Thursday, March 27, 2014

Are Our Kids Ready fo Computerized Testing??

Last month, Michelle invited us to read an article from the padlet.  I read a great article entitled "Are Our Kids Ready for Computerized Testing?"  To show what they know on computerized assessments, even digital natives may need help manipulating the technology.  It was an interesting article that made me realize that I need to do some formative assessments in order to find out how ready my students are for the technology portion of the assessments that are on the way.  This year, fourth graders are taking the CMAS, Colorado Measures of Academic Success.  They are taking the social studies test on April 15 - 17th.  The author participated in a pilot program with a school and then debriefed the students after they took the test to find out what their experiences were with the technology-based assessments.  There were two groups, a third grade group and a high-school group.  The question he asked after the test was, "When it comes to using technology, is there anything your teachers should know that would help other students be successful on this test."  The answers were unexpected...
3rd Graders: "The Bubble in the Straw"
There was an interesting piece of feed back that the author received from a third grader.  The student said that it was very important that you know how to move the bubble inside the straw to make the page move this way and that.  The student was referring to the scroll bar! There is much that students will need to practice in order to even access the information.  There are many aspects of technology that we take for granted and need to make sure that students understand before they take the test.

As a result of reading this article I decided to take my kids to the computer lab to take a practice CMAS Social Studies Assessment.   I sampled the test myself before I brought them and thought I was ready to assess them on the assessment.  Just like the experience the author had, I asked my kids to be ready to share with me anything I should know in order to make sure they did well on the test.  Just like the experience the author had, I didn't anticipate the challenges.  Kids had difficulty with the size of the text.  If it was too large, they had to scroll more to read passages, too small and it was just difficult to read.  I found that the platform was unlike any other that they had seen before.  Some of the writing spaces had icons that were similar to ones you might see in Word, but there were others that we had to problem solve together.  There was a ruler (for a social studies test?), an answer eliminator, a button for flagging skipped problems and a review button for checking your progress. The ruler is there to help kids track their reading and they can use it if they like. Naturally, kids found they could spin the ruler around and it became more of a distraction than a help.  There are also options for kids to use a magnifying glass and I heard from Caitlin that it was a distraction as well for her kids.

So, my plan is to take kids to the lab to give them one more shot at the practice test before they have to do the real thing. As usual, I learned from my first attempt and will make some changes this time based on another article I read called, "Five 'Key Strategies' for Effective Formative Assessment."
  1. Clarifying, sharing and understanding goals for learning and criteria for success with learners. I jumped in with both feet without giving my learners a good idea of the purpose around this practice.  Our purpose is to better access the content of the test by exploring the tools and the ways the test takers have developed the test.
  2. Engineering effective classroom discussions, questions, activities, and tasks that elicit evidence of student learning. Again, I will ask students to provide feedback to me around what is difficult about this test.
  3. Providing feedback that moves learning forward.  This is a tough one because this is a lesson about technology, which I am not a fan of.  I believe that if technology gets in the way of the learning, or is overly cumbersome, we shouldn't use it.  So I am not a fan of providing them feedback on something that they will not use again until they are in fifth grade, and it isn't something that is going to make them better learners, just better test takers.  We don't really have a choice though do we?
  4. Activating students as owners of their own learning.  This is important because we want to help kids understand that they can own their learning by doing their best on the test.  There is value in doing your very best on a test and feeling a sense of accomplishment in completing this task.
  5. Activating students as learning resources for one another.  We will spend time discussing the test as a group so that students can share their findings.
  We will see how it goes!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Headline Success


Easy way to assess understandings based on an essential question

This is the second year working with the thinking strategy “Headline”. I have always felt that this was a great way to make meaningful connections to the lessons in our classroom. Unfortunately in the past my students haven’t always created headlines that synthesized the” Big Idea” of our lesson. The headlines felt flat or filled with misconceptions, which is not always a bad things, but not what I was hoping for. This particular time I would say I loved the “Headline” thinking routine because it was easy for the students and at the same time showed me that they had made meaningful connections. (Yahoo!) Goes to show me, “practice makes perfect”. I love that this strategy documents group thinking and gives everyone an opportunity to summarize and synthesis their learning in a cooperative format. I believe learning can be more powerful when you have the support of your classmates.

What were we leaning:

In this particular lesson we were learning about the first three English settlements in North America
Roanoke, Jamestown, & Plymouth.  During and after our social studies lessons students analyzed these three settlements to show why settlers came and the hardships they endured.

Setting the stage for this thinking activity:

As usual I begin this thinking activity by using mentor text (newspaper headlines) to remind students what headlines looked like. The difference was this time I used headlines from the local paper, Front Porch, those headlines read: “Home Business Turns Kids on to Sewing” & “Meet the Kids: Fifth Graders Explain Homelessness”

 I've used mentor text like the above before, but with less success. I believe that because they had previous experience in conjunction with these headlines students were activating and applying their schema more effectively and we were more successful in the end.

 Next Steps:

Students were given the directions to write three or more headlines that captures the main ideas of one of the three New England settlements. I reminded students that headlines are not written in complete sentences, but are short in order to capture the Big Idea of their learning. I was trying to find out what they’ve come to understand about early settlements. Essential Question: "How did the challenges that the first English colonies face determine their success or failures?"

We did put a little twist on this activity that you won't find in the textbook. As always I give everyone an opportunity to share their headlines and ask them to give reasons behind their headlines. This time I asked each group to send the secretary who recorded their thinking to meet with me as a group. I asked the secretary to look at the headline their group chose as their best. I then told them the headline couldn’t have the name of the settlement present. At first they were not happy with taking the name off, but by removing the name we really were able to see where they focused their thinking.  Once we had our new headline we wrote them on a sentence strips. Taking these headlines back to the classroom everyone began to analyze the headlines together. This allowed us to see other perspectives and see the content in a new way they might have not thought about. Our final step was to try and categorize headlines according to the three English settlements. Student's shared supporting evidence for choosing that settlement. This is where the magic happened for me. Adding this twist to our "headline"  activity allowed me to get a glimpse into how students were or were not connecting to ideas.  I was not disappointed with the rich discussion students have been having about their thinking.

Future plans for this activity:

I will keep the above headlines handy so that we can revisit them during our next lessons on the 13 New England colonies. My hope is that students will transfer their learning from this activity to the next.
I love headlines as a formative assessment tool. I should start using it as a pre-assessment tool  so I can quickly see what my students are coming to the lesson with and who needs some more scaffolding to get there.

I’m thinking that I could use headlines with just about anything. I might try having students write a headline about their weekend, how class went for the day, after an assembly, or even to sum up a conversation in class. Headlines are a quick way to checking in on students synthesis.

Creating Sensory Images

Ezra Jack Keats:  Creating Sensory Images, Activating and Building Schema

We began our fiction unit with an author study and we chose Ezra Jack Keats for this year.  In the past I have only done the study for two weeks, which does not allow enough time to dive deep.  We (the team) decided he would be a great introduction to the Thinking Strategies by introducing Activating Schema and Creating Sensory Images, as well as a nice literature study for our year-long community focus.

This year I chose to get every EZK book I could find and study him for one month.  This is important to me because this year's theme has been to slow down, not be bound by the calendar (only hard and fast deadlines!) and really enjoy the process, not the product.

From the second read-aloud, the kids began making connections.  We did a reading response after each book, including drawing an illustration.  The benefits of a month-long author study was that kids began noticing, almost immediately, some of the same characters appearing in different books, that they all live in the same environment (although very different from ours, which we discovered toward the end of the unit), and yet they have the same problems as us (activating AND building schema).

That we were able to discover how New York City is very different from Denver provided many opportunities for talking about different communities.  That the kids were able to discover that EZK's characters have the same problems as us was eye-opening to them.  EZK does a beautiful job with realistic fiction.

At the end of the unit we read the book "Apt. 3."  I read it several times and never showed the kids the illustrations, instead asking them to create sensory images in their head, and then draw them as I read.  Then, we chose five characters from the book, and each student chose which character they wanted to further study.  Each student had to write what they already knew about the character, then I asked them to put their character in a different setting and imagine what their character might see, hear, feel, taste, and smell.  I suggested, if your character was at a ballgame, would she/he buy the same snacks as "X" character?  This was SO hard!  As expected, only a handful of kids truly understood and were able to use clues from the book to answer the questions, but those who did, wow!

Lastly, they had to sit separately from their group and draw their image of their character (I didn't want them copying each other).  On a bulletin board we created a classic NYC apartment building, with the different floors, and put the character drawings in their appropriate floors, w/ their door numbers.  THEN, I read the book to them and finally showed them the illustrations.

Next year I cannot wait to do this again, and do it better!  I had not created Essential Questions for this unit, but will have already created them for next year.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Monitoring for Meaning with Math

I recently revamped my fractions unit using our UbD template.  It was crazy how long it seemed to take me (this will get easier right?!).    I really find that incorporating literature and thinking strategies into our math units is so beneficial.  For this unit I really focused on Determining Importance and Monitoring for Meaning.  We also used the books Give Me Half, Apple Fractions and  Jump, Kangaroo, Jump! as guides for our lessons and discoveries. 
Our essential questions for the unit were: 
•Why is it important to identify fractions (thirds, sixths, eighths, tenths) as representations of equal parts of a whole or of a set?
•Why is important to label fractions (thirds, sixths, eighths, tenths) as representations of equal parts of a whole or of a set?
•Why is it important to compare fractions (thirds, sixths, eighths,tenths) as representations of equal parts of a whole or of a set?
•What is a fraction?
•What do the parts of a fraction tell about its’ numerator and denominator?
•If you have 2 fractions, how do you know which is greater or has more value?
•How do you know how many fractional parts make a whole? 

I used this anchor chart to help with the students understanding of Monitoring for Meaning in math. 
 We talked about Monitoring for Meaning a lot for the first few days.  "How do I know if my answer makes sense?"

I like the M&M visual as students seem to love it have been very effective and I can just say "Don't forget..." and the students say "to look for our M&Ms!"

We will hopefully wrap up this unit before we head off for Spring Break, but I think the extra time we have spent focusing on our thinking strategies will help us through other units.  

Peeling the Fruit (from Making Thinking Visible Website)

I wanted to try something new with my classes this year for science.  We have been learning about plants and curriculum says they need to know the six parts, and what they need to survive (sun, soil, water and air).  BLAH!!  So of course, we have to dig a little deeper...or a lot actually.  I'm finding that their questions are so intense that I have a hard time answering them, but I'm thrilled that we are all thinking together.  We have been focusing on using backwards design for our PLCs this year, and so when I was planning this unit I wanted a routine that I felt really lent itself to small adaptions while still being true to the routine.  After a lot of research on the Making Thinking Visible facebook page, I found the routing "Peeling the Fruit" and felt this would be perfect!
So here is a breakdown of how we did the routine.  (We will be doing this six different times for the different parts of a far we've only done the fruit).
Looking over this guide:
I came up with questions that would help us dive deeply into what fruit are (we took the 'Peeling the Fruit' literally since we are learning about fruit!!).
On purple post it notes the students wrote what was at the core of this using the question "What are fruit?" as a guide.
On blue post it notes they built explanations and made connections using the questions: "Why are fruits important?" and "What is the purpose of a fruit?"
On yellow post it notes they posted mysteries or puzzles they had while doing their research.

The students were able to use a variety of books at different levels about plants and we are so lucky to have iPads in our classroom that students were able to also read articles on them and watch BrainPop Jr videos about plants.

I allowed a lot of extra time for this routine because I really wanted them to stop and think about the purpose and what would happen if we didn't have fruit, and let me tell you-their questions stumped me (and my para!).  I found myself doing research right along side them, and it was a lot of fun.  Here is a picture of what our routine looked like when we finished.
 It's hard to read their responses in the photo (especially the purple ones) but our responses ranged from "A fruit is the part of the plant that protects the seed." to "Do all plants have fruit?"  The second question may seem simple...but as we dove further into answering it, we discovered that in order for a fruit to form, the plant has to have a flower.  Some plants don't have flowers (like algae or mold) and therefore don't have fruits.  But do they protect their seeds?!  And does that mean they don't produce seeds? (Not every plant does, some have spores...we discovered that to!)  Each answer seemed to lead to another question, which is what I have been striving for, for YEARS. 

Overall, I REALLY felt like this was some of the deepest thinking I have seen second graders doing about plants.  It was really awesome and I can't wait for our next ones!!

THINK- PUZZLE-EXPLORE: Investigating Human Systems

All of us are interested in learning more about our bodies. 5th graders are very interested in their bodies because they are changing at a very rapid rate, therefore, it is easy to get students interested this science unit, Investigating the Human Body Systems. We learned about how specific body systems worked and how exercise and good nutrition contribute to the health of our bodies.  As a culminating activity students presented their understanding and deepened their knowledge through specific cooperative group projects. I decided to use the thinking routine Think-Puzzle-Explore as a reflective tool to help the students determine what they already know, what they still question, and how they will explore what they would like to learn more about. After evaluating their Think-Puzzle-Explore organizer I grouped individuals together to create a product that would teach us more about the body organs and systems.


Once groups were created I shared the following essential questions. I wanted to use these questions to guide them in their research and in the final presentation of their learning. I believe that essential questions help with the inquiry process, they help students organize or focus their research, and they foster creative and critical thinking.

Essential Question:

What can you do to protect your body organs and systems?

What illnesses occur in your body organs or systems?

How does lifestyle impact the body systems and organs?

How does the systems and organs of the human body work together and individually to support life?

How does the health of one of my organ systems impact the health of my other organ systems?

Why is the system you are presenting important to the human body?

Students were allowed to determine how they would present their specific information to their classmates. I didn’t want to put restrains on their thinking. I did require that they make a plan for their presentation and they had to determine who and how they would divide up the necessary research and project. As a group they came to me with their ideas and either they were off to research or we refined their thinking.

Our classroom was abuzz with motivated focused students. They created some fantastic projects and everyone worked together so productively.  Most of the students wanted to create a Google Doc, but each of them added their own twist during or after the Google Doc was presented.


·         Google Docs presentation with text, images, and embedded videos

·         Google Docs presentation with all the above and short skits

·         Google Docs presentation in addition a poster is added

·         Google Docs presentation with an original RAP performed by individuals

·         Television news report

·         Posters


This thinking strategy allowed students to explore what they wanted to learn. It allowed me to group students based on interest not ability. Since students explored what they thought was interesting rather than what I thought was necessary, I believe they reach a little deeper in their thinking and their presentations were interesting and engaging.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

CSI - Adopt and Element

This is my second attempt at this Making Thinking Visible lesson.  It is my attempt at making something abstract, like a type of atom, and to not only make it more concrete, but to create a connection to the students life.

Students are assigned an element to research, then think of a a color and an image that relates to their element. For the symbol, they need to identify its symbol on the periodic table, as well to identify its atomic number and weight.

to follow up on this lesson, students do a gallery walk to look at other elements, and hopefully deepen their understand of the many uses and importance of many of the elements.

The more I reflect on this lesson, the more that I am pleased how it lays the foundation for the units essential questions, " Why do atoms may stick together to form well-defined molecules and into groups that compose all substances.

Zooming In

This is a Making Thinking Visible strategy that I like to use to start a unit.  To start our 7th grade genetics and heredity unit, each student built a DNA molecule.  This molecule is the foundation to the unit, as well as other following units in life science: Evolution and the Human Body.  Students research the basics of the molecule structure as they build, but then are encouraged to randomly place down the nucleotide pairs as the rungs (adenine, thymine, guanine, cytosine.)  It's the randomness of these rungs is what ultimately account for everyone's DNA to be identical and give us our unique traits. This is the foundation of the unit and can be framed as our essential question, "How is an organism’s variation reflects heredity due to the nature of genetics?" Students hang their DNA molecule above their desk to show its unique properties as as a visual as we refer to it frequently for the remainder of the year.

Evidence of Understanding - Punnett Squares

A large part of the Understanding by Design process, is placing importance on understanding vs. knowledge.
When students truly understand a concept, they can transfer their thinking to a new scenario. Recently during our 7th grade heredity unit, students have been studying patterns of heredity and were given new scenarios to show their understanding of using Punnett Squares to determine the probability of offspring expressing certain traits passed down from parents to offspring.  Although not a formal "Making Thinking Visible" routine, I let students use dry erase markers on the windows as a way to graffiti their school academically.  Students work in heterogeneous groups to solve the problems. Engagement and collaboration is high and it provided a great way for me to informally assess a groups understanding.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Headlines to Assess Understanding

When I posted my fiction unit design a few months ago, I was grappling with creating Enduring Understandings.  This is what I posted...

Now that I am learning about Enduring Understandings, I am planning to use the Making Thinking Visible routine of "Headlines" to help assess what students are taking away. Do students understand that...

Authors share a message or a theme that is universal.
Authors develop characters that connect with readers.
Authors follow a predictable structure. 

Empathy helps us understand others feelings, motivations, and traits in life.
Stories communicate life and connect us to one another.
Stories are how we pass along meaning

As our unit came to an end, I taught the routine of "Headlines" and found student insights to be revealing and refreshing.  In retrospect, many of their understandings are topical versus overarching, but I am incredibly pleased with the depth of thinking.

One piece that I added to the routine was for students to write their complete thought on the back of the headline, so that I understand the thinking behind the idea.  Their discussions were priceless.

 "No Moral, No Story" - Kaia and Sophie

"A story worth reading is something that has a juicy great theme.  Without a good theme or any theme a good story is never fully complete; Even if you think it is done, it is not.  I think a good theme makes a story come together." - Siri and Marisa

"Organize like a Perfectionist. " - Caroline and Trevor

"A story worth reading has humor with old spice and intelligence." - Henry and Elijah

"A good story worth reading has a plot.  A plot makes up a story line.  A plot gives you the characters, the setting, and the problem/solution.  Without a plot, the smoothie wouldn't have the berries, the orange juice would have no oranges, and the crayons would have no color.  Obviously, a good story worth reading has a plot." - Chloe and Ainsley

"Crazy for Characters." - Tyton and Ana

"Entertain with Happiness" - Will and Calvin

I plan to use the "Headlines" routine at the end of each unit.  I love it as an assessment that helps us determine and wrap up what was most important to us.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Should Homework Be Graded?

Friday’s PLC (3/14/14) was thought provoking. “Our enduring goal is to create a learning culture that encompasses environment, instructional practices, curriculum and assessments that support rigorous and differentiated opportunities for deep thinking, leaning and understanding.” Michelle’s padlet had some very intriguing articles and videos that allowed us to choose from a smorgasbord of topics and to continual our focus on school-wide learning goal. I found it helpful to read more than one article that addressed the same topic. I read two different short articles on summative and formative assessment.

Grant Wiggins article, Using Homework as Formative Assessment, required that the reader have a strong philosophical reason for grading homework. Wiggins classified homework as a form of formative assessment which should be on-going, provide reoccurring feedback and a tool for adjusting our teaching. Do I grade homework, sometimes, “yes,” but now I’m wondering if it is the best practice for helping students move forward. Do I give proper feedback, “yes,” or I hope that I do. The problem I see occurring in my classroom is that I don’t always get homework with proper feedback into my students hand quickly enough for them to make the adjustments in their leaning before I give a summative assessment. The turn over time has to be quicker if homework is going to be used as a formative assessment. I like the analogy used for grading homework. They compared homework to the pre-season soccer games and how these games help soccer players to prepare for the seasonal games when things really count.  This connection helped me to see how homework should be preparation for the summative test and corrections should be made along the way as students are preparing for the final performance of our unit of study. I realized that when I don’t make adjustments in my instruction after checking homework I’m very likely not helping my students to move toward a deeper understanding. I’d like to address one more point that was made in the article. If you take a grade on homework the article suggested that we might want to consider raising that grade if their performance has improved on the summative assessment. With everything I try to keep track of in each day I’m not sure I could remember to raise someone’s grade after grading the summative assessment, but it’s a nice concept, something to think about.

The second article also about formative and summative assessment written by Andrew Miller, Courageous Conversation: Formative Assessment and Grading.  The first point that stuck me was grading homework was, “leverage to make students do the work” and “I was ‘Cattle-prodding’ them into doing work”.  Oops, I’ve never looked at it in this way, but if I’m grading homework and making them do unfinished homework, I might be doing just that. Andrew Miller agrees with Grant Wiggins homework is a formative assessment and should not be grade. Andrew suggest that you give specific focused feedback on assignment and to ask students to set goals based on this feedback. This article does say that you could use the homework as a formative assessment to create a progress grade and to track a students Work Ethic. Whew! I believe developing a good work ethic is a necessary life skill.

 I believe that it is time for me to be more reflective on homework practices for my students. Is my homework assignment necessary, engaging and will it help my students perform better on the summative assessment because of the homework assigned? In the UbD planning template we determine evidence for assessing learning and plan those assessment with the end in mind. After reading these two articles I will reevaluate my homework assignments and make sure they will allow students to demonstrate their learning and understanding because I’ve anchored the homework around our essential questions.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Color, Symbol, Image

Our ecosystem unit came to a close with a culminating assessment task project, yet most of the work was done at home, so I was still unsure of what kids were actually taking away from the unit.  What I wanted was a simple way for kids to show me their thinking about ecosystems, and finally my brain put two and two together and pulled out the Making Thinking Visible book. On a whim I decided to try CSI (serious whim, I had to read straight from the book in order to explain it to the kids!)

I reminded kids of our essential questions:
-Why is balance important in an ecosystem?
-What is the relationship between living and non-living things in an ecosystem?

Then I walked them through the CSI protocol, quickly at first (color was a concept they understood) and then more slowly, defining symbol and image and the difference between the two.   More important then their actual choice of color, symbol and image, was their explanation for each.  As they worked, I supported them with examples of possible symbols and images when needed, leaving them to explain how it might represent balance or relationship in an ecosystem.
The end result was much more than I expected.  By asking them to apply their learning in a totally new context, many of the students were able to transfer their knowledge!
I am now left with wondering how this routine and it's outcomes can be translated into a more frequent occurrence in my classroom.  With all the conversations we have been having in PLC and ILT about wanting that real world application of what we are teaching our students to shine through, I feel like I may have caught a glimpse of that, yet it was fleeting.  My next steps are to reflect on what it was about the CSI routine that brought that thinking out.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Explanation Game - Reduce Reuse Recycle

After using this thinking routine in our last study on clothes, the ECE team concluded this was a meaningful routine worth trying again for our upcoming unit on Reduce Reuse Recycle. However, whereas in the clothes study we used the explanation game at the end of our study to determine understandings of the purpose of clothes, I felt the picture we had chosen for our Reduce Reuse Recycle Study lended itself better within the study to focus on our essential question...How does trash and garbage affect our community?

What I did:
I first asked my students to look at a photograph of a garbage truck dumping trash at the dump.

I then asked them not to speak and to only look at the picture for a minute. Only then did I ask them to share what they saw. As expected, they listed items. What I found interesting however is the detail they found. They saw the whole picture and noticed things I had not necessarily thought individual parts of the truck. I was so focused on the trash and the big ideas, I expected this is what they would focus on as well. But they saw so much more. They even commented on what they didn't see which I also thought compelling. This happened right away when a child mentioned there were not any trees. This was a great noticing and comment on which to transition into what they were thinking and for their explanations.
I then asked them to make comments and/or explanations. We talked for a good 25 minutes before they finally began to dig deeper about the water and the birds. We had struggled a bit to go beyond what they were seeing. However, when I asked them to use their 5 senses and imagine they were there...what then? Well this sparked a great deal of conversation around it smelling, being dirty, disgusting and unhealthy for us which then led to explanations about the birds and how birds would also not want to be there.

I'm not sure why it always surprises me...but once again "wait time" is a big aha. The children spent a great deal of time looking at this picture...much more than I would have expected for 4 year olds. As a result, we cracked some deeper level thinking that only came in the last few mintues of our discussion. I admit I was frustrated and discouraged thinking they would only scratch surface observations. However with some guidance and support considering their limited background schema, they discovered and discussed so much more finally making those bigger conections. In some ways, I felt like I was cheating by intervening with questioning. In the end though I think it proved the right way to go since they gained so much more as a result. For young children who are still so egocentric, this turned out to be critical because it activated their schema and allowed them to make personal connections. I was impressed by their ability to go beyond themselves and consider the wider impacts of garbage on our community and other living things. So that extra time and further questioning turned out to be a good thing leading us back to our essential question and understanding.

As we have gone further into how garbage can affect our community, we have refered back to this photograph several times. I definitely think they now have a better understanding of the negative impact of trash on our community as a result of this picture and discussion.
In the past, we have used the See Think Wonder most frequently. However what I found more useful about the Explanation game is its flexibility. Considering our youngest students have a challenging time deciphering between thinking and wondering, this routine doesn't distinguish. It allows the discussion to flow. Children share their noticings and then dig deeper to share their explanations. The conversation in the end has more freedom and therefore feels more genuine as opposed to the See Think Wonder where I am trying to fit their comments into specific sections.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Backward Design

During PLC the ECE team used the ubd template to look at the essential questions of  our Clothes Study.  We subsequently dug deeper into our Creative Curriculum (the curriculum used by DPS for ECE) and found that a similar document already exists.  As I began planning the next study; the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle study, I used both resources (the ubd template and the Creative Curriculum Scope and Sequence.  Through this work, I determined that the essential questions for this study are
  • What do people throw away?
  • Where does trash go?
  • How do trash and garbage affect our community
  • How can we reuse junk?
  • How can we create less trash.
 At this point we are a little more than half-way through the study and I feel that the study is unfolding in a way that includes all five questions listed above, but can be broken down into two main questions;  What is trash?  and How does it affect our community?  Trash is something that the students have background knowledge about, but it is also something that has never registered to them as having any importance; it is just a regular part of life.  In the first part of the study, what I think of as the "what is trash?" part, the students have had the opportunity to look closely at trash.  We have sorted junk more than once, we have looked closely at labels, environmental print, shapes, sizes, and colors.  We have looked at the trash at home and the trash at school.  We have investigated where trash goes. 

Moving into the second part of the study, "How does trash affect our community?" We have started by noticing litter, litter in our classroom and litter around the school.  This part of the study will hopefully lead the students not only thinking more globally about something that has been a regular part of their every day lives, but also thinking about how they can make a difference in reducing the amount of trash produced. 

Explanation Game--Clothes Study

When pbd template for backward design, one of the essential questions the ECE team identified for our Clothes Study was What Special clothes do people wear and why?  The students spent time investigating the features of clothes (i.e., color, texture, and fasteners).   Throughout this investigations, the students had opportunities to sort different clothes, try on clothes and wear different clothes, design clothes, and learn about making clothes. 

The ECE team met with Michelle for coaching and expressed our struggle to incorporate the thinking routines.  Michelle suggested the use of the "Explanation Game."  She also suggested using the upcoming Olympics as a subject that would be relevant and provide opportunities to investigate different clothes used for different, but similar purposes.  The result of this coaching and further collaboration with the ECE team, we chose two photographs, one of hockey players and the other of figure skaters.  The intention was to encourage the students to recognize that clothes may have different purposes.  While planning this routine, we were unsure how much background knowledge the students would have about the two activities and I was not sure what to expect from the students discussion.  We were curious to see the difference between the discussions the first day and the second day when the students had experience of discussing a picture and also had seen one of the pictures. 

In small groups, the students played the “Explanation Game” looking at one of the pictures one day and the other picture the following day.  I took the small group that looked at the Hockey picture both days, and my para took the students who looked at the figure skating picture.  The first part of the Explanation Game involves noticing, I was surprised that the students had very little schema about figures skating, and only a few of the students had any schema about Hockey.  The second part of the routine requires the students to discuss what they think about the picture. 
Figure Skating 
Highlight Thinking
  • She is wearing laces to keep her ice shoes on so they don’t fall off or her feet will freeze.
  • She is wearing short clothes so she can dance 
  • They look nice because they are professional ice skaters. They are on TV 
  • They wear ice skates to help them not fall. It would be silly to wear boots.
  • Her dress is short because she would trip over a long one 
  • The straps and laces are for decoration 
  • No they are to keep their shoes from falling off  

Thinking Highlights
  • They’re football players because there’s numbers on their shirts and they have helmets and gloves
  •  Football players don’t have hockey sticks
  • Maybe they try to get this thing [points to puck] in the net and get a touchdown 
  • I know it’s hockey because of the net
  • They play rough so they can get a touchdown and they want to get a touchdown
  • They wear helmets so they don’t hit their head on the ice 
  • They need hockey clothes to protect themselves
  • Their colors are different so they won’t argue, “you’re on that team, no you’re on that team”

 The results of using this routine was very interesting.  The students were very engaged in the activity and were very thoughtful.  I did not notice a difference in the discussion between the students looking at the photo the first day or the second day.  I think the students lack of background knowledge helped to push their thinking because they were required to predict and make inferences about the people in the photos and about their clothes.  After all the students had discussed both pictures, I brought then together and asked the students why the clothes were different.  The students all agreed that the hockey players "have to wear more clothes because they're rougher than the figure skaters."  

I thought this routine worked really well with my young learners.  It is not only a routine that I in tend to use regularly.  I also realized when doing this routine that I have been regularly using this routine, even though I didn't recognize it as such.   My first post shows the results of my informal use of the explanation game.