Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Class 7: 09/15/11-Backwards Design/ Wiggens & McTighe


Today, class began with a discussion of chapters 1 & 10 of Understanding Design by Wiggins & McTighe. Students were concerned that the Backwards Design framework would be hard to implement in public schools, in which teachers had to cover specific materials and had specific teaching roles. Teachers would have to choose activities on certain bases, such that he/she would have to think of what they wanted students to accomplish before making a decision on an activity, and teachers would have to identify with the way students solved problems.

According to the authors, the idea of Backward Design laid out a framework, not a specific project or a 1-day activity, and it was focused on a larger scale. Students discussed the “6 facets of understanding,” which included Empathy, an emotional word, not formally associated with teaching. The TA asked how empathy applied to teaching math and science and how we would interpret empathy. Students suggested that we would have to make an emotional investment in the students; others said that there was a buy-in, that students would see the value in a lesson and have an emotional response, like feel motivation. Empathy in science would help create connections between the material covered and the students, or that students would make the connections themselves. In the discussion of the 6 facets of understanding, the TA brought up the updated Bloom’s Taxonomy, and how it was useful in classrooms for teachers, especially when creating tests for students and to self-evaluate.

The authors of the reading specifically pointed out that Backward Design was not a prescriptive program, philosophy of educations, or intended for indirect lesson planning, and the TA went on to discuss how it included very general steps. In connection to our reading in the previous week (Barron, Krajcik), all authors brought up the importance of content-specific goals, motivating questions, and so forth, and the fact that many or most teachers do not do this in their classrooms.

The discussion then turned to textbooks and the TEKS. Textbook writers (experts) create books in a way that may match or don’t match up to the TEKS, and follow a very different or strange way of ordering subjects.  Students asked, how are teachers supposed to organize their curricula in a way that makes sense for them and the students, and do we have to make a list of or prioritize TEKS? Activities and chapter orders have to be decided on by the teachers so that it makes logical sense for students as they go through the curriculum.

Teachers make the decisions to emphasize one thing over another (based on personal preferences). Teachers must make an emphasis on the large concepts that span their subjects, so that, when students are learning, they don’t get the impression that everything they are learning has the same weight in the real world. Furthermore, we have to respect the standards (TEKS) set for us so that students do come away with some understanding of specific content, and it really does give us a framework of what the students will be learning. Of course, creating priorities for students varies with the teacher, but overall, large concepts that students retain are similar from classroom to classroom.

The “Twin Sins of Design” were also discussed: coverage and “Hands-on without Minds on”.  Hands-on without minds on is the idea of an activity in which the teacher is hopeful that, through the activity, the students will somehow learn something. The TA asked how many students had gone through courses like these, and most of the class raised their hands (chemistry & physics labs at the university level included). The idea of coverage was also discussed and relates back to prioritizing the TEKS and spending different amounts of time on specific parts of the curriculum designed by the teacher. TEKS should be rated and ranked based on several factors, taking into account that some show up more frequently on the TAKS and also based on students’ prior knowledge.

Finally, class ended with a wrap-up discussion of the 3 steps of creating a backward design and a template worksheet was passed out (from the reading). The template, unsurprisingly, uses many of the same factors included on the 5E lesson plan model used by UTeach, including “Students will be able to”, and the Explore, Evaluate, Elaborate, Explain, and implicitly, Engage.

The template will be used for our field lesson and we will be expected to note down questions that we plan on asking the students to help focus the lesson.

Each day in PBI a different student takes responsibility for blogging about what goes on in class.  Today’s blog is brought to you by Sarah. ­­­

Class 6: 09/13/11-Petrosino (2004)

Tara, our teaching assistant, began the class discussion for today with a review of the critical aspects of Project Based Instruction (PBI) as defined by the readings for 9/8 (Baron et al and Krajcik & Blumenfeld).  The six most important components of PBI discussed were the driving question or challenge, scaffolding, collaboration, creation of a tangible product, ample assessment opportunities throughout, and authenticity or a “real-world” situation.

The importance of PBI as opposed to traditional laboratory and mathematics approaches was emphasized with the above "Ted Talk" video of Dan Meyers entitled “math needs a makeover” and the following quote from Ausubel

It should seem rather self-evident that performing laboratory experiments in cookbook fashion, without understanding the underlying substantive and methodological principles involved, confers precious little meaningful understanding, and that many students studying mathematics and science find it relatively simple to discover correct answers to problems without really understanding what they are doing.

The class then discussed what it would mean for the Petrosino case study of an astronomy class to follow the “How People Learn” text.  The How People Learn framework is focused on four classroom environments: knowledge centered, learner centered, assessment centered, and community centered.  Knowledge centered environments focus on student understanding of content, not just their memorization and requires meaningful engagement.  Learner centered environments draw on students’ prior knowledge, skills, and cultural experiences.  Assessment centered environments provide feedback on assignments whether these assignments are tests, worksheets, or assignments.  The feedback does not necessarily have to be tangible though.  For example, a teacher can jot down notes to themself on student productivity or have a conversation with a student or group of students.  A community centered environment creates connections between the school and the outside world.  Connections are made between the home, school, after-school programs, and experts.  Perhaps even more importantly, community centered environments form a community within the classroom and give students individual roles that draw on their strengths.  Great classrooms incorporate all four of these components.

Petrosino’s data collection methods were then reviewed with a focus on the type of data collected.  He used interviews (with the teacher, students, and colleagues), email correspondence, field notes of classroom observations, classroom artifacts (copies of the lecture, notes, handouts, computer programs, and class projects), and he focused on the photometry topic of the unit only instead of analyzing all topics covered.  These methods are qualitative, not quantitati/div>

Lastly, the class looked at whether the unit the teacher in the case study taught followed the How People Learn framework.  The majority of the class felt that the unit was knowledge centered because students actually used software and telescopes instead of learning about them.  The concern was brought up, however, that there was a focus on skills in the class rather than understanding but after some discussion there was a consensus that the ability to learn new skills is important and an ability the kids must have for future careers.  The class taught them HOW to use technology which prepares them for their future jobs that we may not even be able to picture yet.  Most importantly, the students understood by the end what a scientist is better than students that did not take this course.

Each day in PBI a different student takes responsibility for blogging about what goes on in class.  Today’s blog is brought to you by Rebecca. ­­­

Class 5: 09/08/11-Fundamentals of PBI-Barron/Krajcik & Blumenfeld

I will begin with a one paragraph summary of the class session and then describe it in a roughly chronological fashion. The major topic for the class session can be summarized by the question “What is Project Based Instruction (PBI)?”  The content (particularly after the first few minutes) was also focused around two papers: Barron et al on the one hand and Krajcik and Blumenfeld on the other.  The session consisted entirely of discussion: most of the time the entire class participated in a discussion together, but at one point the class was divided into table groups.  There were four major points of discussion, all of which were introduced by Sara, who ran the class (Dr. Petrosino was unable to attend class). The direction of the discussion was visibly influenced by the questions and comments of the students.  The four topics were: (1) the students’ prior experiences with projects, (2) a description of teaching practices that use projects but do not qualify as PBI, (3) a comparison of the two major schools of thought regarding PBI (as expressed by the papers), and (4) a discussion about the advantages and difficulties of implementing PBI.

Sara, after expressing the importance of the two papers, began class by asking the students to describe projects that they had completed previously.  Specific projects that were described were: an at-home project in which students constructed a Styrofoam model of a cell, a project in which students designed drugs to fight cancer, AP English projects in which the student (according to her choices) drew pictures and made crossword puzzles, a project in which a student built a castle, and a physics project in which students designed containers to protect eggs as they were dropped from a substantial height.  Many other students named characteristics of typical projects without describing any individual projects.  According to all these comments, Sara wrote on the white board a list of typical projects characteristics: taking place at home or outside of class, allowing student socializing, encouraging fun, involving rubrics (some but not all), involving research (some but not all), eliciting creativity, often taking place after the lesson to which they related, and involving freedom. 

Sara then informed that class that two major schools of thought exist in the educational research community surrounding PBI.  The first is centered at the University of Michigan and the second at Vanderbilt University.  She said that one of the papers the class read, Krajcik and Blumenfeld, was representative of the former and the other, Baron et al., was representative of the latter.  She also said the two schools have many similarities but that they also have differences.  After making this important point, she asked the class to engage in a discussion about characteristics of teaching is not PBI but still involves projects.  Based on student comments, she wrote the following descriptions on the white board: involving busy work (defined by the class to be repetitive work that does not introduce new concepts), completely teacher-run, involving only passive learning (or only lecture), one-shot only (that is, not involving revisions), involving recipes or step-by-step instructions, individual, and containing a closed or fixed ending.

Sara then asked the class to discuss with their tables the differences and similarities between the two papers.  After allowing for a few minutes, she asked the class to report the characteristics of the Baron et al. paper.  The class named: (1) non-specific feed back and revision, (2) appropriate social groups, (3) learning appropriate goals, (4) scaffolding, and (5) real word content (these are recorded as named by the class, not as written in the paper).  Regarding learning appropriate goals, Sara remarked that successful implementation can be deceptively difficult and she references the model rocket example from the paper. 

Sara also asked the class what was meant by the word scaffolding and the class (and the TAs) eventually stated that scaffolding is any structure meant to assist the students (like the structure of a building). Some examples given were lessons, labs, activities, problems, having students hold meetings, and deadlines.  These examples led to a discussion regarding the “hidden curriculum” of schools which is the attempt to teach “21st century skills” such as collaboration, numeracy, critical thinking, responsibility, etc.  Some examples of this practice were mentioned by the students, such as a teacher requiring students to have a planner and to write down learning objectives.  Both TAs stressed the important of this sort of teaching and Tara emphasized the importance of being explicit with the students that it is part of the learning objectives.  They also highlighted the usefulness of having the schedule and/or current learning objectives hanging in the classroom.  Sara said sometimes one can feel like they are treating the students too much like children but it is okay. 

There was also a discussion about the importance of deadlines and both TAs said they were somewhat relaxed, but that it was important not to be too relaxed.  Sara emphasized that teaching is “a balancing act,” and in this case the competing forces are a desire to let students slow down to learn more effectively or complete projects if they fall behind (a concern raised by a student) and the requirement to cover the scope of the curriculum.  Prudie added that often in AISD, “curriculum roadmaps” are required, particularly in schools with low exam scores.  Sara reported that her success with meeting curricular benchmarks led the district to give her more freedom.  On the importance of deadlines, Prudie explained that the best philosophy depends greatly on the personality of the teacher: deadlines are very important to her and she is strict about them.  Tara emphasized that, with regard to deadlines and in general, the first project will typically go poorly as both the students and the teacher need to adjust.  She said that it’s important to have intermediate deadlines because otherwise students will try to do everything at the last minute, especially the students who are used to being successful.

After several minutes of this discussion (which stemmed from the characteristics of Baron et al), Sara refocused the class on the papers and asked the students to name the characteristics considered by Krajcik and Blumenfeld.  Throughout the discussion, the students named: (1) social organization, (2) scaffolding, (3) technology, (4) tangible products, (5) a driving question, and (6) situated inquiry (the latter two were named after Sara prodded the class; she also asked what was meant by situated inquiry and a student responded that the projects should be related to real life rather than demonstrating learning just for the sake of learning). 

There was substantial discussion regarding technology in the classroom.  The general consensus was that technology can be an added challenge because students are learning content and the functions of a device at the same time but that technology can be quite engaging to students.  Tara emphasized the important of teaching devices and technology to students rather than only teaching them to perform certain tasks (such as finding the point of intersection between two functions on a graphing calculator).  She warned against assuming students understand technology already: students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and do not all have access like we might think they do. 

In regards to tangible products, Sara pointed out that when students invest in something, it can make their work more meaningful.  As an example, she described a project in which her students picked a mythical creature or superhero and decided, with regard to organ systems, whether the creature could actually exist.  The tangible products in this case consisted of power point presentations, movies, or even skits (as their form was left open to the students).  She added that it was one of her favorite projects and that the students went much more in depth than she had expected.

For the final discussion point, Sara, asked the students to share their honest thoughts and feelings about the prospect of implementing PBI.  Most of the students seemed to imply that they liked the idea of PBI: one student said there seemed to be lots of possibilities, one said he was hopeful, one said she saw lots of value, and another that she liked the avenue for creativity.  On the other side, some concerns were expressed: one student said he was scared, another that she was afraid it would take too long to cover curriculum, and another that he was worried administration wouldn’t allow this sort of the teaching.  Sara explicitly recognized the legitimacy of these concerns and said that the students should always feel free to express their honest opinion, even if it feels contrarian.  Both TA’s expressed the importance of a willingness to learning alongside the students and Tara said she felt that administrators were beginning to come to an understanding of the importance of PBI.

Each day in PBI a different student takes responsibility for blogging about what goes on in class.  Today’s blog is brought to you by ­­­David.

Class 4: 09/06/11-Legacy Cycles/Klein & Harris

The discussion in our PBI class today opened up with this question, “As Project-Based Instruction revolves around the central idea of creating and implementing strong, solid Legacy Cycle projects, a firm understanding of what this is essential.” Below is a general schematic of a Legacy Cycle:
As defined by a student in the class, a Legacy Cycle is a type of problem-based learning that starts with a challenge being posed to the students. It goes through a cycle of generating ideas and gathering multiple perspectives on those ideas and assessing the various sources of information before going on to a process of researching and revising. Finally, when the students feel ready to "test their mettle", there is some form of assessment that evaluated their progress in their research. When their results are deemed satisfactory by their supervisors and peers, the cycle draws o a close with the final step of presenting their findings to the public in some way. Finally, if their findings prompt another challenge or prove unsatisfactory, the cycle starts again from the top.

So how is this different from a 5E? A 5E lesson plan is the template Uteach students used from Step 1 of the program until this class. The 5 E's in order are Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate - a very rigid and effective way to plan a lesson.

Of course, there are similarities between these teaching formats. Both include types of formative assessment and require the students to provide artifacts of their learning, both important tools that let the teacher know how the students are progressing. Both are templates, meaning that we can tweak the little things - they're backbones structures for lessons, there to provide a type of structure to the way we teach. 

But there are some noteworthy differences between 5E's and Legacy Cycles. In a way, the structure of Legacy Cycles is less strict, giving the students more free reign than in the case of a 5E lesson plan. In a Legacy Cycle, there is more room for multiple answers from the students. It also includes a revision step, in which the students may change the way they approach the problem if they find that they are stuck. The 5E's exploration is laid out for the students, but it's not as guided in Legacy Cycles. The 5E format does not have to start with a challenge, though it can. All in all, a Legacy Cycle encourages more independent thought; it's more open-ended. It's a more mature version of a 5E lesson plan.

The most vital part we as teachers need to get right in a Legacy Cycle is the initial challenge. A good challenge could fuel effective student work for the duration of the project. A sub-par challenge, however, could lead to massive confusion and a failed opportunity for productive learning.

This means that it is vital to know the qualities of what makes good challenge. Some ideas the class came up with were as follows.

A good challenge:

  • provides more than one way to arrive at the/an answer. 
  • provides foundation something that the students can build on for multiple or future challenges (scaffolding). 
  • is Interesting to all members involved (students, teacher, community, etc...) 
  • takes into account what the students already know, and relates to the students' lives and prior knowledge. 
  • helps build students' confidence. 
  • takes time, makes the students think. It teaches them to think.
  • gives the student the chance to self-assess through reflection. 

With these ideas in mind, the class split off into our prospective teaching groups and researched the Legacy Cycles on Dr. Petrosino's website from students in the past to try to come up with a tentative lesson idea for this semester's teaching field experience. Our results can be seen in the below presentation that we collaborated on in class through google presentations.
Each day in PBI a different student takes responsibility for blogging about what goes on in class.  Today’s blog is brought to you by Diana.

Class 3: 09/01/2011-Ethics & Field Observations

Today Dr. Petrosino joined the class via Skype for a while and led a discussion over the Eratosthenes problem and how it related to us as future teachers. He explained that problems and information come in three types or levels: factual, conceptual, and innovation or transfer. The factual information, contained in the pre-quiz we took online, is an area that the United States is very good at teaching and assessing. Conceptual information involves synthesizing ideas from several sources, making inferences and applying ideas within a field. Innovation or information transfer involves taking information learned in one field and using it in different ways in another field. Factual information is very critical to know, but it has been shown that experts have conceptual and transfer abilities that we need to pay more attention to and encourage.

The Eratosthenes problem synthesizes math and science concepts and requires innovative, creative transfers between the fields. Dr. Pertosino explained that the reason he introduces these complex problems to us as students it so get us use to using all three levels of problem solving and information. These creative problems are difficult, even if the factual information is already known, as many groups found out in Tuesday’s activity. This semester, our goal will be to move from consumers to producers of complex problems, coming up with ways to design, assess, and form lessons around them.

We spent the remainder of the class period discussing the safety and ethical standards of teachers. Prudie, our  UTeach master teacher, led a discussion using the below “Ethics and Resoponsibility presentation.  Below is a summary of what we discussed in class (3.1-3.7), but you can also review the entire Texas Teacher Code of Ethics here.

Ethics and Responsibilities

3.1: The educator shall not reveal confidential information concerning students unless disclosure serves lawful professional purposed or is required by law. We decided that confidential information included everything from grades, learning disabilities, and behavioral or medical issues to personal contact information.

3.2 The educator shall not knowingly treat a student in a manner that adversely affects the student’s learning, physical health, mental health, or safety. This means knowing the individual needs, considerations, personalities, and boundaries of your students. It includes being fair with participation and not picking favorites. Sara and Tara also pointed out that most students do NOT understand sarcasm and to resist using it until you are absolutely certain the student(s) can handle it.

3.3 The educator shall not deliberately or knowingly misrepresent facts regarding a student. Do not assume things about your students’ lives or abilities. If necessary, approach another teacher who interacts with the student or a counselor with questions or concerns, but do make sure that you are looking for solutions and not just gossiping about problems.

3.4 The educator shall not exclude a student from participation in a program, deny benefits to a student, or grant an advantage to a student on the basis of race, color, sex, disability, national origin, religion, or family status. This means making sure accommodations are met for ESL students and students with disabilities during field trips and other activities to assure they can participate. We also noted that athletes should not be given special treatment and to stand your ground against inevitable pressure from family, coaches, and others to make sure things remain fair to all of your students.

3.5 The educator shall not engage in physical mistreatment of a student. This seems really obvious (don’t hit your students, duh!), but as Tara pointed out, you are legally not allowed to touch students even if you are being attacked, students are fighting, or a special ed student has an episode. In these cases, get an administrator or person who is trained to handle these problems! In more general, less severe cases where you just get frustrated take a time out and think before you yell or act.

3.6 The educator shall not solicit or engage in sexual conduct or a romantic relationship with a student. This one also seems really obvious, but the point is to not even allow a situation to occur where these types of behaviors might be inferred. That means, don’t Facebook friend your students, text them, or be alone with them in a place that could not be observed by another adult.

3.7 The educator shall not furnish alcohol or illegal/unauthorized drugs to any student or knowingly allow any student to consume alcohol or illegal/unauthorized drugs in the presence of the educator. Again, another one that seems obvious, but “unauthorized drugs” includes everything from the illegal ones to benign ones like Advil and cough drops. We also took this opportunity to point out that tobacco products are not allowed on school grounds whether you’re a teacher or student. If you smoke, leave your cigarettes at home!

Other rules and standards include:
* Showing up when you’re supposed to be there and being early so you can deal with any unforeseen circumstances.
* Dressing professionally: ladies, watch your neckline and remember leggings are not pants. Field trip attire will be discussed at a later date.
* Being respectful to your supervisors, peers, students and mentor teachers.
* Making your personal webpages private and removing inappropriate material from the web.
* And more! Again, check out the powerpoint for lots of important extra information.
* (For our experience at MNTH) DO NOT EAT PEANUTS OR HAVE PEANUTS ON YOU OR EVEN THINK ABOUT PEANUTS (okay, maybe you can think about them...) at MNTH because a student there is super highly allergic to them.

Last minute things: Prudie passed out our teaching assignments and a field observation form. We need to observe our mentor teacher, obtain a roster and note any attention getters and procedures the teacher uses during class sometime in the next week or so. Figure out what technology is available to you and how to work with it (set it up, practice with it, and talk to your mentor teacher about special glitches). It is also encouraged to go around seeing other classrooms and teachers to get a feel for the project based learning environment.

Each day in PBI a different student takes responsibility for blogging about what goes on in class.  Today’s blog is brought to you by ­­Katye.

Class 2: 08/30/2011-Introduction/ Eratosthenes Problem

Class began with everyone giving a short introduction to the class.  The introductions included majors, what lead to us Uteach, plans after graduation, and interesting facts. 

After this, we watched the first five minutes of video clip in which Carl Sagan discussed the ancient academic Eratosthenes.

Dr. Sagan related the story of how Eratosthenes deduced that the Earth was curved, and was able to calculate the circumference of the earth based on the observations of shadows made by upright sticks in two different African cities.  Before he explained how this was accomplished over two millennia ago, the clip was paused so that the class could try to solve the problem: Given the observations that the distance between Alexandria and Syene was approximately 800 kilometers, and that an upright stick in Syene will cast no shadow and a stick in Alexandria casts a shadow of about 0.1219 meters, how would one calculate the circumference of the Earth?

The class broke up into eight groups of three, and each group was given one copy of the problem to solve (I note this because Tara pointed out that giving a group only one copy of a problem encourages collaboration, otherwise each member would simply read their own copy independently).    After working on the problem in groups, we had a class discussion about how our groups came to a solution. 

One group presented their solution to the class and illustrated it on the board; one group member explained that since the Sun is so large in relation to Earth and is so far away, rays of light that reaches the Earth from the Sun travels parallel to each other.   Also, if two parallel lines are cut by a transversal, the corresponding angles are congruent.   The two sticks (the one at Alexandria and the one at Syene) both point to the center of the Erath, where they form and angle (Angle A).  Based on this information, one can know the value of Angle A based on the value of its congruent angle, namely the angle formed by the hypotenuse of the triangle formed by the stick at Alexandria and its shadow (Angle B).  One can get the value of Angle B by solving for the inverse tangent of the ratio of the stick length over the shadow length (which is about seven degrees).  Since there are 360 degrees in a circle, it stands to reason the ratio of 7/360 is the same as the ratio of 800 and the value of the Earth’s circumference.

Most of the groups solved the problem in the same way. When asked if anyone got stumped anywhere the groups who had not reached a solution said that they just needed more time (that other groups had gotten to the solution before they had).  Some groups said that when they were setting up the problem, they drew a diagram with a small sun shown next to a large Earth. They said this was misleading because, even though many of them knew that the rays of light from the Sun strike the Earth parallel to each other, their picture made it seem that they would strike at different angles.

In solving this problem, it was necessary to know certain factual information (which was in fact tested in the online Diagnostic Test from our homework).  Conceptual information and problem-solving skills were also needed.  These three prerequisites are also called facts, concepts, and transfer, but these were not discussed in any detail.

Each day in PBI a different student takes responsibility for blogging about what goes on in class.  Today’s blog is brought to you by ­­­Joan.