As a lover of all that is learning, nothing makes me feel more alive than working with students in the classroom. I am always thinking about how I can better engineer the classroom experience so my students can grow, explore, reflect and learn. For almost twenty years, that desire to be more effective for my students fueled my own study. My path was typical: Masters and Rank 1 classes, then online webinars; reading, resources, and the Internet; and the intermittent professional development where I had the opportunity to collaborate with other educators in a very prescribed way. I thought that was enough. I was learning and I was changing my instruction as a result so my students could learn.
That continued attention to learning paid off when I was given a great opportunity to work within and beyond the four walls of my classroom. At the end of the 2011-12 school year, my students and I were asked to participate in a project with the Marzano Research Laboratory. With that partnership, my focus moved from a “research-based” to “evidence based” journey with my students as partners. It wasn’t just about me learning and planning experiences for them; it was about us learning together through experience and reflection. This is when I went from using data to inform the learning of one class of students, to using data to drive my own learning about my practice in both an immediate and long-term way. I carried my new passion for gathering evidence and combining my two loves of education and science into the next school year.
I have always been obsessed with how the brain works and how to help students become thinkers and problem solvers. In the culture of the responsibility for “teaching” an enormous list of content standards, finding time to teach thinking alongside the content had been a struggle that most of my colleagues did not want to share with me. In that arena I was pretty much alone. Until, that is, I found the partnership that led to the learning that has changed me as a teacher more than anything else in the past two decades. More importantly, it has changed the learning of my students more than any other classroom experience I have engineered. Working with two brilliant colleagues and three classes full of incredible students, we developed a “thinking product” framework. My colleagues brought their tremendous scope in instructional best practice as well as their backgrounds in Math and ELA. I brought my Science background and “Thinking” obsession. Together, we sought out to build something specific to the science classroom. Creativity flourished, the most lifting conversations ensued, and we were challenged. It was amazing; I couldn’t wait to work with my partners. After much discussion, we were ready to “test it out” with students. The students brought their enthusiasm and desire to learn and their feedback was the key component. Their work and feedback drove our reflection and refinement of the framework. Without them, we would just have another strategy that came from research; we had a package and now evidence that it moves student thinking and learning forward, and leads to deep understanding of content.
My partnerships with my amazing students and colleagues have led to the biggest learning of my life. I couldn’t be more excited about going to work every day. It turns out that game changer was just the beginning. That “thinking package” incorporates all three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards. From interest in using “thinking products” to help implement the NGSS, many more partnerships have developed. My students continue to teach me about how to refine the package in the classroom, and we are adding new elements all the time. The game changing experience was an impetus for me to organize PLC work at my school in a way that truly captures the spirit of professional learning instead of professional development; using student evidence and reflection to drive instruction. The “thinking products” PLC work has now extended beyond my building to other schools in the district. Seeking new partners to share learning with has also led me into “twitterverse”. With this blog, I hope to open up even more opportunities to grow new partnerships. This year, we are all going to learn together—in partnership. This blog will chronicle that journey. I hope to communicate our journey implementing the NGSS standards and “thinking products”, and I hope to receive feedback from others to move our learning forward. It would be great to form new partnerships in learning along the way. You are welcome to join us!