Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Small Group Instruction in Elementary Science

This one has been a long time in coming.  It has taken me awhile to sort out the ideas.  Many of you are familiar with small group instruction in reading and math.  This type of small, needs-based grouping is an essential element in most elementary classrooms.  However, when I was asked to consider this same idea for elementary science, it was uncharted territory.  Sure, we've all done group work.  Everyone builds the same windmill or does the same experiment.  I need to be clear.   The goal is to have each group or each student working on something that meets their needs.  Before you go and get the pitchforks and torches, I am not advocating for there to be multiple hands-on experiments going on at the same time.  That would create a potentially unsafe environment.  Someone would lose an eyebrow.

However, consider this, what if we grouped students by their needs in science by using the results of rigorous pre-assessment.  In my world, that is a combination of traditional multiple choice and constructed response type questions which needs to include questions on prior knowledge.  It would also include some sort of performance based pre-assessment.  These performance pre-assessments would emulate the end of unit performance assessment.  

In our NGSS curriculum, these are either a physical object and in some cases it is based on developing an explanation (verbal or written).  In either case, the result is the teacher receives data on what the students already know.   This then allows students to be grouped based on their needs.  For the most part, this would only impact the depth and complexity of the final product the group creates.  What we must avoid is the age old trap of grouping kids so that there is a "leader" in the group who can teach the rest of the students.  Where is this "leaders" opportunity to grow?   Let's also be honest in the probability that this leader does most of the work for the other students.   Where is there opportunity to learn?  

Image result for elementary student group work

Part two goes from the group level to the individual student.  One of the main benefits to going one-to-one is the capacity to serve out a variety of learning objects (video, audio, image, interactive media, etc.)  A number of vendors produce products of this type, but I painted myself into somewhat of a corner.  With my dogged insistence on locally relevant storylines, no one provider produces learning objects specific to the needs of our curriculum.

With many of the units, I have created eBooks which package related content into one learning object.  I have used a package called SoftChalk.  It is essentially a WYSIWYG webpage creation tool.  I am able to find and organize content from our providers and external sources.  These eBooks also help reduce teacher workload.  Rather than ten learning objects a teacher has to send to students, they only have to send one.  Students can then choose the object they need to understand the concepts.  A recent update also includes the capacity to give students immediate feedback on embedded quizzes.  For each multiple choice answer, a specific learning object can be identified to provide students with the content they need at that moment.

This is a far as  I have gotten so far.  Would love to her other ideas.

Monday, February 20, 2017

How Big a Splash Does a Rock Four Kilometers in Diameter Make?

When I started writing curriculum, I was told to tell a story.  The lessons needed to be joined together in a coherent storyline.  The theory was that students would learn more if they knew how the concepts were linked together.  In the age of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), this idea is amplified further with the addition of engineering design challenges.  Not only do the lessons need to connect, but they need to connect towards solving a problem.  As an example, I will walk you through a unit was just updated.

The performance expectations for this unit are from the grade four topic page "Earth Systems: Processes that Shape the Earth".  Maryland has some diverse geological features, but rarely do we have any that cause a disaster.  In 2011, we did have an earthquake that registered 5.8 on the Richter Scale.  That is pretty much an extreme for us.  So, if I wanted to have local natural disaster, I would have to get creative.

As it turns out, Maryland has had some significant geological events.  The most significant happened 35 million years ago.  A bolide roughly four kilometers across smashed into the shallow waters in what would be the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula.  The super heated winds created a hypercane which vaporized everything within 1000 km.  The splash resulted in a tsunami which traveled to the Appalachian Mountains.

Location of bolide impact.

The story of the crater's discovery played very well into the performance expectation on changes in landscape over time.  The crater cannot readily be seen on the surface.  After 35 million years, erosion and sedimentation have erased most of the evidence (4-ESS2-1 and 4-ESS2-2).  Some of the conclusive evidence which identified the age of the impact conveniently was the result of fossil evidence (4-ESS1-1).   That leaves students having to develop ways to minimize the impact of  Earth's natural processes. 

Now, what I originally wanted to do was have students plan for another meteor impact.  In 2880, another meteor is projected to come close enough to Earth where it MAY impact.  NASA has some great simulations showing the potential for an Atlantic impact. However, apparently nine year olds would be sensitive to that even though it is well into the future.  So, I had to find an oxymoron- a non-threatening natural disaster.  As it turns out, the Canary Islands provide one. 

The island of La Palma has a slab of rock that may slide off into the ocean and cause a tsunami wave which could impact Maryland.  There was a story picked up by the media several years ago that over hyped a projected model.  A great lesson in science all by itself.  

After discussing how models can be used improperly, we talk about more realistic impacts from waves and equate them to some of the hurricane storm surges Maryland gets.  We go from mega-disaster to survivable threat.  The students are then tasked with build a tsunami resistant house.  I really liked the version from Teach Engineering.  I did modify the design a bit.  I went with a 1'x1' ceramic tile as my wave generator rather than a piece of sheet metal duct taped to the bottom of the tub.  Also, rather than pushing the tile down, I pull up.  It produces a much more consistent wave.