Tip of the Week
[Re-posted from "Simple Science Strategies," April 3, 2013]
Struggling to find time to teach science in a day full of math and language arts?
Trying to move beyond fun activities to authentic learning tasks that lead to big scientific thinking?
Wondering how to take your students beyond the superficial to the higher order thinking of a real scientist?
Get a copy of The Essentials of Science and Literacy.
Who Would Enjoy The Essentials of Science and Literacy ?
- Literacy support teachers who are in classrooms during science instruction;
- Teachers in priority districts, where the traditional focus has been on increasing literacy scores;
- Teachers who like to use an integrated approach to instruction;
- Instructional coaches who are charged with helping teachers improve their practice;
- Any teacher who wants to raise the level of rigor and engagement in their literacy and science work.
Read a review of The Essentials of Science and Literacy
For ordering information:
Click on the image, above, for information on ordering this text from Barnes & Noble.
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, integrated curriculum
The Race to the Moon, 1960's...
Back in the "olden days," before A Nation at Risk, before No Child Left Behind, teachers taught children in a free-form, holistic approach. I remember, as an elementary student, creating a mini-world out of moss and soldier lichens in a mason jar in 3rd grade, creating a cloud in a bottle in 5th grade (with the help of my teacher's lit cigarette -- I know, I know -- but this was the 60's...), learning how to play chess in 5th grade, and dissecting a humongous cow eyeball in 6th grade. We created weather maps, backdrops and props for school plays, and photo albums of our class field trips to a local pond.
Kids these days still do some of these things, but a greater portion of these activities has been condensed to less and less of the weekly schedule, to make way for more explicit skills instruction. We know the reasons for this, some political, some educational. And we have definitely seen that some specific groups of children have historically been "left behind:" students with disabilities, students of color, urban children, poor children, and students who are learning a second language. For many of these groups, our hyperfocus on skills has produced great gains, and we've learned to be better diagnosticians and better teachers. But, alas, we are seeing some of the unintended consequences of this skills-focus, as well: kids who passively attend classes, waiting to be "filled" with information; students who do not know how to think, question or wonder, or problem-solve; and children (and teachers!) who question the relevance of the material that is being taught to today.
The Giant Circle
Here we are in 2012. The Common Core State Standards have raised the bar for many educators and their students. The Next Generation Science Education Standards imminent release have schools scrambling to, once again, find time for science instruction in a schedule previously usurped by reading, writing and mathematics, the "testable" subjects. A sluggish American economy has forced districts to more and more with less and less.
There is a movement afoot to return to teaching rich topics, and infuse the literacy and numeracy skills required to learn important scientific and historical ideas: a rising number of "theme" public schools as choices in urban areas; a growing number of charter schools devoted to the arts or sciences; STEM magnet schools emerging across the country. Along with this, there are thousands of teachers trying to go back to the "old" way of teaching, with the "new" way of looking at skills and standards infused within.
I am having a great time working with teachers all over, as they explore favorite topics through the lens of the Common Core State Standards. Here is the first in a series of articles on creating integrated, standards-based curriculum.
Wildflowers and Seeds, an Integrated Study for Fall
I am building an elementary unit for the start of the school year, on wildflowers and seeds. I chose this topic because I have a desire to build a series of studies around short nature walks and hikes that can be conducted anywhere. One of the things the students will readily observe in September is an abundance of late summer wildflowers in flower and bearing seeds.
I know that I want to emphasize several key ideas:
- Nature Study
- Rules, Routines and Procedures for a New School Year
- Describing with Adjectives
Brainstorming, by Content Area
- seed dispersal mechanisms
- observation strategies
- science journals
- nature centers (learning centers)
- weather data (to accompany the skill of observation)
- exploring the 100 grid
- exploring the number line
- navigating the math text book
- exploring number facts (fact families, x tables..)
Everyday Math includes many activities such as these as the entire first unit in many grade levels. I want to include the specific learning task, "Numbers All Around."
- exploring time lines
- exploring maps & globes
The overall focus for social studies will be on building a community of learners.
English Language Arts
- Reading/Literature: Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney (done in "Five in a Row" style)
- Reading/Informative Texts: understanding and using field guides to wildflowers
- Reading/Foundations: using context clues to identify meaning of unknown words in context
- Writing: Perspective of a type of seed (strategy: RAFT paper)
- Language: adjectives and adverbs (strategy: "Dressed Up Sentences")
- Speaking/Listening: asking and answering questions
See links for additional information on the FIAR strategy and RAFT paper details, including purchase information, where applicable.
More About "Five in a Row"
Many homeschoolers develop integrated studies around high-quality children's literature by using a technique called, "Five in a Row" (FIAR). This curriculum building technique, developed by Jane Claire Lambert and Becky Jane Lambert, is an easy, fun way to build a collection of learning tasks that are connected to one another, by using a great book as the connector.
In the wildflowers and seeds unit I am developing, I know that I want to use Miss Rumphius
as my "spine," because the text has an engaging story line, interesting and deep characters, a moral and a clear connection to the science topic (seeds and wildflowers). Because of the quality of the literature, I know that I will be able to consider a great many connections to various content areas, giving me (and my kids) many different ideas for an integrated unit. (Click on the photo for ordering information).
In FIAR, a piece of literature (or a chapter, if it is a novel) is read (or re-read) every day of the week. Each day, learning tasks are developed which correspond to a particular content area. Let's consider Miss Rumphius for a moment:
Monday (Social Studies): All About Maine (geography, topography, history, climate and culture, coastlines... whatever fits my grade-level social studies curriculum)
Tuesday (English Language Arts): A Character Study: Miss Rumphius
Wednesday (Creative Arts): The Dry-brush Watercolor Technique (art response to literature)
Thursday (Applied Mathematics): Our Classroom Weather Calendar (sun index, length of day, high/low air temperature, rainfall... whatever fits my grade-level math measurement standards)
More About RAFT Papers
are a Project CrISS Strategy for helping students organize their writing. The acronym, RAFT, stands for...
For a study of wildflowers to go with Miss Rumphius, how about a study of seed dispersal mechanisms?
- Role = a burdock fruit (burr)
- Audience = a neighborhood cat
- Format = a thank you note
- Topic = helping the burr move to a new home next door
- Role = a poison ivy berry
- Audience = a cedar waxwing (bird)
- Format = a persuasive letter
- Topic = why the two should become friends
- Role = a dandelion tuft
- Audience = the local meteorologist
- Format = a letter to the editor
- Topic = review of the local weather forecasts
- Role = a jewelweed plant
- Audience = little kids
- Format = instructions
- Topic = how to make a seed rocket
More Links on Miss Rumphius
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"I Need a Strategy to Help My Kids _______..."
This month, I have spent a lot of time with teachers, developing lesson plans and analyzing assessment data, and selecting targeted strategies to meet specific, data-based needs of students. Here are the highlights from March:
Based on the use of 12 Structure words, this strategy for explicitly teaching mental imagery is helpful for teaching students how to infer, develop more specific details in their retellings and writing, and to comprehend the author's selection of words and images in the story.
Here are some selected links for teachers interested in learning more about this powerful strategy:
QARs(Question-Answer Relationships) (Raphael)
Students often write weak responses to questions when they respond to literature, because they don't understand 1) what the question is asking them to do; 2) what KIND of question they are answering and 3) where they would look for the right information to answer that question. QARs explicitly teach students how to determine the TYPE of question they are reading, in order to determine where they need to look for the correct information to answer the question.
This article contains a clear and concise overview of the research and the use of QARs in the classroom, and includes planning tools to help teachers prepare a variety of question types, and to help students work with various questions during guided and independent reading activities. A great resource.
This engaging, simple and effective tool is useful for building background knowledge collaboratively before beginning a new unit of instruction, for monitoring understanding and reflecting during instruction, and as an organizer for cooperatively summarizing learning before students independently summarize their own.
I have found this to be a very successful strategy with students from the earliest primary grades, through adult learners. And, incidentally, it is one that most of my teachers want to try first.
Looking for an easy way to organize your planning to meet the Common Core State Standards? Wondering how to show students that literacy is a balance of guided reading, self-selected reading, writing and working with words? The Four Blocks Model using a simple graphic to organize your planning around these four areas. All of their materials are coded by these four blocks, making it easy for you to see if you have all areas covered, and making it simpler to convey to students what part of literacy they are working on with a given activity.
Teachers.Net has a web page dedicated to sharing ideas on using the Four Blocks Model for planning and instruction -- see "4 Blocks Literacy"
for access to plans, chat boards and other resources.
Teachers from primary grades to high school struggle to get some of their students to understand main idea and supporting details, or to choose the most powerful and effective evidence to support their arguments in writing. The Four Square Writing Method helps students conceptualize the relationship between a topic, a main idea/thesis statement/argument, and the details that support it. It also helps younger students distinguish between interesting facts and important details when they write and respond to literature. By using a simple four-block graphic organizer, students gradually work from simpler conceptual relationships to longer writing pieces.
I used this method when I worked with my students and found it to be a very versatile and effective thinking and writing tool.
Teachers at Vermilion Parish Schools developed an online tool
for students to use, to help them use the Four Square Writing Method.
Thinking Maps are learner-created maps that demonstrate the structure of a particular cognitive process. On the surface, they resemble graphic organizers in their non-linguistic format. Unlike graphic organizers, they begin with a blank page, and are learner-created, based on the cognitive process we want the learner to use: defining, describing, categorizing, comparing, sequencing, showing cause and effect, showing part-whole, and illustrating analogies.
You will notice that all of these strategies involve talking and thinking more than filling out papers. Why would that be so? What is this telling us about teaching? What is this telling us about our kids?
I remember one time, when my eldest son was about 15, he balked at some parental directive I had given him (I think it had something to do with what he had to eat), stating that he was "nearly grown now" and old enough to not have to listen to directions. I gently reminded him that, as long as he had "teen" at the end of his age, he was still officially a kid.
That worked to convince my son that he had to follow my directions still. But the logic also works when we are choosing the way to teach new or complex ideas to adolescents. While their bodies are big and they look like adults, they are still children, and learn just like their smaller, younger counterparts.
I get to visit a lot of classrooms and see the wonderful ways that teachers honor the "child" in their teenage students. I wanted to share some ideas that I have seen lately.
Working With Words
Ninth grade algebra students at E. C. Goodwin Technical High School, New Britain, CT, created posters to demonstrate their understanding of important vocabulary. The example in the photo to the right shows a student's knowledge of two different ways to report a range of data, as well as her understanding of the terms 5 number summary. mean, quartile, range and standard deviation.
Other ways secondary students have worked with words:
- "I Have... Who Has..." - a card game where students in a 10th grade geometry class reviewed vocabulary words and facts. In the game, a student has a two-sided card with an "I Have" side and a "Who Has" side. One students starts: "Who has a triangle with two equal sides?" Students check their cards, and another student responds, "I have an isosceles triangle. Who has an angle over 90 degrees?" Play continues until all have read both sides of their cards (Coginchaug Regional High School, Durham, CT).
- Props, Toys and Realia- While reading novels set in medieval times, a 9th grade English teacher provides period props: toy trebuchets, model castles, catapults, armored knights, etc. As vocabulary words are encountered ("turret," "keep," "lance," etc.) students refer to the props to help visualize the vocabulary words (Platt Technical High School, Milford, CT).
Showing What You Know
Many school walkthroughs ask the evaluators to look for examples of learning strategies posted for viewing and use by students. In this 9th grade math lab, students create the strategies posters, creating an interactive wall of procedures and strategies, from mnemonics for analyzing a word problem, to formulae for calculating surface area and volume of three dimensional solids. Not only did the posters show student understanding of the rules and strategies, but they were also available for reference and use by their classmates (E. C. Goodwin Technical High School, New Britain, CT).
Other ways students demonstrated their learning:
- Summary Jar --11th grade physics students summarize each day's work by drawing an activity from the "Summary Jar," which contains a variety of ways for students to bring closure to a lesson, from a "Singing Summary" to the "One Word Summary Chain," where students compose a collaborative summary, one word at a time. The class nominates a student to draw the summary, and can reject the choice. However, then the teacher gets to name the summary used! (Seymour High School, Seymour, CT)
- ReviewRelay -- In one 9th grade algebra class, students review for an exam with a little friendly team competition. The teacher posts questions and problems on one wall of the classroom. Students from each team race to the wall, select a problem, solve it quickly, and bring it to a "checker" (other students or support staff). If the answer is correct, they post the answer, and race back to tag the next "runner." If the answer is incorrect, they return the problem to the wall and select a new one to solve. Great fun for all (Coginchaug Regional High School, Durham, CT).
Once again at Goodwin Tech, 9th grade algebra students combined coordinate plots with topography to create 2D and 3D topographical maps.
The photo to the left shows an example of student work.
Design a Box --
Another math teacher provided strangely shaped objects (a stapler, a vase, an action figure) to small groups of her 8th grade students, and charged them with designing a packing box that minimized packaging while accommodating the item securely (Seymour Middle School, Seymour,CT
In Other News...
The National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve are working together to produce a new, national set of science standards. A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas
provides an overview of the key science concepts and skills, plus a rationale for creating science curriculum that concentrates on big idea rather than isolated facts. The document is available for free download or reading online.
If you are looking for timely, interesting ideas for March studies, Scholastic News
has lessons and other materials on Ellis Island, spring, St. Patrick's Day, healthy eating, and plants.
For those of you whose schools concentrate on the high-yield strategies discussed by Robert Marzano and associates, the article "Setting the Record Straight on High-Yield Strategies,"
by Marzano, himself, is a must-read. Learn what he intended, and didn't intend, by this meta-analysis of effective teaching strategies.
I hope you all had an opportunity to visit the web page about snowman building. While you might not get the opportunity to get outside and build a snowman in the near future (it is supposed to be in the 50's here in Connecticut, this week!), you can use winter weather as a springboard for many studies and for independent learning centers.
Recently, I worked with teachers at Winthrop Elementary School in New London, where the teachers and students are enjoying a brand new school that they moved into over Christmas break. As a new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) School, Winthrop is exploring many ways to integrate the sciences and numeracy into content areas. We spent the day discussing how to build standards-based, integrated learning centers
around science and social studies themes and outdoor experiences. Follow the link to examples of K-3 centers built around winter weather themes.
We used their literacy materials (Open Court), and the following standards, as resources
We will be getting together this spring to talk about ways to integrate numeracy skills through hands-on activities, games and outdoor exploration.
Stay tuned for more on integrating numeracy and literacy into engaging science and social studies experiences.
September has been a busy month in the schools I have visited. With Hurricane Irene delaying the start of school in many districts, even up to an entire week, and certainly disrupting home life for hundreds of thousands of people, it seems like everything we need to do in a school has been compressed to an excruciating degree. But the children are happy, and ready to learn!
Here are some tips and tools that will make getting your Professional Learning Communities, Data Teams and Grade-Level Teams up and running smoothly this fall:
September Data Team "To-Do's"
Here is a list of things that most teams will have accomplished by the end of September:
- First Instructional Data Team meeting held; meeting schedule set for the year
- General look at end-of-year data or beginning of year data for incoming students
- Binder for data team minutes, forms set up
- Assessment calendar developed for the year (district and school assessments)
- Assessment portfolio set up or updated (optional; may be part of data team record)
- Universal screens and/or diagnostic assessments administered to new students
- First pre-assessment developed
- First pre-assessment scheduled, including date to analyze data
- First School Data Team held; school-wide goals set for literacy, numeracy and climate.
During September, teams may review with math and literacy staff the names of students identified for Tier 3 support the previous spring. Decision-rules may be determined for identification of students for Tier 2 support, with the help of outside consultants and literacy/numeracy specialists.
Tier 3 intervention groups begin as soon as practical in September.
October Data Team "To-Do's"
As September winds to a close, we begin to look ahead to the tasks for October:
- First pre-assessment administered, collaboratively scored, and analyzed by data team;
- First SMART Goal (literacy or numeracy) established
- Instructional plan for addressing prioritized student needs developed by grade-level teams
- Calendar set up for monitoring first SMART Goal; plans for developing additional SMART Goal (literacy of numeracy) scheduled, as time permits
- School Data Team revises or develops School Improvement Plan, schedule and plan for monitoring Instructional Data Teams
Tier 2 interventions usually begin in October.
Here are some tools that you might find useful as you begin your year with data:
- The Common Core State Standards are newly revised, national standards for literacy and numeracy, as well as literacy and numeracy in the content areas, that have been adopted by most states in the United States as their state standards. If your team has not previously used the CCSS to plan, begin this year by using the CCSS as you develop assessments, new curriculum and instructional plans in your data teams.
- When a task from a pre-assessment is complex or gives unusual results, a task deconstruction organizer is helpful to determine what students must be able to know, understand and do to be successful at the task. The results of this analysis can be used to determine the focus for the SMART Goal.
- When a strategy is selected to address a learning need, it is beneficial to write up an instructional plan, to ensure that all members of the team understand how to incorporate the strategy into an appropriate instructional sequence. Modeling of the strategy in use is helpful during this stage.
- To make sure that the focus remains on changes in adult behaviors, it is helpful to define indicators of success for implementation of the strategy, in terms of observable adult behaviors, student behaviors and evidence in student work.
The Blog Carnival for the The Little Green Corner, September Edition
will be extended for two more weeks, due to the delayed opening for many schools in the Northeast. I know that many of you have been accessing the newsletter and the nature study posts, and we want to give you all a chance to contribute to the carnival as you finish your studies.
Here are blog entries for suggested nature studies for the month:
Here are some additional entries that might give you some ideas for nature study:
Stay tuned for links to the September Nature Study #4: Moonwatching. In the mean time, check out these resources to add to your earth science studies:
Have a wonderful last week of September! Pick some apples! Make some applesauce!
, nature study
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, professional development
, team building
, technology, planning tools, resources
, science, physics, flight
, lesson plans
, data teams
, earth science
The Little Green Corner
- Strategy of the Month: Using Your Senses
- September Nature Study Ideas: Ants, Mushrooms, Moonwatching and Migration
- September Specials and Links
- For Your Library: The One Small Square Series, by Donald Silver
- Skill of the Month: Observation
- Organizer of the Month: The Bubble Map
- Thematic Learning Centers Ideas
newsletter edition, which will be published on this blog on the first
of each month, will contain these features, links to downloadable
resources, and links to online resources for lesson planning. These
newsletters will be followed up by individual posts on the nature study
ideas, for those who would like more details on how to study that topic
and connect it to other content areas.
The newsletter can
be downloaded and printed, or viewed online (when viewed online, you
will be able to follow the many hyperlinks to other documents, web
activities and printables).
Please let me know
how you used the nature study ideas in your homeschool or classroom. Use
the ideas in the newsletter and blog, or find your own topics. Then
make sure that you share the link to your blog or website in Mr. Linky
on my blog page at A Child's Garden, as well as The Little Green Corner Blog Carnival, so others can see.
Coming on September 9, 2011: The Ants Go Marching...