Tomorrow is the last day of our Modeling Workshop here in NYC. Everyone involved, from the workshop leaders to the participants (Big digital shout out to @elbee818, @jsb16, @d2thelhurst, and @fernwig!) have been amazing, and to say that I'm going to miss hanging out with these folks all day long is a gross understatement. On the bright side, though, looking back through my notebook on the train ride home today got me chomping at the bit to spend some much-needed alone time working out how I'll be putting this stuff to work with my ninth graders in the fall. As anyone who's completed a workshop has seen, Modeling Instruction is a method, not a curriculum - the worksheets and activities used in any workshop are meant to serve only as a starting point for applying the method to your student population. As I've mentioned before in this blog, it's a fascinating experience to leaf through other Modelers' revisions of activities, and take inspiration for what to include in revisions of my own.
One thing that came up a couple times in our workshop discussions was the role of note taking in a Modeling course. In a classroom that's using a Modeling method, students build all knowledge through consensus. This consensus emerges slowly as students struggle collectively to interpret empirical observations of a unit paradigm lab, present solutions on a whiteboard, and ask questions about these solutions of their peers. Flashes of insight will come at unexpected moments, often when the class is at its most exciting and engaging, but a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of a model must be built gradually over many days. It seems to me that only the most sophisticated note takers will emerge from a lab or whiteboarding session with detailed records of the knowledge developed during that class period. Students new to Modeling are suddenly asked to think about science in a radically new way, and (by necessity to the inquiry process) often denied access to the resources that they've come to rely on during their previous years as a science student. Sure, some teachers pass out a textbook, but these books turn out to be more useful for building inclined planes than for working through most worksheet problems or lab practica... For ninth graders in particular, this whole new ballgame begins on their very first day of high school, simultaneous to a transition that already induces utter panic. It's my hunch that some minor restructuring of worksheets and other Modeling curriculum resources can go a long way in helping younger students get the most out of this complex process of knowledge-building.
When I was teaching Physics First in a "lab, lecture, & discussion" format, I developed a system of handouts to try to provide students some hierarchical structure for their class notes. (A description of these Notes Outline handouts was published in the "For the New Teacher" column in The Physics Teacher in September of 2011, and you can find an old blog post about my approach here.) Through these handouts, I felt I succeeded in providing a consistent and reliable resource for students in a class where very little emphasis was placed on textbook readings. As I've delved deeper into Modeling Instruction, I've become more convinced that providing some similar structure is crucial to helping ninth graders succeed in a class with such a strong emphasis on higher-order thinking.
The idea of prompting students to record notes on class consensus is far from new. Debbie Rice, a co-developer of a collection of Modeling materials designed for use with ninth graders, told me in a phone conversation that if teachers aren't explicitly drawing out class consensus from work done, then they aren't doing true Modeling. On the Modeling Instruction revisions of handouts to accompany Melvin Steinberg's excellent CASTLE curriculum (downloadable from the "Legacy ASU Modeling site"), most worksheets include a blank space marked "Consensus." However, such direct prompts are by no means the norm in most Modeling resources I've seen. Most Modelers encourage students to record corrected solutions to worksheet problems somewhere in the space provided, but I'm not sure that this alone sends the right message about the role of worksheets in the consensus-building process. As a Physics First teacher pointed out after looking over my revisions, placing Notes prompts on the worksheets themselves illustrates explicitly to a student that "the worksheets are a learning process on par with the lab activities... Ninth graders need a clear understanding of when they're expected to be building knowledge and when they're demonstrating knowledge." Furthermore, having specific conceptual targets for a whiteboarding session can help novice Modelers, since "a teacher can pace discussions better when they know they need to uncover certain consensus points by the end of the period."
In thinking about the value of inquiry, I've always wrestled with the degree to which "less is more." That is, when students are building knowledge for themselves, how much top-down scaffolding is too much? For example, it's become strikingly clear to me through this workshop that worksheet problems must be sufficiently ambiguous or open ended to allow for a variety of relevant interpretations. I'm very aware that providing Notes on Consensus prompts will put limitations on how a given worksheet or lab can be interpreted by students, and that this may seem in opposition to others' visions of true modeling. Indeed, one teacher's response to the Notes on Consensus format on these worksheet revisions was more along the lines of a general template for "whiteboarding notes" that includes separate spaces for recording points of confusion and similarities and differences with other groups' whiteboards, but no content-specific prompts. At this point in time I'm convinced that the content-specific prompts will be useful, but only time will tell.
In any case, it's clear to me that there is value to including consistent reflection activities throughout every step of the Modeling cycle. If students learn better note taking skills in the process, that's all the better! I'd love to hear any comments that YOU have on either the Notes on Consensus format, or the specific worksheet revisions I've posted here. If you end up introducing similar modifications to the curriculum resources you use, please, please send 'em my way!!
PS - A huge THANK YOU to Leah Kanner Segal and Lucas Walker for their feedback on the collection of materials I've posted here!
PPS - If you want the MSWord files of the PDFs I've posted, just ask! They're revised versions of the 2010 Modeling materials (revised by Mark Schober, one of the co-leaders of our workshop!), which are available on the main AMTA site, but I've included some fancy new pictures that you might feel like using.
PPPS!! - Speaking of which, those amazing cartoon hands in the worksheet revisions are drawn by cartoonist Jamie Sale. If you feel like trying to draw some hands yourself, Jamie will show you how to do it!!