Friday, August 31, 2007

Bite the Bullet. Spew the U.

Someone has asked me, “Well, did you finally get a U-rating or not?”

The answer is—Yes. Of course. That was the purpose of all the negative letters and observations. But how can I chronicle a U-rating without putting it into writing?

So let me make it official:

Teachers are rated as Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory in the following areas. Here are the ratings the principal gave me at the end of the 2006-2007 year.

A. Personal and Professional Qualities

1. Attendance and Punctuality--S
2. Personal Appearance--S
3. Voice, speech and use of English--S
4. Professional attitude and professional growth--U
5. Resourcefulness and initiative--U

B. Pupil Guidance and Instruction

1. Effect on character and personality growth of pupils--S
2. Control of class--S
3. Maintenance of wholesome classroom atmosphere--S
4. Planning and preparation of work--U
5. Sill in adapting instruction to individual needs and capacities--U
6. Effective use of appropriate methods and techniques--U
7. Skill in making class lessons interesting to pupils--U
8. Extent of pupil participation in the class and school program--U
9. Evidence of pupil growth in knowledge, skills, appreciations and attitude--U
10. Attention to pupil health, safety and general welfare--S

C. Classroom or Shop Management

1. Attention to physical conditions--S
2. Housekeepting and appearance of room--S
3. Care of equipment by teacher and children--S
4. Attention to records and reports--S
5. Attention to routine matters--S

D. Participation in School and Community Activities

1. Maintenance of good relations with other teachers and supervisors--U
2. Effort to establish and maintain goo relationships with parents--S
3. Willingness to accept special assignments—S


Sunday, August 19, 2007

UNinformed and Inflexible

LESSON 05/29/07

On May 29, 2007 Assistant Principal I.T. observed my science lesson with class 702, an honors class. Ms. I.T. found this lesson to be unsatisfactory. I disagree with her evaluation.


Ms. I.T. has misquoted me and has presented a very garbled version of the lesson. Her version shows fundamental misconceptions about the science inquiry process. I find that administrators who have not been scientists or science teachers often do have misconceptions, because they themselves were probably never taught science as inquiry, and they may not have used inquiry in their own disciplines. In November, 2006 I made an effort to inform administrators about science inquiry by giving Principal S.T. my lesson plan template aligned with the New York State Learning Standards for Science. (see attachment).

Most of us are aware of what is called “The Scientific Method”. Anyone who has ever done a science project has had to list these steps: Problem, Hypothesis, Materials, Procedure, Results, Conclusion. These steps may or may not reflect inquiry on the part of the student.

I tell my students “In science, we don’t test people, we test ideas.” True inquiry allows students to confront the ideas that they have been forming about nature since they were born. For almost every question that students are asked, there is already an idea in their heads about what the answer may be. Many of these ideas are partially or totally inaccurate—what we call misconceptions. Research has shown that these incorrect concepts will hang on in the mind despite the best efforts of teachers to explain them away. The student may learn to regurgitate the right facts on a test, but two or three months later, a similar test will reveal that old, incorrect ideas have grown back in and pushed recently memorized facts out of reach. On the other hand, research has also shown that if students state their ideas in writing, and then test them in an experiment, these young scientists are much more likely to relinquish the idea that was proven incorrect, and to permanently substitute the idea that was supported by the evidence.

The scientific method is a powerful learning strategy, because it operates on the principle that me must compare our ideas to a measurable and repeatable reality. In order to test an idea, we must begin by stating very clearly what that idea is. We call this the Hypothesis.

Traditional science education does not usually ask students to state their preconceived ideas before teaching them facts about nature. Many would argue correctly that we have discovered so many facts, that it is impossible to have students go back and discover them all, one by one, through the inquiry method. However, we can choose the most important ideas; the great theories and laws of science. We can also choose those ideas that go against common sense (a 10 pound ball and a 100 pound ball fall at the same speed). These are the concepts that students should learn by first stating a hypothesis and then testing that hypothesis by performing an experiment.

By the end of the lesson under discussion, I wanted my students to state a hypothesis about how blood flows between the heart, lungs, and brain. However, that hypothesis would not be stated in the traditional form, If……., then, ………because. Instead, my students would draw a flow chart, showing their preconceptions of the direction of flow and the connections between one organ and another.

Before committing themselves, however, I wanted them to have the opportunity to explore different options. I therefore designed a simple interactive model that would allow them to easily connect and disconnect the organs. The human body was represented by a drawing of the head and torso on chart paper. Each one of the organs: brain, heart, and lung were represented by a plastic baggie with a label. The heart was divided in half by staples and the right and left sides of the heart were labeled. Red beads represented oxygen rich blood flowing through blood vessels and blue yarn represented oxygen poor blood flowing through blood vessels. Students would attach the heart, lung, and brain to the chart paper. They would manipulate the red beads and blue yarn to show how the blood flows until they reached a group consensus and then they would draw their hypothesis. I expected the lesson to take 2 periods. The beginning of the first period would be taken up by discussing the challenge , the model, and fundamental facts of the circulatory system. Students would then explore the different options allowed by the model. During the second period, groups would finalize their hypothesis, draw their version of the blood flow, and present their hypotheses.


As I entered the room at 10:05 AM you were asking the students questions. The students had their textbook pages open to 65-69 which were the pages they had to read for the DO Now. The students read for about four minutes.


For the DO NOW, I instructed the students to scan pp 65-69 in the textbook Human Biology. I agree with the Ms. X’s version of the opening as she entered the classroom.




You asked the students,”How can a brain cell live without oxygen?” No one answered the question so you answered it by stating, “The brain cell can live 30 seconds to one minute without oxygen”. You asked, “What carries oxygen to the brain?” A student responded , arteries or veins. You then continued to ask, “What makes blood red?” A student responded, oxygen. You then asked, “What converts it really red?” No one answered the question. You then responded to the question. At about 10:15 AM you told the student that they have a challenge today. You then gave each student a sheet with facts about how blood is carried through the heart, lung and brain. You then held up a sandwich bag containing an index card labeled brain. You showed the index card to the class and stated loudly “Brain” as you pointed to the brain. You then placed it on the outline of the human head with a thumb tack. You held up another sandwich bag containing an index card labeled L-Left and R-Right for the heart and placed that on the Torso. You had a sandwich bag with an index card labeled lung and you placed it on the Torso. You then had red beads representing rich blood cells and blue yarn representing poor blood cells. You explained to the students that the blue is not the true color of the poor blood cells. It is really purplish red. You then called on individual students to read the facts.


Ms. I.T’s version of the minilesson segment is inaccurate and incomplete. Ms. I.T. claims that from 10:09 to 10:15, a period of six minutes, this exchange occurred.

Teacher: How can a brain cell live without oxygen?
Students: No response
Teacher: “The brain cell can live 30 seconds to one minute without oxygen.”

Teacher: What carries oxygen to the brain?
Students: Arteries and veins.

Teacher: What makes blood red?
Student: Oxygen

Teacher: What converts the blood really red?
Students: No response.
Teacher: Responds to question.

It is obvious that the account of the first six minutes of the minilesson is incomplete, because it takes less than a minute to read the script that Ms. I.T. has written for me.

What is more, the questions are not written as I asked them. At this point a tape recording of the lesson would help a great deal in reconstructing the first six minutes of the minilesson. In the absence of this impartial evidence, I will attempt to give a more coherent version of the beginning of the minilesson.

Teacher: How long can a brain cell live without oxygen?
Student: 3 minutes?
Teacher: Brain cells can live about 30 seconds to one minute without oxygen.

Teacher: How does oxygen get to the brain? What carries oxygen to the brain?
Student: Arteries and veins.

Teacher: What do arteries and veins carry?
Student: Blood

Teacher: What makes blood red?
Student: Oxygen

Teacher: Oxygen is part of the answer. Red blood cells are already red before they take in
oxygen. When oxygen mixes with a red substance in the blood cell, it
becomes a brighter red.

Teacher: So does anyone know what red blood cells are composed of?
What really makes them red?
Students: No answer

Teacher: The substance is called hemoglobin. It’s a red pigment that has a lot of iron in it. Oxygen easily attaches to this substance and can just as easily detach. So as the red blood cells flow through the lungs their hemoglobin takes up the oxygen. Then as the blood cells flow through the body, they give up the oxygen to the other body cells, including the brain cells. As red blood cells give up the oxygen they are still red, but they become a darker, deeper red.

There were two purposes served by this question and answer period. First of all, I wanted to arouse the curiosity of these very motivated students (How long can a brain cell live without oxygen?). Secondly, I wanted to assess their previous knowledge of the subject . There is a very strongly rooted misconception among students that blood is normally blue, but that it turns red when mixed with oxygen. It was apparent to me that many students agreed with the boy who answered “oxygen” to the question, “Why is blood red”. I made an effort to explain away this misconception. Students also failed to name “blood cells” as the carriers of oxygen; naming instead, the blood vessels that are simply pathways through which the blood travels. This is like saying that the streets carry the mail instead the mail trucks.

At approximately 10:15 AM, I introduced the challenge of the day. I told students that they would be using a model to figure out the heart/lung/brain connection. There were certain rules that they should take into consideration when making their model. I gave each student a list of “Rules”

1. The blood can’t move unless the heart pumps it.
2. The heart has a wall that separates the right side from the left. Blood never passes directly between the two sides.
3. Blood vessels are connected to the top and bottom of each side of the heart.
4. Blood enters through the top and exits through the bottom.
5. Blood leaves the heart through the arteries.
6. Blood returns to the heart through veins.
7. Veins are connected to arteries by very thin vessels called capillaries.
8. As the red blood cells move through the body, they give up their oxygen to the cells.
9. Oxygen-poor blood returns to the top right side of the heart.
10. The heart must pump oxygen-poor blood to the lungs where the red blood cells will pick up more oxygen.
11. After the blood has picked up the oxygen, it must be pumped to the rest of the body cells.

We read the facts together, and then I introduced them to the model that they would be using. An outline of the human head and torso was fixed to the chalkboard with magnets. I showed the class a baggie marked “Brain” and then placed it at the top of the outlined head. I used a small magnet to keep it in place, not a thumbtack, as Ms X alleges. I then placed a baggie marked “Heart” near the center of outlined chest. I told the students that our model would have only one lung—pretend he had the other removed, and I placed the baggie marked “Lung” to the left of the heart. I showed the students the blue yarn that would represent oxygen poor blood flowing through blood vessels and the red beads that represented oxygen rich blood flowing through blood vessels.

At this point, it was necessary to insist that even though oxygen poor blood was traditionally represented as blue—the true color of oxygen poor blood is red.

I then gave students the starting point: The blue yarn (oxygen poor blood) would enter at the top right side of the heart. Then I referred students back to the rules. If the blood is entering the top of the heart, where will it flow next (To the bottom and out). Will the blood gain oxygen before it leaves the heart? (No. It gets oxygen in the lungs). So, as the blood flows into the lungs is it still oxygen poor? (Yes). So do I use blue yarn or red beads to show oxygen entering the lung? (blue yarn). As blood exits the lung, will it be oxygen rich or oxygen poor? (oxygen rich) Then should I still be using the blue yarn? (No. we switch to the red beads).

After that introduction I challenged students to continue the flow, making sure that oxygen rich blood reaches the brain, and oxygen poor blood gets taken away from the brain. I reminded them that they had plenty of time. They had the option of using the book or trying to work it out with logic only. Although there was only one right answer for the human body, they were welcome to come with another acceptable answer. As long as their model showed a logical means to get oxygen to the brain, it would be correct.

The challenge was: “Keep the Brain Alive”


During the lesson, when you asked the students, “How can a brain cell live without oxygen?” and what converts it really red? You answered the questions without giving students the opportunity to respond. This demonstrates that the student needed prior knowledge and proper “wait time” to think about how to answer the question. In the future please, allow for proper “wait time”. You must make sure that you differentiate your instruction and questions to meet the needs of all students in your class.

Although you presented a mini-lesson, it failed to achieve its objective. You did not model for the students what they were clearly expected to do and where they were going to get their information. The objective of a minilesson is to model and/or explicitly teach students the strategy to be used during their group work or independent work time.

This lesson needs to be planned with more exciting and meaningful activities. Ten minutes were spent on reading and discussing the fact sheet you handed to the students and less time was spent on the challenge. Therefore, the students did not accomplish the stated objective. Try to carefully plan creative activities to promote effective learning.


Ms. I.T. mentions certain fundamental rules that teachers should take into consideration when questioning their students:
1. Do not answer your own questions.
2. Allow “wait time” so that students have time to think before answering.
3. Ask students questions that they are able to answer from prior knowledge.

While I agree with these rules, I would like to emphasize that these are guidelines and not dogma. It should be possible to break these rules under certain circumstances, such as the ones stated below.

1. Students are highly motivated to learn, and have good self-esteem with regard to academics.
2. The teacher is conducting a short, informal assessment of prior knowledge and understanding before giving information.
3. Students attend after-school enrichment classes and may have additional background knowledge.
4. Students are being invited to solve an intellectual challenge or puzzle, where too much prior information is an insult to the intelligence of the student.

This was an honors class, and students did not mind being asked questions that they could not immediately answer. It didn’t make them feel stupid, disrespected, or frustrated. It simply made them feel challenged to find the answer. What is more, some of the students attended weekend biology classes at Long Island City High School and they had prior knowledge that I thought they might be able to share with the class. I find that if I throw out a question that is then answered by a student from previous knowledge learned outside the class, other students will remember the information just as well as if I give it to them.

Ms. I.T. wants me to differentiate and meet the needs of all students by giving them prior knowledge and sufficient wait time to be able to answer correctly. In other words, I can’t ask a question unless the students are guaranteed to be successful in their answers. This might be true for struggling students who get upset when they are asked a question that they cannot answer. They have poor self esteem and do not always take well to challenging questions. However, class 702 was a group of highly successful students. By May 29 they had developed sufficient trust in me to know that I was not asking questions that they didn’t know just to make myself look intelligent and them look stupid. I had good reason to think that some might know the answers already.

Ms I.T. then states another rule to be followed: The goal of the minilesson is to clearly model what the students are supposed to do. I agree with this is often a primary goal of the minilesson.

I am confused by Ms. I.T.’s statement: Although you presented a mini-lesson, it failed to achieve its objective….The objective of a minilesson is to model and/or explicitly teach students the strategy to be used during their group work or independent work time.

I believe that I clearly demonstrated how to use the different parts of the model to show the flow of blood. I did not give them the answers to the challenge, because if I did, it wouldn’t be a challenge. I would like Ms. I.T. to clarify exactly how she would introduce an inquiry challenge to a group of honors students in a way that would meet the objectives of a minilesson.

I am sorry that Ms. I.T. did not find my lesson exciting and meaningful. Perhaps Ms. I.T. could direct me to a better hands-on inquiry lesson about the direction of blood flow between the heart, the lungs, and the body. I am always looking for more exciting and meaningful ways of teaching science concepts.


At 10:25 AM you started the group work period, you stated to the students “You are going to problem solve but not finish. You are not going to meet the objective today. You are going to continue for homework and I tomorrow’s lesson.” The challenge was to place the sandwich bags with index labeled brain, RL and Lung on the correct part of the body on the chart. You state that the red beads represents oxygen rich blood and the blue yarn represents the oxygen poor blood. You state, “You have to demonstrate by using the beads and the yarn on the outline of the head and torso, how the blood flows between the heart, lungs and brain using the beads and the heart. Some of the students read the book to figure out where to place the beads and yarn, other students tried to figure it out on their own.


At 10:25 AM I had monitors help me hand out the following materials:

1. The outline of a head and torso on chart paper.
2. Red beads
3. Blue yarn
4. Plastic baggies marked heart, lung, and brain

I instructed students to use their books, the fact sheet that we had read together during the minilesson, and the above materials to show the blood flow between heart, lung, and brain.

Then I circulated among the students as they tried to solve the problem.


At the beginning of the work period you stated, “You have to demonstrate by using the beads and the yarn on the outline of the head and torso, how the blood flows between the heart, lungs and brain using the beads and yarn.” I suggest, you should demonstrate what you want the children to do during the mini-lesson.

The assignment seemed easy for some students because they figured out on their own how to use the textbook and the fact sheet. The other students seemed unclear because they were trying to figure out on their own and were not sure. It was not stated during the lesson how they were going to find the answer. Students need clear directions in order to understand what is expected of them.


Ms. I.T. states that some students found the assignment so easy that they finished by 10:40, while the students were still problem solving after 15 minutes. She seems to find something wrong with this scenario. I find it very normal. Some groups finish before others. I had not expected anyone to finish in 15 minutes. I would have expected them to take this time to familiarize themselves with the information and the model. The real problem-solving would take place the next day.

There is nothing wrong with the fact that “students seemed unclear because they were trying to figure out on their own and were not sure.” The figuring out is a part of inquiry science. Everyone knew that there was no time constraint on them. They knew that they had the rest of the period, plus part of the next period to solve the problem. They were not under pressure to perform. Even so, one group out of eight solved the problem in 15 minutes. Good for them.

Ms I.T. seems to be uncomfortable with the inquiry method. She does not want to see students struggling. She wants the answers to come easily—even to the point of having them provided by the teacher. That is not how scientists operate. They have questions and they have a method. They don’t have to know all the answers right away. Student scientists are not supposed to know exactly what to do. They are set in a particular direction and are supposed to figure it out on their own.


At about 10:40 AM you stated, “We will continue tomorrow during the whole period.” You asked students, “Where is the glucose liberated?” The students did not respond to the question. You answered it by saying. It is the Mitochondria. Glucose and oxygen meet in the Mitochondria. You asked students to clean up and tomorrow they will know what materials to pick up.


Ms. I.T. did not hear a student ask me to tell her the name of the part of the cell where the energy of glucose is liberated through cellular respiration. I said, “Good question, does anyone remember where glucose is liberated in the cell? No one responded, so I responded to the student: “It is in the Mitochondria. Glucose and oxygen meet in the Mitochondria.”


You failed to engage students in the lesson when you did not allow students to go over their findings during the closing of your lesson. Please refer to specific interactive teaching techniques attached referring to the Accountable Talk Toolbox.

When students completed the work period you never addressed their findings. It is important to share what students have discovered in order to assess and check for understanding of the modeled lesson.

You asked students to clean up without summarizing your lesson. As a method of summarization and of determining if the objective have been met, ask each student to state what was learned from the material. Look for opportunities to call on selected students to establish a summary of key point. The students and teacher need to review major areas presented, in order to demonstrate that students understood concepts.


Ms I.T. says that I failed to go over the findings of my students. The problem was that after fifteen minutes, one group had the answer and the other seven groups were still searching for the answer. I preferred to wait until the next period to address the finding of all the groups. To do otherwise would have been to rush most of the students through the challenge and not allow the time to think it through.

It is very possible that those who figured out the answer then shared their findings with those who didn’t during lunch that day because by the next day, all the other groups reached the correct solution in approximately fifteen minutes. I have no problem with this. A science teacher’s best dream would be to have students discussing the circulatory system over lunch.


I have written this response within the context of the Workshop Model. However, it is obvious that my inquiry lesson did not quite fit. I think this is because the Workshop Model was originally supposed to work within a 90 minute session. Therefore, teachers were supposed to teach a twenty minute minilesson, then move to a 40 minute work session and then have a good half hour to review findings and state what students had learned from the material, and call on selected students to establish a summary of key points, and review major areas presented, and demonstrate that students understood the concepts.

When it became necessary to fit the Workshop Model into a 45 minute period, someone, I don’t know who, thought that all you had to do was cut in half the time spent on each segment. The minilesson shrank from 20 to 10 minutes, the group work from 40 to 20 minutes, and the closing went form 30 to 15 minutes.

So now, what happens when the teacher needs fifteen or twenty minutes to prepare students for an inquiry lesson? What happens if the students need a full 40 minutes to solve a problem or carry out an experiment? What happens if at the end of a 45 minute period, students are not yet ready to share. I have been asking these questions since the Workshop Model people have taken over this school system. The only answer that I get is that I have to stay within the time constraints that I have been given. This is not helpful.

I am not opposed to the Workshop Model. However, I am opposed to dogmatic, mechanistic thinking. I am trying to teach my students not to engage in that kind of thinking. That’s not science. That’s not how we got to the moon. That’s not how we are going to cure cancer.

Moriah Untamed

UNdisciplined Lies


RE: LESSON 03/22/2007

This is statement in response to a letter dated March 28, 2007 in which Ms I.T. threatens me with the following statement: “Please be advised that this incident may lead to further disciplinary action including an unsatisfactory rating and charges that could lead to your termination.

The charges leveled against me violate the contract which is presently in effect between the United Federation of Teachers and The City of New York.

I will respond to this letter, by copying its contents in their entirety, interspersed with my comments.


March 28, 2007


On Tuesday, March 27, 2006, I met with you and your union representative, Mr. P.B., in room 100 to discuss your lesson plan on March 23, 2007.

MS UNTAMED’S COMMENT: We did not meet on March 27, 2006. We met on March 27, 2007.


On Friday, March 23, 2007, I entered your classroom, room 322, at the beginning of period 6. I was accompanied by Ms. Assistant Principal #2. You were assigned to teach class 7E Science.


I am a traveling teacher. Therefore, the use of the words “your classroom” is misleading. On Fridays, I teach in room 410, 322, and 326. The rest of the information in this portion of the letter is correct.

However, it is important to note that Ms I.T. makes sure to mention that she was accompanied by another Assistant Principal. This is not accidental. By having two administrators present, she is laying the groundwork for charges that can lead to a U-rating.


I asked you for your lesson plan for the class. You did not have a lesson plan with you to show me. You told me that you had the lesson plan in the lab and that you would give it to me later in the day. You came to my office during period 7 to give me the lesson plan.


And that’s all that Ms I.T. has to say about the lesson. So let’s stop a minute and talk about what was really going on in room 322 during sixth period on Friday, March 23, in the year Two Thousand and Seven.

Many of the children in class 7E have learning disabilities. Others do not have learning disabilities but need extra help because they are still learning English. They have low scores on statewide Language Arts and Math tests.

As Ms I.T. walked in, she saw that I had approximately fifteen large science project boards on my science cart. I was explaining to the students that we would be holding a class science fair. Because there would be only two or three minutes to visit each project, I wanted the students to focus on the problem and the conclusion. What was the question, and what was the answer. They should also notice the hypothesis, data, visual presentation, and art work. Next Monday, we would begin the group presentations. This would give students a chance to preview the science boards up close before the group presentations.

Ms I.T. interrupted me as I was giving the opening instructions. I informed her that I couldn’t stop at that moment, because it would interrupt the flow of the lesson. The lesson plan was probably under 15 science project boards at the moment—or it might be in the lab, I wasn’t sure. I told her that I had lunch next period and would bring the lesson plan to her office.

Ms I.T. and the other assistant principal turned around and walked out of the class. They wanted to see my lesson plan, but they did not want to see my students’ science projects. This was obvious to me, and it was obvious to my students.

After the two assistant principals left the classroom, my students moved all the desks to the edges of the room. We placed the science projects around the room. They took out their journals, and visited each project. They were very interested in each others’ work. I had never seen them as motivated about science as I did that day.

The science projects represented a tremendous amount of work on the part of my students—and Ms I.T. couldn’t be bothered to take ten minutes of her time to view it.


During our meeting on March 27, 2007, I asked you why you did not have the lesson plan for class 7E with you during period 6. You said, “I did not have a lesson plan with me, it was in the lab and I gave it to you seventh period. My lesson was already flowing.”


Please refer to the New York City Department of Education Teachers’ Contract specifically Article 8E –Education Reform

“The development of lesson plans by and for the use of the teacher is a professional responsibility vital to effective teaching.

The organization, format, notation, and other physical aspects of the lesson plan are appropriately within the discretion of each teacher.

A principal or supervisor may suggest, but not require, a particular format or organization …"

Nothing is said in the contract about where the lesson plan should be kept.


I conclude that you failed to fulfill your professional responsibility when you did not have your lesson plan for class 7E with you during the period 6 class. Attached for your reference please find the November 6,2006 Principal Memo #10 regarding Lesson Plans. All staff members must be prepared with lesson plans daily for their classes and be able to show the lesson plans to a supervisor during the class period upon request.


As of November 6, 2006, had all staff members at I.S.666 received U-ratings or formal warnings? I ask that question, because according to the contract:

“A principal or supervisor may suggest, but not require, a particular format or organization except as part of a program to improve deficiencies of teachers who receive U-ratings or formal warnings.”

Principal Memo #10 violated the contract. I am sure that Principal S.T. does not like Article 8 Section E. That’s OK. There are certain sections of the contract that I don’t like either. However, the contract is legally binding—unless you find some unethical way to sidestep it—like creating a U-rating or formal warning by inventing deficiencies that don’t exist.

Therefore, I have filed a grievance—not only for myself, but for all the staff members at I.S. 666.

The grievance is worded as follows:


Dear Ms. Principal,

Pursuant to the procedures of Article 22B of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the United Federation of Teachers and the Department of Education, please arrange a conference to discuss the following complaint:

Being asked to produce a lesson plan on the spot during a class session and it leading to file letters. The lesson plan is available, but asking for it in a specific location or on demand especially during an instructional period is in violation of Articles 8E and Article 20 of the teachers contract.

I will be represented at the conference by my UFT Chapter Leader or his/her designee.

Very truly yours,



Please be advised that this incident may lead to further disciplinary action including an unsatisfactory rating and charges that could lead to your termination.

Very truly yours,

Assistant Principal I.T.


You have created a disciplinary incident where there was only a hard working teacher and a group of motivated children. I did not fail to fulfill my professional responsibility to my students. On the contrary, their science projects proved that everyone in that classroom had been doing a good job all year long.

Perhaps that is why you found it necessary to leave in such a hurry.

Moriah Untamed

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Third UNsatisfactory Observation

OF LESSON ON 02/16/07


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
mixture be?
10/03 06 If we mix 10 g of salt with 90 g of water, what will the mass of the
mixture be?
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


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.


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


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.


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.


Students were observed to sit passively during the minilesson, without a task assigned.


“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


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.


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?


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).


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


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.


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?


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.


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.


Moriah Untamed

Friday, August 17, 2007

HIV UNscripted

Welcome to Untamed Teacher,

This blog was created in order to show how a principal targets a teacher for termination. This is usually done by saturating the teacher's file with letters that are designed to make the teacher look incompetent. This is the second negative letter that I received last year. Anyone interested in Science Education, AIDS prevention, or the Bloomberg Department of Education is encouraged to read on.


On December 19, 2006, Principal S.T. observed class 7D in classroom 3xx during period 8 (2:04 to 2:49) and period 9 (2:52 to 3:37). On March 20, 2007, I received a Formal Observation Report in which Principal described the lesson from her point of view and then gave it an unsatisfactory rating.

I disagree with Principal’s version of the lesson and with the unsatisfactory rating. Education is a process, not an event. That is why most supervisors have preobservation conferences with their teachers. It is important to have an understanding of the sequence in which the lesson is given.  Principal preferred to drop in without warning and did not have the benefit of the preobservation conference. She was also absent or distracted during parts of the observation. What is more, she concentrated her attention on a small group of students rather than observing all students equally. She ignored important aspects of my teaching performance . For these reasons, I feel that Principal was not able to give a fair and impartial evaluation of the lesson.


Approximately three weeks before the formal observation took place, a workshop was given to familiarize the science teachers with a curriculum on HIV/AIDS that was mandated by the Department of Education. We were informed by Assistant Principal R.Z., that we were to read the curriculum like a script. We were not to add, take away, or deviate from it in any way. We were not to modify the curriculum for different reading or learning levels.

After looking at the script, I realized that the first lesson, which was about the immune system, was way over the heads of most of the students in three out of my five seventh grade science classes. To make sure of this, I gave a quick assessment. Most of my seventh graders didn’t know what a cell was, much less its parts and functions. They had no idea about cell theory. They didn’t know how to state the difference between living and nonliving things. They couldn’t say what living things needed in order to survive. In short, their background in biology was extremely deficient.

We were in the middle of investigating the Laws of Thermodynamics . I could have read the script, gotten it out of the way, and gone back to my regular curriculum. However, I felt that it was important for my students to understand the concepts in the HIV/AIDS curriculum even though the curriculum itself, read as a script, was inappropriate for them.

I have attached a copy of this lesson in its entirety, but I will give an excerpt of it here to give the reader an idea of why I was so concerned.



"Say, 'If a pathogen gets into the body, this is how a healthy immune system works:

1. When an invader enters the body, it gets engulfed by macrophages (meaning 'big eater'--macrophages are big cells that protect against infection) that are close to the skin or mucous membranes.

2. The macrophage breaks down the pathogen and reveals its antigens. Each invader has its own antigens which act as an 'identification card' for the immune system to recognize.
3. The Helper T-cell (also called CD4) reads and recognizes the antigen. The Helper T-cell sends a message out to the B-cells and to other cells, by releasing lymphokines, to come help to destroy the invader, directing the immune system.

3. The activated B-cells produce millions of antibodies. The antibodies will outnumber the invaders and help get rid of them by attaching themselves to specific antigens and then allowing both themselves and the antigens to be eliminated. Antibodies and antigens fit together like a lock and a key. For example, a measles antibody will only attach itself to a measles virus.

4. Once an antibody has 'caught' an invader, a signal is sent to the macrophages and to other cells (like T-cells) that is ready to be eaten or destroyed with its capture. When a macrophage gets the message, it comes along and eats the antibody-antigen complex, ridding your body of the pathogen or invader.'

Say, 'By the time you feel miserable with a cold, the virus that caused it is already under attack by macrophages, T-cells, and B-cells. The B-cells have a memory, so that if that very same virus enters the body again, the B-cells will send out already made antibodies to help identify it and help losts of the cells of the immune system to destroy it.'

Ask, "How many of you have heard of HIV?' "

END of quote from DOE 7th grade curriculum on HIV/AIDS

After reading the script, I met with Assistant Principal Z and told him that my students would not learn anything if I just read that script. I asked to be able to break it down and teach it with visual aides and hands on activities. He replied that the script was mandated. I would be insubordinate if I didn't read it. I then bargained with him to allow me to give preparatory classes that would help my students understand the script when I did finally read it to them.

I was able to extract his permission to design a two to three-week crash course in biology that would prepare my students for the mandated script. I carefully linked what we had been studying (heat) to the HIV/AIDS script. The lesson observed was one of the last lessons designed by me before I began to read the script.

The lesson objectives were as follows:

Students will be able to:

1. Explore: How does the temperature of water affect the speed with which a drop of dye spreads through water?
2. Find patterns in the Periodic Table of Elements.
3. Compare and contrast key concepts about heat and matter.
4. Show how atoms become molecules using electron dot configuration.
5. Draw the electron dot configuration for water and carbon dioxide
6. Draw the electron dot configuration for the molecules that make up air.
7. Draw the electron dot configuration of amino acids and describe their relationship to living things.
8. Compare and contrast living and nonliving things.
9. Compare and contrast unicellular and multicellular organisms.
10. Show how a multicellular organism might get oxygen, water, and food to its innermost cells that are not in contact with the outside environment.
11. Show how a multicellular organism might get carbon dioxide and other wastes from its innermost cells to the outside environment.
12. Compare and contrast plant and animal cells.
13. Explore the needs and functions of cells
14. Describe how unicellular organisms like the ameba and the paramecium meet their needs and reproduce.
15. Ask and answer questions about the human immune system
16. Draw a cartoon about the immune system

Although I tried on very short notice to give my students the background knowledge they needed to understand the points made in the HIV/AIDS script, I feel that the following changes should be made:

1. Provide audio-visual support for the curriculum.
2. If you want to use a script, make a movie and have actors read it.
3. Provide a variety of reading materials written for different reading and learning levels.
4. Allow your classroom teachers to use their experience and expertise to adapt the curriculum to the needs of their students.
5. Give the classroom teacher time to prepare for the curriculum. Don’t expect him/her to stop what they are doing and start your curriculum the next day.
6. Don’t expect the whole school to be doing the curriculum at the same time—unless you begin planning six to eight months in advance.
7. Include the classroom teacher in planning and implementing the curriculum—listen to his/her suggestions.


The following agenda/lesson plan was used during the two periods of observation.

Challenge: How does the immune system protect us from germs?

Opening: Read page one of the handout. Ask questions that have the answer
(5 min) “Macrophage”.

Minilesson: What are the parts of the immune system?
(10 min)

Group Work: Ask questions that have the parts of the immune system as answers.
(25 min)

Close/Share: How do the parts of the immune system work together to protect us?
(flows into minilesson of lesson two)

Students will be able to draw a cartoon of the immune system

Minilesson: How do the parts of the immune system work together to protect us? (cont.)
(15 min including close/share from lesson one)

Group Work: Draw the immune response from beginning to end.
(25 min.)

Close/Share: Group presentation of drawings. Summary of immune response.
(10 min)

Homework: Write a paragraph summarizing the immune response.

I was criticized by Principal for not having the Agenda displayed. I do not think the Agenda helps the students. It is written on chart paper and cannot be seen from the back of the room. If it did help them learn, I would have no problem using it.

I do use the Agenda for my own planning. I have organized Principal’s observations and my responses into the Agenda format. For each segment: Opening, Minilesson, Group Work, Close/Share; I have first written Principal’s version of events, then my version of events, then Principal’s recommendations, then my response to those recommendations. I repeat certain recommendations because Principal refers to more than one of the agenda’s segments.

OPENING 2:03 – 2:08 (5 MINUTES)


Principal had not arrived in the classroom.


Students from class 7D entered classroom 3xx. They sat down, took out their journals, and began to copy the Challenge and Vocabulary:
“How does the immune system protect us from germs”?
A Macrophages
A Antigens
A Helper T-cells
A Interferons
A Killer T-cells
A Antibodies

After a minute I asked the class: “How many of you have had a cold or the flu?” Quite a few raised their hands. “Without the immune system we wouldn’t be able to fight off germs. They would end up killing us.” I pointed at the list of words. “These are the heroes that save our lives every day. They are at work in your bodies right now fighting off germs that get in. Most of the time they fight off germs before we can even get sick. The first hero that we are going to read about is the macrophage.”

I asked a student to distribute a booklet about the immune system. I instructed students to read the first page of the booklet and ask a question whose answer was “Macrophage”.

The first page of the handout had the following picture and text taken from information/a2z/immune.jsp

“When a virus, or other invading body attacks a cell, the cell sends out a chemical as a warning signal. This alerts white blood cells called macrophages. When macrophages encounter the invader they encircle and digest it.”

Acceptable questions included: “What white blood cell encircles and digests invaders?” Or “What white blood cells are alerted when a virus attacks a cell?”

Students were very familiar with a technique that we call “Ask and Answer”. Students are given a text and told to ask questions that can be answered by reading the text. Sometimes I give the answer, and they must use the text to ask a question that has that answer—as they do on the quiz show Jeopardy. Students immediately recognized the technique without need for explanation and they began to use it to analyze the text.



I entered the room at 2:10 while the students were reading a five page hand out (attached). The following was written on the board:
A Macrophages
A Antigens
A Helper T-cells
A Interferons
A Killer T-cells
A Antibodies

You instructed the students to write a question for each word written on the board. You explained to the students that the words written on the board had to be the answer to the questions that they formulated and the “A” represented the word answer. You reminded the students that the information needed to formulate the questions was contained in the hand out, and that they should not wait for you to write the questions on the board.

At 2:15 you asked for volunteers to share their question for the first answer macrophages. You called on a student who shared the question, “What are white blood cells called?”
You responded, “Is that the only question that has the answer macrophage?” You then immediately informed the class that macro means big and micro means small. You said to the class, “Let’s get back to the questions. Not everyone has shared their questions. Who has another question? You then called on a volunteer that shared the question, “What white blood cells encounter or encircle the virus and digest it?” You then responded, “Can you write that down. You are using the reading.”

At approximately 2:20, you stated, “Big cells ingest or encircle, and little cells are called microorganisms like the ameba. The ameba opens itself up, encircles its food, and ingests it.” After the explanation, you drew a diagram of an ameba on the board ingesting food. You informed the students that the macrophage is like the ameba except that it ingest viruses not food.


Principal’s version of the interaction between my students and me is missing key elements. It only takes a minute to read her version out loud. She claims that it represents ten minutes of class time.

Principal entered the classroom at approximately 2:10. She asked me for my lesson plan. I took a moment to look for it on my cart and then gave her the lesson plan. For her benefit, and for the benefit of a few students who walked in late, I repeated the instructions that I had given the other students at the beginning of the class. All my students, even the late ones, knew that the “A” represented the word “Answer”, but I was sure that Ms. Principal did not. Much of the explanation she heard was made for her benefit.

Principal sat down in the back of the room and began reading the lesson plan. Then she read the handout. She also spent a few moments talking to someone on her walkie-talkie. She was therefore somewhat distracted during the minilesson.

I began the minilesson by asking for a question that had the word “Macrophage” as an answer. Many hands went up. I called on one student who answered correctly, “What are white blood cells called?” I praised his answer and asked if there was another question that could have the same answer. Hands went up again. I called on a student who asked if the word shouldn’t be microphage instead of macrophage. This question showed that the student was making a connection with prior knowledge. During the previous class we had studied microorganisms including the ameba and the paramecium. “I said to the student, “Good point”. I put the question back to the class. Does anyone know the difference between micro and macro? Someone answered that micro means small, but no one offered the meaning of the prefix macro. After waiting an appropriate amount of time, I saw that no one was sure of what macro meant, so I gave the answer:. “Micro means small and macro means big. Phage means eater, so what does macrophage mean?” Someone answered correctly “big eater.” I responded. That’s right, macrophage means “big eater”. One of the students made a reference to a Big Mac. I told the class that this was a good memory trick for remembering the term Macrophage: “Just call it Big Mac”. I then asked for other questions that might have the answer “Macrophage”. Several hands went up and a second question was correctly given. I reminded the students about the ameba and other microorganisms that we had already studied. I told the students that macrophages were large in comparison to the microorganisms that they engulfed, but that they were in fact microscopic themselves, like the ameba and the paramecium. I emphasized that macrophages are called big eaters, but unlike the ameba that they had studied the day before, macrophages aren’t really eating the germs for food. I then asked the class to write down both questions using the text as a reference.


PRINCIPAL’s Recommendation #2:

Students were asked multiple questions one right after another, and given answers to questions without given time to think as evidenced by, “What is the difference between micro and macro? Micro means small and macro means large.”…

Students need time to think. In the future allow wait time for all students to formulate their responses. Asking additional questions or answering the questions too quickly disrupts the students’ thought processes, and weakens students’ ability to give well thought out answers.

MS UNTAMED’S Response to Recommendation #2

Principal has continuously misquoted me. As can be seen from my version, students were not asked multiple questions one right after another, and I did not give answers without giving students time to think. There was a lively give and take of ideas. Students’thought processes were not disrupted. They made connections with past lessons and figured out the meaning of macrophage. They demonstrated skill at analyzing the text in order to ask questions that had the answer macrophage.

MS. PRINCIPAL’S Recommendation #3:

Most of the questions asked during the lesson were based on simple recall from text. This type of questioning is at the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Try asking/modeling questions that require students to use their higher order thinking skills. In the future ask questions that require students to explain, evaluate, analyze and synthesize. Asking higher order thinking questions of the students will serve as a model that they can easily formulate their own higher order thinking questions.

MS UNTAMED’S Response to Recommendation #3 :

I am concerned about the fact that Principal thinks that lower order thinking questions are always “bad”. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchy of skills. That means that the bottom, or lower level, supports the top or higher level. You have to start with lower order thinking—especially when the subject matter is new, or difficult. After creating a base of knowledge, higher order thinking can occur. Lower order questions are also appropriate if the readability of the text is close to the frustration level of the student, as it was in this case. Keeping questions simple, helps the student deconstruct difficult subject matter and difficult reading levels into manageable bites.

Although Bloom’s Taxonomy divides educational objectives into three “domains”, Principal only refers to the Cognitive Domain. I also try to incorporate the Affective and Psychomotor Domains in order to create a more holistic form of education.

The technique which I call “Ask and Answer” allows the children to formulate the questions. If they were formulating lower order thinking questions, then they were operating on the right level for them. They themselves were adjusting the level of questioning to their own needs. What is more, the students were asking questions that were a result of an analysis of the text. The questions themselves might have fallen into the category of lower order thinking, but the mental process involved in formulating those questions was not lower order thinking.

When a student asks the questions, he/she examines and breaks information into parts by identifying motives or causes. The student makes inferences and finds evidence to support generalizations. The student analyzes elements and relationships.

This exercise is especially appropriate for children who are learning English as a Second Language and for those who are have reading difficulties—like the students in 7D.

PRINCIPAL’s Recommendation 8

Try using real world experiences that the students related to. You could have asked, “How many had a cold last year?” Then you could have spoken about sneezing, coughing, and the spread of germs. You then could have introduced the immune system by talking about diseases that are familiar to them, i.e. chicken pox, measles, HIV/AIDS.

MS UNTAMED’s Response to Recommendation 8

During the opening I related the immune system to real world experiences. Ms. Principal was not yet in the room when I did this.

Principal has asked us to spend no more than 10 minutes on the minilesson. I would not have been teaching to my objective if I had gone off on a discussion of different illnesses. I would have had to introduce vocabulary that had nothing to do with the objective, making it necessary to continue the minilesson past Principal’s time limit.

GROUP WORK 2:21 – 2:45 Twenty-five minutes


The students were arranged in groups of three and four students. You asked the students to work with their partners to formulate questions for the other vocabulary words written on the board. You then wrote the page numbers on the board next to the words where the appropriate information could be found in the handout. You informed the students that they had twenty minutes to complete their questions, and that you would be walking around to assist them with their questions. You also informed the class that the second period (period 9) they would be drawing a cartoon that represented the vocabulary words.

You instructed the class to be thinking about their drawings. The next twenty minutes you walked around the room, assisting students with their questions.

You stopped at a group and asked them, “What are you supposed to be doing?” A student answered, “Reading.” You asked this student to read to you. After the student completed reading you then asked the student to go back to the word antigens, and asked, “Can you write a question?” The student did not respond. You said to the other students, “Let’s see if we can help him.” You asked the student, “What does debris mean?” The students began to discuss the definition of debris among themselves. You then asked the students, “What happens to antigens? What are particles or debris called?” The students began to discuss the answer to the last question posed. You then asked them to write a question for the answer antigen.


I introduced the group work segment of the lesson in approximately the way that Principal describes. However, our versions are different when she starts describing my interaction with the students. Principal misquotes me, and gives a very garbled, incomplete version of my interactions with the students. This could be because Principal was herself interacting with students. She came over to a group that I was helping and began to take on the role of teacher. Since she was helping them, I moved off to help others.

The second page of the handout had the following picture and text taken from information/a2z/immune.jsp

“Macrophages are also called antigen presenting cells (APC), because once some of the invading bugs have been destroyed by the initial immune response, particles of the debris, called antigens, are carried by the macrophages to another type of white blood cell called T-lymphocytes or T-cells.”

The students were now trying to formulate questions that had “antigens” and “T-cells” as the answers. I expected questions like:

What do macrophages carry to the T-cells?
A. antigens
What is another name for particles of debris?
A. antigens.
What do the invading bugs turn into after they are destroyed?
A. antigens.
What is another name for white blood cells called T-lymphocytes?
A. T-cells
Where do macrophages carry the antigens?
A. To the T-cells.

I also expected them to have difficulty with some of the vocabulary like initial, response, debris, lymphocytes.

In order to help students, I referred them to the picture and asked questions like:

“How did the artist draw the antigens? (as little blue triangles)
“Where else do you see blue triangles? (on the viruses)
“What is the name of the other cell that is connecting to macrophage and the antigen?
(Helper T-cell).

In order to help students, I also referred them to the text and modeled the “Ask and Answer” technique.

Q. What are macrophages also called?
A. Macrophages are also called antigen presenting cells.

Q. Where do the antigens come from?
A. They are particles of debris from the invading bugs that have been destroyed.

Q. What does debris mean?
A. Parts of destroyed virus.

Q. What happens once some of the invading bugs have been destroyed by the initial immune response?
A. Particles of the debris called antigens are carried by the macrophages to another type of white blood cell called T-cells.

Q. What does initial immune response mean?
A. The first immune cells to come on the scene—the macrophage.

The third page of the handout had the following picture and text taken from information/a2z/immune.jsp

“There are different types of T-cells. The ones involved in this process are called helper T-cells. The helper T-cells respond to the antigen by sending messengers called interferons to the body with the message ”SEND HELP!!!!. The body produces other white blood cells such as B-Lymphocytes, or B-cells, and killer T-cells.”

I expected students to ask questions such as:

Q. Which cells respond to the antigen by sending messengers called interferons?
A. Helper T-cells.

Q. What do we call the messengers that take the message “SEND HELP!!!
A. Interferons

Q. What does the body produce when it gets the message “SEND HELP”?
A. white blood cells called B-cells.

To help them, I called their attention to the drawing:

What is coming out of the Helper T-cell? (interferon)
How did the artist represent the B-cells? (A circle with little “Y’s” coming out)
What are those little “Y” shaped things called? (antibodies)
How are the Killer T-cells represented? (A blue circle inside a white circle)

I also helped them by modeling “Ask and Answer”. For example:

Q: What are the different kinds of T-cells?
A: Helper T-cells and Killer T-cells

Q: How do the helper T-cells respond to the antigen?
A: They send interferons with the message “SEND HELP”.

The fourth page of the handout read as follows:

“B-cells are tuned to specific invaders. When the invader is found in the body, the B-cell clones itself and produces millions of antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that lock onto the surface of the invading particle helping the body to kill it off.

Killer T-cells kill the body’s own cells that have been invaded, preventing the germ from reproducing and then infecting other cells.”

I expected students to ask questions similar to these:
Q: What cells are tuned to specific invaders?
A: B-cells
Q: What cells clone themselves and produce millions of antibodies?
A: B-cells
Q: What do we call proteins that lock onto the surface of the invading particle helping the body to kill it off?
A: Antibodies
Q: What T-cells kill the body’s own cells that have been invaded?
A: Killer T-cells

I helped my students by referring them to the picture:
Example: Q: What’s happening to the little “Y” shaped antibodies. (They are leaving the B-cell and attaching themselves to the virus.)

I also helped my students by referring them to the text.
Example: “How do the antibodies help to kill of the virus?”
We did not have time to get to page 5, so I had the students stop after page 4.


PRINCIPAL’s Recommendation #4.

Student participation was limited to a few.
Participation by the students was limited. All students did not write questions….

MS UNTAMED’s Response to Recommendation #4:

I disagree with Principal. Lack of participation was not limited to a few. Most students worked in pairs to ask questions and answer them. Some pairs chose to have one student write, while the other read. They also shared their questions with those who sat across from them. A few students, who must receive special services did not participate as much as the others did. Perhaps these students should be reevaluated and placed in a setting which can better meet their educational needs. I suggest that students who need special services be placed in classes that have class size limited to ten or less. Another alternative would be to “push in” a teacher trained in special education techniques.

PRINCIPAL’S Recommendation #7.

The students seemed unaware of the purpose of the lesson. The objectives of the lesson were stated but were not specifically taught.
…You state the objective, but the students did not understand how the immune system protected us from germs…. In the future, teach to the objective, and continue to ask yourself what do I want my students to learn in this lesson?

MS UNTAMED’S Response to Recommendation #7

Principal does not overtly state this, but her dissatisfaction with the objective lies in the fact that my objective was not stated in a very specific way. It must begin “Students will be able to……” It must state the exact behavioral change that is expected to take place during the learning period. It must state the exact technique that will be employed to bring about this behavioral change. If the objective is not stated in this way, Ms. Principal believes that the students are not able to focus or be active participants.

I believe that objectives stated in this way confuse the students with their wordiness. They don’t invite discovery or inquiry. A simply worded Challenge is much better than a complicated behavioral objective. It motivates without micromanaging the thinking processes of my students. Behavioral objectives are useful to teachers, and belong in a lesson plan, not on the board or on an “Agenda” to be copied by students into their science journals.

What did I want my students to learn in this lesson? I wanted them to learn the parts of the immune system, their functions, and how they interact. I clearly listed the parts right under the Challenge. The booklet illustrated and described the parts and the functions of
the immune system and described how they interact to protect us. I made the goals of the lesson very clear to my students and to myself, and I constantly taught to the objective.

PRINCIPAL’S Recommendation #8

The students did not clearly master the concepts presented. Several students needed more time for mastery…

The handout presented was a difficult read, and few students experienced success. Provide reading materials that are the appropriate reading level for your students. This means that you may have several different handouts. All handouts addressing the same concepts, but reading levels varying. This will help students to understand the concepts…

MS UNTAMED’S Response to Recommendation #8

At the time that I taught this class, there was no reading material in the school about the immune system that contained the vocabulary that I needed to teach my students. I researched on the internet and downloaded the material in the handout. I got it approved by my supervisor and copied. I agree that many students in this class were reading at their frustration level, but that is why I used the technique “Ask and Answer”. Students did not need to understand the whole text. They simply had to target the words around the vocabulary and create a question.

I agree, however, that it would have been much better to have several different handouts with different levels of readability. Will Principal be providing me with those reading materials in the future? Does Principal expect me to author reading materials with different readability levels for every single lesson?

I disagree that the students had little success. Most were in fact quite successful at formulating simple questions about the text.

PRICIPAL’S Recommendation #9

…the teacher did not require discovery on the part of the students according to the students abilities.

Students were required to read the handout of terms for understanding. The struggling readers had difficulty understanding the handout. When planning a lesson for students with different learning styles and reading abilities, it is imperative that we differentiate the lesson according to the students’ ability…and …the various needs of your students.

MS UNTAMED’S Response to Recommendation #9

I would like to know what Ms. Principal means by “discovery”. My students were reading in order to “discover” how the immune system fights off germs. The technique used was to deconstruct the text using “Ask and Answer”. I again agree that it would have been nice to have handouts with various reading levels addressing the various needs of my students. I assume that the Ms. Principal will be ordering those materials, because they did not exist in the school at the time I gave the lesson.

CLOSING/SHARE/MINILESSON 2:45-3:00 fifteen minutes


At 2:45 you asked everyone to stop, and ask their group members if everyone had formulated questions. The students spent approximately two minutes checking with each other. You then elicited from various volunteers the questions that they developed.

After eliciting several questions from the class, you then told the class that they will be drawing cartoons using macrophages, antigens, interferons, helper T-cells, killer T-cells, and antibodies as characters. You then modeled what the cartoon should include by drawing and explaining a cartoon on the chalkboard. Upon completing the drawing, you asked the students to work in groups to create a cartoon/drawing. You told them that each of them might want to work on various parts of the cartoon. You suggested the students work in pairs. One pair might develop the beginning while the other pair develops the ending. One student asked you if they could work alone, and you responded that you wanted the class to work in groups.


After giving my students time to compare their questions, I transitioned the class from small group instruction to whole group. The Closing and Share of the first lesson was in fact the Minilesson of the second lesson. The objective of the second lesson was to make sequential drawings of the immune response, based on the drawings and text of the handout. During the first lesson students had deconstructed the handout using “Ask and Answer”. During the second lesson students would reconstruct the concepts contained in the handout by drawing the steps of the immune response in sequence showing the functions and interactions of each part of the immune system.

I began to model the sequential drawing, by returning to page 1 of the handout. I asked the question, “What does a cell do when a virus attacks it?” Someone read from the handout, “When a virus, or other invading body attacks a cell, the cell sends out a chemical as a warning signal.” I drew on the chalkboard my representation of a cell being attacked by a virus and the cell sending out a signal saying “I’m being attacked.”

I then elicited questions from the students that could be answered by reading the text. Students shared their questions, answers, and suggestions. As they did so, I did my own poor attempts at cartoon drawing that brought laughter from the class. If the student’s question and answer took us out of sequence, I asked the student to “hold on to that Q&A, we’ll need it later”. If students had problems with vocabulary words or concepts, I gave a short explanation, and sometimes incorporated the word or concept into my drawing. I made five or six drawings in sequence showing Macrophages, Antigens, B-Cells, Helper T-cells, Interferons, Killer T-cells, and Antibodies. My drawing was directed by students’ questions, responses, and suggestions.

I then asked monitors to help me distribute 11” x 17” paper to be used by the students in creating their own sequential drawings. I told them that they could use the handout and my chalkboard drawings as models, but that I was sure that they could come up with even better drawings of their own. I reminded them to use labels naming each immune “superhero”. I encouraged them to add dialogue if they chose to do so.

Most students participated, although some did not.

Principal left the room during a significant portion of the closing/share/minilesson. She therefore missed most of the questions, answers, and explanations that accompanied this portion of the lesson. When she came back, Principal interacted more with the few students who did not participate than she did with the students who did participate. She took more notes about them; she asked them more questions. She hardly noticed the students who were doing a lot of work and she did not acknowledge their drawings.


Principal’s Recommendation # 1

Students did not have a clear visual model to follow as they attempted to draw their cartoons.

You drew your cartoon on the board as you explained each cell and component of the immune system. The drawing was not clear and several students had difficulty understanding your explanations and your drawing.

It is critical for students to follow along on an overhead or be given individual copies of a sequential cartoon with clear, concise explanations. It is difficult for struggling readers to complete a task, or comprehend content without the support of a clear, concise printed text for a model.

MS UNTAMED’S Response to Recommendation #1

I admit that I have no artistic ability at all. I find that this is actually an asset. When students try to get out of a drawing assignment by saying, “I can’t draw”, I always reply, “Neither can I. I am sure you’ll come up with something better than anything I could do.” However, my drawings were very, very simple and clear.

I do not believe that an overhead projector would have helped in this case. A projector is not always superior to the chalk board. I was modeling how to draw, and my own clear, but unartistic attempts were better than sliding a prepared drawing onto an overhead. The handout that I gave to the students was in fact a clear, concise printed text that my students also used as a model.

PRINCIPAL’S Recommendation 4.

Student participation was limited to a few.

All students did not….participate in the drawing/cartoon during the group or pair sessions.
Establish a strong foundation before requiring student participation through questioning, audio-visuals, and high involvement hand-on activities that sustain the students’ attention and incorporate different learning styles, and reading abilities.

MS UNTAMED’S Response to Recommendation # 4

Principal suggests that the lack of student participation that she saw was because I did not use questioning, audio-visuals, and hands-on activities. I have demonstrated that I did use questioning. I used the visual aid that I downloaded from the internet. Students drew the cartoons, which is hands-on. There is a NOVA video that has a short segment on the immune system which I did show them in a subsequent lesson. I think they got more out of the video because they had done reading and drawing before seeing it. We can’t do it all in one or two periods. Education is a process, not an event.

PRINCIPAL’S Recommendation 5.

The lesson lacked clear, concise, and detailed instructions for completing the task of developing a cartoon/drawing of the immune system.

It was evident that the students demonstrated a lack of understanding after being instructed on how to complete the task by their lack of participation. When expecting struggling students to demonstrate group/pair strategy, it is very important that the learners are very clear on the responsibilities of each group member. A detailed protocol and a recording system for putting information together, developing questions, and developing sequential cartoons/drawings is imperative. In the future, be very clear on the
roles of each group member. This will allow for full participation and accountability from everyone.

MS UNTAMED’S Response to Recommendation #5

If Principal had paid as much attention to the students who were successful as she did to the struggling students, she would have seen that many students were able to express their ideas in drawings without having to be micromanaged. The first lesson had a detailed protocol and a recording system. The drawing assignment was much more open-ended. Students were free to express themselves, and produced work that they were proud of.

PRINCIPAL’S Recommendation # 6:

The closing/share for each work period did not actively engage all students or effectively summarize major concepts.

Although all students were quiet, most of them were not engaged in the closing/share. To ensure overt active participation and effectively summarize the lesson, during the closing ask each, all, or everyone to write an evaluative, synthesis, or application question that they would like to ask the presenter. Monitor questions, and have students ask the key questions that address the major concepts. This will keep the students engaged as well as summarize the lesson posing questions that emphasize the major concepts.

MS UNTAMED’S Response to Recommendation #6

Principal was not in the room during most of the closing/share/ minilesson, so she can’t testify to the fact that most of the students were not actively engaged. According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, the first two levels of the Affective Domain are:

The lowest level; the student passively pays attention. Without this level no learning can occur.

The student actively participates in the learning process, not only attends to a stimulus, the student also reacts in some way.

Most of my students were either receiving or responding in some way. A few were at the third level:

The student attaches a value to an object, phenomenon, or piece of information.

GROUP WORK 3:00-3:25 twenty-five minutes


The students began drawing at 3 o’clock. You walked around the room assisting students as they drew their cartoons.


Ms. Principal’s version of the twenty-five minutes that students spent drawing about the immune response is very sparse. This was the part of the lesson when students could demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the immune system. As I walked around the classroom, I asked questions like: What part of the immune system does this represent? What is happening here? What is the difference between the Helper T-cell and the Killer T-cell? How are you showing the Interferon? How are you showing that the Macrophage displays the germs it engulfs? I was not only helping them, I was assessing their understanding and looking for misconceptions. I took this time to emphasize that these “superheroes” were busy at work inside their bodies at that very moment. Most of the students were very involved. Ms. Principal did not notice that often the students who were less enthusiastic about “Ask and Answer” were now the ones taking the lead in drawing the cartoons.


PRINCIPAL’S Recommendation 4.

Student participation was limited to a few.

All students did not….participate in the drawing/cartoon during the group or pair sessions.

MS UNTAMED’S Response to Recommendation # 4

Ms. Principal accepted and validated the excuses that a few students had for not doing the work. I have taught science for 24 years. I have heard all kinds excuses from students for not doing their work. To the excuses “I don’t understand” , “I don’t know what to do”, I usually reply by giving a very simple task that will get the student started and bring him/her immediate success. It is important to help students take responsibility for their education and not give them an excuse to sit passively and do nothing. It would have been simple enough to say “Draw a cell being attacked by a germ”. After they complete one drawing, and they have momentum, have them draw a “Big Mac” saving the day by engulfing the germ. The other immune functions were harder to understand and draw, but the students could have been lead step by step to success.

Sadly, this was the moment for those few students to shine. They were no longer dependent on reading and writing. The fact that they couldn’t even produce a drawing of
a cell being attacked by a germ with all their video game and cartoon experience, demonstrates that  Principal was enabling their passivity.

I acknowledge that these three or four students needed much more attention and encouragement than I was able to give them. I repeat my recommendation that they be placed in an educational setting that meets their needs.

PRINCIPAL’S Recommendation #7.

The students seemed unaware of the purpose of the lesson. The objectives of the lesson were stated but were not specifically taught.

You state the objective, but the students did not understand how the immune system protected us from germs. The students could not articulate why they were drawing a cartoon, or how it related to the immune system.

MS UNTAMED’S Response to Recommendation #7

As I walked around the classroom assessing my students I found many who could in fact articulate how the cartoon related to the immune system.

CLOSING/SHARE/HOMEWORK 3:25-3:35 ten minutes


At 3:25, you asked everyone to stop so that they could listen to and see what each group had done. You called on one group to share their work. A representative from the group began to explain the group’s cartoon/drawing. As the student explained the group’s cartoon/drawing, you then noticed that you had misinformed the students about the function of the Killer-T-cells. You asked for everyone’s attention and explained the correct function of the Killer T-cell, the group completed their presentation. You then asked the class if another group wanted to share. No one volunteered, and you verbally assigned homework. The homework assignment was write a story or paragraph about your group cartoon/drawing. After assigning the homework, you began to get the students ready for dismissal.


Principal has no alternative but to acknowledge that a group presentation took place in which the immune response to a viral infection was correctly explained by students using a drawing that they themselves had created. More than one group had such a drawing, but we were out of time. The next day there were other group presentations, but Ms. Principal was nowhere to be seen. How else could she claim that “very few participated” and “no one volunteered’.

We ran out of time at the end of the period for me to write the homework assignment on the board. I told the group to write a story or paragraph about their group cartoon/drawing.


PRINCIPAL’S Recommendation #6

The closing/share did not actively engage all students, or effectively summarize major concepts.

…ask each, all, or everyone to write an evaluative, synthesis, or application question that they would like to ask the presenter. Monitor the questions, and have students ask the key questions that address the major concepts.

MS UNTAMED’S Response to Recommendation #6

We did not have time to have a question and answer session at the end of the presentation. If I had made the students write evaluative, synthesis or application questions, we would not have had time for even one presentation. The students who did participate satisfied the requirements of the Share segment by helping to summarize the learning of the day.

PRINCIPAL’S Recommendation #10

Homework was dictated and not meaningful.

Homework should be meaningful and we should expect that all students complete assigned homework. Dictation of assignments fosters misinterpretation on the student’s part, and often leads to misunderstandings and failure to complete homework assignments. Many of the students did not record or write the assignment in their notebooks. I suggest that all homework is written at the beginning of the period, and students are instructed to copy the homework into their agenda books.

Homework should reinforce what was done during the day’s lesson, and be inclusive of all students. You did not model the story assignment, or give any criteria for the written story. In order for students to successfully meet our expectations, we tell and show them what is expected. Some of the students did not participate in the cartoon drawings. In the future, please assign a homework assignment that reinforces what was done during the day and one that all students are able to complete.

MS UNTAMED’S response to Recommendation #10

Homework was assigned verbally, but it was a homework assignment that I often give. It did not need to be modeled. I had previously demonstrated the technique of summarizing a lesson in paragraph form. Criteria had already been established. Students knew how to successfully meet expectations.

Moriah Untamed