Jennifer Scheffer, formerly ITS at Burlington High school, currently at Fox Hill Elementary
As Burlington High School embarks on its sixth year as an Apple Distinguished, 1:1 iPad school, all students, beginning with the class of 2019, will be required to take a Digital Citizenship course as part of their graduation requirements. This pass/fail, one credit course is entirely online and is self-paced. Students have until the end of May of the current school year to complete the course; providing them with flexibility in terms of completing assignments. Because Burlington is a Google Apps for Education school, all assignments are distributed and collected through Google Classroom. Google Classroom was chosen for its intuitiveness and the fact that it integrates seamlessly with Google Forms. Google Forms was selected for each assessment in the course because of its quiz feature with automatic grading.
If a piece of toast covered with jelly falls to the floor, which side will it land on? This was the question we broke into groups to answer as part of our “Science Ambassador” training. As a librarian, I am used to referring to reference sources, print or online, to answer such questions. But that choice was not available, as trainers from DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education), the Museum of Science in Boston, and WGBH wanted us to learn by doing. We broke into small groups and used the materials at hand, including index cards and paper clips, to form models to test our theories and then shared back with the full group. I hadn’t had quite that much fun at a professional development event in a long time, which gave me pause to reflect on the obvious fact that if we as educators are embracing a playful, curious, animated approach to learning in our PD sessions, our students will surely benefit by that strong level of vitality and enthusiasm for learning that we carry back into our classrooms and districts.
The Massachusetts Science Ambassadors were selected to play a key role in supporting the state’s transition to revised STE standards by helping educators, administrators and the public to understand the revised standards and their implications for curriculum, instruction and student learning. The team selected represents a diverse spectrum of backgrounds, experiences, and regions and will provide leadership in districts and across the state. The Massachusetts adaption of the national “Next Generation Science Standards” is based on the following vision: to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some “appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science; possess sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on related issues; are careful consumers of scientific and technological information related to their everyday lives; are able to continue to learn about science outside school; and have the skills to enter careers of their choice, including but not limited to careers in science, engineering and technology.” (NRC)
Literacy skills are critically connected to building knowledge in science. Reading in science requires attention to detail, the capacity to make and assess intricate arguments, synthesize complex information, and follow detailed procedures and accounts of events and concepts. Students also need to be able to gain and interpret knowledge from diagrams and data that convey information and illustrate scientific concepts. Writing and presenting information effectively are important means for students to assert and defend claims, demonstrate what they know and convey what they have experienced, reflected upon, and learned. Connections to ELA CCSS are included across all disciplines and grade bands in the final version of the NGSS.
NGSS standards are written in three dimensions including crosscutting concepts, a disciplinary core idea and a science and engineering practice. Core ideas are key understandings that allow students to interpret and explain the world around them. The focus might be on natural phenomena (e.g., mass of a tree, carbon cycling, climate change) or designed systems (e.g., energy or transportation systems). The core ideas progress in sophistication from the pre-K to 12 levels, and emphasize the use of key concepts over lists of facts, parts, or process steps.
The 5E Model echoes the Big6 approach to teaching information and technology skills that was developed by Mike Eisenberg and Bob Berkowitz years ago. But the 5E Model has a science flavor. “Integrated instructional units interweave laboratory experiences with other types of science learning activities, including lectures, reading and discussion. Students are engaged in forming research questions, designing and executing experiments, gathering and analyzing data, and constructing arguments and conclusions as they carry out investigations. Diagnostic, formative assessments are embedded into the instructional sequence and can be used to gauge the students’ developing understanding and to promote self-reflection of their thinking.” (National Research Council)
Scientific literacy entails being able to read, understand and interpret articles and data about science as well as to articulately engage in social conversation about the validity of conclusions. A scientifically literate person is able to identify the scientific issues underlying local, national and global issues and to express positions that are scientifically and technologically informed. In addition, “a scientifically literate citizen should be able to evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it. Scientific literacy implies the capacity to pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately.” (NRC)
Partnerships between science educators, instructional technology and library media specialists just make good sense in that so many of our literacy/research, technology and science education goals and objectives overlap. Science and engineering practices include the following:
Beyond the shared goal of instilling inquiry/research skills in our students, other strong reasons to partner across subject areas include a sharing of the planning, curriculum development and resources. Collaborating is also more fun, both for ourselves as educators and for our students, who benefit by seeing the connections across discipline areas. My library science intern this year created a visual literacy lesson to complement a high school biology unit on genetic disorders. Students learned how to effectively illustrate pedigrees and Punnett squares using Google Draw, Progeny and Piktochart. Students were introduced to thought provoking visualizations related to genetics, and then had the opportunity to provide context and make connections before creating their own visuals. In addition, they were instructed about the importance of citing sources. Multiple learning goals were met through this engaging, cross-disciplinary lesson.
As another example, I applied for and was fortunate to receive for next school year a Jan Stauber grant to develop a literacy project that will introduce our students to the mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. The project goal and purpose is to promote reading as well as to enhance the science curriculum by incorporating the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle into our new elective forensics course at Sharon High School. By finding the science connections in stories such as “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” and creating products including a technology component, students will increase their appreciation of the mystery genre as well as their engagement and knowledge in the world of modern forensic science.
Though “The Complete Sherlock Holmes,” or any of the 56 stories are not necessarily more captivating than “Elementary, Sherlock” the Robert Downey Jr. films, or the recent “Sherlock” series starring the dynamic Benedict Cumberbatch, without Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing, none of these would exist. By having students read a story and tie it to a literary classic with continued influence, we are helping students link the past to the present and to make connections. What has endured has value. My father, former high school English teacher Gerald Collins, summed it up thus on the inside front cover inscription of my classic Sherlock copy, scribbled down years ago, “When I was a boy a lifetime ago, this book was wonderful, especially on rainy days when I was home sick from school and there was a cup of tea and Nabisco crackers and New York City, not London, was just an hour away by subway train on holidays, and this book is wonderful still a lifetime later…”
Cathy Collins is the Library Media Specialist at Sharon High School
Here at Dartmouth Middle School we have been experimenting with our summer reading program for the last four years; the program has morphed from a traditional program to one entirely based on choice and interest. When I arrived at the school six years ago we had a traditional program of one assigned book per grade (The Outsiders for 7th and Warriors Don’t Cry for 8th) with activities upon the return to school to ensure students had read and comprehended the book. Every class and teacher dealt with the books differently; some classes reread the entire book in the fall! In talking about what we wanted for our summer reading program I kept coming back to idea of choice. The assistant principal and I wanted our students to have a list of books that were high interest, engaging, fun summer reads. The books should be worthy of reading on the beach. I firmly believe our students deserve to read purely for enjoyment in the summer just like we do.
Our first year of experimentation was very exciting – and a lot of work! With the help of some ELA teachers, I developed a list of 15 books for 7th and 8th graders. The books were in four categories: realistic fiction, science fiction/fantasy, mystery and historical fiction. We chose high interest books like Gym Candy by Carl Deuker, So B. It by Sarah Weeks and Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer along with some award winners like When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Rules by Cynthia Lord. We tried to have a variety of books in terms of male/female protagonists, reading level and length of the book; the only rule was that every book had to be available in paperback because we planned to buy the books for our students. I had already read all of the books on the list except for one, which I quickly skimmed.
Next I took time during my 6th grade Library Skills class to book talk each of the books and invited each of the 7th grade classes to the library to book talk classes, as well. After hearing about all the books, discussing it with friends, etc, students were given a sheet of paper where they could check off the book they wanted for the summer. Thanks to our PTO, a generous discount from our local Barnes & Noble and a bit of money from the district, we were able to purchase a book of choice for every 7th and 8th grader in the school. When the books arrived, student library volunteers sorted them by ELA teacher and put the original order form from each student in the book with the name sticking out. Students received their books in their ELA class during the last week of school—there was palpable excitement as students walked around with brand new books. Students were told to read the book, enjoy it and come back to school ready to talk about the book with their ELA class in the fall.
In the first year, teachers reported that around 90% of students reported having read the book and the vast majority really enjoyed their selection. In the library, circulation of the summer reading books and their sequels jumped significantly. We knew we were on to something. Every classroom was different for what they required; some classes asked students to sit in groups and chat about the books they read. Other classes had students create a visual of some sort and present to the class on their summer reading book. Overall, we were pleased with the end result: students got choice in their summer read and it created a buzz about books that continued into the start of the school year.
Over the next two years, we tweaked things slightly each year. One year we had over 20 books on our choice list (which was a nightmare when creating the order for Barnes and Noble); another year we dropped a few less popular books from the list to get the list down to a more manageable 12. This past year we made our most dramatic changes, both in terms of the book list, which was a complete overhaul, and our requirements upon the return to school.
In the last two years our school has added both a literacy coach and a reading specialist to our school staff. These positions never existed before and it has been awesome to be part of the Literacy Team at my school, which meets once a cycle and plans everything from an annual Family Literacy Night to our summer reading program. The literacy coach, reading specialist and I are completely on the same page in terms of valuing student choice in free reading. This past year we decided to create an entirely new summer reading list (lots of reading for me!), buy books for all the 7th and 8th grade teachers, including special education teachers, and move to a discussion format for our culminating activity in the fall. In the second week of school this September, students and teachers in 7th and 8th grade reported to different locations all over the school to meet with other students (and one or two teachers) who read the same book. All the groups responded to five prompts such as “Who was your favorite character and why?”, “What was the theme of this book?” “What other books would you recommend to someone who liked this book?” Students were also given a short three question survey. I met with a group of 7th graders who all read Fourmile by Watt Key -- students were extremely enthusiastic about the book. Not all groups were as successful, however.
Overall, we think we are on the right track with this change, but there were some challenges. For one thing, students were allowed to switch books over the summer so our predicted group sizes weren’t accurate on the day of our event. Next year we plan to give students more time to choose their book, including time to actually flip through the books, look at the back cover and read the first few pages (a summer reading book buffet of sorts). Then students will be required to stick with the book they choose. Another problem was that teachers did not pick books based on the books students chose. Teachers chose at the same time as students so we had to scramble to rearrange some groups so there would be enough adult coverage; some groups had 10 students and one group had over 100! Another challenge were the locations. Some of the groups were in the cafeteria and/or the library. Teachers requested that next year groups be limited to 25 per group and that they only be located in classrooms. We also plan to do the discussions before open house next year so we can create a visual display of books that students read and loved from summer reading. Finally, we plan to give a longer survey at the conclusion of the book discussions.
Two final elements we added this year were a book swap and book ladders. The book swap allowed students to turn in their used summer reading book and select someone else’s used book. Only about 20 students participated; many students really wanted to keep their book and other students weren’t interested in selecting any of the other summer reading books. We are planning to do a general book swap in January and let students swap out any books from their homes.
The book ladders were built by the Literacy Team and some ELA teachers; these were shared with all ELA classes. We have a book ladder for each book from last year’s summer reading list. For example, we suggest that if you like Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Jacobsen you might like So B. It by Sarah Weeks, Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan or Paper Things by Jennifer Jacobsen. You can see all our book ladders here. Next year we plan to have book ladders available when we discuss the books to further enrich discussions and start students’ On Deck Lists, which we are promoting in all ELA classes. From now on, we plan to have a new list of 10 books every year for 7th and 8th grade and starting next year we plan to offer choice to our incoming 6th graders, as well. We are starting to build those lists on Google Drive as we read books this school year. I feel fortunate to work in a school that values choice and free reading, as well as risk and experimentation. We continue to learn from our summer reading experience.
Laura Gardner is the Library Teacher at the Dartmouth Middle School.