense to them and then explain how they solved their problem. This method helps students be aware that there is more than one way to solve a problem.

You may be trying to decide what is the best way, but most researchers (e.g., Grouws, 2004) agree that both approaches are important, that teachers should strive for procedural fluency that is grounded in conceptual understanding.

There are three critical components to effective mathematics instruction (Shellard & Moyer, 2002):

  • Teaching for conceptual understanding
  • Developing procedural literacy
  • Promoting strategic competence through meaningful problem-solving investigations.

In an effective classroom an observer may see the teacher

  • Accepting students solutions to challenging problem which includes their explanation how they found their solution and the reason they chose to try their method.
  • Posing interesting questions to students to spur their interest in the problem.
  • Encouraging students to see that problems are challenging and that you sometimes have to search more than one method to find the answer.  
  • Instilling the belief that the goal of answering the question is attainable and worthwhile and can even be “cool”.  

In an effective classroom an observer may see the student

  • Solving the problem themselves and not just “mimicking” the procedure shown to them by others.
  • Challenging themselves to investigate a meaningful question.
  • Sharing their ideas with each other and as a group
  • Using various ways to show their work
  • Conducting an experiment by analysing data and coming to a conclusion
  • Are using calculators where appropriate
  • Using manipulatives to engage in problem solving to help form a concrete understanding of the concept where needed.

The National Center for Educational Achievement (NCEA, 2009) examined higher performing schools in five states (California, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Texas) and determined that in terms of instructional strategies, higher performing middle and high schools use mathematical instructional strategies that include classroom activities which:

  • Have a high level of student engagement
  • Demand higher-order thinking
  • Follow an inquiry-based model of instruction – including a combination of cooperative learning, direct instruction, labs or hands-on investigations, and manipulatives
  • Connect to students’ prior knowledge to make meaningful real-world applications
  • Integrate literacy activities into the courses – including content-based reading strategies and academic vocabulary development

Additionally, NCEA researchers found that it was important for teachers to create classrooms that foster an environment where students “feel safe trying to answer questions, make presentations, and do experiments, even if they make a mistake” (p. 24).

In summary, while both methods are important, teachers must reach students where they are and in the method that works best for each of their students.  While procedural learning is important to learn math facts and algorithms, students still need to be challenged, allowed to learn by exploring, and encouraged to keep trying knowing that math is meaningful and a huge part of the environment around us everyday.

References

The Education Alliance. (2006). Closing the Achievement Gap: Best Practices in Teaching Mathematics. Charleston, WV: The Education Alliance.

Grouws, D. (2004). “Chapter 7: Mathematics.” In Cawelti, G, ed., Handbook of Research on Improving Student Achievement. Arlington, VA: Educational Research Service.

National Center for Educational Achievement. (2009). Core Practices in Math and Science: An Investigation of Consistently Higher Performing Schools in Five States.  Austin, TX: National Center for Educational Achievement.

Shellard, E. & Moyer, P.S. (2002). What Principals Need to Know about Teaching Math. Alexandria, VA: National Association of Elementary School Principals and Education Research Service.

Preparing for the Reading and Writing STAAR the Smart Way

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

AUTHOR: Janet Hester, Secondary ELAR Specialist

Begin at the Beginning: The STAAR-Prep Dilemma

What do we do when students enter our classrooms lacking confidence and fluency in writing? For many schools and districts in Texas, the attempted answer to this skills deficit has been to drill students on writing the STAAR tasks over and over again. Twenty-six lines, over and over. And in the same manner, practice multiple choice reading and writing packets over and over again. Test-prep passage and multiple choice bubbles, over and over.

We know that such practice does not raise confidence and fluency in writing and reading. Students might improve in jumping through a very specific hoops when they are challenged to write 26 lines of expository text repeatedly, but their versatility as writers and their confidence and joy in writing will have be the price they pay for this act. In the same manner, when we curtail our engaging reading instruction for packet work, we may stunt our students’ growth. Traditional STAAR prep has led to slightly more prepared, but very burnt-out students.

We all know this. But, without these traditional practices, we are sometimes stuck on how to create a transference of skills on test day.

Transitioning to STAAR: The Test as Genre Unit

When we begin to prepare students for STAAR reading and writing tasks, we should not throw out all the good work that has come before in instruction, much of which has been presented through a reading and writing workshop model for many Region 13 teachers.

3The Test as Genre Unit is a tried-and-true method of preparing students for standardized tests while building on what has already transpired in classrooms. It is a riff played on the Genre Study Unit through which many schools deliver ELAR instruction. If your curriculum is grouped in units by genre, instruction was delivered as a genre study. Students read and wrote fiction pieces in one unit of study. Students read and wrote persuasive pieces in another unit of study. Most definitely, students read and wrote expository texts in the expository unit. 

Katie Wood Ray in Study Driven details a Genre Study Unit cycle:

Stage Description
Gather Texts The teacher, sometimes along with students, gathers examples of the kind of writing students will do.
Setting the Stage Students are told they will be expected to finish a piece(s) of writing that shows the influence of the study.
Immersion The teacher and students spend time reading and getting to know the texts they’ll study. They make notes of things they notice and about how the texts are written. They think about the process writers use to craft texts like the ones they are studying.
Close Study The class revisits the texts and frames their talk with the question, “What did we notice about how these texts are written?” The teacher and students work together to use specific language to say what they know about writing from this close study, developing curriculum as they go. The teacher, through modeling, takes a strong lead in helping students envision using what they are learning in their own writing.
Writing Under the Influence Students (and often the teacher) finish pieces of writing that show (in specific ways) the influence of the study.

(Wood Ray, 2006, p. 111)

4In our schools, this cycle might look a little different. Teachers might weave the different stages of the cycle together so they take place simultaneously. Due to scheduling in some middle school classes, students might also experience the different stages in separate reading and writing classes. However, most students will have experienced this sequence of reading in a genre and then emulating craft moves they learned to write in that genre.

When students have been immersed in reading and writing in different genres throughout the year and the STAAR test is drawing near, they are ready to begin a Test as Genre unit. A Test as Genre unit follows the same methodology as other genre units. Students immerse themselves in the genre of the test, reading passages from released tests as well as reading and discussing the types of multiple–choice questions they will have to answer. Students explore the writing tests’ tasks and prompts. As a result, they slowly begin to build a rapport with the standardized test. In this case, familiarity breeds confidence. Randy Bomer, the director of the Heart of Texas Writing Project, describes his process:

“I like to throw a huge pile of tests onto a table and invite students to browse through them and see what they notice in them. I want them to see tests not as something fearsome that controls their fate but as a dime a dozen, common as can be, which they are. I want to position the students as powerful, intelligent analyzers of these kinds of texts.” (Bomer, 2011, p. 285)

After this close study, students write passages and questions that imitate the released tests they studied following the Katie Wood Ray cycle from above. Students study writing prompts and write their own. When students have been reading like writers all year in other genre inquiry units, the Test as Genre is a logical next move in preparation for the test. They have been reading like writers all year in other genre inquiry units, reading like poets, reading like op–ed journalists, reading like short-story writers. Now, in the Test as Genre unit, they read like test makers, practicing the reader and writer moves they have been honing all year (Atwell, 2002; Bomer, 2004; Bomer, 2011; Fletcher & Portalupi, 2001; Serafini; Taylor, 2008). Region 13 will hold a full-day, just-in-time workshop on implementing this type of unit on February 29, 2016.

Using the Region 13 Elementary and Secondary Playbooks as Part of the Test as Genre Unit

In the weeks leading up the tests, not only are students analyzing passages and multiple choice questions from both the reading and writing tests; they should also be honing in on the specific expository writing craft they will need to write a satisfactory essay on the day of the test.

5With respect to the STAAR expository writing tasks, the Region 13 Product Store now sells two products that will help the accomplished and the novice teacher alike. The Elementary and Secondary Expository Playbooks offer immediate tools and strategies for a Grade 4 and English I teacher.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The Elementary Expository Playbook breaks down the five components of STAAR expository writing: Focus, Organization, Idea Development, Progression, and Language and Conventions.

For each component, the playbook provides a chapter outlining

  • the fundamentals of what each component means in the context of the STAAR expository task;
  • two published mentor informational texts that powerfully demonstrate the chapter’s component (for example, a mentor text that employs a strong problem/solution organizational structure in the Organization chapter);
  • four STAAR expository students essays to demonstrate strong and developing examples of that writing component; and
  • several plays, or instructional strategies, to use to improve that writing component in student writing. All plays begin with the writer in mind and inspire confidence and transfer of skills on test day.

Often, teachers do not have the time to find specific mentor texts to demonstrate the skills they wish their students to emulate. The Playbook saves so much time, in that published mentor texts, strong student examples, and weaker student examples are already there, organized under specific instructional targets with helpful teacher commentary.

6The Secondary Playbook follows the same pattern of including content, mentor texts, and student essays that align to the English I expository task. Grade 7 writing teachers will definitely find support for the Test as Genre unit in either playbook.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            When preparing students for STAAR, we must instill a cheerful attitude that builds upon the skills students certainly have. Asset-based instruction reminds students of all their world knowledge and invites the students to bring this knowledge into the standardized writing and reading tasks.

For more information about the Playbooks and implementing a Test as Genre Unit, contact:

Janet Hester
Secondary ELAR Specialist
janet.hester@esc13.txed.net

Laura Lee Stroud
Elementary ELAR Specialist
lauralee.stroud@esc13.txed.net

Sources:

Atwell, N. (2002). Lessons that change writers. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Bomer, R. (2004). Strong enough for tests and life. College Board Review, 41-43.
Bomer, R. (2011). Building adolescent literacy in today’s English classrooms. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Fletcher, R., & Portalupi, J. (2001). Writing workshop: The essential guide. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Serafini, F. (n.d.). Standardized tests as a genre. Retrieved from www.frankserafini.com: http://www.frankserafini.com/classroom-resources/standardized-tests-as-a.pdf
Taylor, M. M. (2008, Spring/Summer). Changing the culture of “test prep”: Reclaiming writing workshop. Language Arts Journal of Michigan, 23-34.
Wood Ray, K. (2006). Study driven: A framework for planning units of study in the writing workshop. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Content in this article addresses T-TESS Planning dimension 1.3 – Knowledge of Students and Instruction dimension 2.2 – Content Knowledge and Expertise.