Stories Matter

December 8, 2018

The collective Get Real! Science blog that each of our classmates writes on once this semester inspired me to take a deeper dive into resources on equity in education this week. I loved the video that Sherin recently posted, “The Danger of a Single Story.”, by Chimananda Ngozi Adichi. The way that the Chimananda Ngozi Adichi ends her speech inspires me as a teacher educator to promote the use of stories in all disciplinary classrooms to promote equity.

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower and humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.

This Get Real! Science blog project has increased my use of Twitter and encouraged me to follow different researchers, activists, educators around the country that work with issues of equity in math and science education for all learners. This week, I went back to Twitter to read tweets from a new friend that I wrote about in one of my initial posts, Dr. Pedro Noguera, a professor and researcher at UCLA. Dr. Pedro Noguera was a guest on Jennifer’s Gonzalez’s (another new friend of mine on Twitter) podcast, Cult of Pedagogy. I listened to episode 110 on 10 Specific Ways Educators Can Take Action in Pursuit of Equity.


I love the quote that Gonzalez begins within this episode, “Equity work is not a trend. It is not a new thing.” And she goes on to say that equity is becoming what seems like a new thing because the voices are getting louder and stories are getting told. Stories are getting told. Similar to the Chimananda Ngozi Adichi in the Ted Talk, who believes that many stories matter. Here are the 10 ways that Dr. Pedro Noguera and Jennifer Gonzalez state as ways to pursue excellence through equity in the classroom.

  1. Challenge the normalization of failure
  2. Speak up for Equity
  3. Embrace immigrant students and their culture
  4. Provide students clear guidance on what it takes to succeed
  5. Build partnerships with parents based on shared interests
  6. Align discipline practices with educational goals
  7. Rethink remediation, focus on acceleration
  8. Implement evidence-based practices and evaluate for effectiveness
  9. Build partnerships with the community to address student needs
  10. Teach the ways students learn, rather than expecting them to learn the way we teach

I love all ten of these, but realize they can be overwhelming for new educators and possibly need to be grouped into larger themes. I decided to draw a concept map to put the list of ten into four broader categories. I titled it “Equity that is Scalable”: High Expectations, Consistent Communication, Empathy, and Relationships.

High Expectations (#1,4,7,8): I love the strategy in the book Teach Like a Champion, by Doug Lemov, “No Opt Out.” It is a slogan that can be used in many ways to communicate as a teacher that “I have high expectations.” About five years ago, the school I was the administrator of was moving to a standards-based report card. The first step was a policy for teachers to not give any child below a 50% on an assignment. There was professional development about the determinants of a 0% on a child’s grade, and teachers were understanding the math behind this new policy. However, many teachers were struggling with giving a 50% to a student who had not turned anything in. My response, “no opt out.” I believe that we must find a way for students to do the work because we know that students learn by doing (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989). But doing does not equate to knowing (Lederman & Lederman, 2012). We must make sure the work is meaningful and provides opportunities for sense-making. If the student is not completing the work, let’s first find out why. Does the student believe in the benefit the work? Is it an assignment that has meaning? Are we open to throwing out work that does not give meaning? “No opt out” sets the expectations high for a student, but it also sets the bar high for teachers to make sure we are creating and assigning work that promotes sense-making and is meaningful.

Empathy (#3,6,10): In every lesson plan/ unit plan format that seems to be a place provided for teachers to reflect on what went well in the lesson and what might need to be changed. I found that with all my good intentions of wanting to make time to reflect… reflection time was the element of a lesson that did not consistently get completed. But what would happen if we took time to reflect on our lessons and work? Would it promote writing the insights we learned from other teachers, our students, their parents to promote deeper learning? Would taking time to reflect on a child’s poor choices promote consequences that meet their needs to support and change their behavior for positive growth? Would it give us a space to listen, write and reflect on our story, our students’ stories, and their families’ stories? Making time to reflect promotes empathy.

Consistent Communications (#2,9,10): Use your voice confidently and positively! Each educator has a voice and has the power to make the educational journey a positive experience for all learners. No matter your title, years of experience or position we all have a story to tell that can directly impact our youth. Dr. Pedro Noguera speaks to this point about the opportunity to question and challenge structures, practices, and norms that are perpetuating stereotypes and poor academic practices. This is the power of being a new person in a building because it is easy to see and observe from a new vantage point. Use this opportunity to give feedback and promote best practices. All will benefit from this reflection! I also think consistent communication invites more opportunities to bring all the support structures in a child’s life to the table. There are many new and different ways to communicate with parents/families: apps like Remind, emails, websites. Use them consistently and timely. Use these vehicles of communication to share with families specific strategies to support their child, highlight their child’s work and provide strategies to engage in the discipline of science in their home. As an educator, this was how I ended my week. Each Friday morning, I would draft a parent newsletter, edit it during lunch, and send it off on Friday afternoon. Parents loved this consistent communication and it was a pathway for building relationships.

Which takes me to my last category… Relationships! Relationships! Relationships!

Build Relationships (#5,6,9): Dr. Pedro Noguera states, “We cannot expect schools to do everything. Partner with health clinics, churches, community agencies to address the needs. Build relationships with the local community. Be strategic with the community.”

picture source:

There is a story in the image of a pier overlooking the ocean. The picture above is the Manhatten Beach Pier in Los Angeles, California. I used this image in many parent conversations when I said, “Your child’s life is like the walkway of this pier. Each beam holding up the pier represents a support system in your child’s life. One beam cannot be responsible for holding up the pier. It takes a shared and unified effort. Like your child’s life, they need many support structures: parents, extended family, Church, community, sports teams, peers, etc. The goal is to increase and strengthen the beams in a child’s life.” As teachers, when we build relationships, we are building beams of support for our students. Increasing students networks will open the door to telling their stories and expanding their stories because “stories matter. Many stories matter” (Chimananda Ngozi Adichi).


I highly recommend listening to Jennifer Gonzalez’s podcast or reading her blog at

Social Justice is a Personal Responsibility

December 1, 2018

On Giving Tuesday this holiday season, my newsfeed reminded me of the opportunities to give to organizations that have a scientific impact on our community. I thought about this movement, and how teachers can help their students keep the meaning of Thanksgiving in the forefront. Encouraging teachers to reflect on their power and impact they have to affect social change is a staple element of Get Real! Science. Dr. April Luehmann does this so well by framing a social change as a personal responsibility for teacher educators; to bring awareness to pre-service teachers’ science work, academic studies, and instructional choices to develop agents of change within their students for their community.

Social justice in Science Urban Education was my presentation’s topic last week to the doctoral students- Saliha, Yang, Elizabeth, and April. The articles I researched framed the work of science education as having incredible power to impact social change. During this lesson, I asked my four students to do a free-write on a quote from one of the articles. One of the quotes was:

By taking on social justice education as a science educator I challenge preservice teachers to understand what it means to create science classroom communities with access, equity, quality, and opportunity to learn science as fundamental goals.” -Dr. Maria S. Rivera Maulucci

Dr. April Luehmann chose to write about this quotation from the article, and I love how she described her personal responsibility and mission when she said:

I have always been very transparent about the kind of science teacher that I am preparing – that not taking an explicit stand about social justice is, actually, taking an unacceptable stand of indifference. The core challenges seem to be around acknowledging that power plays a role in students’ histories, resources (such as opportunities) and futures; that knowledge is not neutral, and that teachers have important work in addressing issues of inequity through their designs and implementations of learning environments that prioritize all youths’ languages and cultures; inviting their participation and recognition as science people in ways that do not force a choice with other identities important to youth.  I feel, as a profession and society, social justice has gained traction in the conversations about what matters in education and why; yet clearly, we have a long way to go.

The ad’s that popped up in my newsfeed on Giving Tuesday reminded me of causes that I care about, and highlight my love of science and the environment. As educators, while we are preparing for lessons on Thanksgiving or winter holidays, Christmas and Hanukkah, let’s also add time to reflect on how we can have a positive social impact on our communities and the greater community. Where is there good already happening that can be leveraged? How can holidays be shaped to bring good to our community? My newsfeed this past Tuesday reminded me of a few organizations that do good year round, and Giving Tuesday becomes an opportunity to learn more:

1. Outdoor Project: “OUR MISSION: To create the most intuitive, comprehensive, and inspiring outdoor adventure resource. Ever.

2. Sierra Club: I learned about this organization when teaching in Los Angeles. They offered free transportation and funding for field trips to get students outdoors.

3. Gulu Help: My best friend’s mom started a non-profit organization to support healthcare development and education resources in northern Uganda, in the district of Gulu. I have been able to visit twice with her and believe in the work the organization is doing to empower Ugandans for healthcare development.

4. Food Links: Our very own Gavin Jenkins posted the organization his wife works for, and our Science STARS visited this past fall.

This last picture is of a teacher who shaped me into being an educator to promote social change in small ways. My first teaching position was in downtown Los Angeles at an all-girls Catholic School, Bishop Conaty-Our Lady of Loretto. Sr. Kathleen Kinney was a teacher at the school for 21 years and it was her alma mater. She has previously served as vice principal and was the religion teacher at the time. This week, Sr. Kathleen passed away and there has been an outpouring of love, support, and memories for this beloved educator. So many of her students have posted about the care she showed them in difficult times and her ability to tell great stories about their school and community, but they also remember her love of the earth. I personally witnessed Sr. Kathleen’s belief that it was her personal responsibility to teach youth to be stewards of the Earth.

One small way that I remember clearly is after the lunch hour (lunch was outside in Los Angeles) she would stand by the garbage can and make sure that no student was throwing away plastic, and that no student was throwing a bottle filled with water into recycling. Students were taught to pour the remaining water into the grass so that it would get back into our ecological system faster. There were many days I would see her after the kids rushed to class sorting through the garbage cans to find any water bottles that could have been missed. The picture above is the environment club that she started at the school that still remains today. These were a few of the many memories that her former students posted on social media about their beloved Sr. Kathleen. Her push for us all the be stewards of the earth.

I took this water bottle lesson with me, and today, I still ask students to pour the remaining water into the grass, lawn or bushes because of Sr. Kathleen. Who knows how many other people are doing this small important act because of her teachings. It makes me think, what small positive impact do students act on today because of something I taught them? And it begs me to ask to my fellow Get Real! Science friends, how will you be remembered by your students? How will this memory impact change? I am so excited to see how each of you, Alyssa, Ellie, Ellen, Lisa, Kristi, Madeline, Robin, Sam, and Gavin, will cultivate your message and your impact because each of you holds incredible positive energy and power to do so!


Learning is Participation

November 17, 2018

All colleagues I come across in the Warner School love learning. They are life-long learners. As we continue developing our theories of learning, I believe that for both adults and children, learning is participation.

This blog is in response to Robin’s post from this week on our Get Real! Science blog.

“For those of you have already conquered your first year(s) of teaching, what reflection and professional development approaches would you say were the most effective in improving your practice? We’d love to learn from you!!” -Robin

In her blog, she questioned what the best methods of professional development have been in the teaching profession. There are many experiences I can think of for professional development, but the most impressionable form of professional development that I have experienced was when I was teaching in Santiago, Chile in 2009-2010. The growth I had as a person and as a teacher was transformational. Part of the personal growth was absolutely due to the unique context of living in a different country with a new language, customs, and culture. But the professional growth was due to being away from the context of  “formal American” school. The contractual requirements and norms of being a “Chilean teacher” created a framework for consistent, intentional and on-going conversations around teaching and learning.

In Chile, the length of the school year and the hours of the school day contribute to the framework for professional development. Students attend school for nine months of the year rather than the standard ten-months typically seen in the United States. However, teachers are still in school for ten months. During this extended uninterrupted professional time, we worked in department teams, attended workshops, there is professional work time, and planned our units with our partner teachers to create a vision and plan for the upcoming year. There were two teachers per grade for English that we worked with, my partner teacher was Gaby. In addition, at the end of the first semester, there is another week of teacher only work time to keep the big picture planning in mind and have uninterrupted time planning with our partner teacher. I found that this large amount of time writing units, attending meetings, and conversing over a plan provided an opportunity for deep thinking and creativity. It created space and time for colleagues to put together units for the year, clubs that would be offered and to vertically align the curriculum throughout the grades.

Space and time were also offered throughout the school year embedded in our school day and week. Our school day was from 7:45 to 4:30 pm. On Tuesdays, faculty stayed until 5:30 pm for whole school meetings or department meetings. The longer school day did not contribute to more time in the classroom, rather it contributed to an hour lunch for students/teachers and three longer breaks during the day: 20-minutes, 15-minutes, 10-minutes. As I reflect on how the extra time during the day was used, it was working collaboratively with my partner teacher and moving throughout the day at a slower pace than teaching in the U.S.. All my units, lessons, and assessments needed to be the same as my partner teacher, and we worked very well together on a daily basis to make this happen. Part of the fellowship opportunity that brought me to Chile was that the school, St. George’s of the Holy Cross (in partnership with the University of Notre Dame in Indiana) wanted native English speaking teachers not only for the students but also for their English teachers. This daily and consistent collaborative teacher partnership I had never experienced in my teaching experience in America. I learned so much from Gaby in this process and grew from the time that was embedded into the yearly routines for authentic reflection on our work.

To answer Robin’s question, I don’t think there was one type of professional development. For me, it was the continuous structure in the yearly calendar of workshops, department meetings used for curriculum development and the daily collaboration with my partner teacher that orchestrated some of my best teachings! This process of learning affirms my belief that learning is participation for both children and adults.

Science Opportunities for All

November 9, 2018

Science Opportunities for All

This week, I am preparing for the lesson that the lovely Sherin and I will teach in the Theory of Science and Learning on Social Justice in Science Education. Throughout my career in education which was in the No Child Left Behind Era and the Race to Top Era, I have seen math and reading instruction be the driving force around organizational and instructional decisions. All too often in urban elementary schools, children have been left behind in their science education: school schedules prioritizing math and reading courses, amount of time for science instruction, dropping science class during a busy time of the school year, extra time on test preparation for the math and reading assessments. That is not to say I did not witness high-quality science instruction. But I personally would argue for more consistency and making science investigations a higher priority.

This reflection was inspired by Dr. William Tate (2001), author of Science Education as a Civil Right: Urban Schools and Opportunity to Learn Considerations. Who argued that science education is a civil rights issue of our time, and educators need to assess the time, quality and type of instruction that is provided in science classrooms with high minorities. After reading this article, I generated a list of these questions… What would happen in our urban schools, especially our elementary schools, if science instruction was prioritized? What would the accountability framework need to look like to encourage conceptual understandings and engagement in students doing science to promote this learning? What would be the role of science teacher leaders? What time is needed for teachers to properly prepare for high-quality science investigations? How should principals be trained in the NGSS to know what high-quality science instruction should look like and the expectations of their teachers?

Preparation and time are two key qualities for science education, but also the quality of instruction and a depth of understanding for the issues we have discussed in our course this semester: discourse, power, and identity.

A few key resources I have stumbled upon in this search for relevant work in the area of Social Justice in Science Education:

Dr. Wanja Gitari work has focused on science education access through discourse at the University of Toronto writes that her overall goal in science education is “to promote access and social justice in science education and scientific creativity in everyday life.” Dr. Wanja Gitari has found in her science education research that the challenges facing black students involve discourse and that the issue of equity and discourse could extend to all students who are the minority in the classroom. Dr. Gitarid describes is that communication styles of black students are not supported by the dominant mode of the science classroom. For example, in a science lesson, a teacher may scaffold the class to answer observational questions that are very obvious to the learner. In the article the example of a teacher asking, “what do you walk on?” and the answer being “legs.” This type of right answer that is obvious to all, Dr. Wanja Gitari articulates is not a familiar form of discourse in a black home. More commonly, communication styles that are narrative and storytelling oriented, are a favored communication method. This seems like an easy shift, if proper professional development is provided… Has anyone seen great examples of this science discourse? I saw a great one this fall in STARS, the Recycling RockSTARS group from Get Real! Science 2018 had students create the story of the life of a homework worksheet from the tree to their desk and then the recycling plant.

The second suggestion Dr. Wanja Gitari promotes is identity development providing role models for young black scientists through Visions for Science. This non-profit organization works to provide access to more STEM opportunities for youth to engage and see themselves as scientists: summer learning camps, in-school enrichment, community STEM clubs and promoting STEM community leaders. This is a promising organization that promotes positive youth development.

I loved this exploration of Social Justice in Science Education and definitely a new fan of Dr. Wanja Gitari!




The Power of Argumentation in Sense-Making

November 2, 2018


“What power there is to be the “critic.” Asking questions is not enough. Until you become the critic and participate in learning through that lens, you don’t know how to self-evaluate your own work to have deep sense-making.” -Dr. April Luehmann

Argumentation is key for sense-making in science. Engagement in argumentation happens both inter-mentally (between people) and intra-mentally (an individual’s reasoning). According to Ford (2012), scientific sense-making is a result of an individuals engagement in argumentation; learning through participation in a discourse that both constructs and critiques an individual’s own ideas. Specifically, the critique influences the overall construction of a high-quality claim that promotes deep learning. According to our professor, Dr. April Luehmann, there is power in being your own critic. “Until you become the critic and participate in learning through that lens, you don’t know how to self-evaluate your own work to have deep sense-making.” The interplay between generating an argument and reflecting on its’ own critique is what motivates the progress in scientific sense-making (Ford, 2012).

How does this power of argumentation translate to instruction in the science classroom?

In my previous 10th-grade biology class, students were learning about the dust bowl in history and in biology we were learning about the energy pyramid in our ecosystems. In biology, I had students engage in a dust bowl investigation where they used the claim-evidence-reasoning (CER) protocol to determine how they were going to survive the dust bowl with wheat, cows, and milk as food sources on their farm. This was a rigorous activity because there was no right answer; it was all about how the students argued their claim and supported it with evidence. I was amazed by how engaged the students were in generating their claim and how challenged they felt when pushed to provide evidence for their claim. As students were constructing their rationale they were asked to engage in dialog with other groups to share their claim and evidence. It was this conversation and developing their rationale by arguing their points that ownership and sense-making started to occur. This unit demonstrated that indeed, there is great power in argumentation and construction of a critique, but it is also a process of scaffolding to allow students to get to a place of self-critique.

This Anchor Chart is a simple example of the CER protocol that can be hung in a classroom.

This table is the graphic organizer that students use to construct their argument.

Above are two common visuals one might see in a classroom that is using an argument to construct meaning. But where is there room for the rebuttals? The critique? The power of sense-making? (Insert cartoon below to engage).

No really… rebuttals that are rigorous and demonstrate a thoughtful critique of the author’s claim. If we never taught our students to be reflective and consider that their claims are not truths, but actually do need to be critiqued and go through multiple iterations of reflection… well, we might still think the earth is flat!

So how do we teach students to critique their own work?

First, invite peers to review their work. After students complete the CER table, create a gallery walk where each student needs to stop at all CER tables to ask questions, offer a different opinion, or insert evidence that is contradictory. Not only does this have to be the peers in a class, but open up your class to invite teachers, administrators, family, and other employees into the gallery of scientific claims to do the same. The more comfortable our students become and engage in thoughtful reflection of their claims, the stronger their argumentation will become. This process will then allow students to develop into playing their own critic. They can reflect on how others viewed their claims and the next time, start to anticipate what critics might say and argue those points. This my friends is what Dr. April Luehmann meant by the “great power” in critiquing your own work and the construction of deep scientific sense-making.

That Nature of Science is about Cultivating a Sense of Awe

October 26, 2018

“I won’t see it until I believe it.“- DeWitt Jones

This past week we had master science teachers visit out Theory of Science and Learning class to share the wisdom of their teaching practices. I found it exciting, reassuring and interesting to learn how master teachers have been shifting their practice over time to include the scientific practices in their teaching. The “science and engineering practices” that the framework Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS, (2012) outline contribute to the sense-making of students’ scientific reasoning. The biology teacher in my group spoke to her emphasis in the amount of time she spent on teaching the nature of science to develop the mindset to nurture and foster the practices that are used throughout her science course.

This conversation reaffirmed my own decision to spend the first month of school last year on unit centered around the practices and the nature of science in a case study on tuberculosis. The essential question for the unit was, “How is my life interdependent with the evolving life of the earth?” This essential question was continuously brought up in every unit throughout the year. The key words were “my life, interdependent, and evolving,” and I felt these words/phrases captured the essence that science is a process that can be personally engaged with and connect to through the practices. It was the question that guided this first unit, with the hopes that through the practices of analyzing data, identifying evidence, constructing a model, designing an investigation and arguing a claim, students would foster a sense of curiosity, desire to investigate and seek evidence to explain a theory and identify a solution. Students did this by studying the history of seeking treatment for tuberculosis and then designing a model for a controlled experiment to learn more about its presence today.

The NGSS practices foster a stance of inquiry and nurture the nature of science that Chiapetta (2010) outlines as scientific thinking, investigating, conceptual knowledge, science/technology/society (Chiapetta, 2010). After our class conversations this week and reflection, I would now argue for a fifth nature of science to be fostered- awe.

To me, awe is a sense of appreciation, wonder, and gratitude that can promote engagement in the nature of science. According to Stone in Psychology Today, there are opportunities to experience awe all around us, and there are benefits from this experience: critical and creative thinking, improved health, a sense of gratitude, admiration, and wonder. I believe nurturing this sense of awe in our students will work alongside the natural curiosity that the National Research Council for Science Education (2012) stated is already present in our children from a young age. “Children have innate scientific processes with how they learn about the world.” The coupling of awe and curiosity is the foundation for taking a stance of inquiry to which the scientific community seeks to foster in our young scientists.

One particular video that I love is “Celebrate what is right with the world,” by National Geographic Dewitt Jones. Jones discusses a certain attitude that we can foster- celebration.  A celebration of science is an “attitude, perspective, and vision that is simple and profound.” If our students carry this mindset, lens for viewing the world, and vision for what could be than who knows the investigations and scientific reasoning that could unfold. A scientist that appreciates the world celebrates the world. A desire to protect and discover the world can transform and ignite the scientific curiosity and engagement to make our world a better place.

I encourage our science community to build our vision for science practices and core ideas by first cultivating a disposition of awe. The foundation of awe can lead to an increased engagement and curiosity for rich authentic investigations and deep conceptual knowledge. This infusion of awe will inspire creativity, which can serve as a lens to engage in scientific thinking: curiosity, reasoning, cause-effect, skepticism, evidence-based reasoning, objectivity (Chiapetta, 2010). The potential for solving problems and investigating science that matters to individuals from this lens will benefit our world through multiple perspectives.

For an Effective Debate, You Need to Set the Bait

October 12, 2018

Anticipation is key to create a setting for a healthy and productive youth debate

As a teacher, I always experienced hesitancy in designing a lesson that includes classroom debate. The hesitancy was driven from, will the students be interested enough to engage in a healthy, yet rigorous, environment? Will the students have enough knowledge for a productive dialog? All these questions circulate as I think about how to plan and execute a classroom debate that honors the healthy and respectful classroom culture.

This past week, in our Theory of Science and Learning course, we read an article that desired to find ways to engage youth in a productive disciplinary argument. The authors, Engle and Conant (2002), outlined four criteria to designing this discourse: problematizing, authority, accountability and resources.

The four areas of productive discourse are essential to cultivating a positive, productive and effective debate in a classroom. But I would argue for a fifth component, anticipation. To build the energy for students to engage in the material, the teacher needs to strategically build students’ anticipation to wrap their minds around the issue. Engle and Conant (2002) provided an example of a teacher building this anticipation in a debate known to the students as “The Big Ol’ Argument” (BOA), and I saw this done effectively this past summer with Get Real! Science teachers that led a “Stink Bug Debate.”

  • BOA: The teacher in the BOA taught the course on marine animals, dolphins and whales. The teacher then planned a field trip and set her students up with the anticipation that sources of information might contradict each other, and students should be looking for that. The teacher purposefully found resources that contradicted each other. On a field trip, the teacher set the stage that teachers and other adults may not be the “experts.”
  • Stink Bug Debate: This past summer, three Get Real! Science teachers planned and executed an exceptional debate by setting the bait for students. Three days of instruction leading up to the debate, background knowledge about the invasive species, the stink bug, was learned. Students went on Stink Bug hunts, they investigated other bugs in their crops on the western NY farms, and they were tasked to talk with family and look for Stink Bugs in their home. The students were engaged, asked questions and each had a story to share about these annoying creatures. Prior to the debate, the teachers introduced the controversial problem of introducing the predator of the Stink Bug to western NY, the wasp. Students learned more about the wasp through a story and then a cartoon. Building background knowledge, and setting the stage for pro-wasp or anti-wasp got the students hooked and made for an effective debate!

These two debates were successful because of the anticipation built, as well as Engle and Conant’s (2002) other four areas of debate:

#1: Problematizing the subject matter:

  • Controversial issues that matter to students always lend themselves to rigorous debates. Topics such as should students be allowed to have cell phones in school? Should students have to wear uniform? Gun control? Drinking age? Personally, as a student and then as a math/science teacher, debates seemed to lend themselves towards the other content areas (history or language arts) and the skill of debates did not seem relevant to math or science. But debates are powerful and can impact how youth engage in relevant issues. The key to effective debates in the science classroom is to problematize the discussion and build the students background knowledge, coupled with their prior experiences, to set the stage for a critical discourse around science issues that matter to them: recycling, global warming, internet speed, artificial intelligence, etc.

#2: Authority

  • Giving students authority is critical for the students to engage in the dialog. In the Stink Bug debate and in the Big Ol’ Argument there was little adult interaction with the students. The expectations were established through modeling a healthy debate and an unhealthy debate, providing students with roles and responsibilities, and explicitly valuing student ideas, even if they aren’t correct.

#3: Accountability and creating norms:

  • When in a debate, drop the “bait”…. or Popsicle stick! The Stink Bug Debate was successful because of the participation norms that were established to hold each student accountable to share an idea. Each student was given three popsicle sticks, if the student spoke they needed to drop a popsicle stick into the middle of the circle. Each student had to speak a minimum of one time, and only could speak a maximum of three times. And if one eager student wanted to say more, they could use another person’s popsicle stick if that student gave it to them. This norm setting was critical to producing effective discourse. One particular student was drawing during the debate. She was listening, but not actively engaging. She started to take notice and draw her attention to the conversation when she realized that some students were out of their three popsicle sticks and she had not contributed one…. after a side conversation of getting affirmation from a friend, she provided a personal example for why the predator the wasp was not an effective strategy because people, like her brother, are allergic to bees.

#4: Resources:

  • Students need access to resources to build this anticipation. Access to experts, access to readings to build background knowledge, and access to activities that are relevant to the topic of debate. These resources are key for creating a rich debate in the classroom.

This got me thinking… what are other teaching strategies to foster disciplinary discourse and debates around relevant science issues? Here are a few resources I found that can help you build a debate in your classroom:

The Four Corners Debate –

This debate will get students up and moving while using their critical thinking skills. Students are given a topic, then they must prepare a well-supported paragraph stating their position (they may strongly agree, agree, strongly disagree, or just disagree). Next, students will move to the corner of the classroom where they see their position posted on the wall. The strongly disagree position is posted in the right-hand corner, while the agree position is posted in the left-handed corner, and so on. Once students move to their corner, they get 10 minutes to discuss their thoughts. Appoint one person the note-taker and one person the speaker. At the end of the 10 minutes, invite each speaker to state her case on the topic. If at the end of the debate a student has changed his mind, he is allowed to move corners. Then students get another 10 minutes to discuss. After that point, students take their seats to write a new paragraph detailing their thoughts on the topic.”

Use social media:

“Why kick students out of a reading to a separate forum area to comment on the reading? Integrate the forum capability into the reading assignment so learners can add their thoughts easily without getting sidetracked. If you are using the forum in an open way to continue in-class discussions or ask that students consider a topic for which there is no reading, find out where the learners are – Facebook, Twitter, Ning, Google+, etc. – and leverage tools they already use instead of requiring them to use a different tool specifically for school.”

Edutopia offers more great strategies!

Equity is Rooted in Cognitive Apprenticeship

September 22, 2018

In our Theory of Science and Learning course this past month, I enjoyed actively taking on the role of “researcher” to observe teachers engaging in an authentic activity, the inquiry cubes activity, to discuss the nature of science.  This activity connected to our previous discussion on closing the gap between real-world apprenticeship and learning in traditional school settings; otherwise known as cognitive apprenticeship.

The authors Brown, Collins & Duguid (1989) coined the term “Cognitive Apprenticeship” as a theory of learning that grounds authentic activity that is situated in the context of the learner. According to Brown, et al. (1989) cognitive apprenticeship is learning that is rooted in authentic activity and contextually situated in students’ lives. Authentic activity means the tools and skills that are being learned represent the practice of a practitioner in the world. Contextually situated illustrates that students’ cultural communities, experiences, and interests are the starting point for learning. This article and class conversation made me hungry to learn more about the real-world applications of this theory in practice today.

I took this curiosity to Twitter, and in the search engine searched “cognitive apprenticeship.” It was a pleasant surprise to see a vast amount of professional work that was applying this theory to learning, both in K-12 education and at University level.  Exploring the other professional work on Twitter that is framed in the theory of cognitive apprenticeship led me to a few interesting tweets:

Twitter Post #1: the amount of teachers who are unaware of this theory of learning, cognitive apprenticeship

Twitter Post #2: Cognitive apprenticeship is a source of equitable education.


Dr. Pedro Noguera addresses that equity is often thought about as access to resources and distribution of resources, but in the context of how people learn through the theory of cognitive apprenticeship there is a new consideration. Knowledge is not only access to the development of authentic practitioner skills, but for deep learning to occur, education is dependent on the knowledge being situated in the context of the learner. Providing instruction rooted in cognitive apprenticeship is providing an equitable education. Dr. Pedro Noguera states:

The path to higher achievement is through engagement, but engagement is multidimensional. It’s not simply about whether the kids are present and doing the work; that’s the behavioral part. But there’s also the cognitive part—how deeply do they understand the work? How much can they connect what they’re doing on one project to other things they’ve learned or to what they’ll have to learn next? And third, there’s the emotional part. How much do they actually care about what they’re doing? How invested are they? We all work harder when we have a passion for what we’re doing.

I felt a sense of urgency reading Dr. Pedro A. Noguera connections between deeper learning and cognitive apprenticeship. If learning happens in authentic activity and in the context of the learner it leads to deep conceptualization. As educators, it is our duty to give ALL learners these learning experiences. I think Brown, et al. (1989) would agree, and might even say that anything less than this is “ersatz”- inferior and inequitable education.

On the other hand, I felt reassurance and hope these past two weeks in Get Real! Science. I think Dr. Pedro Noguera would be pleased to see that our team is offering authentic science investigations that are situated in students’ actionable participation. At the World of Inquiry School, WOIS, through the science investigations students are connecting with community practitioners through field trips, conducting interviews, and developing solutions to problems they care about. There is emotional investment on the part of the learners because it is science they care about. This came to be through advisory panels where teachers elicited students’ ideas about what science topics mattered to them and genuinely listened to their responses. This advisory panel helped the teachers generate three investigations for the after-school clubs at WOIS: care for environment led by the Recycling RockSTARS team, IncrEDIBLES focusing on access to healthy eating and Captivated that is advocating for the care for animals.

Get Real! Science has the most students enrolled in the after-school STARS club than ever before and they are engaged in science that is situated in their cultural realities and personal interests. This is an example of Deeper Learning that is equitable and sustainable.

Revealing Community that will Impact Future Change

September 14, 2018

The beginning of a school year is always an exciting time of year! One of my favorite professors, stated that our job is not to “build community” but to “reveal a community” that already exists. Revealing community is the most important opportunity in the beginning of a school year and there are many different ways to nurture the community that is in our science classrooms and schools. This past week on Twitter, Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS, twitter feed #NGSSchat, posted the  following question:

Last fall, I implemented a new routine and norm in my tenth grade biology class- circles. Every Thursday, class started with a circle that served as a community check-in and also served as a place to elicit student ideas for a science topic. When introducing the concept of a circle to 10th graders, I knew that it would have to be meaningful or I might lose them. One the first day of school, I assigned a homework assignment to bring in one artifact that answered the question, “What is life?” Or an artifact that finished the sentence, “Life is like…” This artifact would launch not only the norm of circles, but my introduction into biology- the study of life. The next day, each class sat in a circle with their artifacts, and one-by-one each student shared why it represented life to them. This opportunity not only illuminated students’ creativity, important elements of their life, access to resources, or who might forget their homework and grab something out of their bag, but it also grounded each them in a connecting activity that science is relevant in all facets of life. After the “Life is like..,” circles we took class pictures that led into establishing class norms, which hung together in our classroom for the remainder of the year. This grounding activity was an anchor for supporting the norm of “circles” in the science classrooms.

Circles have the potential to create a safe place for students to celebrate their wins, and understand their failures in a supportive environment. Both wins and loses are going to happen in science classrooms, and nurturing this environment promotes a safe space for all students. Not all students will feel instant success in modeling a phenomenon. Not all students will feel confident about sharing a potential solution to a problem in their community. But I believe that if a supportive, respectful and trusting community is established from the beginning of the year, it is more likely that students will feel more comfortable in the attempt. This small nugget of trust can be the “game changer” for a young scientist seeking solutions to change their community in meaningful ways.