Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Argument Driven Inquiry--A Focus for Secondary Science

I was invited to the classroom of Ms. Kristen Bundren at Spain Park High School to share in an Argument Driven Inquiry with freshmen students in her pre-AP biology class.

This was her students first ADI lesson.  She gave an outstanding explanation of the goal of the lesson and clarifying what students would be doing to achieve the goal.  She began with a discussion of the critical components of ADI, the question, the claim, the evidence and the justification.

The CONTENT goal was for the students to learn what characteristics define life.  This topic had not been discussed in class and this ADI served as the springboard to discuss that key biological concept.  In other words, ABC, Activity Before Concept.   In addition, the students had the opportunity to learn something about viruses, a biological topic that is often difficult to "fit" easily into a biology curriculum.  This lesson was adapted from one of the lessons in Scientific Argumentation in Biology, 30 Classroom Activities.  Students were given a two-page background on viruses and another table that compared characteristics of viruses to other living and non-living things.

Students worked in groups of four, read and discussed the materials they were given and then were charged to write the four key components on their whiteboard.  Of course, the question was given, the students were to make their own claim, present their evidence, and then state their justification.

Some student groups claimed viruses WERE alive; other students claimed that viruses WERE NOT alive.  Ms. Bundren let the students choose HOW to present their evidence.  Many chose tables, one group chose a Venn diagram.  Finally, students justified their claim by using the evidence they had presented.  They were also proud of their work!

While I was not there to see student groups observe each other's work, Ms. Bundren told me that in an earlier class, different student groups had made conflicting claims and it made the discussion very rich.  Students were ARGUING BASED ON EVIDENCE!

I asked Kristen to share some of her thoughts about the ADI lesson.  She said, "the biggest challenge for this lesson was directing students to focus not on their opinions or prior knowledge, but on the data that was in front of them. Midway through fourth period, one group was erasing their entire board. I asked the group why, and one member said, 'We thought the viruses were living, but we've changed our minds'. When asked why, the students explained that after looking at the data they realized that their evidence did not support their original claim. It was so much fun to see the students work through the scientific process."

Look for more ADI stories!

Monday, August 24, 2015

HCS LTI Facebook Page

Department of Curriculum and Instruction

Teaching and learning comprise the most essential functions of any school. The Curriculum and Instruction department of Hoover City Schools exists to ensure that our schools are spaces of excellence where highly effective teachers and leaders create and cultivate conditions that will inspire students to achieve. We want them to grow in knowledge and wisdom in a rigorous, relevant and engaging learning environment. Our primary goal is that all students will become lifelong learners who are contributing citizens in a rapidly changing world. In today's context, this requires an intense focus on supportive relationships that prepare students to be academically and developmentally ready for both college and career. 

The Curriculum and Instruction department supports teachers and leaders in this work through the preparation and facilitation of a rigorous and vigorous curriculum.  Collaborative training in research-based instructional strategies, progressive support for struggling learners, and monitoring of learning progress are hallmarks of teaching and learning in Hoover City Schools. 

This website serves as a connecting hub for information and resources that support this work. Whether you come to this page as a teacher, leader, parent, or community stakeholder, we hope that you will find something that will help you and yours to learn something new, teach in a more effective way, and inspire children to grow into lifelong learners. 

Ron Dodson, Ph.D.
Assistant Superintendent of Instruction
Hoover City Schools

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

For our New Teachers: The Journey has Begun . . .

EXCELLENT teaching, EVERY day in EVERY class for EVERY student

After almost two full weeks of "scheduled" preparation (even though many of you spent much more time than that!), you finally met your students last week.  Today you are seeing them for the fourth day and, I hope, your school day is beginning to feel a little more routine.

I remember 17 years worth of the first week of school.  Exhausting is too kind of a word for what I felt at the end of each day; not just physical exhaustion but mental exhaustion as well. I didn't have my "teacher voice" back yet and I often had a week of laryngitis after the first full week of teaching.  There was so much "stuff" to do that I found myself not being able to do the important thing--planning for instruction for my students--until late into the afternoon or early evening.  The good news is that my stamina would increase, my organizational skills would adapt to the new schedule and students, and I would get into the "swing" of planning, grading, giving feedback, etc. for yet another year.

It was a joy to get to meet you all during our new teacher orientation days.  I look forward to getting to know you better and to learn alongside you as we all journey together to help our students achieve their potential and more.  I have two "hopes" for you at this stage of your journey in Hoover City Schools.

Hope #1

I hope that you sensed at new teacher orientation that we were welcoming you into our Hoover Family.  Even though we are a large school district, we had fairly small beginnings and we strive to hold onto that family feeling.  Dr. Dodson and our curriculum staff embrace the idea of a large professional learning community, continually growing and learning to meet the diverse needs of our students.  I hope that you know that you are a VALUED MEMBER of our family!

I hope you have found a community to belong at your school.  I hope that you are engaging with a grade level team or discipline department or other community at your school.  I hope that community is providing you with information and support to help you navigate the very difficult first few weeks in a new school.  

I also hope that you feel a part of the larger community, your school.  I hope that your school leadership has provided opportunities during the days prior to the beginning of school for you to meet with the entire faculty so that you get a sense of the culture of your school.  I hope that your principal articulated his/her vision of what s/he hopes you will accomplish together.  I hope that you feel a part of something very important as you work as a team member to help your school achieve its best year ever.

Finally, I hope that you have either been assigned or have found that one "buddy", "mentor", "friend" who can be your 'go to' for any question you might have.  We all have questions we can't ask in a grade level/department meeting or a faculty meeting!  We need someone safe to help us with those issues.  I hope you have that person.  If you don't, please reach out to your school leadership or to Dr. Adams or me and we will help identify that person for you.

Hope #2

I hope that the students that have been in your class for three days now also feel a sense of community.  I hope that every student in each of your classes feels that s/he "belongs".  I hope that each of your students feels that you believe in him/her and that s/he can be successful in your class.  I hope that each of your students knows that s/he has an advocate in you and that you are there to help him/her succeed.  It would be my ultimate hope that if someone asked your students what they knew about you after four days of school, they would say, "my teacher cares about me."

I saw the photo on the top of the blogpost on Facebook.  It was posted by Shades Mountain third grade teacher Deanna Straub and these are the "real" hands of her third grade students this year.  This photo spoke volumes to me.  When I saw the photo, I could just imagine the potential that was attached to these precious hands.  I can't really tell boys from girls, tall from short, extrovert from introvert.  But the photo just shouts we are here to live, learn and grow together.  What a vision of a classroom community!

I had the privilege to be at Bluff Park Elementary School during the primary grades (K - 2) meet the teacher.  It was one of the most moving experiences that I have had in a long time.  I stood in the foyer greeting students and parents as they came in.  They came in smiling, both students and parents.  There were almost as many dads and granddads as there were moms and grandmothers.  Some came in laden with school supplies and materials.  Some did not speak English.  Some came in wheelchairs.  I would ask students who their teacher was going to be, many could tell me, others were too young to remember.

But, the aspect that inspired me the most was that EVERY parent, grand parent, aunt, uncle, guardian and child who came into that building brought HOPE with them.  These people brought their most precious treasures with the HOPE that the Bluff Park staff was going to take good care of them, love them, and teach them well.  The HOPE was palpable in that school foyer. God help us all to not disappoint these families.

While I never experienced that exact kind of "meet the teacher" experience as a high school teacher, I have been a middle and high school mom and know that those parents, grandparents, guardians, also HOPE for us to be exceptional for their child.  Sometimes, they even HOPE we will be the miracle person to reach their child because few have been able to.  Sometimes, they HOPE we will inspire their child to succeed because they haven't tasted success in school in a long time.  Many parents HOPE that we will teach, coach and/or direct their students so they are better able to compete for academic scholarships, athletic scholarships, music & art scholarships, military academy appointments, and college acceptance.   Mostly, they HOPE we will help their young person mature and grow into an adult able to successfully take on the 21st century world.  God help us all to not disappoint these families.

I HOPE that one day you can echo me when you say that coming to work for Hoover City Schools is the best professional decision that you ever made.  We are here to support you along this journey!


Thursday, August 13, 2015

First Day of School- August 13, 2015

There are a lot of tired children (and teachers) tonight, but what a great first day of school in Hoover! I saw so many wonderful things in schools across the district today.  Little ones were learning to walk in line for the first time, middle schoolers were struggling to master new locker combinations, and newly licensed teen drivers were driving themselves into high school parking lots for the first time.  I just love the first day of school!

Thank you teachers for showing up in the hundreds on a volunteer basis over the summer for workshops that will push learning in your classroom that extra degree to 212!  Thank you bus drivers for safely transporting thousands of children to and from school!  Thank you to the maintenance and grounds crews that made our schools comfortable and productive today!  Thank you to our custodians who worked so hard to make the floors shine and all the hallways clean!  Thank you to the resource officers who keep our schools safe!  Thank you to the counselors who soothed broken hearts of children (and mothers)!  Thank you to the office workers and school leaders who were ready to step in and get things back on track when the unexpected occurred!

This was a great day for starting the new school year in Hoover City Schools!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

New Response to Intervention (RTI) Procedures

After several years of working with the new Response to Intervention (RTI) approach to assisting struggling learners, the district undertook efforts this summer to revise our RTI academic procedures.  The goal was to simplify procedures and provide more practical guidance to common problems and questions faced by school Problem-Solving Teams.  One mark of success is evident in the fact that the manual was reduced in size from 59 pages in the previous version to only 15 pages.  Each year, a new RTI Assessment and Resource Guide will be published that will specify the assessments and resources that will be supported by the district for that academic year.  Because assessments and resources often change from one year to the next, this approach should reduce the number of times that the manual itself will have to be updated.  We hope that these resources will be useful to teachers and leaders in planning and delivering progressive intervention strategies to assist our struggling learners. 

Follow this link to download a copy of the new RTI manual for Hoover City Schools.

Follow this link to download a copy of the RTI Assessment and Resource Guide for 2015-16.