Reflections on Day Three at NECC 2009


This conference had a rough start, as I had problems with each of the sessions/events I attended. I’m happy to report that two of my favorite sessions occurred on the last day.

Chris Lehmann on UBD

Presenter: Chris Lehmann, Science Leadership Academy

There was not reliable wifi in the room for this session, so I twitter blogged it. If you look below are my “twitter” feed, you might think I didn’t like the session based on my ending note which was critical, but that was around the edges, and complaint the presenter addressed later, and can be dealt with:

  1. Thoughtful wise passionate and kind are his goals with kids @chrislehmann #necc09

  2. U teach kids not subj elem ed gets this @chrislehmann #necc09

  3. Thinks the debate was more agreement about where we need to go @chrislehmann #necc09

  4. Ubiquitous necessary and visible tech in school @chrislehmann #necc09

  5. What’s good is more critical than what’s new @chrislehmann #necc09

  6. We shouldn’t have schools+comp but whole new school

  7. But tech can be a game changer @chrislehmann #necc09

  8. Integrate subjects @chrislehmann #necc09

  9. PBL with tests is not PBL, but may not be bad. What do we value? @chrislehmann #necc09

  10. The following common unit planning model UBD and standards based @chrislehmann #necc09

  11. Now building a unit plan with @chrislehmann #necc09

  12. UBD seems to have a big hole prior knowledge. context, schema essential 2 ell education @chrislehmann #necc09

Chris Lehmann had done a really similar presentation almost a year ago at NECC for one person, me. I was the only one to show up for a NECC UnPlugged session he did on Understanding by Design (UBD). This was ironic, because his “official” presentation that year had every seat filled and folks mad they had missed it. It was probably one of the most circulated UStreams of a session from NECC that year. The UnPlugged session was a short one (about 20-30 minutes) and we did a similar thing which was to go through and create a unit plan. This time, I got the background on the theory behind it. I like starting my own trainings this way, explaining this is WHY you might want to use it before delving into how. It gave things more context. The part that is not clear from the twitters is that they have a common rubric for the “products” that students create as part of their units so that when they grade writing, whether it is in Science or English, they are on the same “page” about the expectations. That is a very radical notion in Secondary education (see twitter 2), although I wonder if some Elementary teachers have gotten into the habit of “seperating” out their subject matter instruction. I could go into some of the problems with how “science” units in Language Arts text miss the mark, but that’s a post for another day. They also try to make the process as transparent as possible to the kids. One teacher even had a unit having students learn about UBD.

The one problem? The unit plans did not include some accounting of what prior knowledge, or context, or schema the kids would need to have to adequately deal with the subject matter. Chris assures me that was his omission, and it’s in the lesson plans as opposed to the unit plan. I like to see it in the unit plan, but you know what, I could just add a cell to the unit plan table, and voila! the need is met.

GoogleEarth for Teaching Spatially

NECC 2009 Attendees | Program | Teaching Spatially with Google Earth to Investigate Land-Use Issues

Presenter: Alec Bodzin, Lehigh University with Lori Cirucci

This was the both the best session in terms of content and delivery AND the one most likely to impact my teaching, and it was the closing for my time at NECC, as I had to catch a plane and skipped the closing keynote. I am SO glad I stayed for this. I made the decision to go to this sessions early on. It was a Bring Your Own Laptop (which I prefer for being hands-on). It was one GoogleEarth and teaching about land-use. This is directly related to the work I’m doing for my husband on walk audits at school (assessing how safe it is to walk to a school). The traffic-types use GoogleEarth extensively, so I could see a tie-in there. The EETT grant I’m helping writing has a STEM component, and GoogleEarth is an excellent tool for that.

The presenter shared a unit that had been done with high-risk, low-motivation eighth graders in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. The area includes Allentown (former steeltown) so there was a pleathora of material for kids to study about. They started out looking at their area and GoogleEarth, which as anyone who has used it with kids knows, is a highly engaging into all on it’s own. He used placemarkers and guiding questions to teach students to recognize the difference between man-made and natural places, then moved on to show students how to spot places that looked natural, but had been altered through the activities of man. They also discussed concepts like “heat islands” (places that store heat because of concrete/asphalt covering) using thermal mapping.  It was all to get them able to do the analytical work to plan the location of a mall. Really impressive thinking!

The presenter had great skills A low-key, but humorous approach Midway through the projector died, and he kept the pace, increasing the verbal directions, so that we could keep doing the activity while the a/v people replaced the projector.

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