What Can Kids Do? Raising Expectations for Research

The Grades 3-8 ELA Thursday morning session began with a review of the Norms for Collaboration which ensure that participants support each other in a constructive learning environment. The goal of this session is to learn about the principles of teaching research that underlie the Expeditionary Learning (EL) approach to research in the 3-8 ELA modules. The presenters distributed EL’s “Overview of Research in the NYS Grades 3-8 ELA Modules” which highlights how research supports the six shifts and meets the 3-8 Common Core Learning Standards. Participants then looked at a video to examine how the students in the video are engaged in research. The students were working on a case study where they observed an actual snake in the classroom, which was followed by the creation of individual books about the snake for an outside audience. The students were then going to use the research skills they acquired to do a case study of their own snakes.

Conversations around how expectations can impact students took place. The students in the video all rose to the challenge, acquired new research skills and were enthusiastic about the research and the process.

The second part of the morning was devoted to the Research Process. Participants examined the Common Core standards that deal directly with research: W.7-W.9. They looked at the nuances in vocabulary that distinguish one grade level from the next and how the standards evolve in complexity across the grades. This was followed by the reading of various articles in which the authors make connections between research and reading/writing. The participants at each table read each article and shared their findings with their groups. Discussion centered around the role of teachers’ expectations regarding student writing about research and how integral reading and research are to students’ lives now and in the future.

The materials for this session are available here:


Module Focus: Geometry

The focus of the Wednesday morning session for grades 9-10 math was to explore the topics covered in the first two modules of geometry. Congruence is covered in Module 1. The biggest change in geometry with respect to congruence is that two geometric figures are defined to be congruent if there is a sequence of rigid motions that carries one on to the other. Rigid motions are first introduced in grade 8 and teachers might want to take a look at Grade 8 Module 2 and Grade 8 Module 3 to see how the properties of rigid motions were explored. Participants discussed how they currently characterize transformations, and most agreed that they associate transformations with a set of rules and they tend to be very coordinate based. Students now need to develop a deeper understanding of transformations and their purpose without the use of the coordinate plane.

Module 1 starts off with 5 lessons on constructions. Students will be performing the same constructions as in the past, but the focus is on not just the figure being constructed, but the steps behind the construction. Students will need precision with their vocabulary, as they will need to be able to communicate clearly the steps behind the construction for all to understand. Focus is on the construction and instruction.

Topic C in Module 1 covers the transformations and rigid motions studied in 8th grade. The progression of intuitive, to the concrete, to formally defining a transformation is developed. Participants took a look at this progression with the concept of reflection in lesson 14 where students explore what they notice about the line of reflection and perpendicular bisectors. They then tie this exploration back to their work in the opening lessons that dealt with constructing the perpendicular bisectors and angle bisectors. Students are then introduced to the formal definition of reflections.

Topic D introduces the concept of congruence through rigid motion. Lesson 22 is the presentation of the proof by rigid motion for the SAS criteria. Students need to know the properties that are preserved with the transformations that are rigid motions (i.e. distance preserving, angle preserving) and need to be able to communicate these properties while writing proofs that involve the use of rigid motions. Once the congruence criteria (i.e. SAS, SSS, HL) have been proven, they then can be used in proofs for congruence as we saw in lesson 26.

Topic G reviews the content of the modules and reinforces the purpose behind the axiomatic system. A math teacher’s story was told: “We have to cover several chapters from the textbook and there are approximately 40 formulas. I may offer you a deal: you will learn just four formulas and I will teach you how to get the rest out of these formulas.” The students gladly agreed.

Module 2 focuses on similarity and right triangle trigonometry. Scale drawings are first introduced in grade 7 and teachers might want to take a look at the content covered in Grade 7 Module 1 for gap purposes. Scale drawings are approached in the geometry module with two methods, the ratio and parallel method. Participants had fun with the parallel method and using the set square to generate parallel lines. After scale drawings are explored, students go on to study the properties of dilations which sets the tone for proving the similarity criteria for triangles (AA, SAS and SSS).

The remainder of Module 2 focuses on right triangle trigonometry. Lessons 16, 21 and 25 set the foundation for the trig functions without officially using the language. These lessons explore the internal relationships within and between similar triangles and how the ratios of corresponding sides can be used to find missing lengths.

The materials for this session are available here:

Supporting Student Growth

The Grades 9-12 ELA Wednesday morning session focused on teachers being able to identify what students can and cannot do with respect to a given standard and identifying next steps and areas for supporting student growth. Teachers began by talking about barriers to using student work as a form of data, and the impact that a teacher can have on students’ ability to read closely, write well, speak and listen effectively and think critically. Teachers talked about not having the time to properly work with individual students, focusing on what students can’t do rather than what they can do, being willing to change the way they do things in their classrooms, and making an effort to teach individual skills rather than focusing on test preparation.

Teachers were presented with the Logic Model: If we analyze our assessments and a particular standard, articulate a learning need in terms of the standard, identify a high impact root cause and create a plan to address the cause, then the student’s skill level will improve. We cannot make an impact on what students do until we thoroughly understand what they can’t do.

To learn how to use the Logic Model, participants looked at student work from the Grades 9-12 ELA modules. This began with examination of the assessment map from Module 10.1 to understand the progression of standards RL.9-10.2 and RI.9-10.2 over the course of the module. Groups then analyzed student work against a rubric focusing on what the student can do in respect to the standard and what the student is struggling with so that teachers could then develop a plan to address the student’s needs. This discussion continued in the afternoon session.

The materials for this session are available here:


Argument Writing: Going Deeper with Teachers

For the second part of the afternoon, the grades 9-12 ELA session broke into two groups: teachers and coaches/administrators. Both groups continued looking at Module 9.4 (Sugar Changed the World) but with different purposes. The coaches focused on planning a coaching cycle for teachers to support student reading, writing and thinking in the classroom through this module.

Teachers began with a discussion about maintaining rigor when supporting struggling learners. The consensus seemed to be that when students struggle, teachers shouldn’t “rescue” their students; they need to support through scaffolding, adapting or accommodating. This is beneficial to students so that they don’t come to rely on being “saved” by their teachers. This will result in greater independence, empowerment and perseverance in their learning.

The teachers talked about their priorities when making adaptations to their lessons and found that they had common goals although their students’ needs are diverse. It was widely acknowledged that engaging students is key to helping them interact with and express their knowledge. The conversation then turned to thinking about when certain activities qualified as a scaffold, adaptation or accommodation and in what context they would be acceptable. One finding was that teachers have to be selective about which scaffold to use and when in order to maintain the rigor of the lesson.

The focus of the session then turned toward supporting language development in English language learners. There are 5 levels of language progression from entering to commanding that can be found on EngageNY at:

Teachers can use these tables to figure out where their students are in their acquisition of English and then figure out which scaffolds will best support these students in the classroom.

This led to an activity where teachers used a Class Profile to determine what kinds of supports they would need to implement to best serve the needs of their students. These profiles included students at varying levels of academic achievement including ELLs and students with varying disabilities. Teachers then looked at some lessons from Module 9.4 and talked about which lesson they would adapt for the students in their class profile and which supports they would implement in order to meet their students’ needs.

This was a very informative session and many teachers are looking forward to teaching this module to their students next year.

The materials for this session are available here:


Modeling with Equations and Functions

In today’s Algebra I session, participants explored the lessons in Module 5 of Algebra I, “A Synthesis of Modeling with Equations and Functions.” The module is packed with experiences that pull together the cohesiveness of the topics covered throughout the year and is loaded with application problems that develop fluency, but not computational fluency alone. This module drives home the fact that students need to be fluent in pulling their prior knowledge to the forefront in a variety of settings. This can be a challenging and interesting task to incorporate into the design of a lesson. Some key problems/exercises that participants looked at were the following:

Lesson 1, Exercise 2:
Students examine a graph of a function and recognize the function type and state the parent function. Students then need to be able to identify what transformation took place to the parent function to produce the graph, a more challenging task and perhaps one that students will struggle with. Lastly, students need to write the equation of the function. Lesson 2, exercise 2 had some concrete examples of the same nature.

Lesson 2, Exercise 4:
This exercise was an excellent example of allowing students the opportunity to communicate their conceptual understanding and critique the reasoning of others.  This problem is highly recommended and generated great discussion amongst the crowd.

Lessons progressed through problems that had students analyzing data sets, verbal descriptions and graphs.

Lesson 4, Exercise 2:
This exercise provided an opportunity for students to determine what type of function best models the data displayed in a graph. The graph appears to be a quadratic, but as participants learned at the last NTI, looks can be deceiving. As it turned out, the graph was quadratic and it provided an opportunity for the sharing of great techniques of solution. These strategies included solving a system of equations, using the second differences (common theme of the day) to find the leading coefficient for the quadratic, and estimating the other root and working backwards to find the quadratic. This problem was well received because of the opportunity it presented for students to be successful.

Another good example of a modeling problem was the opening exercise discussed for Lesson 5 that involved exercise time and rest time for interval training. We quickly learned as a group that part of the modeling process is learning how to handle any assumptions that are made and determining how those assumptions will affect the desired outcome.

Finally, participants looked at problems that involved modeling exercises from sequences and investigated the question: should we believe in patterns? Participants examined an interesting example that involved the appearance of a pattern from points on a circle that crashes after the 6th term. The example reinforced that a pattern can disappear.

One of the biggest takeaways of the session is that students need to be able to recognize whether they have enough information to be sure that the function they have created is an accurate representation of the data being described.

The presenters touched briefly on how to support learning throughout this module and any other module. They shared three key points:

  1. Be attentive to language. Teachers need to be clear with their mathematical vocabulary. They need to accurate and precise with the mathematical language being used in the classroom, so this can transfer to the students.
  2. Teachers need to remember that conceptual knowledge precedes fluency.
  3. Conceptual understanding is achieved through strong questioning techniques, progressing from the concrete-pictorial-abstract, and knowing and showing the progression of the content.

The materials for this session are available here:

Argument Writing

One of today’s ELA sessions, “Argument Writing Introduction,” focused on experiencing and scaffolding the writing demands in Grade 9 Module 4 (“Module 9.4”).

Module 9.4 was designed so that students could build their skills in argument writing using tools to evaluate and synthesize the arguments made in the central and supplementary texts. The central text is Sugar Changed the World, an informational text about the history of the sugar industry. The students first closely read the texts to see strong examples of argument writing. Once they analyze the texts and understand the argumentative writing style, students will use that knowledge to form an argument based on new texts and write their own final performance task. For this performance task, students must present a claim and use evidence from the texts to back up the claim. In order to build the skills necessary to be successful on the final assessment, students are assessed throughout the module on the various skills that they learn from the model texts.

Participants in this session began by engaging in a performance task where they read an excerpt from the central text and an article called “How Your Addiction to Fashion Kills” in order to build an argument about how low cost fashion relies on harsh labor practices. They annotated for author’s claims and evidence and then used the Argument Outline Tool from the module to help plan their individual responses to the prompt: Who bears the most responsibility for ensuring that clothes are ethically manufactured? Participants had a discussion about the strategies they found themselves using to read and annotate the texts. They then shared their Argument Outline Tools to talk about claims and evidence and any possible counter-claims that could be found in the texts.

Participants were introduced to the concept of “bottlenecks” which are points where the learning of a significant number of students is interrupted. These are obstacles that students may face as they try to complete a task or acquire a new skill. As the session progresses, educators are thinking about the bottlenecks that their students may encounter on their way to academic success.

The remainder of the session focused on supports and adaptations for Module 9.4 at the lesson level. Groups examined relationships between text excerpts, standards, tools and the mid-unit assessment in order to analyze the scaffolding and sequencing of the first half of Unit 1. Participants then met a teacher who piloted these lessons in her own 9th grade classes this month. She brought samples of her students’ writing from the unit including the various tools and writing assessments. She also showed a video of her class using one of the tools from the module to form claims based on the same article participants had read earlier. Students encountered a bottleneck where they were not able to distinguish between central claims and supporting evidence. The teacher recognized this and talked her students through it so that they were able to understand what was being asked of them.

Participants had great discussions about the texts, tools and the student samples to help them think about how they will turnkey and implement this module in their own schools and classrooms.

The materials for this session are available here:

Examining Student Work

PCG is encouraging teacher feedback about the Grades 9-12 modules. Comments are welcome at: http://tinyurl.com/ModulesNTI

The ELA Grades 9-12 morning session, “Introduction for Experienced Module Users,” focused on how the approach to examining student work impacts teacher learning. Participants began by discussing how an internal or external locus of control can affect teacher learning, student learning and school culture. The conversation focused on how perception of control over student learning varies and can impact student learning and achievement.

Following the discussion, participants read an article called “Looking at Student Work” by Angie Deuel, et al. and talked about the argument made in the article. Participants discussed different approaches to looking at the data from student assessments. When educators look at the specifics of the data, they can focus instruction on what the students need. This would be a shift from looking at data to “prove that students have learned” and to looking at data to “improve student learning.” Classroom instruction would have to change to reflect this shift which would affect what students learn and how they think resulting in deeper understanding and better performance on assessments. One of the goals over the next two days is to build this mindset in ourselves and then in our home districts.