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!


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:

– Olivia and James

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