IL Teacher Says IQWST Helps Students “Think Better”

Brian Klaft IQWST Educator

“This year I had so many kids thank me for helping them 'think' better, a direct correlation to using IQWST and NGSS philosophy.”

 

This months interview features Brian Klaft @BKd204Sci, an 8th grade science teacher at Francis Granger Middle School in Aurora, IL. We asked Brian what changes he has observed in his classroom since using IQWST, and here is what he had to say.

Activate Learning:  In what ways has using IQWST affected your classroom culture?

Brian:  IQWST has improved the culture for both teacher and students. IQWST has given me the structured classroom resource I was lacking as I brought the NGSS framework to my students. Prior to IQWST, I was trying to self-design units and lessons that captured the spirit of NGSS. IQWST’s structure has given me the ability to focus on my delivery and lesson management rather than lesson design. I find myself working on the presentation aspect of teaching more since I’ve been using the IQWST materials. From the student perspective, IQWST has helped my students tap into their background knowledge. They have been able to see that they have an abundance of science knowledge; knowledge they did not know they had. This has translated into a more confident group of science learners. That confidence has made my classroom culture one that is discussion based, and full of science argumentation. IQWST has allowed me to focus on the details, and has given my students a huge lift in how they view themselves.    

AL:  What are some ways that your students are demonstrating success in science as they use IQWST?  

Brian:  IQWST has allowed my students to demonstrate success in their modeling. My students worked through the earth science unit, “How is Earth Changing?” and the models that my class made that displayed how the plates move were fantastic. The understanding of the science principles my students showed not only impressed me, but also proved their understanding. In the past, students gained approval from teacher feedback. With IQWST, students can see their growth and feel a strong sense of pride in their work. They don’t just look to me as their teacher for approval, but look inward for self approval, and to their peers for support. This aspect has enhanced their success. They feel so successful with what they are doing. This realization coming from them is more important and powerful than just the approval from their teacher.

AL:   How have the materials themselves supported you as a science educator? 

Brian:  I appreciate the scripted guides in the teacher manual. I have not taught earth science in 20 years, and the scripts helped me stay on point and gave my students solid lessons to build onto their background knowledge. The activities also have been a huge plus. They are not just “labs” that are used to teach content; they are connective devices that help to anchor science practices. They are simple in design, but yet add a deeper understanding to the DCIs they address.  Other curricular series have larger, complex labs, but they can often confuse students with their depth. The IQWST activities help the science “pop” in the eyes of the students. The light bulbs I have seen go off in my students heads has never been so evident. They really understand the science practices that the activities demonstrate. The activities have huge “Ah-ha” factors.  From start to finish, the materials help teachers put students in the position to learn, and provides students the ability to understand the science practices that are outlined in NGSS.

AL:   IQWST focuses on reading, writing, and talking science--as students also “do” science.  How do the reading and writing activities support your students as learners?

Brian:  They are so understandable. A common concern of other materials is the reading level of the book. The IQWST readings are at the proper level and don’t “over science” the topic. The readings have just the right amount of depth to enhance student understanding. The writing portion of the articles is not too over-reaching. They give the students a platform that they are able to respond to confidently.  I do not get vague responses. Rather, I have responses that are based on what the students have grown to know as they have worked through a lesson.  I am reading confident student work.

AL:   What particular pedagogical practice or strategy has been particularly useful to you? (e.g., reading strategies, the Driving Question Board, assessment strategies, CER framework) 

Brian:   The Driving Question Board (DQB) is the one aspect of NGSS pedagogy that I have to work on the most. The dedicated help with DQB in the teacher resources is a huge help. With each DQB, I am gaining not just implementation understanding, but the confidence needed to make this an important part of my classroom. I am now able to look for different ways to connect DQB aspects in a class, as well as experiment with different media to display student questions. The DQB will be a frequent agenda item in my PLC time next year and the guides provided by IQWST will help give all faculty at my middle school a common understanding by which we can utilize DQBs in our classrooms.

AL:  What differentiates IQWST from other science curricula? 

Brian:  This is easy, it is student-focused. Other resources are more of a glorified science encyclopedia.  IQWST is based upon the development of student understanding through student-focused activities, reading and writing articles, and spirited claim, evidence, reasoning (CER) discussions. I have not come across a text series in 25 years of education that approaches science education in this manner. This platform will give teachers the structure to teach NGSS PEs with confidence, and provide students the opportunity to see and realize their “inner scientist” in many new and unique ways.

 

 

Oregon Students Ask and Answer Their Own Questions with IQWST

This month’s interview features Sarah Langton, a 6th grade science education leader at Raleigh Hills K-8 in Portland, OR. We asked Sarah what changes she has observed while using IQWST in her classroom, and here is what she told us.

Activate Learning:  In what ways has using IQWST affected your classroom culture?

Sarah:  Students were more invested and intrigued during the times I used IQWST. I think this may be because of the students taking charge of the DQB (Driving Question Board) and the scientific principles.

AL:  What are some ways that your students are demonstrating success in science as they use IQWST?

Sarah:  Students are citing the scientific principles as evidence for their conclusions! They are spending time trying to “make sense” of something they thought they understood, but is not behaving as they expected/predicted. They spent time collecting data, and are then using it to make conclusions (which they then tied to principles).

AL:  How have the materials themselves supported you as a science educator?

Sarah:  Having the box of materials for PS2 was incredibly helpful. Having the materials provided meant I could spend my time and energy on more meaningful things than hunting them down. I especially appreciated having the racquetballs and washers. Many companies omit supplies like that; assuming teachers have them or can get them.

AL: IQWST focuses on reading, writing, and talking science--as students “do” science. How do the reading and writing activities support your students as learners?

Sarah:  The readings are impressively engaging. The pictures enhance the reading experience. I feel like the connections they make between the science and the outside world are relevant to where my students are at developmentally. I also liked that the reading was not super content-heavy with vocabulary and complex concepts. The readings revealed small pieces of information that led students to make conclusions about what they were seeing with the science.

The writing part that I liked the best was the explanations. I have tried to teach this before and not had much success with students being able to support their claim, much less add in scientific evidence. I really like how there is a gradual release as the unit progresses.

AL:  What particular pedagogical practice or strategy has been particularly useful to you? (e.g., reading strategies, the Driving Question Board, assessment strategies, CER framework)

Sarah:  Definitely the DQB. Teaching with IQWST allows students to use a variety of methods to uncover knowledge about a science concept or phenomena. They read about it, talk about it, write about it, do it… but all of this is driven by trying to answer some of their own questions on the DQB. There is ownership in learning when it is taught this way. Students are not just doing something because I said so; they are trying to uncover the truth!  That is pretty powerful for kids.

AL: What differentiates IQWST from other science curricula?

Sarah:  IQWST is a great balance between content and learning what good science is. I believe my students will be better prepared for the next levels of science because of this curriculum.

Activate Learning Partners with Measured Progress to Deliver NGSS-Aligned Assessments for IQWST

New partnership supports school districts in their transition to Next Generation Science Standards*

DOVER, N.H.—March 30, 2016—Measured Progress, Inc. is pleased to announce a partnership with Activate Learning to combine high-quality, standards-based science assessments with a world-class science curriculum. The announcement will be made from the National Science Teachers Association’s (NSTA) annual conference being held in Nashville, TN.

Activate Learning’s IQWST (Investigating & Questioning our World Through Science & Technology), is a rigorous investigation-centered science curriculum designed to challenge and engage middle school students in grades 6 through 8. With the addition of Measured Progress STEM Gauge™ assessment materials to IQWST, science and engineering educators across the country will now have access to NGSS-aligned science assessment materials to support the curriculum they have already implemented in their classrooms.

“We are very enthusiastic about what this partnership can do for science and STEM educators,” said Eric Johnson, CEO of Activate Learning. “We have been deeply committed to the goals and practices of the NGSS for some time. Our partnership with Measured Progress allows us to combine our leading NGSS curriculum with the finest NGSS-aligned assessments available and provide teachers with a fantastic new way to evaluate students’ learning with integrated assessments.”

School districts have voiced the need for NGSS-aligned assessments since the standards were introduced in April 2013. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted the NGSS, with some districts pushing to adopt the standards regardless of their state affiliation.

“Activate Learning is known for its real-world pedagogical approach,” said Measured Progress CEO Martin Borg. “Pairing our expertise of rigorous assessment development with Activate Learning’s research-based curriculum makes for an appealing combination: to engage students to learn science while also assisting teachers in the transition to the new, more challenging science standards.”

Measured Progress STEM Gauge is a formative assessment resource that supports classroom instruction in the transition to NGSS. STEM Gauge provides students with opportunities to demonstrate understanding of the three dimensions of NGSS performance expectations while instruction occurs. Teachers who use IQWST will now be able to support their middle school students’ learning over time, and check for evidence of learning through STEM Gauge formative support tools and assessment questions.

About Measured Progress

Measured Progress, a not-for-profit organization, is a pioneer in authentic, standards-based assessments. For more than 30 years, we have been connecting the K–12 educational community with innovative and flexible assessment solutions. Our goal is to provide meaningful information about student progress to improve teaching and learning. For more information, visit www.measuredprogress.org. It’s all about student learning. Period.

About Activate Learning

Activate Learning is a mission-driven company that believes quality, investigation-centered science education is the key to sustained prosperity. Our focus is on elementary and middle school science education in the United States. With the help of strong leadership and a distinguished advisory board, our science programs are growing rapidly in districts across the U.S. For more information, visit http://www.activatelearning.com.

* Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is a registered trademark of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of this product, and do not endorse it.

Why CER Scares Me a Little

Educators sometimes find the newest classroom strategy touted in our field laughable, because we know that what is “in” today, will eventually be replaced by new language, a new strategy, or an innovation that we will be told to incorporate into our teaching. Some people think of it as a pendulum - what’s “in” today is not in a year, or three, or five, as the pendulum swings in the other direction. The analogy does not always hold up, but all long-time educators have experienced that coming-and-going. Remember when we were required to write an anticipatory set in every lesson plan—and to call it by that name? Remember when KWL was the answer to learning—across disciplines? Remember when the school committed to Sustained Silent Reading, and then remember, at some point, when “the thing” ceased being the thing it once was?

Each of these is undergirded by research. Each has merit. However, far too easily any strategy can become a fill-in-the-blank, do-it-because-it’s-required exercise that loses its focus thus its punch. It is exciting when something new resonates that is not simply required of us. We hear or read the research, but on another level, something just makes sense. It grabs us, and we are sold. Moreover, our students reap the benefit.

That is what the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) framework has been for many teachers. Its earliest incarnation was a way to solve one teacher’s problem: Her students were not developing in-depth, thoughtful responses to questions she asked in science class. She wondered how to help them think more deeply and become stronger writers. The CER model was born to get us closer to the goal: We wanted to find a way to support students in explaining the how and why of scientific phenomena they experience in class, and in their everyday lives. Explain how. Explain why—in their talk and in their writing.

We aimed for responses that are more thoughtful and helping 11-year-old students represent their thinking. CER requires students to circle back to the question they were aiming to answer in an inquiry activity and think about what they can conclude. They see that once they state a conclusion—or make a claim—no one is convinced that their idea has merit unless they provide evidence. Certain kinds of data count as evidence in science, so they must marshal appropriate and sufficient data as evidence for the claim they make. They must decide which data count as evidence and which do not belong in their explanation, and why. They must think about what is already known in science—what they have already figured out in prior activities—and how new conclusions connect with other scientific ideas. Students need support in learning to think in scientific ways. CER is a tool that helps them. However, it is only a tool.

CER scares me a little because like any strategy, it can be overused, used where it does not work well, or required of students (or teachers) where its real purpose is trumped by just getting another CER done. If it becomes a less-thoughtful, fill-in-the-blank exercise, it loses power. It is just another worksheet. Another school-based task like a KWL or a reading log to prove students read during SSR. Let us commit to judicious use of CER where it supports students’ thinking (and the representation of their thinking) so that it does not become just one more way students must “do school.”

- Dr. LeeAnn Sutherland Adams, Chief Academic Officer

Learn more about Claim, Evidence & Reasoning >

KY Science Teacher Describes How IQWST Helps Students Apply Claim Evidence Reasoning

This months interview features Christie King, a 6th grade science teacher at Leestown Middle School in Lexington, KY. We asked Christie what changes she has observed in her classroom since she started using IQWST, and here is what she told us.

Activate Learning:  In what ways has using IQWST affected your classroom culture?

Christie:  IQWST has made hands on learning and labs much more fun and engaging. I am less stressed coming up with labs that I know will meet the standards, and that will engage the kids. Its helpful knowing that there are critical thinking questions embedded in the curriculum that will encourage the kids to think beyond the immediate questions, and into the future.

Activate Learning:  What are some ways that your students are demonstrating success in science as they use IQWST?

Christie:  The students answers to scientific questions are getting more sophisticated in relation to citing evidence and reasoning through their thought processes. This is a definite improvement from the start of the year where their answers were mostly one word answers and they could not back up any of their claims. I also see a depth of understanding that I did not see before. Students are beginning to apply what they learned in the labs to other situations in scientific discussions.

Activate Learning:  How have the materials themselves supported you as a science educator?

Christie:  The materials provided for the labs are wonderful at giving the kids hands on experiences. I have also enjoyed the computer model demonstration and lab using NetLogo. By allowing student exploration, we are allowing a deeper understanding of the concepts. There were a few labs (especially the dissection lab and the food lab with the chemical indicators) that I was concerned about and uncomfortable with at first, but the teacher materials and the online support materials provided more than enough information to make these understandable and teachable.

Activate Learning: IQWST focuses on reading, writing, and talking science--as students also do science. How do the reading and writing activities support your students as learners?

Christie:  I like the reading activities, they are high interest and students are enjoying the content. I think that adding a reading and writing component to this curriculum was brilliant; it helps foster these skills in a productive manner with content that we are already teaching.

Activate Learning:  How did the initial professional development (PD) prepare you to teach IQWST?

Christie:  I think the initial staff development did a good job of helping to understand the progression of some of the lessons in these units, and understanding how the driving question board is set up and used. It was also useful to see how to access the teacher resources that are online and see some of the lab setup videos. I liked being able to demonstrate the lesson from the point of view of a teacher and as a student to see the difference in expectations.

Activate Learning:  What particular pedagogical practice or strategy has been particularly useful to you? (e.g., reading strategies, the Driving Question Board, assessment strategies,  CER framework)

Christie:  I particularly like the CER framework as it fits with our student growth goals this year and it gets our students to back up their claims and thought process. Trying to get the students to answer questions with more than just a yes or a no has been like pulling teeth, now I have a series of steps that I can ask the students to follow to help them make sure they are answering with a complete thought. There are no more yes or no questions. There are claims supported by evidence, with explanations as to their significance or meaning. This also helps support good writing practices and organization in other subject areas.

Activate Learning: What differentiates IQWST from other science curricula?

Christie:  It is hands on, comprehensive, and contains a reading and writing component that we can apply well with other strategies we have implemented at our school to help reach our lowest, most struggling students. 

 

Science Leader Transforming Middle School Instruction in Oregon

This month’s interview features Rich Bowden, a Science Instructional Leader from Monroe Middle School in Eugene, OR.  We asked Rich how IQWST is helping him make strides in his classroom and this is what he told us.

Activate Learning:  In what ways has using IQWST affected your classroom culture?

Rich:  At first it set the students on their heads. They didn’t know which way was up. This was so different from any other way they had learned before. They wanted me to tell them information, and simply memorize it. But when they asked me questions, I asked questions back. Before IQWST, I had done the same. However, IQWST allowed me to change my classroom to a completely inquiry-based classroom. The students are learning to be in charge of their own learning. The students began to have confidence in their own ideas, and not on whether I said something was right. They have become independent learners.

AL:  What are some ways that your students are demonstrating success in science as they use IQWST?

Rich:  Students are learning for the long-term not just for the short-term. This is what IQWST has to offer. I started using IQWST last year for the first time. In the third week of school this year, I was at a district science meeting, and one of the high school science teachers approached me. She told me that this particular group of freshmen (my former 8th graders) knew basic chemistry better than any group she can remember. Students are building a solid foundation in science in the 8th grade and taking what they have learned with them to high school. This is success!

AL:  IQWST focuses on reading, writing, and talking science--as students also “do” science.  How do the reading and writing activities support your students as learners?

Rich:  The readings are easily accessible to all students, but it is the writing that brings it home for my students. The readings are quite down to earth with only the necessary science vocabulary. The students can understand what they are reading about and how it connects to what we are doing in class. However, I can’t get enough of the writing in the 7th grade level units. Claim, Evidence and Reasoning (CER) is something I have been asking the students to use in their writing for years, but under a different name. However, what IQWST did with CER, which I hadn’t done in my own lessons, was put a spotlight on it that focused the students’ attention to evidence. At our Promotion Ceremony at the end of the year, one of our student speakers spoke about CER, “We learned something in science I will never forget - that evidence is specific, needs to be high quality, and you can’t ignore any of it.” Students in my class were constantly challenged to provide evidence to support any claims they made, and to connect the two with scientific reasoning. This is a strategy that they will be able to use no matter what field they go into, whether it is science, business, law, or others.

AL:   What differentiates IQWST from other science curricula?

Rich:  I have used several curricula in my 17 years of teaching. I have used ones that were inquiry-based and others that claimed to be inquiry-based. What separates IQWST from even the ones that do incorporate true inquiry, is IQWST’s comprehensive inquiry model.  The sequential build of evidence gathering and questioning that challenges the students’ thinking, and brings them piece by piece to a coherent understanding of concepts sets IQWST apart from the pack.

 

FREE Download: Scientific Explanations - Claim, Evidence, Reasoning

Download a free Scientific Explanations (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) poster, suitable for printing for your classroom.  

If You Only Concentrate on One New Strategy, Make it CER
Every science teacher understands the value of students being able to explain phenomena, not simply to define vocabulary words or to answer questions that require them to show what they have memorized. But teaching students to construct explanations is challenging.

IQWST makes the process easier by supporting teachers and students with a systematic approach that includes the now well-known CER framework.  The framework divides explanations into three logical, manageable, and teachable components for middle school students: Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning. We developed the CER framework alongside teachers who were frustrated by their students' responses to oral and written questions --- typically responding in such brief ways that teachers could not adequately assess their students' understanding. The CER framework was born and developed in IQWST as a result of teachers' desire to better support their students as scientific thinkers and writers.

Learn more about Claim, Evidence & Reasoning >

 

Crosscutting Concepts and Scientific & Engineering Practices: One Teacher’s Method of Incorporating these in her Instruction

Today we would like to share bulletin boards from Mrs. Angela Gordon's classroom in Addison, IL, where she is in her 1st year of teaching IQWST to 6th graders at Indian Trail Junior High School. Angela came up with this idea to highlight Crosscutting Concepts and Science & Engineering Practices in a way that she says "has helped me make the shift to three-dimensional teaching." Here is what she does:

In the morning when I’m setting up a particular lesson for my sixth grade science students, I move the arrows to point to the concept and practice I am working on that day. When actually teaching the lesson, I point to the arrow sometime before, during, or after the lesson and verbally share with my students the concept and practice we are exploring that day. 

Angela board.png

She says that she has "noticed an improvement in [her] implementation" by using this strategy.  She provides this example of the boards in use:

When we conducted an experiment to answer the question, “Does Air have Mass?” we found the mass of a deflated basketball and compared that to the mass of the basketball once air was pumped in and the ball was inflated. During that lesson the arrows were pointing to the Cross Cutting Concept Matter and Energy and the arrows on the Scientific Practices section pointed to Asking Questions and Defining Problems along with Planning and Carrying out Investigations. The next day when we worked to make sense of the data we had collected, the scientific practice arrows moved to Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking and Analyzing and Interpreting Data. The third day, we answered the question “How could you convince someone who was absent today that air has mass?” and the Scientific Practice arrow moved to Engaging in Arguments from Evidence.

Angela says that as she continues using IQWST in “this exciting year in science,” she hopes that she will begin to teach in a 3-Dimensional manner "instinctively,” and that through this visual representation of two of the components, her students can "experience how scientists actually work to understand phenomena."  

 

Florida Science Teacher Shares Success with IQWST

We recently asked Amanda Bennett, an 8th grade science teacher at Robert H. Jenkins, Jr. Middle School, Palatka, FL, to tell us about her experience teaching with IQWST in the classroom.

Activate Learning:  In what ways has using IQWST affected your classroom culture? 

Amanda:  Students are more engaged in activities, critical thinking and discussion. They seem more willing to share their ideas because they now have common experiences from the activities in IQWST that they can use to explain and support their ideas.

AL:  What are some ways that your students are demonstrating success in science as they use IQWST?

Amanda:  Students are mastering benchmarks because each lesson has scientific phenomena to engage students and benchmarks are spiraled throughout the course, unlike [other] curricula where students only engage with content for a short amount of time. This allows students to truly learn science content and apply their knowledge instead of just becoming familiar with concepts. The discussion in IQWST helps lower performing students hear and see from peers, which supports their ability to use science content to make connections and find success in science. The experiences within IQWST are allowing students to be successful because it greatly reduces the barrier of students lacking background knowledge since we have common science experiences.

AL:  How have the materials themselves supported you as a science educator?

Amanda:  Teacher Background has helped me remember things that I hadn’t used as much in the past and has given me a foundation for concepts that I was less familiar with.  The checkpoints are wonderful for me to make sure both the students and I are honing in on the correct information. Differentiation strategies help when my students struggle and I have used several suggested in the book.

AL:  IQWST focuses on reading, writing, and talking science--as students also “do” science.  How do the reading and writing activities support your students as learners?

Amanda:  At first it was killing the kids. They were not familiar with learning in this type of environment and the reading and writing was a challenge because it was new and different. As students progressed through the program, their skills improved and they can now complete the reading and writing more efficiently and effectively. They are seeing the literacy connection in both science and language arts classes, and we are improving!

AL:  How did the initial professional development (PD) prepare you to teach IQWST?

Amanda:  The initial PD gave me a great overview and I was able understand how and why IQWST was structured so differently from other curricula.  The most effective section for me was the Elements of Effective Science Instruction that has changed how I teach, even non-IQWST classes. Modeling of lessons, time using the teacher books, completing and conducting lessons as the student, and the facilitator helped me gain a firm understanding of how I would enact IQWST in my classroom.

AL:  What particular pedagogical practice or strategy has been particularly useful to you? (e.g., reading strategies, the Driving Question Board, assessment strategies, CER framework)

Amanda:  The assessment strategies, primarily through discussion, and CER framework are my favorites as they allow me to assess students’ level of understanding and allows them to practice speaking vocabulary in context and more practice engaging in science content rather than just reading or writing alone. In my class, the discussions are what drive instruction. I use it as formative assessment, students practice constructing understanding by using their knowledge and it creates a culture of success and belonging.

AL:   What differentiates IQWST from other science curricula?

Amanda:  Two things stand out most for me: discussion and engagement with science phenomena. Each day students are hands-on with a piece of science content that makes science real, accessible and reduces barriers of background knowledge, academic strengths and typical dislike for science. The discussion allows students to hear misconceptions and information that can extend their understanding which helps them practice and learn without even picking up a pencil.

 

 

Science Teacher Describes Success with IQWST

We recently asked Melissa McDonald, a 6th grade science teacher in Baraboo, WI, to tell us about her experience teaching with IQWST in the classroom.

Activate Learning:  In what ways has using IQWST affected your classroom culture? 

Melissa:  IQWST has improved my classroom culture in two ways.  First, it is engaging and challenging to students, which I find had the biggest impact on classroom culture.  Second, it is focused.  The mission is clear to my students and to me.  This sense of purpose allows us to move forward, working together toward a common goal.

AL:  What are some ways that your students are demonstrating success in science as they use IQWST? 

Melissa:  IQWST forces students to be willing to make mistakes and take risks.  I feel this is the basis of good science.  This promotes good ideas, thoughtful questions, and learning for all students.  Also, I have noticed huge changes in my students’ written and verbal communication.

AL:  How have the materials themselves supported you as a science educator?  

Melissa:  It is really nice to have everything where you need it, packed and ready to go.  This puts my focus back where it belongs; on thoughtful, impactful instruction.

AL:  IQWST focuses on reading, writing, and talking science--as students also “do” science.  How do the reading and writing activities support your students as learners?  

Melissa:  Last year my personal goal was to have my students grow in the area of written communications.  By the end of the year, 90% of my students could make an accurate claim based on evidence.  Also, 90% grew significantly in their ability to provide evidence.  I was so impressed by this and so were my administrators.  IQWST does a great job of supporting teachers in improving student writing.  I also saw my students make huge gains in their reading comprehension.

AL:  What particular pedagogical practice or strategy has been particularly useful to you?  

Melissa:  I have really enjoyed teaching my students to build models and use them to explain phenomena.  This practice has deep roots in the field of science and should be something all young scientists learn, but it is hard to teach.  IQWST has helped me become better at teaching this, and my students have grown as a result.

AL:  What differentiates IQWST from other science curricula?  

Melissa:  I have only worked with teacher created (generally my own) curricula for several years.  IQWST is so focused and the mission is clear to students.  They take an active role in developing strong science practices and learning the core ideas.  It really has turned science into a discipline rather than a content or subject in my classroom.  I have yet to experience any other curriculum that does this for me!

Learn more about IQWST:  http://www.activatelearning.com/iqwst/

 

My QWST for Meaningful PD

I decided that the 2012-2013 school year would be my last year teaching science and health to my beloved middle schoolers. To understand why I left, though, it’s important to first understand why I became a teacher. I entered the profession to not only empower children to understand the world in a different (scientific) way, but to also challenge myself as an educator to think about the world differently – to challenge my assumptions and reflect upon my values in an effort to be a better teacher (and person). After five years of teaching, I became increasingly aware of the growing imbalance between my two reasons for becoming a science teacher. I felt deep satisfaction in developing a science practice community with my students – facilitating their engagement with talking, writing, thinking, and doing science. I felt deeply frustrated, however, by the lack of meaningful professional development that sincerely valued my own learning. Professional development time had become a glorified staff meeting in which teachers were told about the newest jargon-y thing like “flipped classrooms.” It felt as though we were robots checking in to get our software updated for the month. We were not treated as professionals with expertise. The complexity of our work was not validated. I was not validated.

It was with this dissatisfaction that I went back to school to work with teacher educators who envisioned a different kind of professional learning – one anchored in my own questions and goals. Anger had slowly been replaced by a keen realization that teachers’ professional learning can draw upon individual expertise and tap into the complexity of teaching. It *can* be a space for teachers to ask questions without feeling belittled. It *can* be a space to share stories of failure as well as success. It need not be a space where we feel silenced. Neither should it be a competition about who did the best lesson. I joined the Activate Learning team to share these insights in the form of instructional strategies that open up meaningful dialogue for teachers in professional development. These strategies rely on teachers’ unique knowledge of their classrooms and grant them opportunities to talk about problems of practice. They are designed to be ongoing so that we can revisit and delve deeper into pedagogical conundrums. They don't assume one right answer to such mysteries; rather, they assume teaching is hard work and full of trade-offs that we must consider. In short, we offer a professional learning space I wish I had as a teacher - one that supports, challenges, and validates teachers as they work to improve their own practice.

Heather Milo
Science Education Consultant
IQWST Research and Development

The Power of Pondering

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 “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” This is one of my favorite quotes from Carl Sagan and perhaps one of the most important things I know to be true about science. As a former science teacher and student myself, it’s probably something I’ve experienced in the lowest capacity in a science classroom.

When I was younger, I was constantly getting into trouble for staying in the woods too long.  I vividly remember the stick forts we built, discovering roly poly bugs under logs, and the entire universe that seemed to exist in my backyard. I was fascinated with what went on around me and truly lived to learn new things. When I was ten, I would ride my bike in search of new ‘secret’ off road places to ride, and tried to create bike loops where the local neighborhood kids and I would race.  With the same fervor that young people desire to travel to Europe to make discoveries, scientists work to make discoveries each day in the world around us.

Speaking of discoveries, I will never forget the mystery box lab Mrs. Austin had us perform when I was in eighth grade. We investigated a series of closed boxes and had to figure out what was inside the box using all senses other than sight. As far as I remember, this was one of the only true open-ended inquiry based activities I got to delve into as a student. I later tried to use a variation of this experiment as a science educator, only to find that nothing truly measured up to the mystery box in Mrs. Austin’s class.  This, by the way, is still a mystery today as she never did tell us what was in each box. Sometimes students need to be left on the edge of their seat to foster creativity and innovation in the classroom.

When I discovered IQWST (Investigating & Questioning Our World through Science and Technology), a middle school science curriculum designed using driving questions and a storyline approach, it got me excited.  I knew I had to be a part of it.  Driving questions such as, “Where Have All the Creatures Gone?” are not only at the center of all units, but provide students with the mission to investigate and discover. Teachers act as facilitators while students grapple with concepts to explain a central driving question.  This process lasts 8-9 weeks and is in stark contrast to my student experience of teachers saying, “This is why,” and moving on to the next concept after three days.  In a world dominated by smart phones and Googling for answers, this pedagogical shift provides an important framework to allow students to ponder and achieve greater depths of knowledge.

To this day, I still wonder what was in the mystery boxes Mrs. Austin put in front of us, and am excited by how IQWST is offering new mysteries for students to ponder.

Dan Toberman, Regional Manager - West

Why does everyone want to replace teachers?

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I just returned from a major educational technology entrepreneur’s conference at Arizona State University.  Three thousand people attended from a variety of new and existing educational companies.  I saw some amazing things and met some great people.

One thing that really struck me, though, was that many of these companies are building solutions that are really about replacing teachers.  They have a vision that technology lets schools put students in front of screens as a fundamental teaching method. 

In 1954, noted psychologist B.F. Skinner developed the “Teaching Machine,” the ancestor of much of today’s similar technology.  Skinner pioneered the theory of Operant Conditioning and believed that behaviors could be carefully studied in a “Skinner Box,” a closed system in which a laboratory animal received a reward for certain behaviors.  He applied this approach to his teaching machine and created the idea of programmed learning.

At Activate Learning, we believe in an approach that instead maintains the teacher’s key role, leading to deeper and richer learning experiences for students.  Our curricula help teachers create an exciting and stimulating classroom.  Our tagline is: Engaged Students, Passionate Teachers.  We build products that make this a reality.

The Interactive Digital Edition of IQWST, is a great example of this.  Students have all of IQWST’s deep learning resources available to them, but the system is designed to empower them within a classroom culture that is interesting and motivating.  The students read on digital devices, but their responses are instantly available to their teacher.  The teacher can send comments, feedback and encouragement in real time to individual students.  The digital device never replaces the teacher; it is a tool that both teacher and students use to learn science.

At Activate Learning, we are proud to focus on teachers and how they can involve kids in rich discussions and motivate them through hands-on learning.  Although the technology that I saw at the conference can do amazing things, I don’t think anything is as remarkable as engaged students and passionate teachers working together in a classroom.

Eric Johnson, CEO

IQWST IN ACTION

A smell wafts across the room as student after student raises their hand when they are able to smell the substance. They are then asked to draw a model to explain what happened in this scenario. Is the smell represented by waves?...by dots?...by squiggles? Through a series of activities and readings the model is revisited again and again throughout the unit, as students work to develop their understanding of the particulate nature of matter based on these new experiences.

Teachers in the Baraboo School District are using IQWST for the first time this year and seeing great gains in students’ ability to understand complex science concepts. There are activities that engage them in science practices so that the room is a scientific research center where students are arguing their claims with evidence as well as analyzing and interpreting data. One teacher says that she can stand at the side of the room and the students can run the class themselves as they question, collaborate, continue investigating and arrive at a consensus model. Imagine that happening in your classroom! Motivation is high since students have a reason to stay interested because they are answering a specific question, (How Can I Smell Things from a Distance) that relates to their everyday life. They look at all kinds of phenomena that are part of their day to day existence and see that science is everywhere and they can explain at least a part of that.  That’s a powerful skill for them.

One of the highlights of the program is the incorporation of literacy into each unit. The readings are of distinct interest and we find that kids actually will read them for homework, when in the past they had problems accomplishing this. Our literacy coach has been very impressed with how the readings are used to help students understand the material, especially since they are designed to meet Common Core Standards. Her work in helping us has been a breeze since so many aspects of literacy are already included in the materials. Another benefit is having the framework of how to write scientific explanations in the form of a claim backed by evidence and tied together with reasoning. Students are able to do this in the classroom with science concepts and are transferring that learning to other areas such as language arts class and their own lives.  They can actually come up with an answer to, “How can I keep mosquitoes from biting me?” and “How can a skunk’s smell be helpful?”

I love the driving questions and scientific principles so much that I’ve been incorporating them into units that I’ve been putting together for elementary science. “Can I Believe My Eyes?” and “Why Do Some Things Stop While Others Keep Going?” just beg for an answer and kids can keep going back to that again and again. Having the science principles posted in class as they are developed also reinforces where they’ve been in the learning process and gives them a way to reason with their claim and evidence.  I can’t imagine going back to a different way of teaching after seeing IQWST in action in the classroom!

Karen Mesmer, Science Coach and Teacher
Jack Young Middle School - Baraboo, WI


 


 

#NSTA15 - Meet Us at the Show

#NSTA15 March 12-15, 2015
McCormick Place - Chicago, IL
BOOTH 1353


On behalf of Activate Learning, we would like to extend a personal invitation to visit our booth during the National Science Teachers Association (#NSTA15) Trade Show, March 12-15, 2015.  At Booth #1353, we will have displays of our Sangari Active Science, IQWST and IQWST Interactive Digital Edition (IDE) lesson materials and will be conducting live demonstrations. Our dedicated sales team will be there to answer any questions you may have about our leading K-8 NGSS curriculum.
 
Activate Learning, formerly Sangari Active Science, has been offering research-based science curriculum for grades K-8, to both public and private schools, for several years. Our teachers, department chairs and school administrators consistently rave of our first rate service and we stand behind our curriculum products with the most up-to-date support material and customized professional development. 

We look forward to meeting you at #NSTA15. 
www.activatelearning.com


 

The Power of Testimonial

I have been involved in marketing and selling research-based science curriculum materials for the past 20 years.  In that time, I’ve seen some drastic changes in how schools and teachers review and pick materials to use in their classrooms.  With email, social media, instant messaging and voice mail dominating communication channels, very rarely do salespeople call a school, get connected to a live person and give a pitch over the phone.   Teachers and administrators are very selective about who they speak with and what information they choose to discuss over the telephone.  One thing that hasn’t changed is the credibility of one of the most powerful sales and marketing resources any publisher has – testimonials from the teachers who use the product.

Sales success for research-based, best-practices curriculum is driven by those who advocate the improvement of student achievement and engagement with this type of product.  Typically, these research-based products, such as IQWST (Investigating and Questioning our World through Science and Technology), can’t match the 'big money' marketing and sales efforts, and therefore aren’t afforded the brand recognition of some of the larger more established publishers.  However, what products like IQWST have that keep them in the same playing field, are devoted and passionate users who pass the word on about the curriculum and what it does for students.

Meeting and talking with teachers of IQWST every week, I hear comments like:

“I never thought my kids could articulate ideas and explain phenomenon the way they are able to now.”

“This has revitalized my teaching career.”

“IQWST motivates Students to Learn.”

“I was a skeptic at first, but our students are engaged, and it’s rewarding as a teacher to see excitement about science.”

“This has allowed my female students to become more engaged in science and exhibit their natural leadership skills.”

Teachers have become increasingly wary of claims made of publishers after the fiasco with Common Core.  That’s a good thing. The most satisfied customers I meet have thoroughly evaluated and tested curriculum.  Listening to the experiences of other teachers will help in making wise decisions when it comes to science curriculum for the Next Generation Science Standards.

Tom Pence, Executive VP of Sales & Marketing

Literacy in the Context of NGSS: Where to Begin?

While conducting a recent NSTA webinar on NGSS and the Common Core for Literacy in Science, I posed the question: “As a science teacher, which of the literacy standards do you feel least confident to address in your own classroom—the reading, writing, or speaking & listening standards?" Audience members voted electronically; the system tallied responses.

In preparing for the webinar, I had predicted how they would respond.

I predicted wrong.

The majority of teachers indicated that they felt least prepared to address the speaking and listening standards in the ELA Common Core. (I had expected the CCSS and NGSS demands around writing to be the popular response).

A variety of reasons might explain why teachers feel least prepared to address speaking and listening. Most teachers have attended reading-themed inservices, or have experienced Sustained Silent Reading initiatives. Many have participated in district-wide Writing Across the Curriculum movements. Many grew up with textbooks as dominant, and even when using textbooks as a supplemental resource, most lessons require some textbook reading, with end-of-chapter questions serving as one form of writing.

Inservices do not typically address oral discourse, despite the critical role that speaking and listening play in learning.  Activate Learning’s curricula support teachers in creating an oral-language rich environment with lesson design based on literacy-learning research. Students learn best when they can do science, read about science, hear science talked about, and talk about their own ideas. When multiple channels in the brain are accessed and activated, opportunities to learn improve. Our students make predictions, engage in investigations, offer observations, experience “Aha!” moments, collect and share data, analyze and interpret data, talk to make sense of observations, explain how or why things happen, and argue from evidence. To support all learners, multiple types of interaction are necessary, thus our curricula integrate all aspects of literacy as students learn science content and engage in scientific practices.

But, generalizations about what helps all students must necessarily be elaborated with attention to those forms of interaction that are imperative for some students. To underestimate the value of oral language is to lessen many students’ opportunities to learn. Students who struggle with reading or writing, students for whom English is a second language, and many students with learning disabilities need to talk about their ideas before they write about them. Most comprehend text better if they first hear related ideas talked about. Many need to hear talk as a way to assess their own understanding. Everyone is helped by oral language; some students cannot learn without it.

Activate Learning lessons guide teachers as to when to have students write first and then share, enabling them to commit ideas to paper as an initial rehearsal; and share orally as a second step in building understanding. Sometimes, the reverse is more effective: First explaining ideas orally, and then writing, after having already rehearsed the thinking. Every teacher has heard students talk fluently, but then struggle to express a coherent written thought. The more opportunities students have to read, write, talk, and listen, the more likely they are to be able to express their understanding adequately.

Whole-class discussion, in which students listen to one another and participate only when they can build on what someone else has said, makes for supremely effective interaction. Sample questions and prompts in each Teacher Edition (TE) support teachers in facilitating rich discussion. Possible student responses help teachers navigate interactions in which actual student responses often take us by surprise! When learning together as a community is prioritized, the teacher poses a question like, “Why do you think…?” and after a first student responds, others join the discussion using language such as: “I agree with you, because …” or “I disagree, because in our group …” or “I had something similar, except . . . .” Students can begin discussion by asking their own questions, or can push discussion by asking one another, “How did you get that?” or “Where did you see that?” In professional development, we model and practice scenarios that maximize discussion opportunities for everyone.

It’s a joyous moment when such interaction happens, and a teacher no longer must struggle to coax responses from students, or face the problem of only 1 or 2 students who speak while others remain silent.

This type of classroom culture requires effort. And patience. But the payoff is tremendous.

Students become better listeners, better writers, and better readers in an oral-language rich environment. As a benefit, when students effectively talk science, teachers can formatively assess understanding in a manner that doesn’t require a paper to grade—it requires only listening to know where students are, what they are thinking, how they are reasoning, and where something isn’t clicking.

Where to begin teaching literacy in the context of NGSS? Begin with extensive use of oral language. All aspects of literacy improve when the starting point is talking science in a discussion-intensive, language-rich, vibrant environment. Our materials support teachers in facilitating rich discussion and creating a classroom culture in which the expectation is that everyone participates and everyone learns.

LeeAnn Sutherland, Ph.D., Chief Academic Officer

 

 

IQWST - one of the 5 things a First-Year Teacher should do immediately!!

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5 Things First-Year Teachers Should Do Immediately

Posted: 11/25/2014 11:30 am EST Updated: 11/25/2014 11:59 am EST

In my first year as a teacher, I was given full responsibility for ensuring that my students received an excellent science education that would set them up for future success. My in-classroom responsibilities were not that different from the in-classroom responsibilities of my colleagues who have taught for over ten years. Furthermore, unlike my friends who became consultants, research assistants, computer programmers, etc. right out of college, I was put into a management role immediately. My direct reports were my ninety fifth grade students.

To the first-year teacher reading this, you're probably going through a similar experience right now. You've been given the full responsibilities of your profession and have to learn, not only how to succeed as an individual, but how to lead your children to success. This learning curve is daunting. As a result, you could be in for an incredibly difficult experience, professionally and psychologically.

Given these challenges, there are five things I believe all first-year teachers should do to make their first year teaching more sustainable and joyful. Some are things that I did well as a first-year teacher and others are things that I wish I did. These aren't systemic things-these are things a single teacher has the power to request, and schools can make available, even within the context of larger systemic issues. These larger systemic issues will be the topic for a future post.

1. Ask for curriculum in a box.

I spent hours of my day, every day, writing assessments, unit plans, and lesson plans as well as creating in-class materials ranging from worksheets to PowerPoint presentations. I tried to save time by searching for some of these things online, but at the time I couldn't find a single comprehensive set of all of these things, which meant in-class materials weren't aligned to unit plans, which weren't aligned to assessments. Furthermore, I was a first-year teacher and sleep-deprived -- most of what I created was awful.

What I really needed was curriculum in a box, a set of high quality assessments, unit plans, lesson plans, and in-class materials that were created and curated by a teacher who taught the same grade level and subject using the same state standards, with students from a similar starting level, that was well-organized and easily modifiable. This curriculum could be stored on BetterLesson, on a flashdrive, purchased from a high quality vendor, anything, as long as it meets the criteria above. This would have saved me at least two hours a day, which I could have used to differentiate the material for my students, practice actually delivering lessons, and calling students and parents to build relationships. School leaders should make it a top priority to hand this curriculum in a box to their first-year teachers as soon as they are hired and first-year teachers who do not have this should ask for it.

I'm not saying that first-year teachers should not be lesson planning, or that they should not be creative. What I'm saying is that your lesson planning could be a lot more effective if you were given a comprehensive set of high-quality materials to start with, and that you would improve as a teacher a lot faster and be a lot happier because of it.

2. Seek mentorship by master teachers.

I am most grateful for the unwavering support master teachers gave me in my first years of teaching. Whenever I needed to feel inspired, I would drop in on a master teacher's classroom to watch him or her in action. Whenever I had an issue, I would ask my fellow teachers for their ideas. After we came up with a plan, they would drop in on my classroom to give me feedback on how well I executed on that plan.

In addition, not only were the master teachers at my school exemplars of teaching practice; they were also exemplary human beings. They modeled humility by always being willing to learn, they cared deeply about their students, families, and colleagues, and they were there to be a shoulder for me to cry on as well as the cheerleading squad for when I needed encouragement.

Make building relationships with other teachers a priority. Master teachers can be found in your school, at a school in another neighborhood, online. You will quickly find a handful that can provide the support, and you will find that they will be both an inspiration as well as a guide.

3. Hold yourself to a clear and reasonable set of priorities.

The best thing a master teacher told me was prioritize my personal health. That means, getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, and talking things out with people who care is more important than anything else. Putting time and energy into teaching at the sacrifice of my own health would only lead to sacrificing my students.

The second best thing a master teacher told me was, "Teaching is a marathon, not a sprint." It takes time, experience, and learning from failure to get from just barely passable as a teacher to great. That's okay. Don't beat yourself up over every mistake. Look for wins. Celebrate them. Recognize that becoming a master teacher takes constant, incremental progress over time.

Furthermore, try improving only one or two things in your class at a time. At one point I was changing my unit planning at the same time as I was trying new education technology and implementing a new grading process. That was too much. Only after you've thoroughly implemented one change should you move on to the next. This creates a more consistent classroom environment for students and helps identify the things that are really making a difference for them. If you don't know what you should be focusing on, ask your coach. While there are many places for you to improve, there are some places where an improvement would yield greater benefits over others.

Finally, remember why you became a teacher in the first place. I worked at a school that valued, first and foremost, our students as people. We thought about what was best for them, not one year down the line, not even five years down the line, but ten, twenty, thirty years down the line. As long as I kept that in mind, I was able to make good decisions about what to focus on (e.g. 21st century skills and character development) and what not to focus on (e.g. test prep).

4. Build systems for managing life outside of class time.

It's a common misconception that teachers only work during school hours. Teachers also lesson plan, prepare their physical classrooms, give feedback on student work, call students and parents, go to professional development, and collaborate with other teachers. Yet, there is precious little support given to first-year teachers through formal teaching programs around how to manage all these outside of class time activities.

To compensate, I suggest reading See Me After Class by Roxanna Elden, which has practical advice for all the things I've mentioned and more. I also recommend The Together Teacher by Maia Heyck-Merlin, a book on how to manage the bazillion things on a teacher's to-do list. Finally, before you do anything, ask yourself, 'Can a student or volunteer do this?' If the answer is 'Yes,' then stop, make a plan for training a student or volunteer to do the thing you were just about to do, and then execute on that plan. For systems on everything else, ask your veteran teacher friends or search online for teacher bloggers who are usually more than happy to help a new teacher out.

By systematizing repetitive tasks and being as efficient and productive as possible, you'll feel less like you're drowning in work that never gets done and more like you're on top of your life.

5. Seek opportunities to build relationships with students.

Master teachers know how to turn a moment of independent work into an opportunity to learn more about a child, or to give a secret smile to the student who just accomplished something that was once very difficult. They have internalized teaching skills that are second nature to them, which gives them the ability to think clearly and connect with their students while in the classroom. As a first-year teacher, however, you may be so caught up in how to deliver your lessons and how to maintain classroom discipline that you may be struggling to build these relationships while teaching.

Therefore, begin building these relationships with your students early on, even if it means more time outside of class tutoring, making home visits, or going to sports games. In the end, it's the relationships that matter most.

So to the first-year teachers out there, try doing these five things as soon as possible. Your investment in finding that curriculum in a box, seeking mentors, prioritizing, systematizing your outside-of-class activities, and building relationships with your students will yield incredible benefits of time, energy, and sustainability.

Start immediately by taking just 10 minutes to do the following:

  1. Ask your school leader, coach, and fellow teachers for their suggestions on curriculum in a box that could work for your students. For example, if anyone asked me about middle school science, I would suggest IQWST.
  2. Email teachers you admire whom you'd like as mentors and simply ask them if you could take them out to coffee our pick their brains a bit after school.
  3. Write three things that you are working on improving for the next month, and three things only. Write everything else under "Permission to Focus on Later"
  4. Purchase See Me After Class and The Together Teacher.
  5. Call two students' families and say only positive things about those students. Write on your to-do list two other students' families to call.

Finally, good luck. We're rooting for you.

This post was initially published on DesignED, Deborah Chang's personal blog.

 

Posted on Huffington Post here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deborah-chang/5-things-firstyear-teache_b_6166002.html