Monday, February 15, 2016

What will be different this time? Thoughts on NGSS implementation Part 2

A brief recap:

This is the second post in a series of posts on The Next Generation Science Standards. See Part 1 here. This series of posts is intended to raise issues of national importance related to the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and to dig into the question in the post's title. Part 1 ends with some discussion of how the now 20-year-old The National Science Education Standards (NSES) was a good document that envisioned sweeping change to how K-12 science is taught. That description fits the NGSS as well. I argue that the NSES didn't drive much change in actual teaching practice, and worry that the current efforts won't either.

I received a fair amount of engaging feedback. Some responses to that feedback is included within the post, but I also included a bulleted list (below the questionnaire) with some of those issues, in bold, with a bit of elaboration from me.

Part 3 will focus on responses to the premortem exercise included in this post.  

    And onto why this time will be different:

    You. Us. I hope. We're what's different. I hope. But for us to be different, we actually need to do things differently this time around. If we keep doing what we're doing, well, we'll keep doing what we're doing.

    I am saying some things that plenty of people want to hear - that I think the NGSS have the potential to transform K-12 science education (and maybe K-12 education more broadly), I'm also saying something that many people don't want to hear. We're not on track to reach that potential. Part of what I'm up to here is prodding you to convince me I'm wrong. By doing so, I may be also prodding you to more action than you otherwise would. 

    Go Fever

    The Freakonomics Podcast episode, "Failure is Your Friend" includes a good discussion of "Go Fever." That's a term from NASA that was used in diagnosing what went wrong to cause the Challenger explosion. Engineers knew that the O-rings weren't designed for the cold temperatures experienced on the morning of the launch, but those engineers were over-ridden by bureaucrats with Go Fever.  Wikipedia nicely describes it:
    In the US space industry, "go fever" is an informal term used to refer to the overall attitude of being in a rush or hurry to get a project or task done while overlooking potential problems or mistakes. "Go fever" results from both individual and collective aspects of human behavior. It is due to the tendency as individuals to be overly committed to a previously chosen course of action based on time and resources already expended (sunk costs) despite reduced or insufficient future benefits, or even considerable risks. It is also due to general budget concerns and due to the desire of members of a team not to be seen as the one who is not equally committed to the team's goals or to be the one interfering with the team's progress or success. The term was coined after the Apollo 1 fire in 1967 and has been referred to in subsequent NASA incidents such as the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.[citation needed] "Go fever" can also be similar to the groupthink phenomenon, where a group may end up making a bad decision for the sake of cordiality and maintaining the group's atmosphere; coined by the social psychologist Irving Janis in 1972.[1][2]
    It's worth pondering: Do we have Go Fever about the NGSS? Are we making catastrophic mistakes because we feel a strong need to get going already?

    I'll confess that I worry both about going to slow and going to fast. Can we figure out how to hit just the right speed? Clearly, we need to move forward, and, there is a sense of urgency. It's also fairly clear to me that, at least in some states (including my own state of New York), the Common Core was rolled out too fast and that caused substantial problems. Can we learn lessons from that experience and avoid repeating the same mistakes?

    Doing a "premortem" on the NGSS

    Gary Klein developed a process for predicting and preventing project failures he dubbed a "premortem." Klein's article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), "Performing a Project Premortem" offers a concise description of the process that is also discussed in that same Freakonomics Podcast episode mentioned above, "Failure is Your Friend." I highly recommend giving it a listen after you've finished reading (and responding!) to this post.

    I'm asking you to participate in an online version of premortem on the NGSS. Here's a long quote from the HBR article on premortems:
    "A premortem is the hypothetical opposite of a postmortem. A postmortem in a medical setting allows health professionals and the family to learn what caused a patient’s death. Everyone benefits except, of course, the patient. A premortem in a business setting comes at the beginning of a project rather than the end, so that the project can be improved rather than autopsied. Unlike a typical critiquing session, in which project team members are asked what might go wrong, the premortem operates on the assumption that the “patient” has died, and so asks what did go wrong. The team members’ task is to generate plausible reasons for the project’s failure.
    A typical premortem begins after the team has been briefed on the plan. The leader starts the exercise by informing everyone that the project has failed spectacularly. Over the next few minutes those in the room independently write down every reason they can think of for the failure—especially the kinds of things they ordinarily wouldn’t mention as potential problems, for fear of being impolitic. For example, in a session held at one Fortune 50–size company, an executive suggested that a billion-dollar environmental sustainability project had “failed” because interest waned when the CEO retired. Another pinned the failure on a dilution of the business case after a government agency revised its policies.
    So, imagine that it's 2026. School science teaching and learning looks much as it did in 2016. Maybe some of the vocabulary has changed, but what kids and teachers are actually doing in most classrooms is largely the same, and the outcomes are largely the same. Collaborations across grade levels remain uncommon, as is interdisciplinary teaching. The focus of instruction and assessment is largely at the knowledge level of Bloom's Taxonomy (but, of course, things are different in your classroom). Why didn't NGSS change things? What went wrong? What did we fail to do or do badly? Or was it just a big and complicated bad idea to begin with?

    Think about those questions as you read on. In just a couple of paragraphs time, you'll have an opportunity to share answers to those questions, and a couple more in Google Form, and you'll be able to see what others are saying. I was pleased by how many folks sent me emails after Part 1. Some of you may be able to cut and paste from those emails into the form.

    Below the form are some ideas that came from readers of Part 1 along with my thoughts on those comments. You might wish to read that before completing the premortem. You may also wish to look at "Putting a hyper-dimensional peg in a round hole: Addressing the mismatch of NGSS and the structure of schooling", a Prezi that's included in the Additional Resources section at the end of the post. But you can dig right in without looking at that stuff.  

    Feedback on Feedback on Part 1

    General ideas that I received through email, Facebook, or comments on Part 1 are in bold with my comments following. I'm delighted at the volume of feedback I received and regret that I can't address every last bit of it. The below teases out some of what I thought were the big ideas. 
    • Schools didn't create poverty and it's unrealistic that they fix poverty. True that. But schools, I hope, are an integral part of the solution, and integral is italicized on purpose. The structure of middle and high schools, and of undergraduate college instruction, is generally poorly integrated within itself let alone within its community. Interdisciplinary connections within the school need fortification. Connection of school content to the world outside of school also needs fortification. I recognize that and (obviously) can't do it justice in a paragraph, but it does deserve acknowledgment. 
    • Claims of "We're already doing this!" are probably mostly exaggerations. One important piece of why it's unlikely that you're already teaching in ways that satisfy NGSS expectations is it's not something that one teacher can do alone, unless they're really alone, like in a one-room schoolhouse. That's probably not you. Of course, "you" can be singular or plural. If you think you, in the collective sense of the term are already doing it, that makes it more likely that you are. But if you think that you means a really big you, as in most of the teachers who attend the state science teachers conference, or most of the teachers in a district with more than a dozen teachers teaching science, then you are probably wrong. We're just not there yet. Here's another take on I already do NGSS... No You Don't (suggested by a reader of Part 1).
    • Facts are essential, and, darn it, I'm focused on teaching facts.  Of course facts are essential, but the facts have been the heart of instruction for years - centuries, even. And those practices have consistently yielded (mostly) scientifically illiterate graduates. Biology is the high school science course that very nearly every high school student in the United States takes. That too has been true for decades. And, it's been true for decades that the typical high school biology text has more new vocabulary than the typical first year foreign language text. And, I think you'll agree, that most high school graduates have a very weak grasp on the basics of biology. Those folks that have a good grasp of facts within a discipline have a conceptual framework that pays attention to the important connections amongst the facts. I argue that those connections are as important as the facts themselves. This idea is backed up by solid research on How Students Learn Science. (At least check out the introductory chapter. Please.)
    • Starting with A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts and Core Ideas makes sense. Yep. I should have said so more clearly. 
    • What gets tested (or otherwise assessed) is what gets taught, though clearly there are many teachers who go above and beyond (or go different from...) what's assessed on the state test, or whatever test your students may be subjected to. The clauses in parentheses are important. Assessments don't have to be tests, though it's difficult to move away from that simple and comparatively inexpensive approach. For a lot of reasons, we need to figure out how to make that move. Digging into that will have to wait for another post. The parenthetic "or go different from..." is important because going above and beyond what's assessed might imply doing more - implying a change in quantity of content rather than a change in quality or nature of content. You will find some insights into this in the Classroom Sample Tasks found on the Resources page of the NGSS website.

    Additional Resources + Don's Bona Fides

    A subset of the Additional Resources repeated from Part 1

    NGSS & the New York State Science Strategic Plan: Implications for Teachers

    Putting a hyper-dimensional peg in a round hole: Addressing the mismatch of NGSS and the structure of schooling

    Don's bona fides

    I am amongst the cast of thousands who have contributed to these standards, both at national and state levels. I was a member of the Earth and Space Science Design Team for A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts and Core Ideasthe document that serves as the foundation for NGSS, and I served on the New York State Statewide Leadership Team for Next Generation Science Standards Development, and was part of STANYS's Earth science group that provided feedback to the New York State Education Department on the standards. I have also led or been a leader for a number of workshops and presentations on the NGSS. Two of those are included in the Additional Resources section at the end of this post. And, I've got nine years of experience in the high school classroom, mostly teaching Regents Earth Science, and eight years of experience as a professor of science education at Kalamazoo College, Cornell University and Colgate University. For the last eight years, I've worked for the Paleontological Research Institution, its Museum of the Earth and its Cayuga Nature Center where my current position is Director of Teacher Programs. This month marks my 30th year as a professional educator. In other words, I've been thinking this stuff for a long time.

    While I have been involved enough to have good knowledge of the standards, my role is admittedly small compared to many, many others.

    Saturday, January 23, 2016

    What will be different this time? Thoughts on NGSS implementation Part 1

    Part 2 is now posted here. It uses an embedded questionnaire to gather your insights.

    While this post was inspired by The draft New York State P-12 Science Learning Standards (NYSSLS) that are now available online, I hope it has relevance beyond New York State. This series of posts is intended to raise issues of national importance related to the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and to dig into the question in the post's title. New York's draft standards are close cousins of the NGSS, which are national in scope, but not federally funded or mandated. Throughout the post, I'll largely treat the two sets of standards as one as they are so very similar.

    There is a short appendix at the end of the post specific to New York. If that's not of interest, skip it. There's also an appendix offering up my bona fides for commenting on these issues. You can skip that with impunity as well.

    Complexifying the Seemingly Simple and Simplifying the Seemingly Complex

    Whether talking about the NGSS, or New York's version of them, the cartoon above has some relevance. The cartoon resonates partly because the simplicity of the cartoon ultimately causes the cartoon to make fun of itself. It’s a simple and basically correct idea that simple ideas about complex things are usually wrong, which implies that the cartoon itself is wrong. Yet, it still holds some truth. (You might pause and ponder Occam's razor).

    The NGSS is appropriately wickedly complex, as science, and the processes necessary to build deep understandings of science are complex. But the NGSS is also about simplifying science by first identifying three dimensions of science (Crosscutting Concepts, Science and Engineering Principles, and Disciplinary Core Ideas), and then a few big ideas in each of those dimensions. Each of those dimensions should be thought of as about a third of the standards. That simple conceptual framework is one of the best things about the NGSS.

    But, and it is a pretty big but, that simplicity is not immediately evident, or anything close to immediately evident, when you look at the either the NGSS website or the New York draft standards. That's too bad, but it's also fixable. Click over to the NGSS website and look around. How long does it take for you to identify something that's both important about these new standards and different from what we've thought of as best practice? Or, how long would it take to do that if you'd never seen them before today? I'd argue that it might take a few hours. It shouldn't. 

    A simple and important idea to grasp before digging too deeply into the NGSS

    This three dimensional framework, with each dimension consisting of just a few key ideas and each being of roughly equal importance is far from the only really important change envisioned by the new standards, but it's right up there. Another important idea hitched to this is that discipline specific ideas, what we tend to think of when we think of high school and college science, are only a third of what should be taught in K-12 science education. I agree with this whole-heartedly, by the way. The Science and Engineering Practices and the Crosscutting Concepts are just as important to understand as discipline-specific ideas.

    What do I think are the most shifts in the nature of science education envisioned in the NGSS?

    The interdisciplinary nature of NGSS, which is closely tied to its attention to teaching about systems is, in my view, is probably more important than the idea of three dimensional science. The attention to the idea that it takes years of coordinated instruction to build deep understandings of big ideas is of similar importance. Approach the standards with these big conceptual shifts in mind:
    • It is more important to understand a few big ideas deeply than it is to know lots of facts. 
    • It takes years of coordinated effort to build deep understanding of big ideas. 
    • There are three dimensions of roughly equal importance, one of which is (almost) what we think of as traditional school science disciplines.
    • Systems thinking and interdisciplinarity are appropriately pervasive in the standards. 
    • The goal is for students to explain real-world phenomena and design solutions to problems using their understanding of the Disciplinary Core Ideas, Crosscutting Concepts, and Science and Engineering Practices. 
    How many clicks on the NGSS site does it take to bring out those ideas? The site includes a couple of videos that tell you that science teaching needs to change, and some of the reasons why, but they don't really give great insights into what the changes actually look like. In the video on the NGSS homepage, Fred Johnson, starting 37 seconds in, does give about 10 seconds of insight related to NGSS's interdisciplinary nature. The 11 minute video on NSTA's homepage for NGSS resources does offer a good glimpse into what teaching that aligns with the NGSS's vision might look like. That video - which isn't on the NGSS page - is probably worth your time.

    It's important to emphasize that while some lessons are better suited to supporting the NGSS than others, no single lesson, by itself, should be thought of as satisfying the NGSS, or, by itself, as even necessarily aligned with the NGSS. That lesson has to be understood in the context of many other lessons, including, at least in some cases, lessons in non-science disciplines and lessons that have been or will be taught at other grade levels. That's a big, important and complex deal.

    Without simple ways to help teachers begin the process of wrapping their heads around the complex ideas, too many (I think most) teachers won’t really wrap their heads around the NGSS and they’ll ultimately have little impact on classroom practice, just like the last time some pretty good standards came along.

    A five minute video highlighting interactive features on the NGSS website

    There are also some powerful tools built right into the NGSS website, and the standards are really thoughtfully designed for online reading. It's easier to show those features in a video than to describe them in text. There's a bit more on how to read the NGSS online in the first of the additional resources below. That piece is largely borrowed from the NGSS Structure document in the sidebar on the Standards page of the NGSS website.

    Looking back to more effectively look forward

    If you've been around a while, like me, I invite you to think back to 1996 when The National Science Education Standards (NSES) came out. Those standards were pretty good too. If the vision laid out there actually came to fruition, we'd be doing pretty well. I'd argue that they didn't change classroom practice very much, and I'm deeply concerned that we're largely repeating the actions of the NSES rollout. And, I'm deeply concerned that the great thinking and hard work that has brought us the fine product that is the NGSS won't do much to change what science teaching looks like and won't make K-12 students and graduates more scientifically literate.

    It's been 20 years since the rollout of NSES. If you have evidence that American high school graduates are more scientifically literate now than they were then, I'd like to see it. If you have evidence that makes a causal link between an increase in scientific literacy and the NSES, I'd really like to see it. Personally, I'm not aware of evidence that shows much change - good or bad - in the scientific literacy of Americans in the last several decades. And I have looked.

    Happily, these new standards represent a change in vision for the nature and structure of schooling. Unhappily, there is little recognition of the scale of change envisioned. There are, however, places where the scale of change is more clear. For example, the PEEC-Alignment draft (found on the helpful Resources page of the NGSS website) includes this idea:
    "Shifting school programs to support the implementation of the NGSS will require many changes. The best response to this challenge would be to design brand new school science programs." 
    That is a suggestion to redesign K-12 science from scratch, not work to force fit the NGSS into existing structures. That's a heavy lift, but essential if we actually want to change the outcomes of school science.

    In the next post, I'll ask you for some input as to how we can make the rollout more effective than the NSES rollout in 1996 and more clearly raise the issue of the mismatch of the NGSS and the structure of schooling. Some of what's coming is foreshadowed in the resources below.

    Part 2 is now posted here. It uses an embedded questionnaire to gather your insights.

    Additional Resources:

    NGSS & the New York State Science Strategic Plan: Implications for Teachers

    Putting a hyper-dimensional peg in a round hole: Addressing the mismatch of NGSS and the structure of schooling

    The New York Appendix

    For the New Yorkers reading this, I'll point you to a survey from the New York State Education Department on the New York draft standards. The survey is open until February 5, 2016. The survey does depend on knowledge of the NGSS, that I think would take at least 20 hours of study to really provide informed responses to most questions. If you've not yet dug into the NGSS, start now and come back to the survey before the February 5 deadline. If you don't have time to do that level of preparation before the deadline, but want to give feedback, you are able to leave some questions blank, and the survey ends with open ended questions. 

    Other than the extension to preschool that the New York standards include, I wish the New York Standards were the NGSS. There are costs and benefits to the tweaks made by the New York writers, and it's hard for me to see the benefits as greater than the costs. The New York standards include a few added Performance Expectations. These are shown in highlighted text. Some addition content was also added or revised and each occurrence is marked "NYSED." Adding the preschool standards makes good sense. The few other standards that were either added or revised may have some benefits, but the costs are more obvious to me. Will these changes make it so that some curriculum materials developed for the NGSS are inappropriate for New York State? If so, is that loss of resources, worth the advantage gained by tweaking the phrasing? If not, what's the point? The answers to these questions should be clearly and concisely spelled out in front matter for the standards. The answers matter for informing the selection of curriculum materials and professional development programs.

    The navigability of the NGSS online platform is far superior to presentation via pdf. Of course, the number of changes between NGSS and the NY Standards is fairly small, so using the NGSS site primarily is not much of a problem. Being able to scroll over a PE and see a pop-up showing the more detailed information is valuable, and the ability to click on the related content in the connections boxes and go to that content is even more valuable. I am hopeful that the NGSS web design can be replicated for New York's use and the modifications made for New York can be placed into a platform that has the look, feel, and operability of the NGSS site.

    The above portion of the appendix are generally about the standards, and not the survey. There is one particular set of items in the survey that I'd like to draw attention to, as it confused the heck out of me. In the "Coherence" section of the survey, questions 17 & 18 are as follows:

    Criterion:Standards include connections across science disciplines.
    Rationale for Criterion:Standards fostering recognition of knowledge and practices shared amongst science disciplines reinforce learning in one or more specific science disciplines.
    17. The Science and Engineering Practices and the Crosscutting Concepts draw connections among physical sciences, life sciences, and Earth and space sciences. 
    Within each Topic Area minimal connections among physical sciences, life sciences, and Earth and space science exist as presented in grades K-5. There are no apparent connections among the Disciplinary Core Ideas presented at the middle level or high school in the Topic Area arrangement. Explicit connections among physical sciences, life sciences, and Earth and space sciences could be accomplished through curriculum/course development.
    Based on the evidence provided above by NYSED, the draft New York State P-12 Science Learning Standards:
    • Do not meet this criterion
    • Minimally meet this criterion
    • Adequately meet this criterion
    • Meet this criterion to a great extent
    18. Additional Comments:
    End of quotation

     The text in red is very confusing. This reads like an answer to the question within the question. And, while some of this is open to interpretation, some of it is flat-out wrong. To say, "There are no apparent connections among the Disciplinary Core Ideas presented at the middle level or high school in the Topic Area arrangement" is factually incorrect. On each and every page of the document, there are such connections within the Connections Boxes.

    Other questions in the survey make me somewhat uneasy - some seem to misunderstand the importance of the systems and interdisciplinary nature of the scientific enterprise represented in the NGSS and target fairly specific trees whilst missing the forest. There is also emphasis on college and career readiness, without any emphasis on readiness for the duties of citizenship. 

    Don's bona fides

    I am amongst the cast of thousands who have contributed to these standards, both at national and state levels. I was a member of the Earth and Space Science Design Team for A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts and Core Ideasthe document that serves as the foundation for NGSS, and I served on the New York State Statewide Leadership Team for Next Generation Science Standards Development, and was part of STANYS's Earth science group that provided feedback to the New York State Education Department on the standards. I have also led or been a leader for a number of workshops and presentations on the NGSS. Two of those are included in the Additional Resources section at the end of this post. And, I've got nine years of experience in the high school classroom, mostly teaching Regents Earth Science, and eight years of experience as a professor of science education at Kalamazoo College, Cornell University and Colgate University. For the last eight years, I've worked for the Paleontological Research Institution, its Museum of the Earth and its Cayuga Nature Center where my current position is Director of Teacher Programs. This month marks my 30th year as a professional educator. In other words, I've been thinking this stuff for a long time.

    While I have been involved enough to have good knowledge of the standards, my role is admittedly small compared to many, many others.

    Tuesday, December 1, 2015

    Resources shared in the webinar: Dig Deeper into Earth Science with Making North America

    This blog post is simply a compilation of links to resources discussed in the December 1, 2015 NOVA Education webinar Dig Deeper into Earth Science with Making North America. The brevity of the webinar assures that not all of the listed links will be visited. A recording of the webinar will be available on the site (the preceding link) shortly after the webinar.

    Webinar Description:

    Tue, Dec 1, 7:00 PM - 8:00 PM
    Hangouts On Air - Broadcast for free

    Join us for a discussion about new classroom resources from NOVA’s Making North America — a 3-part series that tells the 3-billion year story of our continent’s geological formation and evolution.  Special guests Rob Ross and Don Duggan-Haas of the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) will discuss strategies on how to connect the content of Making North America to local and regional Earth science.

    On December 1st at 7PM EST / 4PM PST, we’ll look at a range of free resources, including PRI’s Teacher-Friendly Guides to the Earth Science of the United States, which provide a blueprint for engaging grades 6-12 students in actual Earth science fieldwork within their geographic region. 

    The Links:


    Don Duggan-Haas is the Director of Teacher Programs at PRI and its Museum of the Earth & Cayuga Nature Center in Ithaca, NY. Don’s work in teacher education, teacher professional development and curriculum materials development marries deep understandings of how people learn with deep understandings of the Earth system. He is a nationally regarded expert in place-based and technology-rich Earth and environmental science education, especially as related to the use of Virtual Fieldwork Experiences (VFEs). VFEs are multi-media representations of actual field sites ideally created by teachers and students working together. He also has expertise in climate and energy education and is co-author of the book, The Science Beneath the Surface: A Very Short Guide to the Marcellus Shale. He served on the Earth & Space Science Design Team for the National Research Council’s A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas and currently serves as the Second Vice President of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. Don has taught at Colgate, Cornell, and Michigan State Universities, Kalamazoo College, and Tapestry and Norwich (New York) High Schools.

    Rob Ross is Associate Director for Outreach at the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) in Ithaca, NY. He was trained as a paleontologist (PhD from Harvard in 1990) and paleoceanographer (post-doc at the University of Kiel in Germany), and for four years was on the faculty at Shizuoka University in Japan. He moved to Ithaca to work at PRI in 1997 and facilitated the expansion of PRI programming for local school and community groups, helped found teacher professional development programs focused on place-based learning and authentic science experiences, and participated in various national initiatives to improve Earth science education nationally. Rob was part of the team that opened PRI's Museum of the Earth in 2003 and worked on merger with the Cayuga Nature Center that was finalized in 2013. He is founder of the Teacher-Friendly Guide series and co-author and co-editor of a number of books and papers in paleontology and Earth science education. He also teaches courses at Ithaca College and Cornell University.

    Tuesday, February 3, 2015

    Tools for Making Virtual Fieldwork: Resources from the ReaL Earth Inquiry Project

    As the Regional and Local (ReaL) Earth Inquiry Project has progressed, the tools and strategies for making and using Virtual Fieldwork Experiences (VFEs) have evolved. If you scroll back through this blog, you'll see periodic updates on how how to use and make VFEs. The project is now in its final months, but our VFE work will continue beyond the end of this particular project's funding.

    VFEs are now being used in educational outreach for the Critical Zone Observatory Network and this work will add to the set of VFEs in our database, as well as to the set of tools and strategies for making and using VFEs.

    This blog entry points to resources that have come online in the last few months, most importantly including the new regional Teacher Friendly Guides to Earth Science for Midwestern and Western US. Other regions will follow shortly, and older Northeastern and Southeastern Guides will be updated. The new guides all include or will include a chapter on actual and virtual fieldwork, and after this blog, is the next thing you should read as you begin your work with VFEs.

    Most of the rest of the text of this post is a conference abstract from the October 2014 Geological Society of America meeting from a talk that shares the same title as this post. The abstract is followed by the Prezi used in that presentation and then by a set of related links. Most of these links are also embedded within the Prezi. Note that if you are viewing the Prezi in full-screen mode, the links will open in a new window that won't be visible until you exit full-screen viewing.


    Why does a place look the way it does? How can we teach the reading of landscapes? Through two NSF-funded programs, “The Regional and Local (ReaL) Earth Inquiry Project” and “Improving Earth science education through teacher development in regional geology,” the Paleontological Research Institution has developed a rich set of resources and approaches to help educators teach about local geoscience in technology-rich, scientifically accurate and inquiry-based ways. The three-pronged approach: (1) develops a series of seven regional Teacher-Friendly Guides to Geoscience that collectively cover the entire United States; (2) develops, with our educator-partners, Virtual Fieldwork Experiences (VFEs) that are multi-media representations of actual field sites; and; (3) provides professional development (PD) programming that intertwines (1) and (2).

    VFEs can serve in the place of actual fieldwork, but it is hoped that they serve more to catalyze and extend fieldwork than replace it. As framed in PRI’s work, VFE development requires actual fieldwork, and the VFE is a way to document that work and share it with others.

    Resources include: (1) a set of regional Teacher-Friendly Guides; (2) a carefully crafted set of Bigger Ideas and Overarching Questions in Earth System Science, mapped onto idea sets like those in NGSS and the Climate Literacy Principles; (3) sets of questions that can be asked and productively investigated at any site, one set focused primarily upon the geosciences and a second focused upon ecology; (4) templates for Prezi and PowerPoint that help educators connect the question sets with local imagery and other data; (5) resources for connecting the field and the classroom via videolink in real time, and for connecting classrooms to one another, to facilitate students teaching one another about their local environments; (6) a still growing set of VFEs; and (7) tutorials for using Google Earth, Prezi, and other technologies in the service of making VFEs. Topics include using Google Earth to replicate the classic science education film Powers of Ten, but focused upon a local landmark rather than a Chicago park; how to use the VFE templates; how to mash up USGS digital geologic state maps with Google Earth’s profile tool, to show the interplay between bedrock geology and topography; and more. 

    Session Prezi:

    Selected Links:

      • - Skitch is an app that allows you to mark up photos and maps in the field using your tablet or smartphone. 
      • - Gigapan is a robotic tripod head and software package for making gigapixel resolution panoramas. 

    Wednesday, June 18, 2014

    What should we think about when we plan the order of units in a course?

    Is there one best order of course topics? No. But some approaches are better than others. What should you consider when you outline your course?

    Where this post came from

    This post is a revised version of a contribution I made to a discussion on the ESPRIT List (a list serve for Earth science teachers). I highly recommend the list for middle and high school Earth science teachers - it's an engaging and friendly community. It also generates a lot of email, so I suggest setting up a filter in your email so it doesn't overwhelm your email in box. I don't read every message, but look for subject lines of interest and people I know who have interesting things to say. 

    The list is also archived, but access to the archives is password protected. If you're on the list, you can see the full discussion thread here (it's long, and gets a little too philosophical for even my tastes when you get into it). 

    What should you consider when you outline your course?

    In the discussion on the ESPRIT list, a few folks noted that two things are key 
    • context (and systems), and, 
    • having a thoughtful rationale for your sequence. If you've thought through an argument for why you've chosen what you've chosen, it will probably work reasonably well, though getting input from the greater wisdom on the list will likely make it better. 

    Last time I taught the high school Earth science, I didn't think through the sequence well enough, and regretted it throughout the year. As mapping (a form of modeling) is central to nearly everything within the curriculum, it makes good sense to pay good attention to mapping and it's cross-cutting nature from the outset. I didn't. Oops. 

    A couple of years ago, I put together a PowerPoint and webpage highlighting how topography is connected to many, many other things. I think it's quite striking how Idaho's Snake River Plain shows up on maps of nearly anything (like the distance to the nearest McDonald's in the map below). The connection of the shape of the land to so many other things is a also a good way to introduce the idea of Earth systems science. 

    If I were back in the classroom, I'm not sure if I'd start with astronomy or the shape of the Earth, but it would likely be one of those two. Both of them provide good opportunity to really highlight the importance of understanding place and understanding how to map. In either case, I'd start with a focus on where we are. 

    I'll also note that mapping is really a pretty big abstraction, and I was surprised by how many of my high schoolers didn't really know what a map was. A significant minority of my 10th graders couldn't locate Buffalo on an unlabeled map of New York (despite having lived there all their lives) or New York on an unlabeled map of US states. In a sense, that shouldn't be surprising, especially if you're working with kids who've not travelled much. Think about the conceptual leap of looking at a piece of paper and translating that into showing where you are on the surface of Earth! 

    After realizing how many kids weren't able to place themselves on a map, I used Google Earth to recreate the classic Eames' film, Power of Ten centered on the school. (If you've not seen it, you need to click that link!). In the ReaL Earth Inquiry Project (an NSF funded program now in its final months) we put together tutorials for making your own Powers of Ten, centered on your school or a local landmark. Again, if I were back in the classroom, I'd show that in the first few days of school - for some kids in my class, you could almost see the light bulbs go on as they realized for the first time what a map really was, and recognized where in the world they were. Aspects of every unit play out outside your classroom door in some meaningful way, so grounding your students in where they are is something that you can connect to across the curriculum. 

    Throughout the year, I'd also draw attention to big ideas that cut across the entire curriculum. This could be in the form of the Crosscutting Concepts and Science and Engineering Practices from the Next Generation Science Standards, or the set of Bigger Ideas we've been using in the ReaL Earth Inquiry Project

    I'll also echo Glenn and Wendy's thoughts on coordinating across the team of teachers. You might consider having different teachers take leads on different topics, allowing for more development than individuals can give. Hopefully, that can help to give the curriculum a focus on what's local to the school. I know, of course, that that working well depends on who's on your team. 

    Friday, August 23, 2013

    Virtual Fieldwork & Ancient Denvers: A Teacher Professional Development Workshop Series at the Museum of the Earth

    Last Updated: August 23, 2013

    This fall, the Museum of the Earth at the Paleontological Research Institution (in cooperation with the Geological Society of America), will offer a series of professional development workshops on creating and using Virtual Fieldwork Experiences (VFEs). The workshop series will include live connection to the Geological Society of America's field trip to Colorado's Dinosaur Ridge and Red Rocks Park. In concert with trip leaders and participants, a VFE of Ancient Denvers will be developed for use in your classrooms.

    The workshop series brings our popular Virtual Fieldwork and Teacher Friendly Guide professional development programming back to Central New York for the first time in many years!

    The workshop series includes two face-to-face sessions and a final online session. The dates and times are:
    • Saturday, October 5, 2013 from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. EDT, in Ithaca;
    • Sunday, October 27, 2013 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. EDT, in Ithaca;  and;
    • Either:
      • Wednesday, December 4, 2013 from 7:00 to 8:30 pm EST, online, or,
      • Saturday, December 7, 2013 from 10:30 am to noon EST, online,

    Registrants should plan to attend all three sessions. The registration form is linked below and here. Registration is free but space is limited! Sign up today! 

    Participants should bring their own laptop computers to the workshops. 

    On Saturday, October 5, 2013 from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m., the first workshop will offer an introduction to VFEs, including approaches and resources for their use and how to make your own with your students. We will work with a draft of the Ancient Denvers VFE and develop suggestions for the most important and practical ways to extend it. We will also work examples from New York State and share tools, strategies and resources for participants to create their own.

    The morning of the first workshop, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on October 5, the Museum of the Earth will also host its annual Teacher Resource Day. 
    • Meet Museum of the Earth scientists and educators!
    • Take home free fossils, specimens, and publications.
    • See our new permanent exhibit on glaciers and our new coral tanks! 
    • Learn about museum exhibit design and get an advanced look at "Moving Carbon, Changing Earth," our upcoming exhibit on the carbon cycle, from the Museum of the Earth's Director of Exhibitions, Beth Stricker.
    Register here for Teacher Resource Day or for both Teacher Resource Day and Virtual Fieldwork & Ancient Denvers! 

    To register just for Virtual Fieldwork & Ancient Denvers, click here.

    On Sunday, October 27,2013 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., participants will continue their work and also engage in live discussion with geologists and teachers in the field at Colorado's Dinosaur Ridge and Red Rocks Park. Participants in the actual field trip will be collecting data and taking pictures for inclusion in the Ancient Denvers VFE. Participants in the Virtual Fieldwork (those at the Museum of the Earth) will join via live interactive video at two field sites -- stromatolites in the Lykins Formation and dinosaur trackways in the Dakota Formation (shown in the first Gigapan below).

    The field trip description, for those going on the actual field trip is here (scroll down to #418). It is also included at the end of this announcement.

    In December, there will be two online sessions to share the updated Ancient Denvers VFE and to discuss its use, and the use of VFEs in teaching more broadly. Field trip participants will also participate in the calls. Participants should plan to attend one of the two final online sessions.

    Participate in one or the other of the online wrap-up webinars:

    • Wednesday, December 4, 2013 from 7:00 to 8:30 pm EST, or,
    • Saturday, December 7, 2013 from 10:30 am to noon EST.

    Here are a couple of high resolution images from the field sites:

    See these Gigapans and more in A Google Earth file here. Additions will be made to Google Earth file before the first workshop, and we will add to it and create other resources for the VFE as the program progresses.

    You will also want to download the Colorado and New York Google Earth geologic maps from the US Geological Survey's Digital geologic maps of the US states page.

    Check back to this site for updates.


    • Don Duggan-Haas & Alexander Wall, PRI & its Museum of the Earth (in Ithaca and Colorado)
    • Sarah Miller, DCMO BOCES (in Ithaca)
    • Lon Abbott, University of Colorado (in Colorado)
    • Richard Kissel, Yale University Peabody Museum (in Colorado)

    Instructional Technology Support:

    • Brian Gollands, PRI & its Museum of the Earth
    • Rene Carver, GST BOCES

    Additional Support:

    • Justin Samuel, Geological Society of America (in Colorado)
    • Davida Buehler, Geological Society of America (in Colorado) 
    • And others will be added!

    Field Trip Description:

    418. Ancient Denvers: A Journey through the Front Range’s Geologic History. 
    Sun., 27 Oct. US$88 (L, R).
    Leader: Lon D. Abbott, University of Colorado
    Cosponsor: GSA Geosciences Education Division
    Show Leader Bio
    On this trip, we will journey through the entire geologic history of Denver. Of necessity, the coverage of each chapter in that story is general. The trip is intended for convention attendees who seek a broad overview of the area’s geologic history, for their guests, and for K–12 teachers. We will start by viewing the evocative “Ancient Colorados” paintings at the Colorado Convention Center. From there we head to Red Rocks amphitheater to begin our conversation with the rocks that narrate the story depicted by the paintings. At the amphitheater, we will listen to rocky tales (via our observations of their characteristics) of Denver’s changing landscape between about 1700–250 million years ago. Next, we’ll journey to nearby Dinosaur Ridge, where the rocks pick up the story of Denver from the Jurassic to the middle Cretaceous. From there, we’ll travel to the Colorado School of Mines campus, where we can walk in the footsteps of latest Cretaceous dinosaurs. We will end our journey through time with trips to South Table Mountain and Green Mountain, whose rocks tell stories of the birth of the Rocky Mountains at the dawn of the Cenozoic era.

    Register here.
    To register for both Teacher Resource Day and Virtual Fieldwork & Ancient Denvers, use this form instead.  

    Wednesday, July 24, 2013

    Making a Zoomable Image Using Prezi

    This post will show you how to convert a series of photos taken at different distances (or different zoom levels), compile them into a "zoomable image" in a small Prezi, (and maybe embed that into a Google Earth placemark).

    What do I mean by "zoomable image?" Take a look:

    Click "Start Prezi" and then the forward arrow to zoom in and you'll see what I mean.

    How do you make a zoomable image in Prezi?

    Note that a video is below the instructions that steps you through the process. 

    Note that Internet Explorer makes this procedure more difficult than it is in Firefox, Chrome or Safari. Step 8 will not work in Internet Explorer, so use one of these other browsers.

    The steps to create your zoomable image are:

    1. Take pictures of a feature from either multiple distances or using the zoom of your camera to give the same effect.
    2. Either download those pictures to your computer or upload them to the web.
    3. Go to
    4. Log in if you have an account or create one if you don't. Everything shown here can be done with the free account. If you are a teacher or student, be sure to sign up for the education account as it provides more features for free. 
    5. Create a blank Prezi -- I suggest not using a template for this kind of Prezi.
    6. Delete the title. We'll create our own later.
    7. Click on the "Insert" button at the top of the edit window. 
    8. Choose "Image."
      • If uploading from your computer, hit the "Select files..." button and upload your picture.
      • If using photos on the Internet, (from Picasa or Flickr, for example), 
        • go to the picture in a window or tab separate from your Prezi. Right-click (or control-click) on the picture to bring up a pop-menu. The pop-up menu includes an option to "Copy Image Address" or something similar. The exact wording is different in Firefox, Chrome and Safari, but they all include the option. 
        • Select that option to copy the image URL.
        • Return to your Prezi, still in edit mode, and paste in the URL in the Insert Image box.
    9. Zoom to the approximate area of your next picture.
    10. Repeat step 8 to insert the next image. 
    11. Align the second picture on top of the first:
      • To move the picture, click and drag on the hand in the picture's center. 
      • To resize, click and drag any corner.
      • To rotate, scroll to the corner and grab the round handle that sticks out from the corner. 
    12. Repeat with each image.
    13. To put in a path:
      • Click the pencil icon on the left side of the screen. 
      • Click on each picture in your series in the order you would like to zoom.
      • The pictures will appear along the left side, showing the order. You can click and drag to reorder. 
    14. Add a title by double clicking. If your pictures have a clear space, like sky, you may insert the title on top of the picture. In the example in the video, the title is above the picture. 
    15. In the past, it was possible to embed Prezis into Google Earth placemarks. At this writing, that feature is not working. When it did work, you simply copied the embed code from Prezi and pasted it into the placemark in Google Earth. 
    Click the video to see the steps to create a zoomable image in Prezi.