Saturday, July 12, 2014

Backwards Design, Modeling Style

Friday was a fun and useful day.

I learned that actual real life teachers (Bryan) do actually use system schema to help students figure out what objects are interacting as a pre-force diagram step, and I can see how it would be useful.  (The way they were described in the Hestenes reading made me think maybe they were an idea that might not have actually panned out when attempted with real live students.  Lesson:  Don't Doubt The Hestenes.)

I also wrote down a general modeling unit planning template that Bryan threw out:

  1. Figure out what Prior Misconceptions students are likely to have (Arons,, Paige Keeley books, Laura's Pre-assessments, various articles we've read during this workshop... what resources am I missing?)
  2. Decide your Instructional Goals  
  3. Figure out how you're going to Check for Understanding (sounds so much gentler than Assessment, even if it means the same thing)
  4. Determine your Anchoring Experience(s) (Paradigm labs, other useful demos and labs)
  5. Be critical users of available curriculum materials (even the modeling ones) -- figure out How will I use this?  How might I modify it for my students and goals?  How will we discuss this?  What else could I ask students?  (This part came from Laura later in the day, not from Bryan.)
I think this is fascinating, because it's core (#2 and #3) is the Wiggins and McTighe Backward Design (TM) we all know and love from ed school, but it's got this additional layer of being much more explicit about students' less helpful prior knowledge (#1) and developing concrete experiences to help upgrade those conceptions to ones more aligned with scientific concepts of the world (#4) that seems more specific to science instruction and the modeling approach.

I'm super-intrigued to try out Laura's Pre-assessments for each unit (and grateful that she's willing to share them rather than each of us going out and replicating her research into preconceptions that might be uncovered for each unit and good questions to bring those out).  The class-wide "four corners" style debate sounds entertaining in the moment, useful to inform the teacher of where her students are starting (without more student work to read!), and also like a great motivator for students to "figure out the real answer".  Win, win, win!  I wonder what happens if you go back and redo the voting at the end of the unit...

I'm also intrigued to add the Ranking Tasks to the mix, as checks for the conceptual understanding that I hope will come with the mathematical and procedural understanding for my students.  I also still like the idea of a Lab Practicum, but the version of "Shoot Bierber Bunny" that we did on Friday seemed way over the top for my ninth graders and most of my juniors (although a few could probably come up with something... but since my solution ended up using excel, graphing, and optimization with solver ...).  I think I'll come up with a version that doesn't require a $180 piece of lab equipment and doesn't ask students to solve simultaneous equations of a variable that only appears in those equations as a sine or cosine of that variable.  Probably a ramp that dumps a ball off a table at a set angle, and the students have to catch it in a basket.  

Workshop colleagues gave me two ideas for DIY projects for those Anchoring Experiences in the Projectiles unit.  First, I'm totally investing in some popsicle sticks and index cards so that my students can do Dave's Penny Flick (repeatedly) to show themselves that the side-ways projected projectile and the vertically dropping projectile land at the same time.  Second, I'm asking my husband for one of JP's homemade vertical projectile launchers.  Our anniversary is coming up in a couple weeks... 

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