Project Meetings 1998-1999  

Table Of Contents

October Meeting for all MVHS CoreModels teachers

The first all hands meeting of CoreModels directors, supporting teachers, and participating teachers from all of the three centers was held at Montgomery Blair High School, central district headquarters, at 9:00 am, Saturday, October 17. One school system arranged for a Board of Education van to transport 6 teachers, and other teachers carpooled from the northern and western regions of the state. Teachers were asked to bring their notebook of CoreModels activity packets, a record of what models they used and some sample student papers from those activities. They returned home with hard copies and disk copies of updated modeling activity packets.

After an introduction by the Project Director, eight small group meetings were held, each led by a supporting teacher, and each focusing on a different modeling activity, so that teachers could choose from activities they had completed. The discussion focused on the student learning evident during these units. Later in the morning, each group presented their conclusions, including recommendations for improving the activity, logistical hints, and teaching strategies.

Teachers had the chance to network individually with peers during lunch. In addition, there was a meeting of ST/PT evaluation pairs with Katie McMillan and Wendy Friedman of Center for Children and Technology (CCT). An explanation of how peer support would be studied was provided, and the support of these teachers was secured. After lunch, all teachers completed a survey constructed by CCT as well as evaluations of the summer workshops.

Small groups reconvened to consider assessment of student learning by reviewing sample student papers. Groups reassembled to prepare for next modeling activity implementation. Some teachers worked together on designing extensions on the first model. A wrap up session with the entire group included administrative paperwork, a discussion of communication problems, and scheduling peer classroom visits.

Concerns that directors hoped to address during the meeting included the difficulty some teachers seemed to have in introducing the modeling activity and the importance of one on one questioning of students at the computer to assess their understanding and help them interpret results. The small group sharing activity evolved from the agreement of directors and the evaluation team on the need to focus this year on building up the conversation among teachers about:

  • what they think students are or should be learning from their engagement with these units and with the model-building process, and
  • what the relationship is between those learning goals and the standards.

In addition to the understanding gained by the participating teachers, a secondary outcome was the increased confidence and competence of the supporting teachers in their leadership role. The ST's did an excellent job facilitating the discussions, using a discussion guide one of them had created to provide structure and focus without inhibiting the full range of discussion issues.

The afternoon was less focused and intense. Teachers seemed quite subdued after completing the survey at the end of the morning session. In one biology group, teachers who shared student papers seemed relieved that their students weren't so far behind others. There was a realization that the difficulty students have in giving thorough, thoughtful responses is a common problem, but that students improve on subsequent activities.

The afternoon experience led to two questions for consideration by the directors.

  • Do we model our questions after formats the students are familiar with (i.e. MFWT prompts) or do we teach them what our questions are expecting?
  • Do we go for short one word answers (easy to grade) or longer responses which require more construction and tougher grading from teachers?

Several teachers had very strong opinions one way or the other. There is a need for the team to determine our own position and work with the supporting teachers and strong participating teachers to work through objections. There was some evidence that the younger teachers had greater expectations of their students' ability to handle longer constructed responses and of their own responsibility to teach them to do this.

Directors felt the need to open our discussions of student responses, what we expect, what we need, etc. to ST participation. These teachers might like a chance to discuss how they are doing, concerns about observing other teachers, etc. I remember we had many long phone calls last year dealing with our insecurities, so I'd be surprised if they didn't have a few. We could also teach them to use the model report database and then they could use it as well.

February CoreModels Leadership Team Meeting

Email message to Center Directors and Supporting Teachers

----flash --- Feb. 5 meeting ----- flash--- (email - Jan 25)
As with all projects, it is valuable to stop mid course and consider where we are and where we're going. Second semester offers us new challenges as we continue our work with biology and physics teachers, develop new materials for earth science, environmental science and chemistry and prepare for a new group of participating teachers. We also have a report from our evaluators to consider. What have we discovered about student learning with respect to our materials this semester? What have we learned about the benefits and difficulties of collaboration among all of us, including the participating teachers? What needs are most pressing? What changes will allow us to be more effective?

We are calling an important meeting of the CoreModels Leadership Team (CD's, ST's and myself) to consider these questions. We desperately need you at this meeting. We all have different strengths and insights, and together we can build a complete picture and move forward.

The meeting will be at Blair on February 5 from 10 to 2 with lunch included. Of course your substitute will be paid by MVHS. Please let me know right away if you see difficulties in attending, as I might be able to help in some way. I will put in the mail tomorrow some background material. I do want you to know that national leaders in science education see great potential in our work, and this meeting will focus on actions that will propel us toward our goals.

Letter to Supporting Teachers with questions about evaluation report

Attached is the first year evaluation report written by the Center for Children and Technology. This report does not address either supporting or participating teachers directly. It is addressed primarily to the National Science Foundation and was written in terms that would allow comparison with other NSF projects. It also provides recommendations to CoreModels project director, as well potential difficulties. This document as a whole may be of interest to you as a window on how projects such as CoreModels are held accountable to their objectives. It may be that sections directly related to ST's will be of interest. Or -- it may be that your concern is focused on your own classroom and only topics that touch that concern are of interest.

In order to make our time together as fruitful as possible, we would like you to take some of your valuable time to read the enclosed report and send us your reflections (see below) either by email or fax (301 649-2830) by Thursday, February 4, at noon. This will help us guide the discussion in our limited time on Friday. You will be paid a stipend of $150 for your work.

Please read the entire report and answer these questions in terms of your own experience. But don't be afraid to also "expound" on your own general theories.

Introduction - Page 1

Question 1
According to the introduction, CoreModels has emphasized three themes: modeling examples, peer-to-peer teams, and emphasis on Maryland Core Learning Goals. There will be more discussion on all of these factors throughout the report. Please note any initial reactions to this section.

Question 2
Reading about the evaluation of CoreModels may elicit previous or new concerns. Please share any concerns you may have.

Work to Date and Preliminary Findings - Page 3

Question 3
Please respond to the paragraph at the bottom of page 4. What factors kept you and other supporting teachers from participating more actively in materials development? This is important for us to understand!!!

Question 4
The last full paragraph on page 5 discusses the different ways that teachers use the packets, and the ways that "key ideas" are communicated. How can this be done more effectively? Feel free to use an example from a particular packet.

Question 5
The two paragraphs in the middle of page six discuss the role of Supporting Teachers in the peer support model. What concerns do you have about your role at this time?

Question 6
Pages 7 and 8 discuss model building versus model exploration. What is your own perspective on running simulations versus building models in the science classroom? How would you introduce students to modeling at the beginning of a course? Does this reflect your general philosophy, your level of comfort, or issues of time and logistics?

Question 7
The discussion on rubrics on pages 9 and 10 details the problems of developing assessment instruments for our materials. How do you assess student learning associated with CoreModels activities? How does this reflect the various objectives - MCLG process expectations, MCLG conceptual (bio or physics) expectations, Benchmarks common themes, your own particular objectives?

Discussion and Recommendations

Question 8
Pages 13-16 detail the success of the CoreModels project. Please relate any of these observations to your own personal experience.

Question 9
Anticipated barriers to achieving our goals are related on pages 17 and 18. Please consider any one of these. What possible solutions do you see?

Question 10
***Note the recommendations on page 19. How can we use the various strengths, backgrounds, and teaching situations of supporting teachers and participating teachers to meet these recommendations? How should we reallocate our resources (money and time) to meet these recommendations?


Do you have any concerns about your answers being shared (as attributed directly to you) with other CoreModels team members, or with CCT?

Selected responses of supporting teachers

Question 1


Report: "If teachers engage deeply with the systems thinking approach embodied in STELLA and the CM curricular units and make significantly greater use of technology in their day-to day-teaching than they previously have, their practices will change significantly?" What does engage deeply mean? What are some examples of teacher practices?

Where is the continued support for peer-support relationships going to come from past the effective time of the grant? For people buying in, it's a big issue.


MVHS has a lot of very busy committed teachers.

Getting out to visit demands a great deal of lead time due to crammed schedules and the demands of other missions.


The peer support portion of the project is/has been a struggle. The association of classroom visits with evaluations by supervisors and administrators appears to be deeply ingrained. Teachers seem to be receptive to workshop-type sessions but less amenable to having other teachers visit. Most PT's seem to be anxious to collaborate. Workshops and regional meetings have been productive for all parties involved. In this setting, PT's seem to be more relaxed, creative, analytical. Support seems to work better in a group situation unrelated to a classroom, more of a brainstorming session.

(idea - prepare a common lesson - then visiting is for own benefit, or improving materials - joint ownership. Idea 2 - magnet - interdisciplinary)


During the first year of CM (mentoring relationships, workshops, and on-line discussions) worked well for me. If I was having a problem with a model or some of the material, one of the CDs or another ST was available for help and/or suggestions. The summer workshop was a wonderful opportunity to breakdown the packets and to discuss what we liked and what we didn't like. Now that we are in the second year, I do not feel as satisfied with my role as an ST. Everything is fine still with the other ST's and CD's however I haven't been able to fulfill my role as an ST to some of the PT's. Likewise, I don't feel that some of the PT's see me as a resource for support or feedback.


Factors with Peer Visits: Fragmented school calendars (loss of cohesion), widespread nagging illness, PT's not pedagogically aggressive, not enough philosophical support and training for PT's - subconsciously struggling with discrepancies in styles/values, etc., less enlightened administrators, PT's uncomfortable with shifting conceptual conditions and frameworks.

Question 3


Time and money concerns - did not feel particularly encouraged to do more development work. Don't get paid for evaluation writeups (this will change). Need to set aside good chunks of collaborative time - requires immersion.


Summer is needed for writing materials - impossible with everything else during the school year. Each individual applies STELLA in different ways - we should document on Saturday the variation on a theme and see if there are common currents and if those approaches are successful in teaching content and thinking skills. We are not institutionalizing a conformity of techniques but are fostering independent exploration in both teachers and students.


Time is the biggest constraint. I am also still a little hesitant to take on development of a complex model. In addition, there are several models and/or extensions in which I have a personal interest, but they may not be globally useful so I am reluctant to ask others to give up their valuable time for something that may be of interest to only a small number of individuals.


We need to have more Sat. meetings or after school meetings. Not with everyone, but with the Center Director for the one topic or area. The Center Director could be the leader for the STs within a subject area working and revising. In essence working in smaller groups in a region. Using the fax and/or email to review material.


Key factor that kept me from participating more actively in materials development is ignorance. I thought that modifying the existing models was the priority. Field testing, support materials and accommodations for different learning styles were needed before the models could be properly implemented in the classroom. My inexperience with STELLA plays a role in the direction of my energies at this time. I can develop supporting materials and assessment activities more easily than creating a new model.


Trying to work on the packet during the school year (last year) was exhausting and nearly impossible due to time constraints. It seems that summer is the only time I could commit to doing materials development. I also feel somewhat isolated as the only physics teacher participating in the North Region. I was able to make one class visit with Elizabeth prior to her leaving Core Models and I find that sharing ideas with teachers in my subject areas is very helpful in improving what I do with Core Models.


I think much was accomplished not so much in terms of materials development but rather materials refinement over the summer. This occurred because at least two STs were together for an extended amount of time to discuss what worked and what had not and because PT's were there working through the models - problems were fresh. Time is definitely a factor. On-line discussions cannot come close to the productivity of a real work session.


We need less emphasis on making new models and lessons and more emphasis on comparing and revising teaching techniques for existing lessons. I'm not half as interested in mastering new/other modeling lessons as I am in exchanging teacher experiences with the delivery of the several most popular packets --- especially pre- and post-lab activities (that is, introductions/set-ups, and common assessment methods).

Question 5


I don't share the concerns discussed here. In the role of an ST, just as with being a regular classroom teacher, you have to find the best expression of your strengths. I have been completely satisfied in the ways I have been able to contribute support and my peer relationship; I just would have liked to do more of it in the materials development role.


As a supporting teacher, I have attempted to make it clear that I am there to facilitate other's use of the STELLA program and to help them evolve practices that they feel comfortable with. STELLA is just one tool in an arsenal that the professional science teacher might employ to get ideas across. I have found the diversity of approaches refreshing and confirming that MVHS is on the right track. We are not institutionalizing a conformity of techniques but are fostering independent exploration in both teachers and students.


Concerns: Not being able to devote as much time to development of materials and finding a way to establish some kind of relationship with the PT's in my region. Wants to take issue with the ST discomfort about the nature of the collaboration between the key program staff, the ST's and the related comment about evaluation. The discussion about PT's perhaps misjudging the intent of the ST's visits was a preventive discussion.


I like the peer support model so that none of us feel that we are evaluators or are being evaluated. I feel that this method is less threatening to me or the participating teachers. My concern is not being able to make site visits. I have corresponded via email.


I am comfortable in my ability to support the participating teacher but have not found a way to establish communication with them. Of the six participating teachers that I support, two have never returned email to me, I have visited two, and I have established frequent communication with two. In regard to visitation, one of the visits went very well. I was neither introduced nor recognized during the other visit. I have one teacher coming to visit during the Hardy-Weinberg modeling activity in February.

As a peer mentor, I do not believe that I should force myself upon the participating teachers. On the other hand, there is no way to know how the project is being implemented in the classroom if the participating teachers are not observed. Reasons for lack of visits/communication

  • expectation of autonomy - another person in the room is seen as an invasion of privacy
  • participating teacher does not feel need for supporting teacher or "burden" him/her
  • summer experience went well - PTs have everything they need
  • PTs cannot plan the STELLA activity in advance
  • PTs don't recognize the need to document the use of STELLA

thought - what do we do with our kids - observe common problems and then give needed explanation/remedial work to the whole class.


Most of the school year I have not had a physics PT to work with. I have never felt like I was being evaluated or told how to teach when Don (CD) visited my classes.


I'm sure the STs could have been given more training, because one year is not that long, but I feel confident that I can help and give support to the PTs. I have no discomfort about thinking that I am telling another teacher how to teach. I look at it this way. This is what has worked and what has not worked for me, your situation is different, you are different. I only offer suggestions, but the other teacher still needs to feel everything out to determine what works best for him.


I share none of these worries - I feel completely confident about my ability to model the lessons for visiting PTs, and to help them improve their lesson deliveries at their sites without subverting or suppressing their personal styles or making them feel "evaluated".

April Meeting for all MVHS CoreModels Teachers

The spring state-wide CoreModels meeting was held on April 10, 1999 at Montgomery Blair High School. Unfortunately, cancelled flights due to unstable weather in the DC area caused the postponement of George Richardson's visit to work with MVHS teachers. Instead, the meeting consisted of an opening discussion on the progress and future of the CoreModels project followed by two concurrent work sessions on modeling in biology and physics.

Supporting teacher Paul Mandl presented an overview of the mathematical functions used in some of the popular biology models. Paul adapted this talk from the training he received last summer at the NSF CC-Sustain Project in Portland, Oregon. After lunch, Don Shaffer introduced Chesapeake Bay ecosystem models that he had learned about at a meeting at the Horn Point Environmental Laboratory in Cambridge, Maryland. Teachers worked through activities dealing with these models for the rest of the afternoon.

Physics teachers started their session with a roundtable discussion in which they shared activities they had used and problems encountered by the group. Most of the talk centered around problems with interpretation of graphs and with student writing. An exposition of the generic STELLA model for a 2nd order differential equation was given by Charlotte Trout and Franco Pozo. This model can be easily adapted to mechanics and to electric circuits. Charlotte then presented problems associated with baseball for group model development. Can a baseball travel further on a humid day? What is the effect of the spin imparted to the ball in its speed, time of flight, and distance travelled? David Spitzer led the group in formulating a basic model.

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