Team planning can be mandated by a principal or can happen naturally between like-minded teachers. At Jordan Middle School*, two science teachers in rooms adjacent to one another began slowly but steadily a few years ago to plan units of instruction for their 8th graders. A generation apart in age, these two teachers, one in her sixth year at Jordan, and Sue Pound, a New Zealand native and late-comer to teaching–she is in her 18th year of teaching–have planned units together. The team has planned many units together including the lessons I observed two consecutive days. In connecting rooms, I saw both teachers, come and go into each other’s rooms, checking on students and materials for their jointly prepared lessons.
The state-approved physical science text they have for their students is outdated and soon to be obsolete with the state-approved Next Generation Science Standards for grades 5-8. These new standards concentrate on integrating concepts across science disciplines rather than content of each subject as in physical science, a course that both teachers have been teaching for years. The jointly-planned unit project is on Phase Changes and what I describe here is consistent with these new standards.
These two teachers, then, have managed over time to cobble together readings, worksheets, exercises, and examples gotten from many sources including colleagues and the Internet, an alternative text that would be consistent with the new science standards,
The hour-long lesson I observed Sue Pound teach on October 15, 2016 was on the jointly-planned project about Phase Changes of solids, liquids and gases.
The spacious room is furnished like her team-mate’s: tables seating 3-5 students facing one another with containers of rulers, colored pencils, and markers distributed on counter tops in front and back of room.
By the time the buzzer sounds to begin class, 19 eighth graders are in their seats. Pound taps her laptop and two Jordan students come on-screen to make announcements for the day, give a weather report, and tell Jordan students of upcoming events.
“Talking needs to stop to hear announcements,” Pound says. Quiet descends for a few moments until these 14 year-olds recognize classmates on the screen making announcements. Laughter breaks out and the class looks at and listens to Jordan students.
After the video ends, Pound puts up a slide on an interactive whiteboard (IWB) showing the day’s agenda—“Work on Phase Change Project and Science Friday”and “Bell Work” questions. Noise in classroom leads teacher to say, “All eyes on me,” and begins to count 3, 2, 1. The class hushes.
She tells students to have their Phase Changes Worksheet on the table for her to check and then points to slide saying that for the next few minutes they are to write out answers to the Bell Work” questions.
On p. 44 (refers to notebook that she and colleague have created for every student in place of outdated textbook)
1.What is the difference between boiling and evaporation? Explain and give examples
2.What happens to molecules when they undergo a change from liquids to solids?
Teacher walks around room glancing at homework students show her; she stamps each one. There is also a special education teacher, wearing a head scarf and long dress, who works with the mainstreamed students in the room to see if they have done their homework and answer any of their questions.
As a I look around the room, I see nearly all students working on questions with much whispering and talking. Pound stops her stamping of worksheets and says: “Focus on the questions.” Class gets quiet.
After a few minutes, the teacher goes around to each table and finds out how many have answered the two questions.
After Pound is satisfied that nearly all students have finished, she asks the class:
“What is difference between boiling and evaporation?” Students raise hands and she calls on each one. At no point does she say whether the answer is correct or incorrect. She listens to answers and elaborates on a few of the student responses. Then she asks the class: “What other things that have not been mentioned did you write down?” A few raise their hands to answer. She extends a few of the students’ answers such as: “When we talk about vaporization it means when liquid turns to gas.” Pound gives examples of hot springs as instance of geothermal energy.
Teacher turns to second question about hot and cold molecules and listens to student answers, again letting students’ answers stand on their own legs, permitting some to build their answers on what class-mates say. She asks if there are any other questions or comments on these Bell Work questions. No one raises hand.
At this point, Pound lays out in detail what the students will be doing for the rest of the period combined with a warning. “If you take the time to chit-chat you won’t need the extra day for your project. I will check at the end of the period. Show me that you are using the time well.” She shows slide of “Above and Beyond” from rubric that she and colleague had created. “Any questions?” None from the class.
She tells students to get devices from carts, rulers, markers, etc. “OK, let’s get to work.”
Students leave their seats to go to different parts of the room to get materials for their project. Eight students get devices from the cart. Students settle into working at their table, occasionally conferring with or showing class-mate what they are doing. Pound walks around to each table and asks if there any questions, probes at what some students are doing, and compliments a few.
I go around and check with 17 students where they are in the project. All have storyboards in various stages. Some have written out text; some have already drawn cartoons; and a few are considering making an iMovie. All but one student is using ice as the example of moving from solid to liquid to gas.
One student did not have a storyboard; she had her head down on the desk. She spoke to Pound and then returned to her desk. Teacher tells me after class that student was very discouraged since she discovered that her storyboard and how it should look was not what the teacher had directed the class to do. The student was blue and annoyed with herself but did promise the teacher to work on it later.
I look across the room and see that all students are working. Even the one who had laid her head down on the table was looking at her neighbor’s storyboard.
Pound walks around to each table to see what students are doing, asking questions of students and giving encouragement: “Terri, how’s it coming?,” she asks one student.
Two other science teachers come into room. Pound confers with her co-planner and the other teacher picks up some materials he needs for a lesson.
Pound interrupts the class and says that they have a few minutes left and it is time to logout from computers, return them to cart, take rulers and markers back to their containers and pick up paper off the floor around tables. She asks how many students need more time to work on project on Monday. Many students nod and a few yell out “yes.” Pound says she can give students Monday to continue working on project.
The buzzer sounds. Teacher checks each table and floor beneath it and then excuses class.
* Jordan Middle School is one of three 6th through 8th grade middle schools in the Palo Alto Unified School District. The school (2015) has over 1100 students of whom 52 percent are white. The largest minority is Asian (30 percent); Latino (9); African American (3); multi-racial (5). Seven percent of the school is classified as “disadvantaged,” meaning that they are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Five percent are English Language Learners and 11 percent are classified as special education.
On state test in language arts, Jordan students score almost twice as high as students across the state in meeting or exceeding state standards and in math, nearly two and half times more that state figure in meeting state standards. http://sarconline.org/SarcPdfs/7/43696416060065.pdf