Science, Education, and Science Education

classroom applications
May 8th, 2009 by Luann

A Profession Driven By Data ?

We learn about data in our teacher-preparation programs; at least I did, 20+ years ago.  I learned how to count up my students’ correct answers and compare them to the incorrect answers to pinpoint areas of difficulty among these students.

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April 21st, 2009 by Luann

Poke Sharpened Pencils Through My Eyes

It’s day 2 of the Science WASL.

Most students finished an hour or so early.  I brought Starburst® candy for my group, who stuck through the torture yesterday like troopers.

Today, they quietly and gratefully consumed the candy after completing the test.  It took most of them no more than 1 hour.  Walking around, I noticed that students at one table quietly  made a fleet of tiny boats from the wrappers.  Students at another table appeared to be having a silent-movie version of a candy-wrapper-airplane contest.

I would have taken a photo to share but cell phones weren’t allowed.

April 19th, 2009 by Luann


From Kelly Hines, RT @eduinnovation: “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow”

I just liked this today.

March 28th, 2009 by Luann

How I Came to be a National Board Certified Teacher

Every year, as the deadline for portfolio submissions nears or scores are released, I find that candidates take comfort and amusement at my own certification story.

Flashback to mid-October 1997.  I was in my 9th year of teaching chemistry.  I’d also taught biology, physics, and pretty much every math class besides calculus. The district’s curriculum director appeared outside my classroom door one day.  She had a news email (back in those days, teachers didn’t have email accounts, so admins had to print anything they wanted to share) from the Ohio Department of Education.  She offered me the paper and pointed to a paragraph near the bottom of the page. “Here is some information about a new national certificate.  Tom (an Algebra I teacher in my building) is going to do it in Math.  This is the first year science teachers are eligible.  I think you should do it too.”

I took the paper.  There was a cost of $2500. Ohio would pay the entire cost except for $65 to enroll.  After certification, I would receive $2500 per year, but that’s not all.  Enroll now and there would also be professional development and countless opportunities for professional advances.

I made the call after school and requested the enrollment package. It arrived about a week later.  I spent the better part of a Saturday preparing the paperwork and writing letters to verify employment, education, principal support, identification, etc.  Geez, I thought, I am not sure what the point is, but hey, for $2500 a year for 10 years, I was in. I would soon have a child in college. Just before Christmas, a box (THE Box) arrived from NBPTS.  I placed it next to my desk at home, too busy to open it at that point, and forgot about it.

A week or so later, I picked it up while vacuuming and thought that it felt a bit heavy to be a certificate. I opened it; any candidate who’s been certified for several years would recognize the huge 3-ring binder with hundreds of pages of instructions, the means of sending directions before DVD’s and downloads. The first day back to school after break, I trotted into the curriculum director’s office, dropped the box on her desk with a resounding THUD and said, (expletives deleted), “What is THIS????”

Curriculum Director replied, “Yeah, Tom got one of those over break – I guess now you guys have to fill that out, too. You have to make videotapes for it.  I got a grant to pay for the videos but Tom is using it all so you’ll have to get creative.”
I said, “I don’t have time to do this!  It’s due in June.  I have to teach.”
Curriculum Director: “If you don’t do it, I think you have to pay Ohio back the $2500.”

I managed not to choke her; being a teacher, I have tremendous self-restraint. I did have a few chemistry units that I had been meaning to revise; perhaps this would give me the prodding I needed to polish up those units. I read and re-read and made notes in my copy of the subject-area standards. Wow, I thought. If only every teacher worked toward those standards, every child would surely benefit.

So, I “filled it out.” I had no facilitator, no cohort group, no one to read my entries and provide feedback.  Tom and I didn’t even really talk much about our work.  We just didn’t know what to say.  After all, we were in 2 different subject areas.  What help could we possibly be to one another?

I set up a template for each part of each entry I had to write and made folders for them, named, well, I really shouldn’t say what I named them. I planned lessons that put previous lessons to shame, analyzed student work through new eyes, and planned new goals to help each student succeed.  I had a student who could push buttons to videotape my classes. I read the prompts for each entry and answered them as best I could. I said vocabulary words under my breath – words I hadn’t realized I knew. I revised, described my lessons and videos, I analyzed each lesson at the atomic level, and then reflected until I felt like a giant concave mirror, knowing even then that this would be the best professional learning I’d ever have.

Nine years in, most teachers begin to feel comfortable. According to some literature, we peak sometime after year 5.  The National Board process created a new, much higher peak I had to climb. I walked into class every day during the process as a more accomplished educator. A lesson I thought was good the week before was no longer acceptable as part of my practice, and was tweaked to be the best thing for my students at that time and place in their learning. I saw that I was impacting student learning in ways I never knew I could do. My focus was on becoming a better teacher, not on the portfolio I would submit. I followed the instructions in the portfolio.  I re-read everything I wrote, editing for clarity. I Xeroxed and filled in all the cover forms. I put everything in the correct envelope (apparently). I sent it in, all 6 entries (remember this was in the Olden Days.)

I signed up for the test on the only day in August that the AYA/Science test was offered.  I went to Belize twice that summer with student groups, and returned just in time to make it to the assessment center. I promptly forgot about the whole process until October, when I got a letter saying I should watch for a FedEx package in early November.  It would contain my results. Results?  What did they mean, results? Wasn’t I to get a certificate?  I called 1-800-22TEACH (again) to ask.  No, someone told me, less than half of the teachers who send in a portfolio are certified.  WTF? All that work could be for nothing? I thanked the nice lady with all the courtesy I could muster and hung up.

Beginning on November 1, I went home daily at lunch to check for a package. Nothing. A few more days; still nothing.  I decided not to bother going home anymore.  Obviously this whole thing was some kind of horrible hoax. All that writing experience would serve me well as I would most likely be filing reports and claims with the BBB. The day I stopped checking for packages, my chemistry classes were doing the Water of Hydration lab.  Odd, how I still remember that.  A student office aide appeared at my door near the end of 5th period, carrying a flat FedEx box.  I looked at the sender – NBPTS.  My fingers trembled and I thought how I would no doubt have to call 1-800-22TEACH (again) and ask for an explanation as to why I did not get a certificate.  I had sent in damn good stuff.

The class was cleaning up and I wondered whether to open the envelope immediately, or to wait until after school.  I later learned that my husband had stopped at home by chance, found the letter, brought it to the HS office, and  handed it to my friend Sue the secretary. Sue then made her aide bring it to me because both she and my husband were too afraid. Not being a patient person, I did not hold that thought long.

“Congratulations,” the letter began. I searched the enclosed leaflet for my scores.  Was there some mistake? Could this be true? I was certified? Yes indeed.  Although there was actually a mistake on AYA/Science score reports that year (the last two assessment center exercise scores were not printed but were included in the total score) I had way more than enough points to certify. I was one of 98 science teachers in the country to achieve certification that inaugural year.

Tom was not so fortunate. He needed to submit twice more as what we now know as an advanced candidate, but he finally certified.  Those times, I read his entries and offered feedback.  He was an excellent teacher, but had difficulty simply writing to the prompts.

Since then, I’ve had the privilege  of facilitating dozens of successful candidates in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Oregon. I know that I learn at least as much from each candidate as he or she does from me. In November 2007, I got word that my renewal Profile of Professional Growth earned renewed status.  All that I learned and all that I continue to learn, largely as a result of the National Board process, continues to be the most organic and impactful professional learning I’ve ever undertaken, including a doctoral program in science education. Candidates, take heart.  Fellow NBCT’s, congratulations.

Update, April 28, 2014
The growth and learning continue. I’ve taught courses at both undergraduate and graduate level at 2 state universities. Working with pre-service teachers is a privilege. Working with teachers is an honor.  Facilitating National Board candidates is challenging, intensive, and stretches my thinking in ways I’d never imagined. Meeting with renewal candidates as they share their professional growth in practice since initial certification is like having a direct line into the practice of the very best in the profession.  Optimal professional learning and improvement to our practice comes from networking with accomplished teachers. The National Board Certification process has provided the opportunity to network with the best of the best in my profession and has given me the skills I needed to learn all that I can from each one. It’s who I am as a professional. I’d love for you to join me as I continue learning to do the very best I can for Oregon’s children.

I’ll renew again in 2016-17, year 28 of my career. I don’t want to have to say that I used to be a National Board Certified Teacher.

Update, November 28, 2018

I renewed for a second time and am a National Board Certified Teacher until November 2028. I’ll likely retire from the classroom before then.

March 24th, 2009 by Luann

So you are now a National Board Candidate?

As we wrap up one portfolio submission cycle and are deluged with masses of new candidates (especially here in Washington State where bonuses are, for the present, possibly somewhat secure) I am compelled to make a list of hints for candidates, from a facilitator’s point of view.

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February 15th, 2009 by Luann

One Ringy-Dingy…….

The smartphone industry is making a pitch that cell phones belong in the classroom. (You have to register to read the NY Times article, but it is free.)

Students could write experimental questions and hypotheses in 140 characters or less on Twitter and 160 characters or less on their cell phones as txt messages.  Steps in their experimental design, photos of their setup would be workable.  Data tables might be a challenge though unless there’s software I’m not aware of.

My experiment with phones in Physics and Marine Biology this year will be public soon.  I’ll probably have my wrists slapped by admin because having the phones is a blatant violation of school policy.  We call them ‘cameras’ and ‘blog posting devices.’  The kids are so involved that I really haven’t seen anyone txting.  Nice.  They are learning as well.  Later today, I will go get my own photos of their work to share.

February 10th, 2009 by Luann

Anyone? Anyone?

A few students took advantage of the extra time to squeeze in work at the last moment before grades closed. Most did not. Either way, I sent a huge list of grade changes, mostly semester grade incompletes,  to the secretary, who got some of them recorded incorrectly. Moral of the story is that life would be easier if we had the ability to do our own incompletes. We don’t, although a few of us have asked.

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January 31st, 2009 by Luann

Charlotte molted again

Charlotte's molts 11-26-08 and 1-29-09

Charlotte's molts 11-26-08 and 1-29-09

Charlotte joined our classrom in August as a gift from a school board member.  She is a Red-Rumped Tarantula, Brachypelma  vagans.  Although the species is native to Mexico, we’ve seen them throughout Belize. We were told she was 3.5 years old when she came to us and had just molted. We were told, and read, that she should be fed several crickets about once a week and that she would molt twice a year. I was surprised to come in the day after Thanksgiving to find that she had molted sometime during the past 48 hours.  I retrieved the molt (top) and placed it in a specimen jar.

Six crickets began to disappear from her habitat within hours of delivery.  I started to worry that perhaps she needed more to eat and began feeding 8 crickets and a few mealworms, then 12 crickets……

I came in Thursday morning to find Charlotte lying flat on her back near her burrow.  Occasionally, she moved a leg but appeared to be dying – exactly as all I had read about molting described. I removed all the crickets I had just given her, no easy task,  and we checked on her from time to time.  By 1:00 she had completely emerged from her old exoskeleton (bottom) and was resting back in her burrow.

I think she’s growing.

January 1st, 2009 by Luann

How to do “half a lab .”

This post is dedicated to special education professionals everywhere, with my apologies that you have to work with science teachers.

Many students in special education have IEP’s specifying a reduced work load.  This specification was perhaps meant to minimize the frustration from an overwhelming number of practice math problems or with essays of unmanageable length.  Doing ‘every other question’ isn’t practical when the task is a laboratory investigation.

To better help students learn scientific investigation, I started to focus on just one significant part of the actual investigation and report at a time.  Here are the components of the lab write-up:

  • Experimental Question – what you want to know and can find out with an experimental design
  • Hypothesis – possible answer to question; testable, potentially falsifiable
  • Introduction – background information needed about the topic to be investigated
  • Materials (written as the investigation is designed)
  • Procedure – written in short steps as a set of directions.  Include everything on the Score Sheet list, linked below.
  • Safety – apparel, MSDS info on any chemicals used, equipment cautions.
  • Data table
  • Data analysis – includes graph or other alternative representation of data, and discussion of hypothesis as supported or not
  • Calculations and calculations table – calculations done in format of describing what is to be calculated, an equation, and a sample of the math.
  • Conclusion – answer the experimental question, use data to support your answer ( numbers! use high and low average of 3+ trials) and explain how the data answers your question.

Now if this looks suspiciously like the standard for investigations in some state’s standards, I will agree.  Students must write in this format to receive a high score on the high-stakes test.  It’s also not bad science, overall, so we just do it.

How to do half of this?  We start the year with a lab activity to which pretty much everyone knows the answer:  How does exercise affect your heart rate?  We walk together through all the parts and everyone writes each component into his or her lab book during class, working in groups, over 4 days.  During this time, we talk together about the variables that might affect heart rate, such as the type and speed of exercise and what variables we can keep the same, or control, for everyone.  We also talk about what we can’t control, such as the food eaten for breakfast, body size, leg length.  We decide on an experimental control as a student who does not exercise at all yet whose heart rate we record at the beginning and end of the exercise time, with everyone else’s.

Examples of the student handout for our Photosynthesis lab, with directions for the introduction and data analysis are here.  The score sheet checklist is here.  I copy the documents back to back and hand to students as we begin the lab write-up. It;s the 5th investigation we do, so most are pretty good at it.  Help yourself; I’d love your feedback.  I know the score sheet is labeled “rubric” when it is really more of a student checklist, but it’s progress….

The focus for this lab is the design, or procedure, itself.  Options for students needing a reduced assignment include:

  • writing the hypothesis to a given experimental question
  • reviewing the introduction material with teacher or lab group and writing a statement telling the purpose of the lab
  • safety must be written by everyone, period
  • writing the procedure and materials together with the lab group.
  • directions on how to re-work the data, or interpretation of a ready-made graph of the data
  • analysis questions are easy:  select depending on the student’s needs and focus.  Perhaps the student is already good at identifying variables, so select other questions.  Perhaps the student needs to learn to identify variables, so select the variable questions and one other.
  • the conclusion is pretty basic – if the student has had guidance with the data, the conclusion is surprisingly easy.

Maybe this isn’t exactly half a lab.  It’s a ‘reduced assignment,’ though.  It’s been my experience that even struggling students will accept this version if given guidance and the security net of a lab group at first.  Can they go through life with a security net?  Probably not.  This one is just a step in the direction of self-sufficiency and using one’s resources.  We don’t all walk that direction at the same pace.

December 28th, 2008 by Luann

Thoughts as we revise assessment in our building

My current plan for implementing Grading for Learning follows.  It is a blending of many things I heard at the December conference in ways that I can see working in my own classroom.

My solutions:

1.  All assignments not submitted on time automatically revert to an alternate assignment.  This is either something less palatable for the student but simpler for me to assess, or a textbook worksheet packet that the student completes, then comes in after school and corrects himself.  Little or no time on my part. The idea here is to show students that it’s just easier to follow a planned path through their learning. Assignment “due dates” are given well in advance.

2.  We will take photos of all labs in progress and keep a sample set of reasonable data.  The student doing tha lab as a very late make-up can then do the normal write-up, look at the pictures, and use the given data to do an analysis.  As I see it, the standard for lab technique would not have been met, so there would need to be some kind of grade penalty for not meeting that standard.  (Science investigations usually have several components, or standards, that are assessed in one lab investigation.  Since I grade on total points because Skyward is not set up for standards, that just means that the points for that standard will be low or missing. The final grade would then reflect the percentage of standards not met.) The assessment-for-learning purists would argue that this is a performance or behavior thing and should not be assessed at all, but I will disagree.  Perhaps they would be pleased with a dental hygenist who’s never actually worked on a live person, but who’s watched lots of movies about cleaning teeth.

3.  No summative assessment (test or quiz) will be given until a student has completed sufficient “formative,” or practice work to demonstrate that he is ready to be assessed.  On test day, a student who is not ready for the assessment will work on becoming ready while the others take the test.  He can then take the test on his own time, later.  Whenever is fine.  It will be an alternative test, possibly essay.

4.  A student scoring below 80% (70%?) on any test must retake the test, at least the parts on which he did poorly. Any other student could also retake, but the second grade stands. The retake would be a different document, and would ideally consist of only the parts of the test on which the student did poorly. As of the last test I gave, it was not possible to give a partial test to most students as they did equally poorly across the board.  I suck as a teacher, apparently.  I see this changing when students are not permitted to take a test “cold” but must actually do some learning first. I’ll even give them the tools they need to learn – imagine that – explanations, opportunities to explore a concept, have their hands and minds on models, discuss topics with their peers, etc.  Perhaps I just don’t write appropriate tests.  An area of improvement here……

Formative work would be the assignments relating to the test topic – reading journals, labs, projects, class notes ( this will be tricky to implement appropriately), index card graphic organizers, concept maps, projects, research, or whatever has been used in class to build knowledge about the topic. Formative assessments allow students to describe their learning targets, assess where they are in the progression of learning to reach their target, plan what they still need to do to reach the target, and describe the resources they will use and how they will use the resources to reach their target.

The snag is the same as I’ve had for the past year, and would be the same issue we need to discuss as a building.  What is the fate of an Incomplete?  Can we let a student make up the work for an Incomplete any time up until graduation?  How long before the I turns to an F?  Does the I on an individual assignment turn to a (shudder) zero, or must we allow a student to have 50% of the assignment’s value for doing absolutely nothing?  I’m currently looking at the mathematical implications of a 0 in my grading system.  I didn’t see any grading systems quite like it at the conference.


Update on June 8, 2010: None of this worked. Grades were at least a bit inflated, and students didn’t seem to benefit by attempting to complete an entire semester’s work and take 5 tests during the last 3 weeks before grades closed.

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