March 31, 2016 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin
A first for me on day 2 of the NSTA national conference in Nashville – tornado warnings! Today was definitely a whirlwind of a day as I tried to pack in as much as I could.
The first session I attended was titled, ’10 Minutes to Improving Science Achievement’. The focus of the session was how could formative assessment be used to enable teachers to gain a snapshot of the progress pupils had made towards understanding a particular concept. The emphasis was on strategies that teachers could employ in 10 minutes to assess a class. It was a really interesting discussion with Dylan Wiliam’s work being frequently mentioned. Some of the points/ideas in the session that most interested me included:
- We should never just assume in a lesson that because we have taught something pupils have learned it.
- Planning of lessons should start with thinking about what is going to be assessed and how rather than the activities that pupils are going to do.
- If teaching more than one class the same content, an effective and quick way of gauging pupils understanding is to take a sample of books – maybe 5 out of each class of around 30 – and use a pro-forma (see picture below) to make notes about what you observe and what the next steps should be. I particularly liked the idea of writing down on the form exactly what you expect to see in pupils work before you mark it.
The second session of the day was a brief discussion about ‘Personalising Your Science Instruction’ delivered by Discovery Education. The initial discussion about what personalised learning ACTUALLY is was interesting. It was useful to be able to have discussions with other teachers about their opinions on the subject and how they personlise learning. There we also some good links provided to some interesting reading. The bulk of the session was taken over to the marketing of a product for US teachers however so that section was lost on me somewhat!
The third session was really useful. Delivered by Sarah White (@wcsCOsew), Science Curriculum Specialist for Williamson County Schools, it was an interesting insight in to the journey schools in the county improved the progress their high ability pupils were making. Sarah describe how teachers formed a Think Tank Action Group and collaboratively used research to inform their practise. The teachers focuses on improving their use of formative assessment and also strategies to increase rigour. It was intriguing to see how teachers were heavily involved in deciding what the course of action would be to solve an issue that had been identified through a careful and clever analysis of data. I wonder if there are lessons that could be learned there for the UK education system?
My last session of the day was one that really got my Edu-geekery antenna twitching. Delivered by Craig Berg, Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it was a demonstration of an app called BACOT – Classroom Observation. Anyone who has ever observed a lesson and had to make notes as they are observing will know of the limited amount of detail that it is possible to write down as you are trying to observe both the pupils and the teacher. This app can be used on an iPad and is an incredibly easy way to collect detailed quantitative data about what is happening in a lesson. The observer enters details about the lesson to be observed before it starts; teacher, year group, lesson focus, seating plan, demographic data etc. Then, as the lesson is starting you can use the app to collect real-time data. You can collect data about types of question asked, activity types used, wait time and there are also tabs on the app that be defined by the user. Post-lesson questions and details can be added to the report. The real power of the app is that the collection of quantitative data allows a very detailed analysis. Patterns of behaviour in wait time, question type, pupil behaviour, etc. can be tracked and used as the basis of formative feedback for the observed teacher. This app is something that I will DEFINITELY be exploring and trialling in our department. A really exciting resource!
The last part of the day was spent exploring the exhibit hall. To say that this was an experience is an understatement. I got lost for two hours and was amazed at the diversity of stalls that were there. There was obviously a healthy amount of ‘swag’ gathered too; as is the tradition at these types of conferences. As a UK teacher I was amazed that zoo animals were walking around the hall, and I also learned that Disney have a Science education programme! I did treat myself to a rather fetching tie depicting DNA replication so I can safely say it was a very productive two hour excursion.