Introducing sequential concepts

At the beginning of the school year, at the Glacier Teacher-Fellow orientation, Jen and I devised a curriculum based on the newly written science standards constructed by the three-district partnership. These new science standards aligned with the next-generation science standards and were vague enough to construct a curriculum structured as a bottom-to-top survey of scientific theory. The idea was to take what the students had most recently studied in 7th grade (the human body) and relate this prior knowledge to the first new concept – the atom. As the semester has progressed, we have moved from the atom to the molecule to macromolecules and materials, and now to biological materials. Despite clear and observable differences between these concepts, as the lessons progress throughout the weeks, the walls between ideas seem to become more fluid. As such, it is difficult to realize when assessments are required and when ideas need to be re-taught.

For example, a lesson about counting atoms initially seemed to be very straightforward, with kids correctly answering the examples we showed them. Later, when more complicated examples were shown, the kids struggled with the basics. As there was no assessment after the first lesson, we had no clue that the kids completely missed the concepts. We’ve found that formative assessments are best given in two varieties – a large formative assessment on a weekly basis (such as a quiz) and small formative assessments given daily (such as walk-arounds to tables or sticky notes).

By pacing the introduction of new material with formative assessments, we can save time by not having to dedicate entire days to reteaching the material. Unfortunately, it may also be the case that the students have no interest in learning at all. Especially in Everett, there is no interest in learning whatsoever. I think it is very unclear to students why they are learning and how learning is accomplished (by taking small steps from the basics to the advanced). Any mention of an advanced concept leads to an immediate shut-down in their processing capabilities.

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