I know that educators across the state are considering instruction possibilities that reflect the Framework and NGSS vision. Three educators at Westbrook High School are imagining this vision for science in an interdisciplinary unit that integrates science (practices and content) as well as mathematics and ELA.. They are integrating research projects in ecology with Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in ELA and Mathematics. The outcome is that their students demonstrate their ability to apply their understanding of ecology to global issues and generate written evidence-based (data driven) arguments. Amy Troiano, a Westbrook High School Biology teacher, and her colleagues Rhonda Fortin (5-12 Math Coach) and Beth Andersen (Media Specialist) have been collaborating on this effort and agreed to share some thoughts about their work.
While they certainly see their undertaking as a work in progress they offered their thoughts about three questions I posed. I am incredibly thankful to Amy, Beth and Rhonda both for their willingness to experiment and to share their experience with us.
Anita: What have you learned by working together to integrate the CCSS with ideas from the Framework?
Beth: We feel that the most important thing to understand and anticipate is that it takes time to plan and implement a new unit incorporating standards from three different disciplines.
Amy: One lesson I learned is that it takes time to bring kids up to the level that these standards demand; sometimes that learning required more time than we had planned for. But, I feel that the students’ understanding of the disciplinary core ideas (the important ideas) after this project-based integrated unit is deeper than the understanding I have developed with students in more traditional ecology lessons I have previously taught. Another lesson I have learned through this process was that the resources we are currently using will need to be adjusted to reach the new goals for student learning. There were times when Rhonda and I had to create original math problems from scratch to address some of the mathematical concepts in ecology and other times where we had to work hard to find resources for students that were at their level and addressed the concepts in these performance expectations.
Rhonda: There was a huge learning curve for students, as well as us, for transitioning into this project-based integrated learning environment. While you could look at the performance expectations and get there using more traditional teaching strategies, you would have lost the essence of what these standards are addressing: integrating active, complex learning experiences.
Anita : Tell me an important asset for making this collaboration a success.
Amy: I think that the greatest asset for me was the fact that I had people in my building who were ready to roll up their sleeves and dig in! I feel that now that we have been through it once, I will be able to replicate the unit with another class without requiring so much time., but initially the time spent together was essential in making sure we were effectively integrating all three sets of standards.
Beth: The biggest asset for me was that my position as a Media Specialist allowed me the flexibility to devote time to the science classes and work directly with the students. I think it may have been more difficult for me to support Amy without observing her in the classroom and the students levels and abilities on multiple occasions.
Rhonda: My biggest asset was that my position as Math Coach allowed me to set aside time in my day to meet with Amy and Beth and observe classes.
Anita: What questions do you have about NGSS? . . . State support? . . .
Beth: When these standards are implemented it would be useful if there were a website teachers could go to and share ideas, ask questions of one another and pool resources. It could become a place where there is continuous dialogue about what people are doing to meet these standards.
Amy: I agree. During our conversations, I kept wanting to compare notes with other people. I think the best thing the State could do is to support a virtual space for these important conversations to happen.
Rhonda: These conversations need to include a larger community of teachers, not just science departments. We need to look at the student learning of these outcomes across ELA, math, science, library, ELL, special ed, literacy specialists…
Amy: I recommend that teachers who want to prepare for the release and implementation of NGSS first start experimenting with just one unit and one class. Be intentional about incorporating all 3 dimensions in the Framework document, as well as the CCSS for math and ELA. Ask your ELA colleagues, math colleagues and specialists to look at your ideas for the unit and offer suggestions for best practices in meeting these standards.