by Lisa Hegdahl
The last time we were all together was August of 2014. Since then, we have ‘experimented’ with implementing the Next Generation of Science Standards with varying degrees of success. We have come to Claremont, California to continue our NGSS education and to gain leadership skills we will pass on to our colleagues when they join us in this process next summer. We are the eight school districts and two CMOs (Charter Management Organizations) chosen for the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative - Galt Joint Union Elementary School District, Kings Canyon Unified School District, Lakeside Union School District, Oakland Unified School District, Palm Springs Unified School District, San Diego Unified School District, Tracy Unified School District, and Vista Unified School District, Aspire, and High Tech High – and we are excited to begin.
Day 1 – Thursday, January 29th
We commence at 9:00AM with a football-themed icebreaker and a welcome from Statewide Director, K-12 Alliance at WestEd, Kathy DiRanna. Kathy reminds us that one objective of NGSS is to “activate learning”. Teachers should be competent, confident, collaborative, creative, and caring. As Early Implementers we will continue to find our way, produce snapshots of the NGSS classroom, participate in our teaching/learning communities, and create district plans for NGSS Implementation.
Throughout the talk, Kathy inspires with quotes that include:
“I touch the future. I teach.” – Christa McAuliffe
“…People set rules to keep from making decisions” – Coach K
“Individually we are one drop. Together we are an ocean.” – Ryunosuke Satoro
When Kathy DiRanna finishes speaking, we are energized and ready to take on the next 3 long days.
Individually, we create graphics illustrating our path to leadership and then share them with our district teams. Mine focuses on a mentor who always sees something in me that I do not see in myself. He challenges me, pushing me out of my comfort zone, and shows me all I have to offer. Many of my teammates tell of being leaders from a young age and of engaging in activities for which they have a passion.
An afternoon session on equity is followed by dinner and then it is back to training. The evening workshop focuses on Engineering in NGSS. Groups are tasked with creating a projectile device for a small pompom. Our materials are a paper cup, pipe cleaner, rubber band, paper clip, and two Popsicle sticks. As with all engineering practices, we must create a design before we build. (Our instructors, Peter A’Hearn, K-12 Science Specialist at Palm Springs Unified School District and Caleb Cheung, Science Manager at Oakland Unified School District, suggest a classroom strategy for students sharing their designs with others: when classmates look at each other’s individual designs, they may add to them, but they cannot subtract anything.) Most of the groups create a slingshot-type mechanism. The pompoms fly across the room, after which it is time to revise designs and re-build.
Soon, it is 8:30 p.m. – time to call it a day.
Day 2 – Friday, January 30th
This morning there is a contest to see who can create the most re-Tweeted Tweet about NGSS. Our team composes one with as many buzz words as we can think of – we do not win. We are not even close.
Jennifer Childress, Director of Instructional Support for Science at Achieve, gives Early Implementers an update on what’s happening with NGSS. Currently 13 states have fully adopted the Standards with other states in the process. Some are working together, using the EQuIP Rubric to update old content such as science kits.
NGSS Tools Available at Achieve:
Accelerated Model Course Maps*
Model Content Frameworks*
District Implementation Guide*
(Jennifer recommends the website stemteachingtools.org. She says it is “amazing”.)
Observing an NGSS classroom can be tricky business for administrators and teachers alike. The old routine of posting standards and objectives on the board, with administrators checking them off a list of teaching practices, is gone. Teachers and administrators will need new ways to find evidence of student learning. Our Early Implementer administrators use a ‘tool’ similar to a rubric that helps them view lessons and lesson series through the NGSS lens. The tool also helps teachers with their planning. Part of our Friday morning is spent analyzing the usefulness of the tool and making suggestions as to how it can be better.
Lunch is followed by a choice of sessions on science and engineering practices – arguing from either evidence or modeling. I choose the latter. But what is a model? Our instructors (once again, Peter A’Hearn and Caleb Cheung) share with us this description:
An abstract, simplified representation of a system or phenomena that makes its central features explicit and visible (observable and unobservable), and can be used to generate predictions and explanations for natural phenomena.
We proceed to observe what happens when a lit candle, sitting in a dish of water, is covered by a jar. After our initial observations, we use a whiteboard to develop a model that explains what we observed, and then we present our thoughts to the rest of the group. We design additional experiments to test our ideas. It is a challenging process that pushes us to take careful observations, test, and re-test, each time revising our original model.
At the end of the session, we discuss the components of a quality model:
- Represents a phenomenon
- Context rich
- Pictorial and written
- Observable and unobservable
- Revisable over time
After discussing classroom strategies for developing models, we get in grade level groups and brainstorm possible phenomena that we can use in our classrooms. My colleagues show me a video of a 2 ball bounce which I use in a modeling activity with my students two days after I return from the training. Grade levels post the results of their brainstorms around the room.
Dinner is followed by guest speakers Robert Rodriguez, Ivan Figueroa, Jesus Enriquez, and Ivan Lopez – engineering students from Cal State Long Beach. They share a video from a contest they entered and speak about their experiences from their grade school days:
“Computer coding was very important as well as oral and written skills. They are like a hammer – a simple tool, but you can do so much with it.”
“Show me what I am good at, not what I am bad at.”
A teacher showed him that overtime “ I can grow to understand.”
Day 3 – Saturday, January 31st
8:00 AM and it is time for Conceptual Flows. I signed up for this. Trying to do them alone is a daunting task, so I am hoping to get some help. The people in this room are supposed to be fairly advanced in their knowledge of NGSS – how the standards are structured and what the shifts are in instruction. Our instructors Rita Starnes, K-12 Alliance Regional Director, Susan Gomez Zwiep, Associate Professor at Cal State Long Beach, and Don Whisman, Science Program Director at San Diego Unified, give us an NGSS acronym quiz:
We are reminded that concepts are placed into the conceptual flow based on how students learn and how the concepts build on other topics. Disciplinary core ideas are connected by the crosscutting concepts and science and engineering practices. They can be used to link the ideas from previous years to the next year. Two other 8th grade teachers and I begin the process by each writing a narrative about everything an 8th grader should know about forces and motion. It is important that we write our narratives in complete sentences so it will be clear where each concept fits in the flow. Once the narratives are finished, we transfer our sentences to post-its – big concepts on big post-its and more specific ideas on smaller post-its. Then the organizing begins. The process takes us a long time. There are many moments we are stumped and just stare at all the post-its hoping they will organize themselves. Susan suggests we use the NRC Framework grade level storylines to help us decide what we can trim. Eventually we have a flow we can agree on. We are fortunate – there are two other groups of 8th grade teachers who have created conceptual flows for other topics. We take pictures and hope they will help us as we move forward with our NGSS lesson planning. We are grateful for the opportunity to create something we can use with our departments when we return home.
Team meetings to work on our district 4-year plans and a working a lunch round out a day that ends at 3PM. Once again we Early Implementers go our separate ways. We have come far since last August and will go much further by the time we meet again in June. The journey is a long one and we are only getting started. We are ready for wherever it takes us.