Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Next Generation Science Stardards grumbling....

I'm doing a weekend Professional Development series of courses to learn how to create lessons using the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I'm always a little grumpy with anything like this. It's part of my process. I get annoyed, and then I say I'm not going to let this beat me, so I dig in and work harder until I get results. What I would (cynically) say my method really is is this:
1. We're given some set of theories, requirements, whatever....
2. As I learn about them I see the shortcomings, flaws, nonsense....
but because I'm supposed to come up with something. . . .
3. I figure out how to make something good out of it, I translate what I've learned and what's been proven to work into something that fits the catch-phrases of the set of theories....
Everybody should be happy.
I make lessons, and then students stare at their cell phones, eat Cheetos (they buy in the official school student store, all day long) and 11th graders sit and do nothing until asked about it then they say, "I don't have a pencil."
Bottom line: No theory, new school reform, iPad, or giving away pencils is going to teach anything to any student who isn't committed to learning and who is allowed to attend school to stare at a cell phone, eat junk food in class, sleep....

(I figure with this blog posting I could be fired, so let it all hang out.)
I've been in a lot of schools. There are schools where students are not allowed to cuss at anyone, have their cell phones out, etc... these students are happy and learning. Nearby there are other schools, same demographics (I am arguing that these are district and school failures, nothing else) where no one is allowed to go any farther than to ask politely (they can F-bomb you back- with ZERO repercussions) to put the phone away. If they don't, too bad. These students are not happy and many if not most students in these schools are not learning much of anything.

 Critique Number One. This was an e-mail, that I would never send: There's no point, it wouldn't be understood.

Is there anywhere examples of actual lessons designed using the NGSS methods that we are currently working with? When I look online for lessons  based on the ‘new thing’ the ‘big reform,’ including NGSS and Common Core, what I find is a lot of chatter about what it will do, how it will do it—it’s endless, but no lessons.
I have to conclude that this is all basically a shell game. Clicking on links within the NGSS site results in endless circles all saying the same things, and leading right back to the pages I started on.
Links exist to connect, links that run in a circle are by nature useless and false. They appear to do something, but if they just lead in a circle, they are doing nothing.  Rhetorical tautologies prove nothing, lead nowhere. In education the trick is not to run around the same tree but to run around three trees before you are sent back to run around the first tree. (Wikipedia: Consequently, the statement conveys no useful information regardless of its length or complexity making it unfalsifiable. It is a way of formulating a description such that it masquerades as an explanation when the real reason for the phenomena cannot be independently derived.) 

As I fill out the forms we are given to design our NGSS lessons and units, they don’t seem helpful so much as simply busy work. I’m at the stage with one lesson where I’ve got a lot of blank spaces that have three basic purposes:
1. to re-apply the old cliches, “The 5 E’s”,
2. to do my actual lesson planning and
3. I don’t knows. I’m not sure what should go in these.
The lesson planning boxes seem to require what lesson plans have always required: What will I do, what will students do, what resources do they need, and what will success look like. The rest just seems like window dressing. It’s like last year when they gave us all 150 page books on teaching English and the only real change is they changed a half dozen acronyms.
(There should be a 4th item. The important things in NGSS that there seems to be no slot in the form to place them.) 
I know I’m missing something. The people who make these things are not evil, malicious or clueless. Still I can never get past the feeling someone is putting something over on me.
(During my teacher training we were told to use a website to design our lessons, we were carefully instructed on the basics, with a promise that the website did so much more…. This was 8 years ago. I was so annoyed with how poorly it worked, taking forever to do anything, frequently crashing, that I designed a FileMaker Pro database to do the same thing. Took me less than an hour. I made another data base, loaded in all the relevant science standards. After a couple of hours this ‘amazing tool’ that probably cost a lot of money, was superseded. Even if you’ve never made a database, you could learn how in about two hours and then in another two hours…..
We are repeatedly being oversold on the completely unremarkable.

I do like the basic ideas behind Common Core and NGSS, deeper thinking, working collaboratively, organizing learning not around a list of facts but around broader concepts and ideas. The execution however is overly complicated, recursive and vague. I wouldn’t mind this so much, if it weren’t such a hassle to work with. (We’re supposed to enter the information from the book or website into our lesson planning documents. The website and the pdf versions don’t copy and paste very well. A single paragraph takes up a whole page, sometimes it’s (well here’s an example:
HS (Hard Return)-(Hard Return) ESS2(Hard Return)-(Hard Return)2.(Hard Return) Analyze…. (text is also broken up, but not as badly)
This is just one of the items
HS-ESS2-2. Analyze Geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth’s surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems.”
This item by the way is different from “ESS2.A Earth Materials and Systems”
Can you see how difficult this can be to work with?
 I burned out. Mostly I write this stuff, bury in a journal, that in turn is buried on my hard drive, and I move on. It’s easy to take this stuff apart, but it’s also a waste of time.

I did send this the National Association of Science Teachers web page that is about a book:
What I've seen in the 40 page pdf preview of Translating the NGSS, this is simply more of the same 'talking about' but nothing  concrete and applicable, like an actual lesson plan, or unit plan.  The NGSS materials I've been given has a whole book that endlessly repeats the same theory and concepts multiple times. Another book, another PD, powerpoint, etc.... that 'talks about' is of no use to anyone.  I'd like to see an actual set of lesson plans, unit and course plan, that could actually be taught. 
There's some good in the NGSS, but it seems everyone connected to it is burying it in chatter. 
End of this message.

No one else has commented on the book, so I doubt anyone has read the page, or if they have they’ve just shrugged and moved on.

How I like to design a lesson:
I like to use empirical examples of lessons actual teachers use with real students. Any of us can look at ten examples of something and then be able to begin creating our own. Orson Welles and his creative group watched Stagecoach, a western 42 times and then went on to make Citizen Kane--definitely not a western.
The other way I work is to think about how I learned something, or how a body of knowledge and skills are organized and then build up from there. It’s a fun process and I’ve come up with some good presentations and good projects.

(I won’t claim to be anything like a great teacher. I think my instructional design is top notch, but in the classroom….? I think I do well with students already willing to learn. Those against learning, I don’t seem to have convinced.)  I have the chutzpah to write and post this stuff because 1. no one seems to have noticed my blog so it’s harmless, so far and 2. I have made great stuff, helped students make great stuff. I’ll post some of the water rockets, hot air balloons, my right hand rule of Earth in space, and much more…

 I was on a roll. Why get hanged for one sheep when I could get hanged for two? So I posted this:
California Science Teachers Association (CSTA) website.  CSTA was good enough to let me teach a few workshops at their annual conventions.

The last item on the list of NGSS implementation is "development of curriculum materials, assessment development." No where is there mention of teaching students.

How long are we going to continue doing this in education (and going along with it)? If what you propose is possible, practical and better--clearly discussing theory and teaching theory to teachers before anyone makes a single lesson is backwards. It hasn't succeeded in the past, isn't likely to succeed now or ever. With the sole exception of Quantum Physics, theory has always followed practical implementation. Always. (See Nassim Nicholas Taleb, I think Antifragile, though it might be in Fooled by Randomness.) 
The alternative is 1500 years of Aristotelian theory of gravity while the obvious reality was ignored. 
If a great science teacher taught a group of students and those students learned a lot, made great imaginative projects and amazing labs; and these results were compared with a committee generated pile of theory, 'awareness phase,' 'focus groups' yada-yada-yada with absolutely no implementation; the committee stuff would prevail.

Why? Because that is the way we continue to do things. Obviously there's great science education out there, but we spend endless amounts of time, effort, money with this well meaning overly complicated stuff.  There's a lot in NGSS that I like; the implementation so far is so bizarrely overcomplicated I'm wondering if this isn't an elaborate ruse. It’s more a very weird puzzle than a set of instructions.

I would like to suggest that no one be allowed to spend another minute of teachers’ time until they’ve taught real students with real lessons and documented the results. It’s not like it’s hard to find students who wouldn’t benefit from more learning experiences. 

I'm curious, is this just cranky nonsense? Or are a lot of us annoyed by how this is being done? 
End (I’ve tweaked it a bit here and there, but left enough grammatical mistakes to keep it’s sense of …. ranting).
OK. Now all I have to do is wait….to be fired. 

What absolutely amazes me is how we go along with this stuff. I am really interested in finding out if I’m just a crank. This is either the emperor’s new clothes, or I’m just a grumpy old man. 
I think Richard Feynman would agree with me; clearly I’m following his lead. I also think that my science knowledge, ability to learn new things and apply them to lessons, extend my learning into new areas, create original and unique inventions; supports my position as a legitimate source of criticism. What also seems to be the case is that people in education management and ‘team players,’ disagree. 

I think these things keep happening this way because we are all intimidated into believing that these committees, consultants, ‘experts’ know more than we do. I don’t think they do, in fact I don’t think they know much of anything. What they do know is how to work the system, network and promote themselves. No one in education gets very far being clearly more intelligent then his or her boss. An important part of becoming a teacher is sitting in endless meetings pretending to be interested in shear nonsense.

What more do I need to do to make my case?
One thing would be to share some of my teaching here. I’ll post some of my projects soon. One of our soda bottle rockets was recently clocked at 178 mph.

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