This Week in Review

This week was quite an eventful one for the Get Real! Science cohort. We needed to turn in our final innovative unit paper on last Friday, a pretty sizable document. Mine was about 150 pages, including the appendix. It represents an amalgamation of much of the work we put in the course, Implementing Innovation in Science Education. From considering the successes and failures of our mini-unit paper through evaluating the feedback we received. Then we developed big ideas, goals, objectives, and assessments when planning our innovative unit, informing the activities developed for the classroom, and then implementation. Analyzing the implementation of the unit, student learning, and the unit overall was all that was left and thank goodness that it is over with!

Besides that, on Monday was our GRS Expo where we shared our story as a cohort through a collaborative speech supplemented with picture slides. Despite the anxiety among the cohort members prior to the event, we all did a great job with presenting our story and giving each other shout-outs. After that, we showed off our exhibits to our guests that came to see us. My exhibit was focused on exploring learning through modeling and revision. I had my guests draw a model of what is inside an arm with each guest revising each other’s models. It was a cool collaborative experience that showed the different ways that we envision what our insides look. There were also cool moments like when we compared my uncle’s drawing with others. My uncle is a doctor and has a stronger background knowledge of human anatomy than my other guests to my exhibit, and had a whole bunch of detail with many labels. This helped to reinforce how the differences in our prior knowledge affect how we perceive our world.

For the rest of the week, I went on a trip with 58 School to the Adirondacks for exploring nature through hiking and creative writing.  The students and I hiked up 3 miles to reach the top of Mt. Goodnow. We also had the opportunity to take a college lesson from a professor from SUNY Environment Science and Forestry. The goal was to create a writing piece that helps to evoke a sense of place based on the surrounding forest.IMAG0241[1]

 

The experience was really awesome as this was most of the students’ first time out in nature to this extent. Also, I defeated a group of students in a rap battle during our campfire circle, because my bars hit so hard.

And on Friday, I went to East High School for their staff conference because I thankfully got a job offer! I enjoyed the restorative practice of talking circles that opened my perceptions of the staff already at East and how they were dealing with the whole situation. We also co-constructed goals aligned with the mission at East, which we shared through a gallery walk. Through this work we got to think about what we want to put into the new East and what we hope that will do for the students, teachers, administrators, and local community. It is a very exciting time and I’m very hopeful for the opportunity for great work that can be done!

A Letter to Professor Webster

Last week was my final week student teaching at 58 School. I had planned to end it with two summative assessments and fortunately, I had the opportunity to do so. The first assessment was a performance task which asked students to apply everything that was learned so far in the unit to an authentic problem.

The context: Professor Hersh Webster, a geologist at the University of Rochester, heads a research program called Genesee Valley Exploration and they recently discovered a new kind of rock in the Genesee valley. While initial data collection proved fruitful, unfortunately much of the GVE’s staff needed to take off to study due to upcoming exams. Professor Webster, still wanting to continue research on the rock, has opened up an opportunity to analyze the data to any interested geologists. All they need to do is to sign a contract, which gives the University of Rochester full rights to their research. In exchange, the geologist whose analysis appears most plausible will be awarded the opportunity to name the rock.

 

"Professor Webster"
“Professor Webster”

Unfortunately, there really is not a Professor Webster or a GVE, but even in the illusion I attempted to create, I integrated elements of cultural worth such as the Genesee and the University of Rochester. I also created a blog which contains all the data that the GVE have compiled on the rock. Not only did all my students buy that this discovery was true, it helped drum up excitement that there was a possibility that they would be able to name the rock.  This motivated many of them over the course of the next 3 days. By having students sign the Genesee Valley Exploration Research Contract, I was hoping to get them to feel ownership for the project and take responsibility for completing it.

The task: The students needed to write an email claiming what type of rock the newly discovered rock (dubbed “mystery rock”) is, what it was made of, how did the sediment that make it up get to the Rochester area, how it formed, and how old it was. For each of these five claims, students were also required to present a piece of evidence from Professor Webster’s website with information about the rock.

The above was the main goal set for this summative assessment, students needed to have an email completed by the end of class on Thursday. Since they needed access to the internet to access the website and write the email, and our class wouldn’t have them until Wednesday, I planned out that the students would assess previous “student work” based on a rubric I supplied. I anticipated by doing this, students would be able to see two examples of what their end product should look like and get an idea of how they would be graded. I also had students provide feedback to the authors’ of both letters, as a small preparation for peer assessment of the emails, if time permitted.

On Wednesday, students were given access to the Chromebooks. Their Do Now was to sign in, get on the website and explore it for a little bit. Their Do Now had a graphic organizer attached, presented in a series of questions, and it asked each student for a claim answering each question and a piece of evidence they found that supports that claim. This graphic organizer (Day 7 Rocky-ologists at Work) was meant to order their thoughts and make the time they spend writing the email later more efficient. Not everyone was able to complete the graphic organizer on this day, so I made sure to allow them an opportunity to working on the next day.

On Thursday, I supplied them with a checklist (Day 9 Checklist) to get them through that day. Their first goal was to finish the graphic organizer (I decided that this would act as the summative assessment for those students who needed more time to work on their email). Following the organizer, students needed to work on  the email and turn it in through Google Classroom. Finally, students who finished all that were to pull out their study guide and correct their answers.

About half the students were able to finish their emails and  if I had more time at my placement, I would have given the class more time to complete them. I was really impressed with the reasoning that students were putting into the task and I was also able to see gaps in their content knowledge. While students were able to recognize that the mystery rock was sedimentary rock, some weren’t able to articulate how they knew. Over all I was impressed with the emails that I did receive and I will copy one of the best ones below. Enjoy!

 

Dear Professor Webster,

               My name is D and I am a student at World of Inquiry School 58. I am writing this to tell you about your mystery rock.

 

Your mystery rock is a sedimentary rock. I know this because most sedimentary rocks are found near rivers, layers of rocks, canyons or mountains that has been around for a long time such as Genesee Valley River. Also, Genesee Valley used to be glaciated during the ice age. That’s when erosion took place.That glacier probably carried a ton of new minerals like Obsidian that has been either been washed up , carried by the wind or has been glaciated as well. When it melted it probably combined together with the stone dolostone forming a new rock and setting in Genesee Valley after the Glaciated canyon had melted because dolostone is also a sedimentary stone. With that being said dolostone with the rest of the other rocks of the glaciated canyon came all together. However Obsidian is a igneous rock and the nearest place it could’ve came from would be Pennsylvania. The Obsidian must have been carried by bodies of water after coming out of a volcano and froze along with the sedimentary rock, dolostone during the ice age and joined together. When the canyon melted, a huge ice invasion caused the canyon to deepen and widen, making a U-Shape. When they canyon split, it probably cause the inside of the canyon to form into layers since so many minerals were carried along with it! Many other minerals may have been melted together as well forming layers and this new rock became apart of it. With that being said, I think that this rock would probably over 100 million years ago because scientifically the ice age began probably about 2.4 million years ago and it lasted until 11,500 years ago. I have also learned that, there were at least 17 cycles between the glacial and interglacial periods. The last glacial period was about 100,000 years ago and lasted until 25,000 years ago. This also proves that when glaciers move across the landscape, it moves other rocks and sediments along with it forming rock piles or moraines which also proves how this is a sedimentary rock.

 

If my theory ends up being selected, I would like to name the rock Kingdom Falls because it was found right by Genesee Valley! It’s homeland! The water falls tumble over 6 of them making it very attracting and beautiful! Just like this new stone!

 

Thanks for reading,

D

 

The Monroe County Children’s Center

On April 2, 2015 I took a trip down to Monroe County Children’s Center with my UTL crew.  For those that may not know, Monroe County’s Children Center is a facility that houses juvenile delinquents and offenders from Monroe County, mostly from the city of Rochester (and thus the RCSD). From the MCCC: “Our charge is to provide for the temporary care of children accused of committing delinquent or criminal acts. Our mission is to utilize the time that children spend here for their positive growth and development, toward preventing future involvement in the juvenile justice system. We believe that children should be accountable for their behavior, but understand that each of them will be returning to their community.” The importance of this experience was thinking about the consequences for children that are detained as well as the factors that contribute to sending them there in the first place. Any of the detainees could have been in any of the classrooms I taught during my time student teaching, but what I find more important to recognize is that they will eventually be returning back to the community, to the classroom.

 

Now before I go through a breakdown of my thoughts on this experience, I will give a few stats and definitions that were so graciously provided by the staff of the MCCC. A juvenile delinquent is defined as a child over 7 and under 16 who has committed (or been accused of) an act that would be a criminal offense if he/she was 16 or over. A juvenile offender is a child aged 12-15 who has committed (or been accused of) a very serious act and is being treated legally as an adult. I hadn’t realized the age that one could be tried as an adult in NYS was 16, and NYS is one of two states that maintain this while every other state has the age set at 18. Currently, there is a “raise the age” initiative occurring to even the playing field amongst the nation (as it is pretty messed up that a 16 year old who murders someone in New Jersey will have a clean record, while a 16 year old in NYS who does the same thing would have that following them for the rest of their life).

 

Here’s a little about the detention population at MCCC. Their juvenile delinquents range from ages 10 through 18. Juvenile offenders make up 30-50% of the population depending on various factors. Most of the children are gang affiliated and 70% qualify for diagnosis of mental health issues. About 50% of the children have IEP’s and many have significant learning disabilities along with developmental disabilities. On top of that there are medical issues among the population including diabetes, pregnancy and childbirth, dialysis, asthma, gunshots, lack of dental care, ect. The MCCC provides a range of services to meet the needs of their adolescent population including medical treatment, education, psychiatric/developmental services, recreation, sociality, and casework activities. It is important to the staff of the MCCC that children feel safe and cared for.

 

The culture inside of the facility is very interesting.  Everything is about power, which is also true for classroom management. Equity and consistency is important for all the staff that work with the kids to recognized. A child may offer another their food, but that transaction cannot be allowed to happen. It may look harmless enough, but it is a power play. There have been situations where children would threaten the family members of others for food. Besides that, planning to coordinate gang groups through the facility also need to be extensive.

 

Something to think about: not all juvenile delinquents or offenders are sent to the MCCC and are actually allowed to stay in their communities. Recent reforms have made it more difficult to have children sent to the detention facility and it only occurs when the child presents a danger to their community, themselves, if it is probable that they will commit another offense before they go to trial, or if there is a danger to them from outside forces. Even for those who do end up detained, the amount of time that they stay has decreased drastically over the last few years.  A decade ago, problem children would get arrested and detained and wouldn’t be seen in class for months (and even the whole year). The shift in policy has made it so that children that would have been placed in the detention center wouldn’t be an issue any longer in the classroom. This would even include students who accumulated numerous absences from school (“I heard you liked absences…”). That is no longer the case and results in harder to manage students being left in the classroom which can be seen as a positive or negative depending on your viewpoint. I personally feel that teachers have opportunities to create great changes in their students, but that can only happen when the student is in the classroom. Detaining them in a facility such as the MCCC is counter-productive to this idea.

Cohort Biographies: A Collaboration of Talent

Collaboration was a word we may not have fully understood, or misconceived, as we walked into our first methods class together as a cohort.  Beginning this program, we met three professors who were able to fully embody and provide a wonderful model of collaboration.  Slightly nervous, yet excited about what we got ourselves into, we all began to create our own form of collaboration that has helped all of us take the most from our experiences as Warner grad students.  Embracing the spirit of collaboration we experienced in our first methods course (which was then witnessed throughout the others) was probably one of the best tools provided to us as first year teachers.  Through collaboration we will be able to improve our practice and grow as educators.

In the spirit of collaboration, reminiscing about our time in GRS, and  because we are all working on our biographies for graduation, Tiarra and I worked together to make funny biographies for each of the cohort members.  We hope you enjoy them.  Be sure to check out both blogs because I did a biography for Tiarra and she did one for me.

Alanna: Born on a hiking trail, Alanna always had a love of nature and science and the nature of science….but it wasn’t until the ripe age of 34 did the teaching of science call to her.  Realizing she was so old, she quickly applied to the U of R’s center for the elderly. Her poor sight caused confusion and she accidently applied to the Warner School of Education. In the program Alanna flourished as a science educator, bringing her back to that feeling of youth once again.  After the program, Alanna intends hug trees during the summer and get to bed before 10 pm.


Ryan: Prior to attending Warner, Ryan sought to write his own laws around quantum physics but unfortunately nature would not obey them. Due to the frustration caused by the experience of working as a physicist, Ryan decided to get into teaching instead. Following his time at Warner, Ryan intends to spend 5 years training his students to build their own spaceflight craft that will allow them to constructively build upon knowledge from outside the classroom environment and visit those aesthetically pleasing green people from the Star Trek.


Jill: Following the footsteps of her idol and soul sister, Taylor Swift, Jill has always wanted to positively impact the lives of the youths. It was at Warner she met another soul sister, sharing a  love of T-Swizzle and chemistry.  Jill knew she couldn’t just shake her off, it was the collaborative partnership of a lifetime. Following the program, Jill intends to work with urban youth by teaching them the joys of chemistry and subjecting them to the musical stylings of Ms. Swift.   


Jessica: Once lost in the dark depths of a chemistry lab, Jessica found her expertise was needed elsewhere. She traded her lab coat for a bag of Cheetos and a copy of Understanding by Design, and got to work.  During her time at Warner, Jessica not only expanded the horizons of the students she worked with, but she also encouraged her soul sister Jill to break through her own barriers and become one with nature.  With the goal to never return to the dusty dungeons of the lab, through her teaching, Jessica looks forward to continually challenging those around her in trying out new experiences.   


Eric: Enduring years of physical punishment through playing rugby and wrestling, Eric thought he might try his hand at mental punishment and decided to get into teaching. Since starting the program, Eric has had over 4,000 conversations with his fellow cohort members. On his off time, Eric enjoys watching dry British comedy which he tirelessly tries to integrate into his teaching practice. After Warner, Eric will be returning to NYC while bringing a little bit of Rochester with him.

Tiarra: Having a name resembling the Spanish word for Earth (La Tierra), it is no coincidence that Tiarra had an interest in Earth Science. Her obsession of rocks on the other hand, is a little strange. During her time in the Get Real! Science program, her sleep deprivation provided plenty of funny, but mostly awkward, moments. Following Warner, she will go on to spend more time with her lovely children and Tom Selleck’s Blue Bloods.

Practices at my Placement

Oh hey guys! Check it out! Ceb is not writing his blog 2 hours before the deadline this week (but he is posting it then :P)! What will he talk about? Read on to find out!

So last week, I wrote about the Expeditionary Learning model. In response to that post, I was asked the question, “ How do you see the structure of the school and the Expeditions impacting your teaching in the future? What are some best practices that you can incorporate into your classroom?” I intend for this blog post to be a response to this prompt.

The structure of the school, WOIS, is built on many of the same ideals that are expressed in GRS. There is a shared vision among the administrators, teachers, parents, and other staff. This vision looks to see students to become self-reflecting life-long learners who are able to apply inquiry practices in their everyday lives. For this vision to be realized there is a larger requirement for staff to collaborate with one another. At least once a week, the core 7thgrade teachers have a group meeting to discuss student success and upcoming events including Expedition-related excursions. These meetings also help reinforce what the goals of the team are, realigning the vision of the team. Developing a shared vocabulary that is modeled throughout each class (words like “reflection”, “noticing”, “wondering”) get students prepared and better used to certain practices with less scaffolding, allowing more time for the inquiry.

While I can’t fully control where I find a job, it would be nice to work at a school where inquiry practices are utilized across disciplines and where opportunities for collaboration between teachers are supported by the administration. It really helps cultivate a school culture of learning and growth between staff which can be modeled to students. Even in the case where I would be in a school without a shared vision, and everyone was doing their own thing, I would try to develop relationships with between co-workers in the same grade level so we could show the connections of content between subjects.

The Expeditions performed at EL schools are interdisciplinary in nature. Students attack an essential question from multiple angles, with planned experiences that are meant to help students develop a response to it. These planned experiences make use of community resources like local colleges as well as guest speakers to have students see content they have been learning in school in different contexts. Since Expeditions are planned grade level wise, it isn’t up to just a single teacher to plan and implement these experiences. But it is up to each content teacher to figure out how to best to make connections between those experiences and their curriculum and how to get that across to the students.

I could probably come up with some more practices and ideas that I have seen at 58 School, which I will add on to this post if I think it up. I hope it was a useful read!

A Summary of Expeditionary Learning

My current placement is 58 School aka World of Inquiry School. It is a kindergarten through 12th grade school (the only one in the RCSD) and it is also an expeditionary learning school. Expeditionary Learning is a program model that schools can opt in by paying, which in turn gives the teachers of that school professional development and further support to the EL model. The EL model stresses student achievement, character, and goals. “We are crew, not passengers,” is a common phrase heard and read throughout the halls of WOIS. It is meant to instill ideas of responsibility, collaboration, and dedication to a shared goal/journey among everyone in the school. These ideas are encapsulated in the 10 Design Principles promoted by EL schools:

1. The Primacy of Self-Discovery:
Learning happens best with emotion, challenge, and the requisite support. People discover their abilities, values, “grand passions”, and responsibilities in situations that offer adventure and the unexpected. they must have tasks that require perseverance, fitness, craftsmanship, imagination, self-discipline and significant achievement. A primary job of the educator is to help students overcome their fears and discover they have more in them than they think.

2. The Having of Wonderful Ideas
Teach so as to build on children’s curiosity about the world by creating learning situations that provide matter to think about, time to experiment, and time to make sense of what is observed. Foster a community where students’ and adults’ ideas are respected.

3. The Responsibility For Learning
Learning is both personal, individually specific process of discovery and a social activity. Each of us learns within and for ourselves and as part of a group. Every aspect of a school must encourage children, young people, and adults to become increasingly responsible for directing their own personal and collective learning.

4. Intimacy and Caring
Learning is fostered best in small groups where there is trust, sustained caring, and mutual respect among all members of the learning community. Keep schools and learning groups small. Be sure there is a caring adult looking after the progress of each child. Arrange for older students to mentor the younger ones.

5. Success and Failure
All students must be assured a fair measure of success in learning in order to nurture the confidence and capacity to take risks and rise to increasingly difficult challenges. But it is also important to experience failure, to overcome negative inclinations, to prevail against adversity, and to learn to turn disabilities into opportunities.

6. Collaboration and Competition
Teach so as to join individual and group development so that the value of friendship, trust, and group endeavor is made manifest. Encourage students to compete, not against one another, but with their own personal best and rigorous standards of excellence.

7. Diversity and Inclusion
Diversity and inclusion in all groups dramatically increase richness of ideas, creative power, problem solving ability, and acceptance of others. Encourage students to investigate, value and draw upon their own different histories, talents, and resources together with those of other communities and cultures. Keep the schools and learning groups heterogeneous.

8.The Natural World
A direct and respectful relationship with the natural world refreshes the human spirit and reveals the important lessons of recurring cycles and cause and effect. Students learn to become stewards of the earth and of the generations to come.

9. Solitude and Reflection
Solitude, reflection, and silence replenish our energies and open our minds. Be sure students have time alone to explore their own thoughts, make their own connections, and create their own ideas. then give them opportunity to exchange their own reflections with each other and with adults.

10. Service and Compassion
We are crew, not passengers, and are strengthened by acts of consequential service to others. One of a school’s primary functions is to prepare students with the attitudes and skills to learn from and be of service to others.

Every morning during homeroom, which is referred to as crew, my 7th graders chant the “Model Citizens Pledge” which assists in acculturating students in the World of Inquiry. It goes like this:

“We the crew of World of Inquiry
make this pledge for all Model Citizens.
We should all give service
and have compassion for others.
We will celebrate our discoveries
and wonderful ideas.
Through reflection we will learn
from our successes and failures.
While collaborating we will show caring
for diverse people and our natural world.
We are all responsible for our own learning.
Our education is our future.”
What this pledge reminded me of was the science chant that this cohort developed during summer camp and then revised for STARS.  Of course this pledge includes more general practices that make for stronger learners and citizens. Similar to a practice utilized during STARS, students are responsible for connecting a part of the pledge to their lives. Since a design principle is chosen to be focused on each month, there is plenty of permutations of such reflection throughout the year for each principle.
When it comes to reflecting on achievement, students are tasked with guiding SLCs (student-led conferences). In these conferences between their crew adviser (homeroom teacher) and family, students must give information about their successes and failures in school. This was a really cool practice that gets students to engage in meta-cognition, as they need to pull out their strengths and weaknesses for each of their core classes and possible ways to improve. It also stimulates powerful conversations between students and their families concerning their performance.
Probably the biggest aspect to expeditionary learning is part of its namesake, expeditions. Expeditions occur twice a year, where the students are expected to investigate a question of interest that incorporates multiple disciplines. This year, my 7th graders are doing an investigation about the American Revolution. Since my CT is the only 7th grade science teacher and this is his first year at an EL school, the connections to science aren’t very strong and I haven’t had much opportunity to see what expeditions up close. From what I can gather, teachers are responsible for getting students access to resources but try to keep the investigation as open as possible. An authentic production is expected to be created at the end of the investigation. Last year, the 8th graders created a film about “What makes me, me?”, a discussion on race.
Hopefully this was a coherent and interesting summary of the Expeditionary Learning. I’ve been enjoying my time learning more about it and seeing the impact it has had on the school culture. The reason that WOIS developed into K-12 was that WOIS were disheartened by the harsh transitions that their students found in moving into other high school environments. I’ll end on a short video that I found on elschools.org (where you can find even more info about EL), which gives a quick run-down of what they are about.

An Interesting Day

So today marked the end of my first unit taught during my second placement. I ended the unit (gravity and planetary motion) with a dual-summative assessment which is something that I picked from my first placement. The first assessment is usually more project-based and provides a better view of how deep student understanding of the concepts went.  It has another purpose as a bit of review and can act as a formative assessment based on the feedback provided either between peers, or myself to a student. The final assessment is a collection of standardized test questions.

I finished covering the curricular goals of the unit last week and decided to have this week act as a review week, to prepare students for their largest test yet. My CT suggested that I have them make a word map graphic organizer (word map gravity), where students take the vocabulary from the unit and have to generate connections between the words. They were given two days to work on making a poster where 20 well-written connections were made between the terms. Students determined what made a connection better than another through the first day’s Do Now!

Anyway, that was a little off track. Today was their test (Gravity Unit Test) and it was their largest one all year, with 20 multiple choice and 5 short answer (in actuality I selected 5 short answer sections which consisted of a image/diagram and multiple questions). My CT was very impressed with the question selection and felt that they reflected what was taught in the unit well. He also mentioned how happy he how this test was helping to improve the students’ testing stamina. I think more important than that though, today marked the first day that I successfully created a true test-taking scenario. This was done by telling students that to minimize distractions that they needed to stay quiet and not get up from their seats, all concerns and questions needed a hand raised. Behavior that prompted a response from me would initially be a warning between me to the student, upon the second time I the student would fail the test. Luckily, no students called my bluff… I was also to put on a facade that was no nonsense, but still approachable, which has been a difficult distinction for me to make.

During my first placement, I was never able to implement a unit test because midterms were so close to the time the unit ended. While I was observing, I was often left in charge of watching over the students that needed to finish the test from last class, while my CT would lead test corrections with the other students. I found that I had major issues with maintaining a quiet and productive environment in a test-taking situation. This was because I was too lenient when the test was given out and it would have been easier to redirect improper behavior from the get-go.

I have only started grading the tests, but despite its size, I have counted that 86/99 students completed the test. About 22/23 tests I have graded have passed as well, which is pretty cool.

Also today, I was interviewed for a potential long-term substitute position for 8th grade and 8th grade honors (LE). Fingers crossed!

Some of my thoughts on youth culture…

The following is taken from my critical synthesis paper that I wrote for Adolescent Development and Youth Culture. It has been a while since I looked it over, but most of the points are still consistent with what I currently believe. I thought it could be a potentially intriguing thread trigger. And here we go…

From my time in ED 415, I came to see youth and adolescence with renewed eyes, but more than that, it  widened my mind to the considerations that I must take as an educator. A poignant thought that struck me was the marginalization of youth culture by the dominant “adult” culture. Too often adults are in charge and make decisions that adolescents are forced to follow, without really taking into account what their thoughts on the matter are. Instead youth are told that they are “in crisis” and need saving because their futures are at risk. This is done without even addressing the culture that adolescents participate in and the direction that their community is moving. The power present in new literacies allow youth to become content creators that can share their ideas with the world, but lack of access and training are limiting that potential. Utilizing opportunities that contextualize the value in skills and content knowledge are engaging because the problems and outcomes have an impact that is valuable to youth. But instead of pushing towards pulling youths’ ideas out into the world, the system instead confines adolescents and youth into boxes that pay no heed to their culture, their experience, and their desires. “Schools in the United States and abroad serve specific segments of the population, and they operate to reproduce status quo values and expectations” (Barton and Yang, 2000, p.884).

Coming from an understanding of human knowledge being constructed based upon prior experiences, I feel quite conflicted about the current treatment of youth by our society. As an educator, I think it is important that I do not assume that my students come in with a homogenized set of knowledge that I’m required to add on to. Every student comes in with a different set of experiences that helped developed them into the person they are and it is my responsible to supply more experiences that help them grow further. According to Rogoff identity development is, “…people’s changing participation in sociocultural activities of their communities” (Rogoff, 2003, p.53). That said, there are definitely biological changes that are occurring within that age range. While hormonal and sexual development impacts all adolescents, the extent and changes that occur are variable. It is important to be keep in mind that teenage students are going through hormonal changes, the effect they have will not express the same way. That said, it is important to recognize that those changes are happening, on top of all the other new experiences that occur during adolescence in our society. My own adolescence was dominated by worrying about my schoolwork, my future, companionship, building friendships, negotiating conflict with aggressive peers. Some of these experiences will be shared with students, while others will not, and even more will have been had by my some students that I could not even imagine. It behooves me to be cognizant of this information throughout my practice.

The identity work that youth do when participating in communities have been expanded through the power of the internet, which have provided access to communities that extend across the world. Within these communities youth engage with each other and adults. Participation takes the form of content consumption as well as production. Such communities provide ways for youth to develop expertise around an interest and share that expertise with others.  In these virtual spaces, youth feel safe to participate, which can be difficult to replicate in real world spaces. I feel that it is important to incorporate elements of new media into schools to address the new necessities of modern day youth, such as critical literacy of media.

Youth-based organizations are an example of real world spaces looking to adopt practices that can be found in online communities. Often they include older leaders that facilitate the identity work of the youths within the program. “Facilitation created opportunities for accelerated participation by novices; youth, even those with little prior experience, assumed responsibility for key decisions and tasks” (Kirshner,  2009, p.92). Facilitators give youth someone that they can depend on to give them direction, while also giving them the space to make their own decisions in the organization. The alignment of youths and facilitators working together to solve problems in authentic contexts not only give youth reason to participate, but give them actionable knowledge that they can use later in their life. I held a similar role to a facilitator in an after-school program called Science STARS.

The goal of the program was to help youths develop identities as scientists as well as their scientific literacy. A point of contention during STARS was figuring out how much scaffolding to give our students and which skills were more important when trying to plan to finish an investigation within 6 weeks. While one of the goals for the pre-service teachers who lead each team was to engage in pure facilitation, often times this would transition into joint work. Figuring out how to implement authentic inquiry in a way that made it challenging and useful, while being completed by our students was difficult. Especially because attendance could shift and students that were there one week wouldn’t show up the next. This made holding on to a cohesive narrative throughout the weeks difficult and made the goal of the investigation seem vaguer over time. It also led to my students looking to me to lead them through the investigation more often than not, because they would find themselves over their head during the times they needed to present findings. I am unsure how I would implement such an investigation in the future, in a way that I could wean the students off my support over time.

Besides specific goals such as, develop scientific literacy, there are concerns about what kind of citizens that adolescents are going to be. At that point it is questionable which values it is important for youth to take with them as they continue growing. Should they be kind, generous, strong, brave, independent, loyal, ect.? Who benefits if these are the values that all youth develop and are those values meaningful to all youth, or are they culturally insensitive? I tend to find models of instilling certain virtue into youth to be disheartening. While there should be expectations expressed and shared of youth, some virtues are built around unshakeable loyalty which can be dangerous as it opposes critical thought. I personally prefer youth development toward learning about systemic injustice that surrounds and impacts their everyday life. Not only is it immediately meaningful to youth, it also opens their eyes to how the world around them operates and helps give them an opportunity to point out the issues that they see. The perspective that youth bring are a unique and powerful one, so integrating them in the discourse of social justice is an interesting idea.

Racial identity work includes the negotiation that adolescents from minority groups are required to perform in order to deal with the barriers present in their environment.  “Children and adolescents whose family and collective histories include enslaved ancestors suffer because everyone avoids what is most critical to their sense of belonging: affirmation of the uniqueness of their lives in America’s social history” (Fordham, 2010, p.25-26). When youth have no sense of a cultural background, or do not feel that background is respected, that leads to development of a marginalized identity. As a high school graduate from an urban high school, Wilson Magnet HS and a minority myself, I can relate with that last statement. I had a set of very close friends (interestingly they were all Hispanic like myself), whom I trusted and would share anything with. Outside that circle, I would say that I still had friends, but I would not be willing to go to the same lengths for them. I also had a lack of trust of those outside of my friends and at some point it was difficult to make new friends because of that shared mentality among myself and others. My parents were an important influence in my decisions on who to make friends with and tried to make me critical of other peers’ behavior, especially those that acted “ghetto”. To add to that, there were conflicts between myself and male black students who would often bully me. I was a “teacher’s pet” and I was also an “other” in a school culture dominated by blacks.

“Even in the most progressive circles where those in the culture of power are ‘sensitive’ to the needs of those outside of the culture of power, those who do not possess the values, beliefs, and ways of acting of the culture of power have been labeled ‘disadvantaged’” (Barton and Yang, 2000, p.874). This quote exemplifies my feelings about the plight of youth and adolescents, who are consistently overlooked due to their position in society and preconceived notions of their capabilities. Despite the richness and uniqueness in what their future can entail, they are consistently pushed and pulled into small boxes that limit that potential. Their identity development becomes limited because of lack of access to different resources such as technology, which can be viewed as a negative influence by adults or because socially constructed notion of adulthood or many other reasons. As an adult and educator, I need to remain critical of my perspective and how it may favor the dominant culture over that of youth’s culture, in order to provide for my students with the best possible practices.

 

References

Barton, A., & Yang, K. (2000). The culture of power and science education: Learning from Miguel. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 871-889

Fordham, S. (2010). Passin’ For Black.Harvard Educational Review, 80, 4-30.

Kirshner, B. (2009). Guided Participation In Three Youth Activism Organizations: Facilitation, Apprenticeship, And Joint Work. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 60-101.

 

Rogoff, B. (2003). The cultural nature of human development. Oxford [UK: Oxford University Press.

Book Report: “What Video Games Have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy”

I was first up in presenting my book talk, which I did Monday of this week.  The book I was discussing was Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy. A one page summary of my thoughts on the book can be found in my book talk paper, located in this link here: 20150221BookTalkPaperGuler-CarrasquilloCv3.

Starting off my book talk, I had my cohort write down practices involved in doing science and practices involved in playing video games.

A co-constructed list of practices utilized in science and in video games.
A co-constructed list of practices utilized in science and in video games.

I then asked what are common themes between both lists and one that stuck out was that both science and gaming are collaborative endeavors. Some members of the cohort mentioned that most of the elements of both lists are interchangeable.

I then went on to show a short video about education and video games made by a team of game developers interested in taking a critical eye towards games and their future potential.  The topic of the video was that students desire instantaneous feedback that allows them to eventually solve the problem on their own terms, rather than being forced to give the right answer without the opportunity to revise.

While my cohort watched the video above, I asked them to write down interesting ideas and questions/concerns the video inspired in them. I have compiled some of the interesting ideas in a list:

  • Designing educational experiences as a way to improve upon their knowledge vs. assessing if students possess that knowledge
  • Innovation requires “failure as an opportunity to learn” mindset
  • 21st century jobs require finding answers to new problems
  • Rapid feedback->Response->Innovation
  • “Do you know how to solve this?” vs. “What is the solution?”

I also compiled the list of concerns/questions and I will try to address them to the best of my ability. The video is only four minutes long, but there is a series of videos Extra Credits has on education and video games which elaborates a little more on their points and even providing practical applications of the notions they are espousing here.

What counts as a game?

I would define a game as a form of play, guided by a goal. The element of play allows for opportunities to how approaches the goal and the act of having the goal provides direction for the play. This direction occurs with negative feedback when an approach is taking one away from the goal and positive feedback when an approach is getting  one closer to the goal.  There is has been some controversy over whether or not video games without “lose states” (ex. game over, death) are actually games, because otherwise there is no negative feedback that stimulates a change in tactics. I would definitely say that an authentic inquiry-based learning opportunity has all the elements that a game has. There is problem solving, revision of previous approaches and ideas, collaboration between players, consequences in response to actions, and more.

How do we use games to do this?

You can utilize game design when deciding how to run your classroom. For example, in many role playing games the player character gains experience points after performing different acts such as defeating an enemy or reading a book. A certain level of experience points leads to the player leveling up, at they gain new skills/abilities at higher levels. Teachers can implement this in their grading system, where traditionally students start with an A+ and have no where to go but down. By instead making the system about gaining points, there is positive reinforcement that leads students not to worry about failing, but instead trying because each learning opportunity is a chance to gain more points. Also, you can include the skill system by explicitly stating when a student has shown proficiency in a certain skill such as “data analysis”. In this way, you make learning much more transparent to each student.

Do all jobs really require innovation or is it up to the employee?

I am not sure if innovation is required, but certainly having the ability to implement creative solutions is a useful skill in any field and should be a desired trait in an employee.  Also, as a reform-minded science teacher who wants to ensure that their students leave the classroom being more scientifically literate than when they came in, it is my hope that I better prepared them to be able to be innovative in any challenge they may face in the future.

Really, use games in the classroom is the answer? W/o thinking about the strategies used in the game; its just playing a game, not learning.

As I have defined games earlier in this section, I would say that yes, games are an answer. In the way that I defined a game, much of the stuff we have been learning through the GRS program has been aligned with gaming principles. I would also push back on the statement that playing a game doesn’t incorporate learning when strategy isn’t being thought about. In a well designed game, the problems posed to the player require them to think critically about what went wrong and how they can account for that when they try again. There is identity development work at play, where the player is invested in the in-game goals of their avatar to the point where they set goals for themselves as well (ex. get better at making this jump in Mario). The sense of progression the player feels from where they started to where they ended up in quite clear in a game, especially in RPG’s where you can view your character’s stats. This information helps to display how far the player has come since the beginning of the game. When a player beats a game once and then replays it, they often times can blast through the earlier parts of the game because they learned more nuanced approaches later on when the game became more difficult. This all requires learning and many games implicitly give players the feedback that they indeed did learn how to get better at the game. Now if true learning requires the learner to be cognizant of the process, then that is where the teacher comes in. In the video, games didn’t replace the teacher, they helped free up the teacher’s time to provide that instantaneous feedback. We could replace “games” with “differentiated inquiry lesson” and I would see little difference between the two.

Video games, to me, are a powerful media that have great potential that needs to be tapped into. There are a wealth of learning experiences that many students have had through gaming and that prior knowledge could be used in a multitude of rich and meaningful ways. But this post has already gone long enough. Overall, I would highly suggest giving Gee’s book a read, his perspective is of an outsider that has only recently entered into the domain of video gaming, but it is nonetheless an interesting one. I find his more recent work on his blog to be a little more up to date. A link to his blog can be found here. See ya here next week!

 

Nature of Science Resources

During this week in GRS class, we furthered discussed nature of science. The focus was based around the application of nature of science in classrooms, making these connections explicit to students. The goal of doing this being students conception of science as an ongoing process they can participate in rather than a body of “facts” that they are required to memorize. To support this work, I will be linking a few resources revolving around teaching nature of science.

ENSI/SENSI Nature of Science Lessons

The Nature of Scientific Thinking: Lessons Designed to Develop Understanding of the Nature of Science and Modeling

Science Online: Nature of Science Teaching Activities