STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO FORMAL OBSERVATION REPORT
OF LESSON ON 02/16/07
by MS UNTAMED
On February 16, 2007, Mr. R. Z., Assistant Principal in charge of Science at Intermediate School 999, observed class 7D in classroom 3___ during period 8 (2:04 to 2:49). On March 20, 2007, I received a Formal Observation Report in which Mr. Z described the lesson from his point of view and then gave it an unsatisfactory rating.
I disagree with Mr. Z’s version of the lesson and with the unsatisfactory rating.
Education is a process, not an event. Therefore, I would like to discuss the background of this lesson so that it can be seen in context.
Beginning on the first day of school, students in all my classes, including 708 had been doing hands on inquiry experiments. Each experiment had been written up as a Lab Report. This is a list of the lab reports that my students had done previous to this lesson.
(dates may vary by one or two days).
9/6/06 What is a solution?
9/12/06 Why does salt dissolve in water?
9/14/06 Will ice melt faster in tap water or in salt water?
9/18/06 Which has a lower temperature: frozen salt water or frozen tap water.
9/27/06 If we mix 10 mL of salt into 90 mL of water, what will the volume of the
10/03 06 If we mix 10 g of salt with 90 g of water, what will the mass of the
10/24/06 Can soap float?
10/31/06 Are pennies 100% copper?
11/15/06 What will happen if we connect a hot object and a cold object with a metal
11/22/06 How does the temperature of water affect the speed with which a drop of
dye moves through water?
1/11/07 How do plants make their own food?
1/19/07 How does __________ affect seed germination?
2/01/07 How can we measure the pH of a solution?
2/01/07 How can we design an experiment that uses the pH test?
2/07/07 How does respiration affect limewater?
I had begun in September by designing the whole experiment and having my students follow the procedure and gather data. However, as the year progressed, I slowly added parts of the experiment that they had to plan and execute on their own. By February, most students were capable of designing an experiment after they had been given a problem. However, they still needed practice at identifying and isolating variables. In my experience this is the aspect of the science project that gives my students the most trouble. In order to help them isolate variables , I gave them the Project Template and had them use it to analyze experiments that they had already done and to plan new ones.
During the week of February 12, I designed an “Idea Fair”. Eight groups would be working on separate experiments. During this week, I wanted them to start firming up their ideas for their independent projects, but I wanted to make sure that their projects were controlled experiments and that they identified the variables.
Mr. Z. begins by stating the Objective and Agenda that were posted. I have a few changes to make with regard to format and content.
OBJECTIVE: SWBAT plan their science projects
MINILESSON: Project Description Template
Represent the project as a simple Drawing ________________ VS _________________
Hypothesis: If I ________________ then _______. I think this way because ________________.
Independent Variable: _________________
Dependent Variable: ___________________
Controlled Variables: __________________
Problem: How will _____________ affect _______________?
independent variable dependent variable
GROUP WORK: Fill in template for an experiment
SHARE: Plan how you and your partners will work on the project during the vacation
HOMEWORK: Bring in project written in lab report form by February 26
Mr. Z’S CRITICISM OF THE OBJECTIVE/AGENDA/LESSON PLAN
It is the teacher’s professional responsibility to adequately plan for, have readily available, and use a lesson plan during each lesson. At our meeting on Monday, February 12, 2007, we discussed your set of lesson plans for the week (copy attached) The observed lesson did not follow any of these specific lesson plans. You state it had become necessary to modify your plans for class 708 due to a building evacuation occurring on Monday, February 12, 2007. In the future, should the need arise to modify a planned lesson, it is necessary to create and follow a new lesson plan specific for that period.
The posted objective was “SWBAT plan their science projects.” This objective is vague and general. As per our pre-observation discussion of the Science Professional Development Matrix (copy attached), the agenda should contain a focused daily teaching point (explicit objective) reached by using a strategy or tool. There was neither skill nor strategy specified in this objective.
MS UNTAMED’S RESPONSE TO CRITICISM OF OBJECTIVE /AGENDA/LESSONPLAN
On Monday, February 12, 2007, Mr. Z and I were in the middle of a pre-observation conference when a bomb threat was received by telephone and the building had to be evacuated. During that conference, I had given Mr. Z my lesson plans for the week, including the Goals of the Week. To my knowledge, my lessons, including the objectives, had been approved.
I had already realized that some classes would lose one or more lessons, because Tuesday was a half-day due to parent /teacher conferences. The bomb threat took more time away from some classes. Class 708 lost the most time of all--three out of five periods. However, the main goal was for students to become familiar with the Design Template that I wanted them to use. The week’s lesson plans were designed to take students through this template over five days. However, it was possible to take students through the template in one or two days.
Mr. Z’s assertion that I should create a lesson plan specific for every period—and rewrite it every night if necessary-- suggests to me that he wants me to write a script for each period, and follow it word for word. In my opinion, insisting on a script with specific wording and a specific timeline stifles scientific inquiry and cannot coexist with the discovery method of teaching science. The administration of I.S. 9999 has a major contradiction between its goals (inquiry science) and its methods (micromanagement of lesson plans to the point of scripting).
Mr. Z asserts that the objective was unsatisfactory. However, he does not restate the objective in a “satisfactory” way, so I will try to do so.
SWBAT use a project template (THE TOOL) to identify the problem, hypothesis, independent variable, dependent variable, and controlled variables of a controlled experiment (THE EXPLICIT OBJECTIVE).
Is that “satisfactory”?
Is it necessary?
No. My students did great science projects anyway. It is the students’ work that Mr. Z should be looking at-- Not the exact wording of my objectives. Did Mr. Z ever ask to see my students’ final science projects? NO. Did Mr. Z ever ask to see my students’ portfolios? NO.
By the end of the year, my students had planned, performed, and written at least ten controlled experiments in correct lab report format. But who cares? According to Mr. Z, I’m an unsatisfactory teacher because my objectives are too vague.
MINILESSON 2:05 – 2:21
Mr. Z’S VERSION OF THE MINILESSON SEGMENT
As I entered the room at 2:05, you explained that students would first work in class groups, then change into project groups during the period. You stated that you would be using the design template, and described examples of “____________ vs ___________ experiments. Included were muddy garbage vs wet garbage, aluminum foil vs paper and thermometer on the ceiling vs on the floor. The class was observed to sit passively during this time; some students were writing in their notebooks.
You stated that over the vacation, students were to create lab reports, and save the project board for the final presentation. You reinforced that the project must be in the ___________ vs _______________ format, and that if necessary, you would provide assistance to students in formatting their ideas in that manner. At 2:15 you distributed the “Urban Advantage Grow Rubric.” Student volunteers each read aloud components of Section II.
MS UNTAMED’S VERSION OF THE MINILESSON SEGMENT
As Mr. Z entered the room, I was reviewing what we had done during the last lesson which had taken place on Wednesday, February 14 during 8th period. During that lesson I had introduced the Project Template and we had practiced using it. I had modeled its use by demonstrating one of the experiments in the Idea Fair and students had then practiced using it with one of the another experiments. I was reminding them about three experiments that we had analyzed using the Project Template.
The first was “How long does it take a material to decompose? A controlled experiment is really a comparison-contrast. There are two experimental groups that are the same in every way except for one aspect. This one aspect is called the independent variable. By having students express the experiments as _______ vs ________, I was helping them identify the independent variable. In wet garbage vs dry garbage, we were testing to see how the presence of water affected the decomposition rate of garbage. Water is the independent variable and rate of decomposition is the dependent variable.
The second problem was, “How do insulators affect heat transfer”? By stating this as it as aluminum foil vs paper , we were isolating the one difference between the two experimental groups.
The third problem was: “How does height affect temperature”?
i.e. thermometer on the ceiling vs thermometer on the floor.
Then I explained that, for further practice, I wanted them to go to their journals and go back to one of the ten controlled experiments that we had done as a class and use the project template to break it down into its variables.
MR. Z’S CRITICISMS OF THE MINILESSON
Students were observed to sit passively during the minilesson, without a task assigned.
MS UNTAMED'S RESPONSE TO THE CRITICISMS OF THE MINILESSON
“Students were observed to sit passively.” Who was the observer? How many students were sitting passively? Who were they? How do we know they were passive? What is the criteria for passivity? What task should have been assigned in order for this to be a satisfactory minilesson? Is the purpose of this report to accumulate evidence for an unsatisfactory rating, or is it to clearly suggest specific improvements that could have made the lesson satisfactory in the eyes of the supervisor?
GROUP WORK 2:22 – 2:34
Mr. Z’S VERSION OF THE GROUP WORK SEGMENT
At 2:21, you asked the groups to discuss experiments that they had previously completed, and write down at least one idea for a _________ vs ____________ experiment. Students were observed to take out lab books and engage in discussions about previous science fair projects. Projects mentioned included: “Electricity; temperature; food; water; hours of sleep/energy; flashlight batteries.” At 2:25 you wrote due dates of 2/26 for lab report and 3/12 for project on the board. You visited each group, monitoring and speaking with students. A few students including R.C. and V.J. were observed off task or sitting idly.
MS UNTAMED’S VERSION OF THE GROUP WORK SEGMENT
Mr. Z acknowledges that most students were doing their work. They were engaged in accountable talk. They were working in their lab books. We have two names of students who were off task. If Mr. Z named two, why didn’t he name the others, or at least give the number. How did Mr. Z know that the students were off task? How did Mr. Z know that the students were sitting idly and not just thinking?
MR. Z’S CRITICISMS OF THE GROUP WORK SEGMENT
Incorporate questioning techniques designed to facilitate active participation. Examples include: “Everyone think of; each person find; all students come up with.”
Students were not held accountable for the work period task beyond unrecorded teacher observation.
At the start of the work period, students could engage in a “Turn and Talk: to review and prepare information prior to its application in an appropriate task designed to increase higher order thinking opportunities and extensions.
During the work period, each student can be assigned a group role (recorder, timekeeper, presenter, noise monitor).
MS UNTAMED’S RESPONSE TO CRITICISMS OF THE GROUP WORK SEGMENT
All students were to fill in the project template using one of the experiments that we had done that year. They wrote the information in their science journals, making them accountable to the teacher, to each other, and to themselves. This was a higher order thinking assignment. Students were engaged in analyzing past projects in order to find the variables. The groups were not large enough to assign group roles. Pairs worked together to identify the variables.
SHARE: 2:34 – 2:41
MR. Z’S VERSION OF THE SHARE SEGMENT
At 2:34, you allowed students to change their seats to sit with students with whom they would be working on their project. Approximately ten students changed seats. You instructed the class to exchange phone numbers and set up dates to work on their projects over the upcoming mid-winter recess. You circulated amongst the groups monitoring and discussing ideas. By 2:41, most groups were observed to have written one or two possible experiments following the ________ vs ____________ format. I left the room at 2:46, two minutes before the first bell.
MS UNTAMED’S VERSION OF THE SHARE SEGMENT
If Mr. Z acknowledges that most students by the end of the share period had one or two possible ideas for a science project, then he is stating that we met our primary goal. In addition all students shared phone numbers. All students received my approval for the projects they came up with. Why was this lesson unsatisfactory?
MR. Z’S CRITICISMS OF THE SHARE SEGMENT
This lesson included no class share, assessment, summary or closing. Incorporate questioning techniques designed to facilitate active participation.
During the share, a presentation rubric or checklist could be used, or students could create a question or brief comment for each presentation.
Engage your classes in evaluative share-out and closings to provide evidence that the focused teaching point was achieved.
MS UNTAMED’S RESPONSES TO THE CRITICISMS OF THE SHARE SEGMENT
Is Mr. Z saying that any lesson that does not have a whole group share segment is an unsatisfactory lesson? This seems rather dogmatic to me. Why can’t the assessment be made by the teacher as she goes from group to group? What if the students are still involved in group work and interrupting them would not allow them to finish the task? What if finishing the task takes priority over sharing? It was the day before the vacation. I wanted to make sure that partners and groups had a vacation plan. I assessed that they did.
In the end all except two (V.J. and one other boy) finished a science project.
IT IS THE FINAL WORK PRODUCT THAT DETERMINES WHETHER THE LESSON WAS SATISFACTORY OR NOT.