Sunday, April 10, 2016

Hacking Unit Planning

A school-wide elementary science or social studies unit holds so many possibilities for learning, but can be overwhelming to create. We have been refining a school-wide world culture unit for the past couple of years and decided last spring to develop one for science. Earth Day 2016 came at a great time of the year. We tried our hand last year at hosting a hands-on science fair. While that was fun, it did not really provide the in-depth learning our kids need. Another problem that we were hoping to resolve is providing some needed professional learning of the NGSS.

The evolution of the unit can be daunting. Last summer I worked on a sample unit, trying to take one NGSS standard and create lessons across all grade levels. I’m comfortable with the notion that no one will use what I create, but will enjoy my sample of imperfection. I was looking forward to their enhanced work.  At the end of February, I presented my ideas to the staff and included a Google Doc for them to begin posting their work. Our school’s time and energy is hyper-focused on literacy and math. The critics would suggest that the science standards can be woven into literacy. That will work well after in-depth work with the NGSS.  At this point in time, our kids will benefit the most by grade-level aligned work.
The Google Doc is a great hack for vertical alignment and coaching support. We don’t really have time to schedule any more in-person meetings, so I asked our science teacher and a district instructional coach to support the work through the comment section on the Doc. Half of our students are English language learners. Our ESL teacher and a reading teacher who is ESL endorsed are both passionate promoters of best practices and agreed to jump on “comments” to coach.

Good coaching always disrupts the plan. Teachers got together as a grade level group and began hammering out their unit while keeping an eye on the grade level above and below them.  Just when everyone thought that first draft was a go, the helpers jumped on the Doc. The science coaches led the staff toward grade level appropriateness. The ESL coaching nudged the staff to include some universal accomodations that would improve learning for every student. All four coaches brought in fresh insight and resources.

With every email alert that a comment has been added to the Doc, my excitement re-ignites. The coaching comments provide affirmation for me that Lisa and Jenny are so much more capable of leading the learning of the NGSS. I am not an expert on ELL strategies. Maribel and Robin have earned their badges with the staff. The teachers are much more likely to respond their coaching suggestions than they would to mine.

Look forward to a post following the culmination of the Earth Day unit (April 22). Our families are invited to visit the classrooms and see what the kids have been learning.