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5 Steps to Inquiry-Based Learning

Unsure about how to make the shift to inquiry-based teaching under the Next Gen Science Standards? Follow these steps to lessen teachers’ anxiety.
By Ronald J. Korenich

As school districts begin to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), they may find teachers and staff are worried about how to implement inquiry-based methods of teaching. For many teachers, inquiry-based instruction can be scary, or at the very least, require a leap of faith.

I know this first-hand. More than 10 years ago, in my role as district coordinator of elementary education for Fox Chapel ASD in Pennsylvania, my charge was to implement inquiry-based instruction for both science and social studies.

Teachers wanted to provide quality instruction but were uncomfortable because they didn’t feel equipped. When students engage in inquiry, lessons can take many twists and turns, and teachers were concerned they wouldn’t have the content knowledge to answer student questions or wouldn’t be able to tie in the overarching concepts students were required to know.

Although progress was gradual, the end result was such an improvement in both teacher confidence and student learning that I don’t think any other method of learning is even an option now.

For any district moving from a non-inquiry-based curriculum to an inquiry-based one, there will always be a steep learning curve. Here’s what we learned in my district.

  1. Start with pedagogy, but don’t forget content. Teachers need to know the pedagogy of inquiry-based learning—their role, students’ role, how to implement the lesson—in addition to the content. For better or worse, you can’t learn one without the other. In the beginning, though, most of our training focused on pedagogy. We walked teachers through sample lessons: what might happen during a lesson, how to handle veering off-course or unexpected experiment results. Teachers were excited to see that once they knew strategies to capitalize on those moments, incredible learning occurred.

  2. Rich materials are crucial. Schools must not only choose materials that are robust in content for their science curriculum but also those that provide teacher support. Publishers that provide training sessions or whose materials are tied to Web-based support are the most helpful. In my district, teachers also appreciated curriculum that was structured so they could take specific steps to reach student goals.

  3. Schools need to accept initial teacher missteps. Teachers may not be completely successful at first, and that’s to be expected. Rather than view these experiences as failures, schools and districts need to understand them and continue to support the teachers. We found that sharing “mistakes” during professional development sessions provided some of the best learning opportunities.

  4. Teachers need to accept mistakes, too. It can be difficult for teachers to pull back from “teaching” and let students pursue their own conclusions. However, when teachers create an environment where kids aren’t afraid to be right or wrong, they are much more inquisitive and engaged. The teacher can always turn “wrong” answers into learning opportunities by pointing out common misperceptions or by making a connection between the mistake and critical learning content.

  5. Professional development needs to be ongoing. Training for inquiry-based learning is continuous. For example, we were surprised in one of our schools that a simple unit on levers and pulleys generated sophisticated questions that required physics knowledge. The district brought in more content training on physics, and as a result, both the students and teachers achieved a depth of knowledge on the subject that we had never imagined previously.

When most of us think back on what we know, we realize that we’ve learned best when we were actively engaged in the learning but had someone supporting and guiding us. It’s the same for elementary students. Teachers who understand how to meet students where they are and guide them along a path of inquiry are engaging students in the real work of scientists. Today we have the opportunity to encourage children’s natural curiosities, coach them on how to interpret what they’re discovering, and help them understand the impact of what they’re learning while they acquire important knowledge about science content and process. This engagement and resulting depth of knowledge is where we want our students to be in STEM subjects. Other teaching methods can’t achieve this, which is why implementing inquiry-based learning, although sometimes bumpy at first, is so critical in today’s schools.

Ronald J. Korenich, Ed.D., is an educational consultant and former coordinator of elementary education at Fox Chapel Area School District, Pennsylvania. He is a member of TCI’s Science Advisory Board.

 

Image: Creatas/Thinkstock

Shopping Smart.edu

Shmoop buying-softwareWorried about how to evaluate software before you buy? Consider these seven tips before finalizing that PO.

By David Siminoff

If you surf www.SnakeOilSalesmen.com you will find the pantheon of educational technology products that didn’t work. Lots of promises. Lots of noise. No tangibly good results for our kids. Waste.

 It’s a story replayed too many times in our districts, and the world of technology is getting more complex, more ripe for abuse.

 When you buy tech, you wear two hats—you play both offense and defense. You are trying to let your students take advantage of truly new things (e.g., iPads), not rehashes of the past (“new” paper textbooks). You take risks: Will the technology work? Will it actually teach…better? Will it deliver the value it promises in helping our children find dots of light in the darkness of educational space?

You mitigate risk as well: If you play it safe, you…don’t get fired. (See the guy who managed the LAUSD iPad debacle for details.) You order paper texts—they don’t need batteries. You…do the same thing your predecessors have done for 300 years. The kids get their education, more or less. And they move on. Defense.

The “right” answer probably circles a balance of both offense and defense. I present to you a series of what I believe should be key questions you ask of your vendors in defining that space:

1. Can you spot “lazy” tech?

Is the “brand new” technology just an old paper textbook whose pages have been scanned, copied. and pasted onto a vanilla web page? Brilliant. Cutting-edge technology. Bazinga.

Is the “new” product essentially the same thing the company offered three years ago, but the cover/title page has been changed to include the words And now with Common Core!? It always had the Common Core. Somebody took a day or two to numerically tag the Common Core grids. Is this a reason to shell out money for a “new” product?

When companies offer “new” products that leave you scratching your head, then it’s likely you are buying an empty basket.

2. Can you believe it's not butter? (Or, is the data real or not?)

Can you trust that the product actually works? Is there quality data, which backs up the supposed findings? (“Quality” means a smart 15-year-old can understand the data.) The sample size was big. There are testimonials from people who actually implemented the product. The product actually worked—i.e., it wasn’t just a “paid study.” And the post-tech-application result was demonstrably better than the control group’s. If the product is really good, it’ll let you track to the individual student, the classroom, the area of study, and time spent on the platform.

3. Is this a transaction or a relationship?

Ever feel like you’re being pushed out of the room the minute you shake hands with your vendor? Big companies are publicly traded entities run for shareholder profits. They have sales quotas to hit and pressure to sell, sell, sell. Small companies have pressure as well—but their “greed” is often more of the long-term flavor (healthy) than the short-term flavor (think: your last stockbroker).

Don’t be misled by large companies who claim to have 10,000 service center employees, but when you reach out, nobody returns your calls. In many small companies, you get the founder or top officer who cares about a long-term relationship actually working. Their company’s survival usually depends on it. They’ll do right by you (i.e., do what they say they will do)—or they will die fast.

4. Should you test the system?

Yes. Here’s an easy one: Send an email to the company’s Contact Us button with a clear, reasonably simple question and see what happens. Just because it has a big PR firm/marketing agency that claims to have great customer service doesn’t mean that it actually does. And to be very clever, if you work for a gorilla like LAUSD, don't send the email from that vaunted account. Send it from your personal account and see if you get a quality reply any time soon.

5. Is there fair value in the product? 

One of the reasons that I started Shmoop was that I found myself responding angrily to the textbooks my children were bringing home. To wit, the history book was basically the same one I had in high school 30-plus years earlier—little if anything had been added to give context and relevance to the vast changes in society today versus the 1980s. Yet the textbook cost $220. It was still unfathomable on many levels, not Internet-friendly, and used the same $5 words that made the teacher feel smart and the student feel stupid. If the new technology doesn’t feel like a leap forward over whatever was in the past (think: iPad relative to a laptop), it’s usually a pass.

6. Does the vendor truly love its own product?

Love matters. It’ll keep us together, it hurts, and it’s a battlefield. Founders know all of this about their products—they love them. Sometimes the product loves them back, and other people fall in love with the same simple clarity or voice or vision that the product imbues to its category.

 Small things matter—is the product actually updated regularly, or does it just say it is? Digital is designed for regular updates; paper not so much. Is the product easy to implement without requiring that the teacher have a Ph.D. in computer science?

Does it serve pages well on an iPad, an old Dell laptop with an Explorer browser, on a Samsung Mega, on a new Mac?

7. The acid test: Do students actually use the product? Do they, perhaps, love it?

If they do, it “will love them back” in nonobvious ways. Take an ungodly boring task like studying for the SATs, or reading Kants, or diagramming orbitals. If the new tech makes that process painless, maybe even fun-ish, then the student, who fights to spend the least amount of time possible on a given task, will spend much more time. And learn more. Perhaps the student will “feel” instead of just “know” the topic.

David Siminoff is the founder and chief creative officer of Shmoop University, www.shmoop.com.

Image: Olaru Radian-alexandru/Hemera/Thinkstock

Education: The Most Tech-Savvy Industry in America?

In recent years, technology use in the classroom has advanced leaps and bounds.  But how does education stack up compared with other—better-funded—industries such as finance or retail? 

Better than you might have guessed. According to a new study from Fiberlink, an IBM company, when it comes to app adoption, the education sector is way ahead of the game.

The study, which looked at mobile devices managed by Fiberlink, found that education accounts for 33 percent of all public apps and 28 percent of all custom apps adopted in the last 14 months. That’s more than any other industry listed.

Industry
Fiberlink believes that education’s chart-topping app-adoption numbers are part of a larger push toward mobile technology in the classroom. The company also cites cost and accessibility as two reasons educators are gravitating toward the app store en masse, stating: “Off-the-shelf laptop solutions can cost a pretty penny, while apps are generally more modestly priced, with a broader variety.”

The types of apps that administrators put on student devices ranged from organizational platforms (Google Drive) to creative tools (iMovie), with the ever-popular iBooks leading the pack.

Here are the Top 10 Public Apps in Education:

  1. iBooks
  2. Google Drive
  3. Pages
  4. Evernote
  5. iMovie
  6. Dropbox
  7. Google Earth
  8. Educreations
  9. Notability
  10. Numbers

Learn more about the data here.

-Catherine Logue

5 Steps to Inquiry Based Learning

Unsure about how to make the shift to inquiry-based teaching under the Next Gen Science Standards? Follow these steps to lessen teachers’ anxiety.

By Ronald J. Korenich

As school districts begin to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), they may find teachers and staff are worried about how to implement inquiry-based methods of teaching. For many teachers, inquiry-based instruction can be scary, or at the very least, require a leap of faith.

I know this first-hand. More than 10 years ago, in my role as district coordinator of elementary education for Fox Chapel ASD in Pennsylvania, my charge was to implement inquiry-based instruction for both science and social studies.

Teachers wanted to provide quality instruction but were uncomfortable because they didn’t feel equipped. When students engage in inquiry, lessons can take many twists and turns, and teachers were concerned they wouldn’t have the content knowledge to answer student questions or wouldn’t be able to tie in the overarching concepts students were required to know.

Although progress was gradual, the end result was such an improvement in both teacher confidence and student learning that I don’t think any other method of learning is even an option now.

For any district moving from a non-inquiry-based curriculum to an inquiry-based one, there will always be a steep learning curve. Here’s what we learned in my district.

1. Start with pedagogy, but don’t forget content. Teachers need to know the pedagogy of inquiry-based learning—their role, students’ role, how to implement the lesson—in addition to the content. For better or worse, you can’t learn one without the other. In the beginning, though, most of our training focused on pedagogy. We walked teachers through sample lessons: what might happen during a lesson, how to handle veering off-course or unexpected experiment results. Teachers were excited to see that once they knew strategies to capitalize on those moments, incredible learning occurred.

2. Rich materials are crucial. Schools must not only choose materials that are robust in content for their science curriculum but also those that provide teacher support. Publishers that provide training sessions or whose materials are tied to Web-based support are the most helpful. In my district, teachers also appreciated curriculum that was structured so they could take specific steps to reach student goals.

3. Schools need to accept initial teacher missteps. Teachers may not be completely successful at first, and that’s to be expected. Rather than view these experiences as failures, schools and districts need to understand them and continue to support the teachers. We found that sharing “mistakes” during professional development sessions provided some of the best learning opportunities.

4. Teachers need to accept mistakes, too. It can be difficult for teachers to pull back from “teaching” and let students pursue their own conclusions. However, when teachers create an environment where kids aren’t afraid to be right or wrong, they are much more inquisitive and engaged. The teacher can always turn “wrong” answers into learning opportunities by pointing out common misperceptions or by making a connection between the mistake and critical learning content.

5. Professional development needs to be ongoing. Training for inquiry-based learning is continuous. For example, we were surprised in one of our schools that a simple unit on levers and pulleys generated sophisticated questions that required physics knowledge. The district brought in more content training on physics, and as a result, both the students and teachers achieved a depth of knowledge on the subject that we had never imagined previously.

When most of us think back on what we know, we realize that we’ve learned best when we were actively engaged in the learning but had someone supporting and guiding us. It’s the same for elementary students. Teachers who understand how to meet students where they are and guide them along a path of inquiry are engaging students in the real work of scientists. Today we have the opportunity to encourage children’s natural curiosities, coach them on how to interpret what they’re discovering, and help them understand the impact of what they’re learning while they acquire important knowledge about science content and process. This engagement and resulting depth of knowledge is where we want our students to be in STEM subjects. Other teaching methods can’t achieve this, which is why implementing inquiry-based learning, although sometimes bumpy at first, is so critical in today’s schools.

Ronald J. Korenich, Ed.D., is an educational consultant and former coordinator of elementary education at Fox Chapel Area School District, Pennsylvania. He is a member of TCI’s Science Advisory Board.

Randi Reacts to Vergara Decision

Statement from AFT President Weingarten on Vergara Decision

WASHINGTON— Statement from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on today’s Vergara v. California decision.

“Today, as the Vergara decision was rendered, thousands of California classrooms were brimming with teachers teaching and students learning. They see themselves as a team, but sadly, this case now stoops to pitting students against their teachers. The other side wanted a headline that reads: “Students win, teachers lose.” This is a sad day for public education.

“While this decision is not unexpected, the rhetoric and lack of a thorough, reasoned opinion is disturbing.  For example, the judge believes that due process is essential, but his objection boils down to his feeling that two years is not long enough for probation.  He argues, as we do, that no one should tolerate bad teachers in the classroom. He is right on that.  But in focusing on these teachers who make up a fraction of the workforce, he strips the hundreds of thousands of teachers who are doing a good job of any right to a voice.  In focusing on who should be laid off in times of budget crises, he omits the larger problem at play: full and fair funding of our schools so all kids have access to the classes—like music, art and physical education—and opportunities they need.

“It's surprising that the court, which used its bully pulpit when it came to criticizing teacher protections, did not spend one second discussing funding inequities, school segregation, high poverty or any other out-of-school or in-school factors that are proven to affect student achievement and our children.  We must lift up solutions that speak to these factors—solutions like wraparound services, early childhood education and project-based learning.

“Sadly, there is nothing in this opinion that suggests a thoughtful analysis of how these statutes should work.  There is very little that lays groundwork for a path forward.  Other states have determined better ways—ways that don’t pit teachers against students, but lift up entire communities.  Every child is entitled to a high-quality education regardless of his or her ZIP code. And no parent should have to rely on a lottery system to get his or her child into a good school.

“This will not be the last word. As this case makes it through an appeal, we will continue to do what we’ve done in state after state. We will continue to work with parents and communities to fight for safe and welcoming neighborhood public schools that value both kids and the women and men who work with them. No wealthy benefactor with an extreme agenda will detour us from our path to reclaim the promise of public education.”

###

Top Stories for Thursday 4/17

How Will The New SAT Test Vocab?
The redesigned SAT will focus on ‘high utility’ words. What exactly does that mean?

Choosing Sides At Northwestern
Last month’s vote to allow a union causes friction. The New York Times

Opposing Views on Teacher Tenure
Calif. case outcome could become example for other states. The New York Times

Common Core Aligned With Cognitive Issues
Field tests for students with disabilities administered. Education Week

Indiana Rushes to Make New Deadline
First state to drop Common Core to approve new standards. The Huffington Post

Pay It Forward Tuition
New idea could allow students to go to college for free. NPR

Top Stories for Wednesday 4/9

Obama Announces Grant Winners
Schools will use funds to integrate work experience. NYT

Bill to Streamline Teacher Dismissals
Proposal aims to quicken dismissal process. KPCC

Can K12 Ed Startups Succeed?
How these two companies are navigating the market. Edweek

Do Students Still Have Free Speech in School?
How social media is complicating student rights—and eroding privacy. The Atlantic

When Are Tech Tools Worth It?
Is the technology creating more chaos in the classroom? Hechinger

Top Stories for Tuesday 2/25

Is Your Data Protected?
Group works to establish best practices for student data. Hechinger Report

Why One Mother Took the SAT 7 Times
What does it take to get a perfect score—and is it worth it? The Atlantic

Should Elementary School Teachers Specialize?
Departmentalization on the rise in younger grades. Education Week

Minnesota Takes on the Achievement Gap
The surprising ways the state is using their NCLB waiver. Education Week

 

Top Stories for Tuesday 2/11

Superintendents Speak-Up on ESEA Renewal Plan
Large-district supers pressure Congress to act. Education Week

Tennessee Teacher Evaluations: A Step Too Far?
Teachers push back against Race to the Top promises. The Huffington Post

Good News for Snowed-Out Schools?
Harvard study says snow days don’t hurt student achievement. The Washington Post

Survey Zeros-In on College-K12 Disconnect
Why higher ed and K-12 administrators need to work together. Hechinger Report

Cuomo Accuses NY Officials of Diluting Teacher Reviews
Gov. continues to push new teacher evaluation system. The New York Times

2014: Is This Year a Game-Changer?
What upcoming elections may mean for your school. Education Week

Common Core: It’s Working
How one school implemented the new standards successfully. Hechinger Report

Top Stories for Thursday 1/16

Congress Gets Graded on Education
NEA assigns letter grades for every member of Congress. The Washington Post

America’s Textbooks Outranking America’s Students
U.S. math textbooks deemed ‘more rigorous’ than South Korea’s. The Atlantic

Teach for America is Expanding
New program aims to help alumni find civic-leadership roles. Education Week

The NYC DOE Wants to Talk Facebook
DOE releases nine-page social media guide for students. The Huffington Post

2 Injured in Shooting at New Mexico School
Middle school student opened fire, struck two students. The New York Times 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in edu Pulse are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.