I attended the JCT Science CPD Day 1 today, Wednesday 30th November 2016, at Galway Education Centre. The JCT associate presenters were Eileen Hanrick and Elizabeth Smith. They were organised, enthusiastic and inspiring throughout the workshop. The following reflections are my interpretations of my professional development experiences at this workshop.
The specification is alive and it adapts
There are a few differences between a curriculum and a specification. The specification is adaptable and flexible and it will be added to over time. For example, as they have done in New Zealand, exemplars of student work, student experiences and assessment ideas will be added as the specification evolves.
We were introduced to the specification through a 'THINK PAIR SHARE' activity that most participants were familiar with. Statements were projected and firstly we were asked to think independently about whether we agree or disagree with the statement. The first statement was:
'To teach through inquiry you have to do experiments…'
We then shared our view with our pair and finally we shared our paired views with another pair or the rest of the group. The general consensus in the room was that there is a continuum from teacher led to student led activities and planning can vary to icluded methodologies from various points on the continuum.
Statement two was:
'earth and space could be taught by the geography teacher'
The 'THINK PAIR SHARE' process was repeated and the general consensus was that yes there could be elements of both subjects. Teachers could teach some but the aspects could be different. A teacher also poitned out that Geography is a science also. There are cross curricular links - geography and science could both be teaching aspects of earth and space.
We discussed the benefit of think/pair/share. We agreed that it encouraged students to think outside the box, allowing them time and space to think. Teachers tend to ask a question and move on too quickly. Think pair share is one way of moving towards overcoming teacher answering their own questions.
Post - Its
There were post-its left on our desk. If we had questions during the day, we could write them on a Post It and stick it up on the Car Park poster with the questions, name and email address. If it happened that the associate answered a question as it comes up then we were asked to take down the post it. If there were any questions that couln't be asnwered, an answer to the question would be sent by email after the workshop.
Eileen gave us an overview of the new Junior Cycle. She explained:
She emphasised how all these all feed in to give the school programme.
We were encourages to reflect at various points throughout the workshop, using a Learning Log. These were the contents of my learning log at the end of the day.
Niamh's Learning Log
We used a Ranking sheet to rank the 8n key skills from most important to lesat important. This was a tricky task and in the end we agreed that there is no right answer. On any given day, depending the context and situation different key skills may be more important at different times. WE used the THINK PAIR AND SHARE activity to rank the key skills.
Eileen outlined the rationale and broad for the junior cycle science:
There is an emphasis in the new junior cycle science on enjoyment, lifelong learning, key skills, developing scientific literacy and applying it, acquiring a body of scientific knowledge, developing a scientific habit of mind, and improving their reasoning and decision making abilities of students.
Structure of the Specification
In the next task, we engaged with the structure of the learning outcomes in the specification. We used an activity that I used with First Years at the beginning of the year for the principles of the new junior cycle. The learning outcomes for each strand were cut out and we had to arragne them into the appropriate column for Nature of science, or the physical, chemical, biological or earth and space contextual strands. The cards were different colours depedning on the elements that they belonged to. The elements are building blocks, systems and interactions, energy and sustainability. We used the THINK PAIR SHARE activity again to complete this task.
The Nature of science should be embedded throughout the teaching and learning of the other four contextual strands in junior cycle science. The nature of science should be the scaffolding of every class with the contextual strands build up around it. This encourages students to understand and investigate throughout the T & L of all the strands. We received a coloured poster for the wall in our teaching spaces. This is to act as a visual aid to put up in the classroom to see the learning outcomes across the strands. This may prompt the students and teachers into impromtu recognition of current NOS in action. I think I will give the studens a copy of this poster for their scrapbook and I will use it as a reflection tool in every class. Fore example, I will ask them: which Nature of Science Learning Outcome do you think you applied today? Hopefully, there would be at least two applied in every class. Eileen and Elizabeth pointed out some resources useful for incorpoarting NOS into teaching and learning:
In this task we used the Jigsaw learning methodology (there is a video on JCT.ie of this activity) to solve a scientific problem, while working with others. It eas emphasised that the content in this acivity was designed for teachers-but that it can be manipulated for students. We were put in groups of 4. The jigsaw methodvmimics groups of scientists working towards a common goal. We spent 10 minutes at our 'Home team'. WE were given distinct roles: recorder, manager, timekeeper. We had a 25 minute 'break out' session where we went to stations. Stations were numbered 1/2/3 and we went to the station that correlated with the number on our role- collect discreet, different info at each station. We went back to our home team, with new information to share and communicate with out team to solve the problem.
We reviewed the activity and recapped on prior knowledge. We noted that there may have been some may have been misconceptions and maybe they were challenged during the activity.
We had a group discussiona and the facilitator clarified the solutions. The value of this exercise is that one piece of information wold not lead to valid reasons, but when you go back to your home team you have valid reasons for the variance in temperature. The variance in temperature was the problem to be solved in this particular question.
This activity was about the task or the knowledge. Students bringing back incorrect information and spreading with group was raised as an issue. I think that this is crucial the role of the teacher as a facilitator to intervene and to rotate the groups, questioning and checking. This activity builds confidence because the groups are small. The teacher should choose the groups, and it was suggested that the teacher possibly tiered experiments. I don't think I fully agree with this but maybe I would tier within a task at a station so that location in the room is not determined by ability as students will pick up on this.
Finally, Eileen and Elizabeth asked us: 'Which learning outcomes from NOS were embedded in this activity?' AS a group, we decided on the following NOS learning outcomes.
This type of a class takes planning, but the value of learning that the students get in the short space of time is valuable. As a teacher of the new specification we are being challenged to be Creativie. This is important as we are expecting the students to 'be creative' as a key skill so we should evaluate and reflect on our own creativity in our approaches to teaching and learning too. As a teacher attempting creativity is the first step of the journey - the more creative you are, the more creative you will become. For example, fun activities like the Iodine snake, kodium bomb-can now be incorporated and embeeded into the teaching and learning of the new specification, making it enjoyable, exciting and fun for all. We must remember that the NOS underpins the content. NOS should be embeeded in the processes and activities that we do with our students on a daily basis.
We returned to an examination of the enquiry continuum again:
Using the enquiry continuum: limited (teacher led, predirected), structured (Sequence of tasks), guided, open (students develop their own questions and methods).
The facilitators posed the question. 'In the activity that we just completed, where would you see this activity on the enquiry continuum? We decided that Station 1 was guided: fulfill a hypothesis. All other stations were structured. What effect does this have on teachers and students? Student voice is stronger and the learning is studend led but thsi can depend on how comfortable the teacher is teaching along the continuum. We discussed the factors all along the continuum. What determines the level of inquiry? What factors in your own classroom, what factors affect the level of inquiry that you use in your classroom? Some of the answers the grop produced were: type of students, timetabling, teacher confidence, school culture and planning time. We were informed thae the Department of Education have given 8 hours this year for every science teacher. From 2017, every science teacher has 40 minutes each week for planning. They emphasised how collaboration is key - and that many hands make light work. When we unpack Learning outcomes, the groupwork speeds up ideas and creativity flows. As a science department they encourages us to pool our resources and develope packs aroudnm different topics, with Nature of Science embeeded, 'all of it all the time not some of it some of the time'. They explained how beneficial it is to plan and put activities together. This gives the students a different approach to learning.
Eileen outline an example from her first year class:
First year science task:
'there is salt and water and sand : separate it. I gave them sieves, allow them to try and make mistakes. Did not prescribe it, they had it done but not by a recipe. I have discovered this. Few minutes to plan what they might do, go over and look at apparatus. Showed how to put filter paper in - I would let them figure it out.'
We discussed that yoiu couod ask the students to reflect and ask them 'What would I do better the next time?' The students could also deomstrate their experiments to other groups. I think it is invaluable that the associate presenters are current science teachers in the classroom and they brought in some really good examples from their everyday teaching.
It is possible to include experiment design as a form of assessment for learning as you can see what they mix up (mass at start, volume at the end). There was an important message here and that is: that there are many possibilties and that there is no one way or right way to do anything.
Elizabeth described another example from one of her first year science classes. She posed the following question to her first year class: 'Which is the best absorbent?' The active, open approach allowed space for the teacher to embed formative assessment, encouraging creativity and managing information and thinking.
During the transition from Primary education to secondary education:are we are killing their creativity or fostering it? I have an anecdotal story I was engaed in professional dailogue with a teacher who said:
'1st years need to learn that they are not in primary school anymore they need to sit and listen'
This is a huge cultural challenge that we must challenge in our schools, by engaging in professional dialogue with colleagues and promoting what works and what requires improvement in teaching and learning.
When allowing students to design their own experiemnt, there are a many influecning factors. Teacher confidence, planning time and collaboration are three influential factors. However, safety has to come first.Further down the list, we need more resources, access to or money for resources. This current implemtation of Junior cycle reform provides no budget for science resources. However, there is a 7000 euro fund available for schools for digitial technology. I teach in a science lab with no running water. I welcome the digitial strategy money and I am an advocate of integrating technolgoy into teaching and learning. Nonetheless, basics must be in place and different schools are in different states of repair and in my opinion, require independent assessment and independently assesed funding according to needs. In addition, teacher readiness is another factor that may influence curricular reform - how confident they feel may impact their place on the teaching continuum. Furthermore, student readiness is a factor and the knowledge, understanding and values should be built up over time. They can certainly not be crammed in two weeks before an exam-and maybe that will finally be the stimulus for real change in how we teach and learn junior cycle science.
Assessment in JCPA Science
The Day 2 workshop will deal in detail with assessment in science. Eileen touched ont his area today, introducing us to the basic framework for assessment.
The Continuous Based Assessment (CBA) 1 will take place over three weeks in April-May 2018. Students will plan and conduct an experimental investigation. The six topics and the dates are set. Reports are possible in a wide range of formats - podcasts, videos, oral presentations, posters. All students are given a chance to express their knowledge, understanding and values of JC science. Quality assurance will be maintained during the SLAR meetings. Teachers will bring a select few samples of work to the Subject Learning and Assessment Review (SLAR) meeting. The CBA are assessed using four descriptors: exceptional (like unicorns, they do not exist very often, 1%), Above expectations (20%), in line with expectations (70%), meeting expectations (10%). These bands align with success criteria and allow students to achieve their personal best. The SLAR meeting will last 2 hours. Teachers will share and support each other in assessing the students work, with one teacher from each department allocated an extra two hours for planning. It is the responsibility of the school management to organise opportunities for SLAR meetings.
The CBA 2 is a Science in Society Investigation (SSI). Students will research a socio-scientific issue. This will take place in December / January in 2018/2019. The SLAR meeting will take place in relation to the Assessment task. Teacher will award a descriptor to go on the JCPA.
The Assessment Task is based on the CBA 2. This takes place on one day in February 2019, ina classroom situation under exam conditions, supervised by the class teacher. This is worth 10% and it is written by the NCCA and marked by the SEC.
The exam will take place in June and it is 2 hours duration. It is a common level. It is written and marked by the SEC. They are trying to stay away from rote learning and this will be reflected in the style of exam questioning. In the exam the students will receive one of the following:
Working with the Learning Outcomes
Earth and space LO 4:
'Develop and use a model of the earth sun moon to describe predictable phenomena observable on earth, including seasons, lunar phases and eclipses of the sun and moon.'
Teachers should not deal with a learning outcome in one go, you revisit it over the years. The main question most teachers have is: How deep do you go? What is core? In the booklet we received today, there are action verbs from the specification. Action verbs can guide teachers to figure out the depth. We participated in a 'Think pair share': what do you think are the core understanding, skills and values? I found this a really valuable exercise and it made me think about the Learning Outcomes in a different way.
Touch, stone, layering
The touch, stone and layering approach can be integrated into the students learnin experiences of the learning outcomes throughout the three year cycle.
What is ment by 'Layering'?
If we go back to the example of asking students to design their own experiment, the filtering, and absorbing examples, this will result in the students making mistakes, evaluating and layering on knowledge. A second example, might be asking students to evaluate a media coverage of knowledge, undetrstanding and skill previously encountered. Evaluating media based arguments: does that article give us information on the title, is it backed by valid scientific information? Students must layer their knowledge, understanding and skills to answer these types of questions.
Teachers have autonomy and flexibility but not total freedom in this science specification. There will be overlap, and in my opinion, this autonomy allows you to focus on what you consider most valuable for your students at any given time, in your context. The salues and attitudes permeate the Learning outcomes as you teach the contextual strands (earth and space, chemical, biological and physical), scaffolded by the Nature of science.
The key take home messages: looking back, moving forward