Archive | Thoughts

Next Generation Activity Development

NGSS Middle School performance expectations for Weather and Climate - page 58
If you’re a science educator, unless you’re a troglodyte (which let’s face it, every department has at least one of), you’ve probably been paying attention to the development of the Next Generation Science Standards or NGSS. The new standards are the culmination of years of work by scientists and educators across the country to rethink the way science is taught (and assessed) at the K-12 level, focusing on the depth of knowledge rather than breadth, while emphasizing an understanding of scientific practices rather than just core content.

Now, if you’re like me, you probably glanced at the draft versions a few times, but never really took the time to truly understand the new standards and the NRC Framework they are built upon. But now that the NGSS is out, for those of us dedicated to supporting K-12 educators with curriculum and professional development, the hard work really begins.

Last week, I had an opportunity to look through the standards alongside many other ocean educators at the National COSEE Network Meeting. Our goal was to figure out how the NGSS could be used to develop activities, or rather, how we need to adjust our activity development process to meet the goals of the new standards (and by extension, the districts and teachers who will follow them). Given how dense the NGSS is, and with only an hour to review and reflect on them, we didn’t get very far. However, I did take away a few key insights:

  • As they’re presented, the top of each page features the “performance expectations” for each topic or theme. These are the new standards, but in general, they are not content specific as many existing standards are.
  • The disciplinary core ideas, found in the middle orange box at the bottom of each page, are more akin to existing content-based standards. If you are going to develop an activity on a particular subject, identifying standards that include a given topic as a core idea might be a good place to start.
  • However an activity should be more than just an elicitation of content, and it’s important to understand how a core idea intersects with a given set of science and engineering practices, included in the blue box in the bottom left. These practices could be incorporated as the approach or methodology students use when carrying out an activity, again placing the emphasis of the activity on the practices of science rather than a hodgepodge of content.
  • To that end, I think the performance expectations are not necessarily the “content” that one might teach towards, but rather they should be used as the activity goal one can use to assess students’ scientific competency in a given area.
  • As the Appendix on Conceptual Shifts explains, the standards are “student performance expectations – NOT curriculum” meaning that the combinations of core ideas, practices and expectations provided should not be thought of as rigidly linked. That said, in these early days, as we think about developing new curriculum to meet these standards they are a good place to start.
  • Similarly, it seems that many districts may use the Topic Arrangement of the NGSS as the basis for structuring their curriculum, and will probably be looking for help at that level.

Personally, I’ve never really been a fan of standards. That is to say, I’ve always disliked how many educators and especially administrators simply use them as an exercise in bean counting.

But I am excited about the new standards because they represent a fundamental shift in thinking away from content to how science is practiced in the real world. Hopefully, as ocean science educators we can be at the forefront of this shift, capitalizing on the opportunity to build innovative activities for students built on the compelling content and real world science that oceanographers can bring to the table.

The trick will be, can we really practice what we… well… practice?

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The Fuss About Digital Textbooks

Last week, two major events stirred up the digital learning field.

On Thursday, Apple held their Education Event during which they launched iBooks 2 and the corresponding iBooks Author tool. While much hay has been made on Apple’s proprietary expansion of the relatively new EPUB 3 standard, others have pointed out that Apple really isn’t raising the bar when it comes to digital learning.

To that end, researchers gathered on Wednesday at the Cyberlearning Research Summit in Washington, DC to discuss the latest developments in the field. The overall trend of the summit seemed to focus on how digital educational applications are moving to mobile platforms, and particularly iPads. As one example, Vinay Chaudhri and Debbie Frazier presented a novel approach to making eTextbooks more interactive by building in an ontology engine. This has the potential to help students make and synthesize their own connections between concepts. It’s clear this is still an area ripe for research and innovation.

Personally, I think the greatest opportunity (and challenge) for advancing digital education is figuring out how to provide interactive experiences for students that allow them to explore and comprehend individual concepts. As Chad Dorsey points out, this is what is most intriguing about iBooks 2 announcement, that is, it’s support for HTML5/JavaScript based widgets, and to a lesser extent, the easy creation of widgets via Keynote as well.

Indeed, this is where much of our development emphasis at Rutgers is focused. With new visualization libraries like d3.js and the continuing rise in web services for accessing data, the barriers for creating novel tools to explore and engage in scientific datasets are increasingly being reduced.

To me, this will be education’s “deus ex machina” in the digital age. Textbooks, or their more modern corollaries, web portals and e-books, are still needed to house large collections of knowledge. But true learning opportunities will come through the smaller interactives students play with. Several other speakers at the Cyberlearning summit alluded to this fact, including Melanie Cooper and Mike Klymkowsky’s BeSocratic software, and Cliff Konold’s observations on how people understand Data visualizations.

I think digital textbook are solving a different problem: distribution. They’re trying to get as much content to as many students as possible, and that’s an important piece of the puzzle.

But ultimately, student learning is about content and the educational environment. For students to succeed they need to

  • learn how to ask good questions,
  • outline mental models of their understanding,
  • conduct experiments,
  • develop techniques to analyze the results of their investigations, and
  • adapt their mental models and understanding with the evidence they uncover.

To do this they need good mentoring from teachers and well developed lessons, lessons that help them investigate relevant and interesting problems.

The textbook, digital or not, is only one part of an educator’s toolbox.

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An Ocean View

We now live in an ocean of data.

Scientific advances today, whether in economics, medicine, homeland security or earth science, all rely on the collection and analysis of mountains of data. The technological and communications revolutions of the last few decades have made it easier to monitor and collect data from every facet of society and the environment. The challenge for the next generation of scientists will be to make sense of all this information.

Along with this shift has come the simultaneous realization that our impact on the planet has been profound. The climate is changing, ecosystems are shifting and the vitality of ocean as our grandparents and even our parents knew it is no more. It is up to us to use our new-found technologies to observe, understand, restore and protect the environment we all live in.

But the challenge, like the data at hand, is vast. Oceanographers now have at their disposal gigabytes of new data every day from networks of satellites, moored buoys, underwater robots, HF-Radars, floats, drifters and ship observations. And yet, most of this data only scratches the literal surface of the ocean. We know so little about the vast open ocean and deep water areas that cover most of the planet. So oceanographers have also developed complex numerical models into which they assimilate all the data they have in attempt to fill in the missing gaps. These models help us decipher the natural and not-so-natural processes of the world we live in.

As we look to solve these more complex problems, we will need new tools to help us mine, synthesize and visualize this ocean of data, tools that will help us parse out the important individual interactions in highly integrated systems. By digging through large datasets, scientists and students will be better equipped to develop the intuition they will require to seek out innovative new solutions.

In this blog we will explore these new tools, including the sensors that collect the data and the myriad of ways the data can be visualized to help us understand the Ocean planet we live on. This is no small feat, and includes areas as diverse as scientific visualization, interface design, usability, information aesthetics, and learning theory. Ultimately, we hope to be a resource for scientists, programmers and especially educators, on how all this new data from the ocean, much of it flowing in real-time, can be translated, understood and put into action but researchers, students and the public.

This will be the story of data from the Ocean… told in pictures.

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