April 24, 2019

Learning from students

Teachers from region engage in lesson study at Homer

Catherine Wilde/contributing photographer

Cazenovia Central School District first-grade teacher Beth Kempf teaches a group of second-grade Cazenovia students at Homer Intermediate School on Monday afternoon while about 50 teachers look on. The lesson was put on by Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES, a joint venture between BOCES and Syracuse University and an example of lesson study.

A group of second-graders created ice caps out of Play-Doh on Monday in a classroom at Homer Intermediate School, slapping the white Play-Doh onto green and blue models of land and water.

But the study of water and land forms wasn’t any ordinary lesson — it was as much of a learning experience for the 50 teachers gathered watching it as it was for the students.

The event was a conference for teachers across the state, studying the implementation of the state’s new science learning standards as well as lesson study — a Japanese professional development tool in which teachers observe lessons and share those observations to enhance their practice.

The event was sponsored by Onondaga-Madison-Cortland Board of Cooperative Educational Services and Syracuse University School of Education.

Keynote speakers filled the morning and two lessons filled in the afternoon one for the high school teachers and one for the elementary school educators.

The Cazenovia Central School District second-graders have already been studying the land and water patterns with their teacher, Julie Kielbasinski, but it was the first time they were participating in the lesson study.

Before the students were brought into the room, teachers with notebooks and clipboards were reminded that they couldn’t influence the lesson in any way, which meant not answering any students’ questions.

Jess Whisher-Hehl, coordinator of innovative teaching and learning at OCM BOCES, and Sharon Dotger, associate professor of science education at Syracuse University, said the lessons involve teachers noticing students learning, and the teachers then learn how to improve those learning opportunities by third party observations.

“The lessons they do today are like testable hypotheses,” Dotger said. “The students are learning and the people watching are gathering data.”

A panel discussion followed the lessons. The teachers who had delivered the lesson before the group — Cazenovia teachers Beth Kempf and Christy Allen — shared what they noticed about the lesson and heard from the observers.

Kempf noticed one group of students placed ice in various places — like both on top of a mountain and at the edges of a lake — something that would make sense if the weather was cold.

As long as the reasoning was sound for it, such decisions are valid, she said.

The state’s P-12 Science Learning Standards were approved in 2016 and are intended to prepare students for fields in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which increasingly involve problem solving skills and teamwork, according to the state Education Department.

The teachers noticed the students, broken down into groups of three or four, were sometimes able to solve problems among themselves with little prompting, and they pointed to areas for improvement.

Kielbasinski, who has these students daily, noticed how their typical behavior seemed altered in the setting.

“I’m curious why some students who typically have a voice didn’t appear to have a voice in this situation,” she said during the panel discussion afterward. “They struggled more than I anticipated they would struggle.”

Sarah Levesque, a Jamesville-DeWitt Middle School teacher, said she noticed students were drawing from a lot of their own knowledge when their conversations picked up in their small groups.

Some other teachers noticed ideas coming from students who couldn’t clearly back up their reasoning, were dismissed.

In continuing lessons, noted Dotger, students will create two-dimensional models of these land forms, something that could be complicated by ice coverings, so more learning is to come.

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