February 2011

Monthly Archive

Wednesday Wonderings: Down to the Wire

Posted by on 23 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: force and motion, measurement, required journal, Uncategorized

This is the last weekly post I will make. I have learned a lot, and not enough. I am better informed, but far from expert.

Perhaps being “on the road” is a good model for my students. I can honestly model being a life-long learner as long as I continue to find areas in science that I can dig into more deeply (that is the easy part). I will however probably always struggle to know what depth my own students are ready to explore (that is the hard part, knowing what they are ready for).

I loved the ELL work we did Tuesday this week! I am thinking that the sort of scaffolding for language learners is similar to the sort of scaffolding for content area, and matches closely with science — which is a new “world” for students with a new vocabulary, some of which seems familiar (like a cognate) on the surface, but is slightly different, and some words being completely new. The writing system is unfamiliar. The processes for discussion are different.

The science readings for this coming Friday were… interesting. Some great information, some that I wonder about. More on that in my paper.

I have put off working on the unit overview because of the paper, will try to get to that tomorrow!

Sunday Synopsis: What I am thinking, doing, and learning

Posted by on 20 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: force and motion, Uncategorized

I am thinking that I would probably like to embed the ideas for this unit in other units, as well. These are fundamental principles, these Newtonian ideas… they cover many branches of science, and are actually somewhat difficult I find to really isolate.

I am looking over the ideas and resources that I have been collecting over these many weeks and wondering “now what?” I think that force requires the ideas of inertia and mass as well as motion. I haven’t even mentioned inertia before! I also think that measurement per se is probably going to be a real issue.

And another resource that just called me on the phone, my friend Chris R. (an artist and engineer), who offered some suggestions:

  • real life example, a swing (pendulum) variable mass, solid lever on the pendulum (Not a string) [me: croquet mallet and ball?]
  • soccer/kickball
  • kinetic energy is greater for a greater mass at same velocity; convert kinetic energy to force is higher mathematics
  • my question:
  • ?do children understand momentum more than acceleration?
  • distance + mass are two of the variables for force, missing only time

For the rest of this evening, I am getting the seminar prep out of the way. And ignoring the need to get the reference section of the paper pulled together properly.

Saturday Symposium: Still More Thoughts

Posted by on 19 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: force and motion, Uncategorized

Just finished attending a webinar (see the archive for February 19) on Universal Design for Learning and Assistive Technology. Much food for thought: how to make all lessons available to all students? Like Vaughn Chapter 9 where there is a pyramid to learning, the base of which is the set of practices and understandings that all students must learn, each lesson in a classroom really should have a baseline of learning that is accessible to all students.

Browsing through unread posts in the newsreader I use, I ran across this post from a teacher whose blog I have followed for a couple years:
http://www.johntspencer.com/2011/02/rethinking-assessment.html How do I set up the learning goals (targets and criteria as explained yesterday by Susy Watts of Arts Impact) in a way that the students can both understand them and make use of them to inform their own learning as they go along?

My goals this week are to re-work the master’s paper, dig in to the ideas behind the science website, revisit the assessment for differentiated instruction, and spend just a little bit of time outside if the weather isn’t too wet — I tend to sink to my ankles in mud the last couple weeks (the soil is definitely much to soggy to work). And thinking, thinking, thinking…

Watching the preteaching interview for the physics lesson, I had some revelations. Of course.

  • The idea of claim and evidence are useful in all areas of science, as well as in language arts, history and mathematics — and debate.
  • The idea that students already generally have VAST knowledge in a subject area, but it may be broad rather than deep. Also, many students already have vocabulary they use appropriately, but use of vocabulary alone is not clear evidence that a student understands the concepts and makes connections to other concepts and events.
  • The idea that it is completely appropriate at times to engage in direct teaching, for example, when there are conventions within the discipline that help with communications.
  • Not all students will have the same set of experiences, and even if they have been present at the same events they might have different explanations.
  • Tie it in to common experience when possible — what is out there in the real world? How does this lesson help me understand my life. Thinking it connects to yesterday: Susy Watts mentioned we need to be able to help the students see how this lesson today will be useful to them when they are in their thirties or forties — not just because they are all going to be engineers and doctors, but because when I am trying to move my car which is out of gas, I want to know how far I can get it off the road!

It will probably help me A LOT to look at what 4th graders and 5th graders are supposed to study in math, too!

Old way: vocabulary → concept
New way: concept → vocabulary

Wednesday Wonderings: What Works?

Posted by on 16 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: force and motion, measurement, optics, required journal, Uncategorized

I have been spending a lot of time cogitating, and basically spinning my wheels. I loved the way that Jana structured the final optics exploration: we self-assessed and then discussed our learning. Memorable for me was Jana’s description of how she decided to create shoebox cameras obscuras pretty much FIRST rather than last. The structure of Jana’s unit was to start with what we knew about light and then take it apart, and then at the end to look at how all the pieces went together, reviewing our learning. I am definitely thinking about this for the physics unit.

This week I added a page (see the top bar, far left) called A Unit Plan to hold my finished unit. It will be amended and updated as I have ideas.

I also received clarification that I need 25 resources all-together, not 25 websites plus additional. I pulled a lot of books off my home bookshelves and annotated them (Books on My Shelf) to go along with the web-based resources that I have annotated (Science Websites). Thus, this requirement is technically complete.

The unit needs to include interdisciplinary, differentiated and multicultural elements. I am still working on that piece. Today I remembered my text from the Math strand for elementary folks, and pulled that book out. It has a wealth of information that helps me see how to form some of the essential (big and transferable) ideas for the unit.

Sunday Synopsis: Where I am headed

Posted by on 13 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: force and motion, measurement, Uncategorized

Over the next two or three weeks, I am expected to pull together my thoughts on this unit to produce a rough outline of a unit on my topic. Which is measurement of force and motion. Right at this moment, I have to admit that I am not completely sure whether I have all the information I need.

I want to have a clear basis for evaluation: both formative and summative assessment.

I want to find a couple of videos or computer-based supplements because the students who are visual learners rather than kinesthetic would benefit.

I want to have a preponderance of hands-on and discourse-rich experiences for the students as well.

I want to be sure that I have adequate support for the students who experience learning or productive differences (who will need additional scaffolding or support to learn and demonstrate learning).

I want to be sure that at the end of the unit all students will have had an opportunity to learn or review:

  • appropriate science vocabulary
  • what measurement is about
  • what the concept of force means and awareness of force in real life
  • the dimensions of motion (direction, speed, acceleration) and awareness of how motion relates to force
  • mass (at this age, weight will be sufficient in concept) and how it relates to force

AND I am re-writing the Master’s paper.

Wednesday Wonderings: Old Fashioned Thinking

Posted by on 09 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: force and motion, measurement, required journal, Uncategorized

//final publish time at 7:30 pm Weds//

Please see my Saturday post for additional learning from this week!

Doug responded to the Saturday post, feel free to add more here if you want!

The “Big Idea Kit” from the Tools for Teaching Science website involves the following four steps:

  1. Identifying Inquiry-Worthy Ideas
  2. Attending to Students’ Initial and Unfolding Ideas
  3. Making Meaning of Science Phenomena
  4. Reasoning with Explanatory Models through Conversation

This is similar to the Understanding by Design idea formulated by Wiggins and McTighe. A model for UbD planning is available in PDF form from Wiggins at http://www.grantwiggins.org/documents/UbDQuikvue1005.pdf

The “Big Idea” according to the Washington State Standards (2009) is:

In prior grades students learned that forces work not only to push and pull objects, but also to affect objects when they are dropped or thrown. In grades 4-5 students learn how to use basic tools to measure the fundamental quantities of force, time, and distance. Force can be measured with a spring scale. Distance and time can be measured by a variety of methods, and the results can be used to compare the motion of two objects. Focusing on accuracy of measurement, recording of data and logical conclusions from the data provide the foundation for future years when students will undertake more complex investigations.

I put in bold the parts that I think are the most important to focus on. In earlier grades, students should have engaged in some of the idea about what constitutes force, but a review of this may be necessary for students who missed it or who have forgotten.

According to the webpage on children’s misconceptions, some of the limiting factors children might have for this unit could include:

  • measurement is dependent on a pre-determined physical object
  • measurement is linear only
  • objects are in motion only when something is acting on them
  • mass is the same thing as size or weight
  • acceleration = speed
  • force is a property of an object (#13 in the first list for the link) — inherent in the object
  • force is related to size

I think that since 4th and 5th graders are so much in Piaget’s “Concrete Operational” stage (generally – for now I’ll focus on average for planning and differentiate later), that considering measurement and seriation is appropriate for this unit, as is asking them the age-old “why” and “how” questions; but asking students to engage in the same level of abstraction to derive actual formulas might be too difficult. However, I think many will be able to make the connection that if mass is held constant then force changes with acceleration/velocity, and that if acceleration/velocity is constant then force changes in proportion to the mass of an object. Would they also then make the connection to how changing both mass and acceleration affects outcome?

So I think the thing to do is to set up experiments for exploring how “measurement” works, what the variables in “force” are, and ways to represent our work graphically. All of these things will lend themselves to groupwork, all will be tasks that are worthy of discussion, and all will be adaptable for multiple entry points and ways of making meaning.

At least, that’s where it stands right now. Always open to feedback, extension, and new information!

Saturday Symposium… Sorta

Posted by on 05 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

On the same website I mentioned in yesterdays’ post, Tools for Ambitious Science Teaching there is a 42 minute video from a symposium that Jessica Thompson (professor at the University of Washington) gave in 2010. WOW. In addition to the video there are also numerous papers and such available through the “Papers and Presentations” page (bottom of the side bar on the left, bright green tab).

Major ideas — sound simple, but she has the research and experience to back up her assertions. Here is one idea that struck me out of the blue: It is not enough “equity” to merely provide low-status access to the same learning opportunities as others, a solid teacher provides “scaffolding for full participation.” That’s about 6:50 into the video.

At about 8 minutes in, the idea that hit me between the eyes was when she began talking about the 4 key ideas of ambitious science teaching. Here, at item three she lists “Pressing students for evidence-based explanations of science phenomena.” Then, and this is what is so simple-sounding but I know will be harder for me to implement until I really internalize it…
When pressing for explanations of student thinking, know the difference between asking what, how and why.

I can ask a student:

  • What happened (when you did or saw or …)?
  • How did that happen (sequence of events)?
  • Why did that happen (the scientific explanation)?

Here is another quote “connecting the observable to the unobservable.”

Thanks to this video, I am also thinking now about the difference between “practices” and “tools” I use as a teacher and how those are connected to my understanding of myself and my role as a teacher. Where does this come from? Which tools do I use, which practices, and why?

It’s not just about science, after all. It’s about the students, and our relationship within the classroom, and how I can best support them as they figure things out.

With few exceptions (for example, knowing how to unload, clean and reload a shotgun) students CAN be trusted to try things out, make mis-steps and connections, and figure out a path on their own. More or less. The teaching part is in marking off the area the path should run through (for now) and making sure that known hazards are identified or mitigated.

At least, that is what I think right now…

Friday Fiddling (a day late): Everyday language

Posted by on 04 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: force and motion, measurement, Uncategorized

I am actually writing this on Saturday, but “posting” to Friday to keep things consistent in the online world.

I just finished watching a video on the use of everyday language by students to describe their scientific thinking. Titled “Discourse Primer” this 30+ minute video shows what appears to be a 5th grade teacher asking students to think about the concept of acceleration in the context of a unit on force.

Student language reveals both misunderstandings (or “naive understandings”) as well as some pretty sophisticated reasoning. At the beginning of the video the teacher asks students to fill out a Venn diagram to demonstrate how they have heard or understood the term “acceleration” in their home lives as well as in science use. Later, the students are asked to draw, discuss and then think about how to represent in a graph the “speed” of rollerbladers they have observed.

Through all of it the teacher is working with them to reflect back their thinking (“So you’re saying that…” or “I heard…”) as well as to rephrase concepts using scientific terminology.

Makes me think that probably I want to make space in the unit for children to bridge home language and academic language. Actually, come to think of it, that’s just good practice in any instructional setting!

So: I want to ask students to talk about how various words are used. Here are the core words and some of the ideas I think the students might come up with.

Measurement (how big? how much? how far?) and units used (do children use inches and feet at home or centimeters and meters? Miles or kilometers? Fahrenheit or Celcius — do they know which “degrees” are are referred to when they talk about the weather?)

Force (be prepared for criminologists to talk about forcible entry and use of force — what are the common threads between those uses and other uses?)

Acceleration (going faster, moving, getting going — accelerator=gas pedal on a car, what is the connection?)

Speed/Velocity (is there a difference? what is it?)

Motion words (what is the language of motion at home — walk, run, went, came, stayed; and in science?)

Mass (some children might think of religious services when they hear this word; it is often confused with “weight” — not a complete misunderstanding…)

As usual, additional feedback is welcome!

Wednesday Wonderings: Basics of Measurement

Posted by on 02 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: measurement, required journal, Uncategorized

Well…. after working with the idea of dyscalculia on Tuesday, I realized that these lessons, particularly since they are based on the concept of “measurement” will be very difficult for some students. Conferring with my mother, whose many decades of teaching cause her to say “of course” at regular intervals when I have such bursts of insight, I have decided to think very carefully about how I can address dyscalculia as well as reading and writing difficulties.

“Basics” are not necessarily easy.

I think the place to start will be with an introduction and workshop that allows students to review concepts and learn vocabulary as well as to begin formulating their own questions. I began working on that idea in the “Monday Musings” post on January 17.

Let’s get to the details:

This lesson is about science CONCEPTS, not about being able to read, write or calculate. All of those components are logical pieces, but they are not the focus of instruction. So, going with what Sonja said on Tuesday and the discussion my Mother and I have had, I will scaffold in three ways:

  1. READING: Students do not have to access 4th/5th grade science concepts using grade-level texts. In fact, as we know, the instructional reading level in content areas other than Language Arts can be lower than actual “grade” level, with no loss of learning. So, I will look for texts at a 3rd grade reading level to form the core of instruction. I will also have some more advanced texts that students may consult and some texts at a simpler level (even if I have to write them myself, I would use them more than once!) that contain the key terms and concepts.
  2. WRITING: Science writing is less concerned with prosody and form than with recording: accuracy and function. At the 4th/5th grade level, I would like to introduce the concept of science journals using a template that a) reminds students what data needs to be included, b) what the steps are for experiential learning and c) models the way “real” science journals are kept. Students will be asked to respond “completely” to prompts, rather than in “full sentences” — at this level especially, diagrams will be accepted and encouraged. Spelling will not “count” as long as meaning is clear. Students who have neurological difficulties will be encouraged to use any and all appropriate tools to assist with these recording tasks (including using a digital camera to take pictures, and inserting them into computer-generated templates). If there were enough computers, I would actually like all students to do this last piece!
  3. MATHEMATICS: There are so many things that could “trip up” any students with dyscalculia, from writing numbers down inaccurately, to being unable to read rulers, clocks/timers and scales, to being unable to grasp the “relationships between” – which is what measurement is all about. Mother suggested that even in the first grade most students who struggle with analog clocks can use the second hand and a single numeral on the clock face to count off “one minute” increments. I could also provide egg timers (shaped like hourglasses) with the correct increments, or pre-set digital timers. I would ideally like to provide scales that give digital readings as well as a verbal reading. I would like to set up graphs in such a way that at least a general understanding can be obtained. However, I am not sure exactly how to do all these things, and would consult with the special education teacher if I had a student who exhibited need in this area. For example, I don’t know if there are computer-based programs that might help, or if there are already some activities developed to help with understanding. For some students, I think “more than” and “less than” will be a good first step. The ideas of force (push-pull) and motion themselves should be comprehensible by this grade level, the sticking point really is the measurement.

I think that, in this unit working in heterogenous groups will be the key — students can participate in the experiential learning without getting hung up on the areas where they have extreme difficulty. At the same time, I want to be sure all students will be able to explain these simple concepts:

  • measurement is a way to compare one thing with another
  • measuring force means you have to know how massive an object is and how fast it is moving/speed (extension – velocity)
  • measuring movement means you need to know where something started and where it finished (extension – direction/vector)
  • measuring speed means you need to know how long it takes an object to get from one place to another

I want students to have exposure to the terminology: that distance is measured in centimeters and meters (length); that time is measured in seconds, minutes and hours (duration); that mass is measured in grams and kilograms (amount of “stuff”). At the beginning, however, we will start with the idea that bits of string or lengths of metal can be used for distance, that time can be marked off by anything with a constant rate of change (drops of water/sand, sun across the sky…), that objects can be weighed by comparison against a standard object.