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Teachers Integrating Technology: First Graders at Sequoia Elementary School

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Six year-olds get excited about almost any activity. In a first grade classroom, energetic, enthusiastic boys and girls would say “whoopee!” over a math worksheet and so it was in Leslie Altman’s group of 27 young children working with an interactive white board (IWB). Altman, an experienced teacher of over fifteen years has been at Sequoia Elementary School for the past three. She did a series of activities over a 45-minute period that largely used the (IWB) screening Scholastic News’  “Rain Doesn’t Bug This Ant,” and a few competitive games in which students from each team came to IWB, one-by-one, and tapped the answer to get points for their team.

Sequoia Elementary is part of the Mount Diablo Unified School District in Northern California. David Franklin, an experienced principal has been at the school for five years having previously served in the Alum Rock district as an administrator. Dr. Franklin, an active twitter user (@SFPrincipal) is enthusiastic about technology in school and supportive of teachers who want to use devices with their students. He has a “Mouse Squad” of fourth and fifth graders (boys and girls) who troubleshoot software glitches and simple hardware problems for teachers and students. One of the new initiatives in the upper grades is about the game Minecraft. I noted that a book about the game was on Franklin’s desk and he told me that a fifth grader had brought in the book for the principal to read.

A kindergarten-to fifth grade school, Sequoia became a Back-to-Basics alternative in the late-1970s. District parents who wanted more traditional academics for their sons and daughters sent their children to Sequoia. Over the decades, it remains an alternative–half of its students come from anywhere in the district and half from the immediate neighborhood. But as principals and teachers entered and exited, Sequoia slowly incorporated a full range of school and teaching activities from homework-texts-tests to project-based learning. According to Franklin, who has hired many Sequoia teachers in his years at the school, there has been an increase in student-centered learning and more computer devices and software garnered from multiple sources. Individual teachers, some of whom are entrepreneurial in gathering devices, also have access to carts of tablets and two onsite computer labs. The school, according to its 2015 Report Card, has 550 students of whom 48 percent are white, nearly 22 percent are Asian, and 20 percent are Latino. About 12 percent are English Language Learners and about the same percentage are eligible for free and reduced price lunch (a poverty measure). Students with disabilities are under five percent.

Just before 9 AM on the morning of April 15, 2016, the principal welcomed Patricia Dickenson* and me. I had asked him to pick two teachers who he believed exemplified strong integration of technology in daily lessons. Leslie Altman, a first grade teacher, was one of two teachers we observed. She organized her colorful classroom around tables for 3-4 students (see photo), each one holding a container of pencils. The 55 minute lesson we observed was built around whole-group instruction yet the classroom was structured as individual learning centers where students rotated through various ones (see photo). Six year-olds moved freely around the room, some going to a chart where they fixed a clothes pin to the phrase that best described their attitude and work during the day (see photo).

When we entered the room, the 27 six year-olds were sitting on the rug in a circle and Altman had the children saying “good morning” and exchange greetings to each other. Afterwards, the first graders moved to their seats and the teacher, using her laptop on her desk, flashes on the IWB a video on “bugs” that includes a range of insects and spiders. This begins the science lesson. Students quiet down and watch for about five minutes. Then Altman passes out Scholastic NewsRain Doesn’t Bug This Ant” to each table.

Using a wireless head-set, Altman reads the paragraphs on the News as each page appears on the IWB. Students read aloud each paragraph from the handout. She asks questions of the class and students respond chorally. On the second page are a series of photos about different insects and how they protect themselves from the rain. One photo shows a hen and chicks. Altman calls class’s attention to the photo and a student asks “How does the momma bird protect chicks from water?” Scattered students offer different answers. The teacher directs the class the last page of “Rain Doesn’t Bug This Ant” a chart displays information about three insects (Rose Chafer, Peacock Butterfly, and Ladybug), their size, and ability to be waterproof are compared. There are multiple choice questions for students to answer on their handout.

Altman flashes on the IWB the chart and divides the class into two teams to answer these questions. She explains that a member from each team will come to the smart board and pick the correct answer about the length of each insect and whether it is waterproof or not. She calls on one student from Team 1 to come to the smart board. She gives the six year-old the smart board pen and the student picks the correct answer to the first question. Her team cheers. Then the student gives the pen to someone else on her team to answer the next question. One student says “can I go next?” Another student says, “it’s not fair to give it only to your friends.”  One of the observers notes that some students on Team 2 had already marked their answers on the handout.

After answering these questions, Altman moves to two online math games the first graders are familiar with–“I’ve Got Your Number” and “Secret Agent.” Both are game show formats. For a few minutes the teacher had a technical glitch and could not get “I’ve Got Your Number” to appear on the smart board. The principal who was also observing retrieves another laptop and within moments, the math game show appeared on the screen.

The game, which also contains funny fake ads for products that children laughed at, displays a number line to 100. Students have to answer game show announcer’s question first on addition (e.g., What is ten plus 90?) with dings accompanying incorrect answers. Teacher continues with team competition and calls on members of each team one at a time. Some children on each side are excited and want to win and they are kneeling on their chairs. For those students who are unsure of adding, Altman leans over and coaches by rephrasing question and giving help before the six year-old taps the correct answer on the smart board.

Altman then shifts to another online game called “Secret Agent” where spy 00K9 must defeat the evil El Gato using his subtraction skills. Children cheer. Catchy chords play over and over again and some students move with the rhythmic music.  Announcer asks question–what is 40 less three? The teacher calls on the first student from Team 1. When needed, Altman helps the student who then taps the correct answer. She scans the room to see which students have not participated and encourages the student with the pen to choose particular six year-olds who have not been selected to come to the IWB. This goes on for about 10-12 minutes. While all of the action is occurring, there are a few first graders getting restless and walking around. Teacher scans the room and notices this and tells the entire class that the game is almost over and one of the teams will be the winner. The online game show keeps score and sure enough announces which team has won. The teacher then announces morning snack at 9:45 and students go outside the room to pick up food that their parents had packed for them. Later they go to recess. Dickenson and I thank the teacher and go to the next observation.

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*Dickenson (@teacherpreptech) is an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at National University in San Jose. After reading my blog on integration of technology, a subject she is very interested in and has included in her university courses, Dickenson got in touch with me. She has extensive contacts with teachers and principals through her university courses and teacher workshops in the Bay Area. She proposed that we work together in observing schools and classrooms. She set up this visit to Sequoia with David Franklin. For this post, she and I combined our notes and I drafted the post. I sent a draft to Franklin, Altman,and Dickenson to check for errors and each returned it. Because Dickenson and I combined our notes and she went over the draft. This is a co-authored post.

 

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Rubik Cube, School Reform, and Summit Charter Schools (Part 2)

In part 1, I made the point that while solving a Rubik’s Cube is complicated, designing and implementing a school reform is complex. In that post, I offered nine different yet interacting moving parts that I believe has to go into any reform aimed at improving high schools for preparing youth to complete college. They are:

*Recruit and train teachers who have the subject matter knowledge and skills to work with youth before, during, and after the school day.

*Recruit and train school site leaders who have the expertise and skills to lead a school and be a pillow and sandpaper simultaneously with teachers, students, and parents.

*Students takes a college prep curriculum, aligned with district standards, that enables them to enter any higher education institution in the state.

*Students have access to non-academic subjects that cultivate the mind, heart, and sensibilities.

*Equip all students with the knowledge and skills not only to enter college but have the wherewithal to persist through four years and get a bachelor’s degree.

*Organize the school day, week, and month that provides students with sufficient time in and out of class to learn the prescribed material and core cognitive skills to master a subject, acquire the essential skills of planning and assessing their progress in each course they take, receive tutorial help when student skill levels are below par, and time for students to receive mentoring from teachers they trust.

*Build a culture of respect, safety, and focus on collaboration and learning for both youth and adults.

*Create a decision-making process that is inclusive, self-critical, and strong enough to make further changes in all of the above.

*Do all of the above efficiently within available resources.

 

These different features–drawn from different bodies of research (see Part 1)— of a structural design are within designers’ and implementers’ control. They can be built and put into practice. While fragile and easy to fall apart without attention and care, these interacting parts are essentials, I argue. Note, however, is that I mention no computers. Part of the complex design of these high schools is to use powerful software applications and content seamlessly in achieving desired outcomes. Technology is not central to achieving desired outcomes; it is, however, an enabling condition that surely helps both adults and youth reach the outcomes they seek.

What is beyond the reach or control of designers and implementers, however, are the unpredictable events that inexorably occur in and to schools because they exist in political, social, and economic environments within which both are wholly dependent upon those who fund schools. Consider just a few examples of the unanticipated occurrences that influence teaching practices and student outcomes: district and states cut funds, parental crises send students into  spirals of despair, illness of a highly-respected administrator slows implementation of an innovation; a clutch of veteran teachers exit school in one year.  Such events–and I have hardly listed all of the contingencies that could occur–if coming in clusters or sequentially (or both) can damage quickly the culture that has grown within the structures and, if left unattended, destroy the school. These schools, after all, are fragile creations that can only take so much shaking before they fragment and disappear. The history of successful schools, however, defined, has shown, time and again (see here), that creating and sustaining such schools is as dicey as predicting the locations and consequences of the next El Nino.

A charter network in Northern California has been working and re-working a design containing these moving parts for nearly 15 years. Over the past two months I have visited two of its seven charter schools in the Bay area and in those two schools have watched nine teachers across different academic subjects teach 90-minute lessons.* I have also interviewed administrators. The network of Summit charter schools has been written about often and positively (see here, here, here, and here). In all instances, these teachers I observed had integrated the software they had loaded onto students’ Chromebooks, the playlists of videos and links to articles for units that teachers created, and students’ self-assessment exercises seamlessly into the daily lessons with varying degrees of student engagement.

The cliched statement said over and over again by advocates of new technologies in schools: “It is not about technology, it is about learning,” captured what I saw. The overall aims of Summit students acquiring academic content, cognitive skills, “habits of success,” and the know-how of students assessing their own progress–all of that involved online work during and after lessons. Clearly, the school did not have to use Chromebooks and extensive software to reach the schools’ overall goals and each student’s personal ones. The technology did enable, however, the process of learning to be more efficient, more timely, and give real-time feedback to students. In the words of one of the teachers who emailed me his thoughts on using the available technology**:

Technology and the model we are currently using at Summit has transformed my classroom and changed me as a teacher….  As we have relatively recently embraced a model that puts students as drivers of their own learning further into the center of their academic experience,  we have moved the teacher further outward, acting more as a facilitator than a traditional teacher much of the time. This could make some teachers feel uneasy and others even disillusioned at the perceived prospect that all the knowledge students need is online and the essence of the teacher-student relationship has been subsumed by the technology. Having now helped develop the curriculum for this model, used it and iterated on it for nearly three years, I view this model as a powerful, mostly positive way to educate young people….

I am now able to provide a much wider variety of experiences to my students because I have access to a wealth of data about both their learning performance and preferences. Changes in my practice that took days or weeks based on our previous assessment cycles are now reduced to days, hours or even minutes. That said, as we iterate to improve the academic tools we use, we also need to be equally mindful, innovative and proactive in building and maintaining the ethical and character culture(informed by a knowledge of adolescent development)that marks an excellent high school education from a merely good one. Moreover, we need to similarly work on building a more powerful, authentic sense of common purpose with the varied backgrounds of our families and communities that overlap with our school community. This requires tremendous empathy and solidarity, and I feel it is the greatest challenge ahead of us….

Such a culture that this Summit teacher speaks of is not engineered by new software or machines. The culture and structures that support it are built by administrators’ and teachers’ hands, hearts, and minds. It is a work-in-progress. It is complex with many moving parts. And it is fragile.

What is missing, of course, from this description of Summit’s complex design and its execution is any evaluation of what students are learning (In my observations, I focused on what teachers did in their classrooms), whether all Summit high schools (or just the two I observed) are succeeding (however measured) in achieving its goals, or whether you need all (or just a few) of the features outlined above. There is a great deal absent from this limited account of lessons I observed.

But I did learn a few things very well.  If the Rubik Cube can be solved in either seconds or minutes with algorithms, I am confident that building and sustaining an improved high school for minority and poor youth is a long-term affair, lacking algorithms, that needs smart and patient leaders, and years to accomplish. Such schools are live inventions that keep adapting to their environment as problems arise and fade.  But these works-in-progress are vulnerable and delicate creations. They need constant attention.

 

 

 

 

 

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*Diane Tavenner, a founding teacher at Summit Prep and director of Summit Schools Network and Chief Academic Officer, Adam Carter–also a founding teacher at Summit Prep–picked the two schools. In both schools, I interviewed the principals (called Executive Directors), and they suggested various teachers I should visit. Because of scheduling difficulties, I could not see all of those recommended to me. So in both schools, I reached out to other teachers, introduced myself and asked them if I could observe their classes. Of the nine teachers who permitted me to spend a 90-minute block, I had selected five to have a broad coverage of academic subjects and grades 9-12. All nine lessons taught by English, social studies, science, math, and foreign language teachers have been published on this blog on: March 13, 2016, March 16, March 21, March 23, March 29, April 1, April 6, April 12, April 18.

**In my possession. It was a confidential exchange between this teacher and myself.

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Part 9: Summit Prep Teachers Integrating Technology: 9th Grade Biology

“With-it-ness” and “ripple effect” are seldom heard in university teacher education courses today. Over four decades ago, Jacob Kounin, A Wayne State (MI) professor coined these phrases based upon his observations in elementary and secondary classrooms. His point was simple: teachers can prevent misbehavior in their classrooms and get students to accept classroom norms if they organize their lesson, plan for student participation, and anticipate student behavior. With-it-ness is the ability of teachers to constantly scan their classroom during a lesson while lecturing, guiding a discussion, or listening to student answers and simultaneously calling out students before they pass a note to a classmate, get disengaged from assigned task, or secretly text from cell phones on their laps. Such teacher behaviors convince students that the teacher “has eyes in the back of her head.” Kounin also noted that when teachers cautioned a student prior to a misbehavior or inattention, the students near the admonished student controlled their behavior and became attentive. Hence, the “ripple effect.”

Both these and other teacher actions during a lesson, researchers argue, contribute further to socializing young students to the norms, behaviors, and attitudes embedded in the school culture and, they further argue, are essential for academic achievement.

I saw these 9th grade student behaviors in full view while observing Biology teacher Kristel Hsaio’s class on March 22, 2016. Of course, I saw much more in that 90-minute lesson than “with-it-ness” and “ripple effects” reinforcing socialization to Summit Prep norms. So here is my description of that lesson that included many tasks students worked on their new unit on DNA Barcoding including student presentations, self-assessments of their work, frequent pairing of classmates and whole-group discussion.

Kristel Hsiao is a five year veteran of teaching in Chicago at Solorio Academy High School–she was one of its founding teachers. While there she developed science curricula and piloted the use of iPad carts in classrooms. After moving to the Bay area, she applied to and was hired to teach biology at Summit Prep. She organized her classroom furniture and used white boards to reflect her goals for the courses she taught.

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As students entered the class, Hsiao greeted each one with a hearty “good morning” and a high-five slap of hands. Two and three students sit at each table. There are 26 in the room. Precisely at 10:40, the time for the block class to begin, the teacher calls the 26 students’ attention to the Warm Up on a slide projected on the front screen:

“Answer three questions:

*What did you do over the weekend?

*What are you looking forward to this week?

*What are you concerned about this week?”

Students open Chromebooks and click away. Two students are dallying and Hsiao says: “Everyone should be working, no talking.” After five minutes, teacher says “eyeballs and ears up here. Close computers.” She counts down from 5 to 0. She then proceeds to give students a preview of the DNA barcoding unit over the next month by projecting slides on the screen. She then returns to the agenda for the day:

*Warm Up

››Group Work – Step 1

*Presentations!

›*Exit Slip

Student presentations are the center-piece of the lesson–the student sitting next to me tells me she is nervous about hers. But there is more that Hsiao wants to cover before students present articles they read. She goes over key features of the new DNA barcoding project that the class will work on for next four weeks. She describes the work they will do each week, the upcoming Spring break, the two weeks away from class to do Expeditions, and when they will finish the DNA barcoding unit. “Any questions,” she asks. Three students want to know about dates, lab reports, etc.

Hsiao then asks students to turn to next task, Group Work-Step 1 on cognitive skills (students and teacher calls them “cog skills”) they will be covering for today’s activities. Class knows the process to do this and Hsiao lists what each pair and trio is to do (for list of cognitive skills, see here).

*Right Partner: Read Cog Skill 

›“Today’s cog skill is…”

›“To get an A we must…”

*Left Partner: Read Objective

›“By the end of class, students will be able to…”

*Middle (or Right) Partner: Read Agenda

›“First, we will…Then, we will…Finally, we will…”

After 5-7 minutes of this group work, Hsiao tells class that they now have to do self-assessment for STEP O (SDL PLAN) in their PLP (Personal Learning Plan). This is the first thing that students do when they begin a new project. Students are familiar with process of setting goals for themselves and determining what level they wish to achieve–rubric lays out specific behaviors for high grade. They begin reading and clicking away on their Chromebooks. A few put in earbuds and everyone switches their seats to face the rear of the classroom. When I asked a student why they moved their chairs, she told me that it is less distracting to face the back of room when they are setting goals and figuring out what level they should set for themselves. Students tap away and go over each part of  STEP O (see here)*. Hsiao asks student next to me to show what is on her screen and what she is doing. She does.

I scan the classroom and everyone is now facing the rear of the room and is tapping away in their Chromebook.

This activity continues for about 15 minutes as teacher moves around the classroom answering questions, checking individual students entries, and asking particular students why they have assessed themselves at the level they chose. As students work through STEP O, Hsiao says to class that if there are students who want comments on their presentation–the next activity–they should let her access their presentations and she will look at it. Teacher brings this activity to a close and moves to student presentations.

Before calling on the first student to come to front and present the article she had read–she had sent her slides to the teacher’s laptop–Hsiao goes over a slide listing the class norms for when students give reports:

“BEFORE PRESENTING:

Send Mrs. Hsiao a link to your presentation.

The audience will clap politely as you walk up to the stage.

WHILE PRESENTING: Your peers will grade you using the Oral Presentation Scoring Guide. Your teacher will take these scores into consideration when she grades you.

AFTER PRESENTING:

Audience will clap calmly and politely.

Audience will ask up to 3 questions.

Mrs. Hsiao will input your grade by the end of the day.”

 

In the five presentations I heard, students follow a template of tasks that frame each presentation.

*What claim does author make in article?

*What is my analysis of claim? Evidence author used and what I thought of it.

*Why is claim important?

*Why did I choose this article?

After each presentation, student asks for questions from class-mates.

Hsiao had passed out sheets for students to evaluate each of the presentations.

In scanning the class while each of the five students were presenting, I noted that every student was attending to presenter.

Rather than describe each PowerPoint presentations I and the class listened to, I will describe one.  This student analyzed an article about colorblindness entitled: “Your Color Red Could Really Be My Blue.” The student went over each of the above questions in an especially clear and concise sentences , showed a video of monkeys being injected with a virus that would change cones in the eyes to see other colors, and added information drawn from the article about color-blindness. At the end of her PowerPoint, she asked for questions and there were a half-dozen. The class applauded vigorously. Each student, then, as they had done with the earlier PowerPoints rated their classmate’s presentation (See Student Rating of Presentations).

After last student presents, class applauds, and questions are asked, Hsiao counts down from 5 to 0 to get students’ attention. After the volume of noise approaches quiet, Hsiao compliments the presenters: “they were excellent,” she says. Then she segues to final task of lesson which is to get students to move to Step 1 of DNA barcoding unit (“Learn Basics of DNA). They will study DNA of different Huskie dogs and later seafood animals.**   She asks that students get in their teams (teacher had preassigned students to each team and names appeared on a slide), assign roles for which member of team is to do, and use readings and video materials. To reinforce understanding of task, she has students repeat chorally: “What Step will we be working on?” “Step 1,” students respond. Class ends shortly after as students continue working in teams.

Here was a lesson designed and implemented by an experienced teacher that reinforced class norms–what academics call socialization–while simultaneously aligning lesson activities for the beginning of a project, having students report on their analysis of articles they read, and for 90 minutes having “eyes in the back of her head” to prevent misbehaving. The sheer complexity of teaching was on full display during the lesson.

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*This link and others were created by a team of biology teachers in Summit high schools that included Hsiao.

**According to Hsiao, “The purpose of the activity was to build background knowledge about DNA so that students are ready for the DNA barcoding unit. In the DNA barcoding unit, students will collect samples of seafood from local restaurants and then analyze the DNA in the samples to determine if the seafood is mislabeled. Then they will make conclusions about whether or not the seafood sold in their communities is sustainable. Throughout the project, students will practice writing and inquiry skills, as well as apply their knowledge of food webs and DNA.”

 

 

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Part 8: Summit Prep Teachers Integrating Technology: 9th Grade English

Classroom questioning of students is an art, not a science. Whether a teacher does it one-on-one or in a group of five or for an entire class of 30, questions are at the core of the teacher’s quest to have students grasp content and concepts. Or to have students probe more deeply what their classmates and the teacher assert. Or to stretch students’ skills of speaking in groups. Or fixing mistakes when students stumble. Getting the best sequence of questions asked of students, that is, using an initial one and then follow-up questions constructed like a ladder takes time and thought. Different aims in a lesson generate different kinds of questions and such questions are the meat-and-potatoes of teaching.

Much knowledge of asking classroom questions comes from direct experience in teaching, some is intuitive, and some comes from trial-and-error. And even some comes from books. Framing the question is what the teacher does prior to teaching, say, in a lesson plan and also during the lesson in the midst of back-and-forth exchanges between teacher and students. Which students to call upon and how to call upon them (e.g., cold calls, choral questions, name first or name last) is also more art than science.

I raise all of these points about questions (but not student answers) from watching Anne Giocondini, a 9th grade teacher of English in her first year at Summit Prep, conduct a lesson on poetry on March 22, 2016. Her written-out questions on the white board, in the handouts she gave students, and in the ensuing discussion reminded me for the umpteenth time just how crucial to student learning are the skills of constructing and asking students questions.

Giocondini, a graduate of Grand Valley State University (MI), became a Fulbright teacher at Kirovohrad State Pedagogical University (Ukraine) where she helped teach preservice TESOL teachers and translators for a year before coming to Summit Prep. Why Summit? The school “aligned with my values, doing project based teaching, and mentoring.” As a first-year teacher she has the same room all day to teach her block lessons of 90 minutes each, periods of Summit Reads and Mentoring. What she had on the walls of her room and how she arranged classroom tables for students to sit mirrored her aims for the 9th grade English class.

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The day’s agenda (see above) was clear. The teacher began the Warm Up when the class began at 8:15 with the question directed at 24 ninth graders who had been creating their poems in previous sessions: “Did I include Imagery?” On a slide projected on the screen in front of the room, Giocondini lists what students are to do with their partner’s poem and then their poem:

*”Open PLP (Summit’s online Personal Learning Plan)

*Open Partner Poem

*Open Partner Poem Revision Task Card 2

*Complete Checklist

STOP AT CHECKLIST

*Professional Courtesy”

All students open their Chromebooks and go to their PLP and their table-mate’s poem. I scan the room and every student is either reading their screen or clicking away to answer questions that are on Task Card 2. Giocondini walks along the aisles, stopping at one table and then another asking questions and listening to student queries. This continues for about 10 minutes.

The teacher segues to next task on agenda and tells students that they will revise their partner’s poem to include imagery. Before they move to that task, she put a slide on the screen: “Imagery is the name given to the elements in a poem that sparks the senses.” Sight, taste, touch,smell, and sound are enumerated on slide. To pin down the concept, Giocondini asks students to practice imagery with their partner using prompts on a slip of paper she hands out (e.g., “I do not like junk food”). She then cold calls on two different students to repeat what tasks they will be doing in next few minutes. Each one repeats the tasks correctly. Students go to work. A stop watch on the screen beginning at 5 minutes ticks off. Teacher moves up-and-down aisles to see what pairs of students are doing, offer suggestions, and answer questions.

I scan the class and every student is engaged with one or two other classmates.

After time elapsed, Giocondinia stops the class and asks class for examples of imagery that they added to prompts written on the slip of paper. She “cold calls” a student–to “read out” his. And then onto others to “read out” their images. To some of the student answers there is laughter at vivid images.  Students clap at each other’s contributions. Teacher asks entire class which of the five senses is written about in examples of images; students respond chorally. Giocondini now moves to next part of lesson–Work Time: Partner Poem Revision (see above photo of agenda). She tells students they have 20 minutes to revise their partner’s poem. They open Chromebooks and begin task; many talk to their partner and compare stanzas and images (two pairs work next to me and as I click away taking notes on the lesson I can hear their conversation). Teacher goes around the room making suggestions, inspecting revisions, and answering questions. Students carry their Chromebooks as they move about the room to check in with classmates  on revisions they made in poems.

In looking around the room, all but two students are engaged in task; within a few minutes, the teacher gets to the two and they return to task.

Teacher announces that 10 minutes remain. Students work until teacher asks students to close Chromebooks–she uses the phrase, “professional courtesy.” A student next to me leans over to a nearby classmate and tells him to close his computer. Teacher says “if you can hear my voice, clap once,” quarter of the class claps. “She then says if you can hear my voice, clap twice.” Two-thirds clap twice. Quiet descends in room.

Giocondini then moves to next part of lesson, the Theme Poem. She explains what a theme poem is and projects a slide of a Maya Angelou poem (with her photo) that they had read earlier in the year called “Still I Rise“. Giocondini reads the poem to class. Slide appears on screen with question: What is the theme of “Still I Rise?”

To refresh their memory of theme taken up in an earlier lesson, the teacher shows slide of what constitutes a theme and whether the theme is specific, universal, etc. (for Giocondini’s plan about theme poems, see here). She asks class what is the theme of “Still I Rise.” She calls on students who raise their hands. Giocondini asks students to support their answers with words from the poem. What emerges from back-and-forth discussion among students and between teacher and class about the theme of the Angelou poem is that people can overcome obstacles by rising above hate. Giocondini then moves to final task of lesson which is for students to pick a theme poem from a playlist she has compiled, read it carefully, and analyze it with their partner for its theme. She gives students 20 minutes to do this task. They open their Chromebooks and commence working. I scan the class five minutes later and, apart from one student secretly glancing at his cell in his lap, all appear to be working on task. Giocondini walks up and down aisles conferring with students, making suggestions, and responding to questions.

When time came to end for this task,  the teacher says: “Who can hear my voice, clap once.” She continues until the ninth graders are quiet.  After asking students to close Chromebooks, chattering rises and Giocondini uses drill with clapping. One student behind me shushes others near him who are talking; another student says to a nearby classmate to use “professional courtesy,” that is, close the Chromebook.

Giocondini compliments the class for all that they have done in the hour and a half period and then previews the work they will do for the next time they meet. She then cold calls a student and asks him to tell the class what the homework is and what they will be doing the next time they meet. The young man repeats all of it correctly. Students begin to pack up in the final minute and then Giocondini releases students to go to Summit Reads, the next class on their schedule.

Teacher questions of all sorts permeated the 90-minute block period and drove this lesson on poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Part 7-Summit Rainier Teachers Integrating Technology: Advanced Placement U.S. History

Advanced Placement courses in high school have both champions and critics (see here and here). Millions of high school students take AP exams ($92 for each test). Those who get a 3 or above (1-5 scale) can opt out of college courses saving money that would have gone to tuition. Recently, the largest growth in adding AP courses has been in schools enrolling large percentages of poor and minority students. Since most charters promote going to college and are located in cities, AP enrollments have soared in these publicly-funded but privately run schools. And that has been the case for the network of Summit Charter schools in the Bay area. In the two Summit schools I have observed lessons, I sat in AP classes. In Summit AP courses, students have a choice in whether or not they take the test. Not all Summit students take the AP test.

Edwin Avarca teaches AP U.S. history at Summit Rainier and I observed his 90 minute class on March 15, 2016 (for a description of Summit Rainier, see here). Avarca is completing his sixth year of teaching. A graduate of a Bay area teacher education program that awards a masters and teaching credential after 14 months, Avarca’s first job was at a charter school in downtown San Jose. After two years there he joined Summit Rainier and has been teaching the AP U.S. history course since. He estimates that about one-fourth of his students take the test. To help those AP students who do take the test he convened a lunch hour AP club when he coaches students for the test.

The portable in which Avarca’s class meets has an upright piano as one enters the room and in the back there is a comfortable chair and hassock. I sit in rear of room next to a TutorCorps aide (a Yale University graduate, who joined Americorp, a public service organization). She tutors a few students in the class. Today is the first day of a unit on the Civil Rights movement.

Avarca welcomes back the 19 students from the two weeks they spent in Expeditions, elective courses (e.g., music, yoga, computer science, drama, video production) that they take with a different set of teachers. Avarca asks how it went, and a few students respond with a mix of positive and negative comments. He then segues to the lesson. “Today,” he says, “is the first day of our unit on the Civil Rights movement.” Avarca points to the Warm Up written on the agenda printed on the white board and then shows a video called Poisoned Dreams , about African Americans seeking equal treatment in the 1950s and 1960s. After 10 minutes of watching the video, the teacher stops it, tells students to put away their cell phones, and points to three questions on the interactive-white-board:

–“According to the video, what injustices were were people trying to overcome?

–What methods were people using to overcome these injustices?

–How do the topics discussed in the video continue to affect us today?”

The teacher switches easily between Spanish and English when giving directions and explaining certain points to Latino students and does so in elaborating these questions when he sees puzzled looks. He asks students to open their Chromebooks and type in their answers to these questions in three minutes. He says they can work collaboratively at their tables. As I scan the classroom all of the students are clicking away. After three minutes, Avarca calls time and asks students at each table to discuss their answers with one another. After a few minutes of table talk, he asks each of the three questions of the class and conducts a whole-group discussion. Avarca, carrying a pack of note-cards in his hands with the names of individual students, picks out cards and calls on students randomly. For example, to the first question, he calls on one student and the student answers, “segregation.” Teacher follows up and asks the class, “is everyone aware of what segregation is and can you give examples?” There is a few minutes of back-and-forth with the entire group–with the teacher using cards to call on different students– about different kinds of segregation including racial. Avarca then offers very specific examples of separation of people past and present.

Avarca then turns to second question of methods to fight injustices. Students picked up quickly on “sit-ins” from the video and a flurry of answers bounce across the room, mostly call-outs from different students. The teacher gives specific examples of sit-ins including a hypothetical situation at Rainier about students protesting over the quality of school lunches by sitting in at the school. He quotes one Civil Rights protester who said he became free after being arrested for sitting in a restaurant in the 1960s. Avarca poses the statement as a question: how can you become free by being arrested?

Dispensing with the names on his cards, the teacher calls on students who have raised their hands to answer. After a bunch of student comments about the question, Avarca segues to existing inequalities in the U.S. today. Students mention Black Lives Matter, and rich and poor. After about five minutes of whole group discussion, Avarca brings this Warm Up and unit Introduction to a close. Using the interactive whiteboard, he then moves to the logistics of covering the unit and what he expects students to do for the next few weeks.

A slide flashes on the IWB revealing the Civil Rights Movement Project Calendar. Avarca goes over each item (e.g., Timeline, research essay) and explains which tasks will be collaboratively done and which will be done individually including students choosing to study a group that was part of the Civil Rights movement (e.g., African Americans, Chicano, Asian American, LGBTQ,* Women rights, Native Americans). He asks students to open their Chromebooks and go to link entitled “AP Resources” and then click on Civil Rights movement. In that electronic folder, different groups are listed with readings and videos for each. He then illustrates creating a Timeline by using the Chicano movement beginning in the late-1960s with the high school student walkouts in east Los Angeles. In scanning the class, I see nearly all of the students are raptly listening to teacher as he describes students refusing to attend school until their demands are met.

After this example of creating a Timeline, Avarca then moves to crucial task in starting this unit, getting students to choose which group of Americans they will study during the project. He says to the class: “Pick a group that you are passionate about and want to learn more. Don’t pick one that your friend chose.”  He gives the class a few moments to consider their choices and then he asks students to move to different parts of the room for African Americans, Chicanos, LGBTQ, women rights, Asian Americans. With a lot of chair scraping, joshing, and moving about, students settle into groups they want to study. Avarca then directs everyone to open Chromebooks and find Task Card for their group which lists questions, tasks, and sources students can use (e.g., African Americans, Womens Rights, Asian Americans) to build a Timeline, the immediate next task. Teacher calls on one of the groups to click on to their Task Card and has each student in group read the questions and other items on the sheet. Keep in mind that Avarca had created these Task Cards for each minority group, selected key questions, and compiled sources for students to read. A few students have questions and teacher answers them. Avarca then asks students to begin work on their minority group by creating a Timeline.

For the remaining 40 minutes, teacher and TutorCorps aide consult with each group to see if members have any questions, clear up any confusion over immediate task, and their doing individual research, a task that comes later in the project. As I scan the class, every group of students is engaged in reading sources and talking to others in group about key events that have to be on Timeline. About ten minutes from the end of period, Avarca reminds class of how much time is left. With five minutes remaining, Avarca claps his hands and does countdown from 5-0 to get attention. “Time to wrap up,” teacher says. He asks students to close their computers and then asks class: what inspired you about what you read and saw today? What did you think was cool?”  Students raise hands, one mentions Civil Rights law of 1964; another mentions American Indian takeover of Alcatraz; another was surprised by the Stonewall riots during the gay movement’s quest for equal rights.

The 90 minute period comes to an end and Avarca dismisses the AP class.

____________________

*Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer

 

 

 

 

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Part 6: Summit Rainier Teachers Integrating Technology: Chemistry

After spending six years working for pharmaceutical companies, Edward Lin who had tutored students while working as a chemist, decided to change careers. He went to  University of California, Berkeley and secured his state teaching credential. Attending various career fairs for teachers, Lin heard about Summit, researched the school, garnered an interview and was hired as a chemistry teacher. He has been at Summit Rainier for two years.

On March 16, 2016 I observed Lin teach from 11:25 to 1:00 a lesson on metals (including a Lab) to 17 students sitting two to a table facing the “smart” board at the front of the portable classroom. A Periodical Table hung from one wall of the classroom. A sink in the back of the room students used to wash hands, vials, and get water for experiments. Tubs of equipment, goggles, test tubes, and other paraphernalia, rested on tables also at the rear of the classroom.

Lin has prepared a series of activities, beginning with the Warm Up, on slides and shows them to students as he segues from one task to another over the course of 95 minutes.

One slide lists the items today’s lesson will cover:
*Project Introduction
*Molecule Selection
*Is it a metal? Lab
*Are atoms in your molecule metal or nonmetal?

The Warm Up (see slide 2 here)  which introduces the unit asks students to identify common tools used in kitchen and around the house and answer questions about them.   Students pair up and generate examples such as knives, wrenches, pencils, etc. in response to Lin’s request. Discussions engage each table as I scan the room. Teacher then asks students to answer three questions about each tool they identified: How does the tool’s shape allow it to do the job? What material(s) is the tool usually made of? Why is the tool usually made from the material(s)?

A whole group discussion of these tools ensues for about 10 minutes. Lin calls on students by name. Few raised their hands. As I scanned the classroom, most students were listening and responding to the teacher’s prompts. A few were not. Those who were not looked at their cell phones which were lying on their desks or were quietly chatting with table-mates. The teacher stops talking, motions to one of the chatterers and she stops. He continues to guide the discussion and makes the central point that these tools students identified are made of metal and other materials containing molecules with certain properties allowing the tool to do its work as a tool. The discussion continues until Lin moves to the next task of reviewing the entire project.

The teacher goes through a series of slides (see here, slide 3) covering what students have to do (e.g., choose a molecule they want to work on; produce a 2-D or 3-D model of the molecule each student chooses that can be made out of clay, drawn, crocheted, etc.; make an oral presentation (e.g., write and read an essay, present a comic book, do a PowerPoint lecture). Lin gives many examples for each of the tasks students need to complete and then asks students at each table–usually two and sometimes three–to choose a molecule in the next 15 minutes from the list that they have in a handout. Students use their Chromebooks to look up particular metal and non-metal molecules and ask Lin questions as he circulates around the class. Some of the students have quickly glommed onto the task and tell the teacher immediately which molecules they want to focus on. Lin takes down names and the molecules they chose. There is a flurry of activity when two different tables of students chose the same molecule (e.g., silicon). The teacher negotiates agreement between tables competing for the same element one team choosing another one.

Lin then segues to the handout labeled “Is It a Metal?” (see here) that will guide the Lab they do. The teacher had prepared samples of elements (e.g. lead, magnesium,calcium, copper, silicon) arrayed on two front tables. The Lab directions ask students to test each element and determine whether the element is a metal, nonmetal, or metalloid. Pairs of students are to get samples from the array of elements lying on the tables, test each one at a time, and record data, making observations of what they see happening (or not happening). Each element, say copper or aluminum, has certain properties (e.g., appearance, conductivity, brittle or flexible, reaction to acid). These properties are listed in handout. Students are to check the reaction of each element to hydrochloric acid and copper chloride. Based on the data students collect and the properties these elements have, they are to determine whether, for example, silicon, carbon, magnesium are metals, non-metals or metalloids.

Most of the students go to the rear of the portable where I am sitting and pull from various tubs of equipment, pairs of goggles and test tubes, return to their table and then go up to where the elements are arrayed at the front of the room and begin testing the properties of each one. A few students hang back and as they see others engaged begin to take part in Lab. Lin walks around the room answering questions, offering hints to puzzled students, and monitoring those less engaged in the Lab. Most of the students are working on the task. They carry their Chromebooks with them to record data and confer with one another in their group about what they see.

From time to time, Lin reminds students how much time is left to complete filling up the sheets and recording the data. One group of five students dip into and out of the Labwork as they do the operations chatting and laughing. The teacher sits down with a few of them to see how they are doing on the tasks. Other students have completed the Lab and ask Lin what they should do and he directs them to push ahead with otherparts of the unit that he had previewed earlier in the period.

At 12:45, the stop watch is at 0:00 and Lin tells students to clean up. Students line up at sink to wash out test tubes, dry their hands, and at their tables compare what they have found with other groups of students.

Lin then convenes the whole class–he counts down from 5 to 1–and says: “Let’s chat a bit.” He asks which of the elements are metals. Students call out answers: “copper,” zinc.” Lin follows up and asks what are the properties of these metals. More call-outs from students (e.g., “you can bend copper,” “when acid hit, bubbles came up in test tube”). One student is puzzled over silicon and Lin notes that and elaborates on the element. He then asks class about carbon. He clicks away on his laptop and student answers about each of the elements they examined appear on the screen. “Nonmetals are brittle, dark, not shiny, and barely conductive.” He then goes to Periodic Table and asks students to look at how metals, nonmetals, and metalloids are aligned on the Table. This is a mini-lecture with a handful of minutes remaining. Restlessness rises in the room. Lin concludes the summary and students pack up and move toward door of portable. In a few moments, the teacher releases the class to go their next one.

 

 

 

 

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Part 4: Summit Prep Charter Teachers Integrating Technology–World Studies

Any high school teacher who has taught 9th graders and seniors can quickly list the differences in teaching 15 and 18 year-olds. One of the tasks of teaching 9th graders at Summit Prep (and most other high schools as well) is socializing them into the school’s academic and behavioral norms so that by the end of the year, these students know what to do, when to do it across academic subjects, and how to behave out of class while still on the campus. These skills and behaviors, Summit leaders believe, are crucial for success not only in high school but also in higher education.

Aukeem Ballard, who is finishing his third year as a teacher, teaches the first block of the school day, usually a 95 minute period for his 9th grade World Studies students. But today Block 1 is only 55 minutes because half of the school will be visiting Bay area college campuses for the rest of the week. The 28 students sitting in foursomes facing one another at tables are jumpy about the trip. Questions quietly ripple through the room. Ballard is very aware of the higher-than-usual nervousness among students and spends time at the beginning of the class taking their questions about when and where they will meet, what they need to bring, what they will be doing, etc.  He does all of this before launching into a Warm Up that begins a new unit on Imperialism. He puts up a slide on the screen that has the daily objectives and goes over them one-by-one (see slide 3 here).

For the Warm Up, Ballard asks students to write a two-minute summary of the story “The Rabbits” that they had finished reading earlier in the week (the fable-like story is about how rabbits  invade a land where other animals are living, colonizes the country, and despotically rules the nation; the story is an allegory for 19th and 20th century imperialistic powers slicing up Africa and Asia (see here). He tells students that to do the summary, there will be no partnering. He wants individual work.  Students take out their notebooks and begin writing. Ballard walks around the room checking to see their summaries. “I just saw,” he says, “a two sentence summary that is better-than-fair.” After most of the class has finished, he tells students to draw a dotted line under their summary and then write their opinion in a few sentences about “The Rabbits.” After they finish, he says, share for three minutes your opinions with their table partner.

I scan the class and all students are writing their opinions, a few have begun talking to their table-mates.

After three minutes, Ballard calls for their attention by counting down from five to one. He then asks students for their opinions of the story. No one responds. He calls on three different students and they give their opinions in very low voices. He asks them to speak louder so that others can hear.

“Now,” after the brief back-and-forth with a few students, “we are going to swing from the rabbit story to imperialism.” He then puts a slide on screen calling it a Link Frame.*   It is a matrix of  four squares with labels for each quadrant: List, Inquire, Notice, and Know (LINK). He asks students to put the Link Frame in their notebooks and then fill in  the List quadrant with 5-6 words that they associate with the word “imperialism.”  He says: “Use what you know in your incredible brains.” After a few minutes, the teacher says: “You should be ready to share out LIST with the rest at your table—don’t use Chromebooks yet.”

After the sharing, Ballard calls on students in various groups to give the words they wrote; the teacher jots the words down on his laptop and they appear on screen. He then walks around with his Chromebook in hand,  listening to various students, closing lids of three Chromebooks as he continues to note what words students have put down for imperialism in the List quadrant.

After a long list of words from class appear, he asks students to go to next quadrant of the Link Frame, Inquiry. Here he wants students in their group to brainstorm questions they would ask about imperialism for their project essays. He asks each table group of four to have one of them act as recorder while the other three members stand up and says questions that they would ask about imperialism. Recorder takes down questions as three peers stand and throw out questions. Ballard walks around room listening, offering compliments to some groups for their questions. He has a stop watch and tells students how many minutes are left for the activity.

At end of task, students sit and Ballard asks what questions came up in each group. He types their questions and they appear on the screen at front of room (e.g., Why do countries need resources in other places? Why so much violence? What are the most recent nations to be imperialized?).

Teacher then directs students to go to third quadrant of Link Frame, Notice. Here he asks students to use their Chromebooks and go to a link (see here) that shows photos and has text of Before and After Belgium, Great Britain, and other countries colonized parts of Africa and Asia. Students open Chromebooks, go to link and quietly read while jotting down in their notebooks things they notice. I scan class and every student is on task. As the end of class approaches, Ballard calls for “professional courtesy,” a code phrase students recognize for closing the lids of their Chromebooks. They do. He then asks students to complete Notice and Know quadrants of the matrix as homework for their next block class. They will pick up discussion from that point, hesays.

Teacher dismisses class and students leave for their next 55-minute class.

Teaching norms of discourse and behavior is a long process of socialization to high school and essential for those who enter college. It begins in the 9th grade at Summit Prep and shows itself fully in subsequent years. Such student compliance to these academic and behavioral norms, Summit leaders believe, is the basis for success in high school and higher education.

_____________________

*After reviewing a draft of this post for inaccuracies, Ballard said that “it is important to note that lesson and PowerPoint are a result of collaboration with my 9th grade history teacher colleague …. at [another Summit] school.”

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