CoreModels Northern Region Report  

Northern Region Description

The Northern Region encompasses five school districts: Baltimore Co., Baltimore City, Carroll, Cecil, and Harford. These counties represent a diverse range of the socioeconomic and cultural spectrum.

On the western edge of the region, Carroll County is largely rural with agriculture being the dominant economic base. At the southern edge, Baltimore City represents an urban environment with the surronding metropolitan area in Baltimore County. Cecil County, at the northern edge, is undergoing a character change. Formerly a rural area, it has experienced significant development in the last decade. Neighboring Harford County is somewhat similar in character, although it is closer to the metropolitan area and has more wealth and more extensive urban centers.

These counties, in general, have a history of isolation, in that they have tended to work with schools within their counties and have done little collaboration with neighboring counties or other areas of the state.

Schools of the Northern Region Center

  • Cecil County
    • North East High School
      • Center Director - Biology, Environmental Science
      • 3 Participating Teachers - Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science, Earth/Space, Physics

  • Baltimore City
    • Western High School
      • Supporting Teacher - Biology, Computers in Science

  • Baltimore County
    • Western School of Technology and Environmental Science
      • Participating Teacher - Biology, Environmental Science

  • Carroll County
    • Francis Scott Key High School
      • 2 Participating Teachers - Biology, Environmental Science

  • Harford County
    • Havre de Grace High School
      • Supporting Teacher - Physics, Chemistry

Summer Workshop

The 1998 Northern Region Summer Workshop was held from July 20 - 31 at North East High School. During the first week of the workshop, the Northern Region teachers were introduced to the available model activities and given time to work through the materials and discuss how these materials could be integrated in their classrooms. The Biology teachers examined 9 models and materials packets, while the Physics teachers examined 15 models contained in 9 materials packets. A session was presented on the mathematics behind the models.

During the second week, individual teachers presented models and materials to selected freshmen North East students (who spent the first week of the workshop getting training in web page construction with HTML). Teachers showed much creativity in their introductions to the model activities. Becky Lake (NEHS) had the rapt attention of the students when she took a blood sample and measured her blood glucose as an introduction to the Blood Glucose model activity. Julie Janowich and Bob Cole (FSK) demonstrated the effect of temperature on enzyme activity by preparing Jello with processed vs fresh fruit as an introduction to the Enzyme model activity. Jill Chambers (WSTES) constructed a poster board to assist with the interpretation of the various graph types which result from model output.

Regional Workshops

The first regional workshop for Northern Region teachers was held on Saturday, December 5, 1998 at Western High School. Teachers reported on their progress presenting models, classroom successes and challenges. In addition, they were introduced to the model use database so that they could enter data if they wished. One session focused on the student learning aspect. We critiqued a model, looking for the components designed to elicit Higher Order Thinking, Systems Thinking and the Core Learning Goals. Model teaching tips were discussed. Teachers were given time to work on model activity extensions and alternative versions.

A second regional workshop was held on February 27, 1999. Project Director Mary Ellen Verona was in attendance and asked the teachers about their thoughts on the direction which the project might take for improved success. Teachers examined materials which had been revised or modified by project teachers. They also looked at new models which teachers were developing. Biology teachers took a closer look at the Hardy Weinberg model activity, with special attention to the student learning and assessment components. Time was alloted in the afternoon for teachers to work on developing new models. Bob Cole and Don Shaffer worked on developing an aquaculture nitrogen cycle model which complements research being done in Bob's classroom in raising rockfish. Janet Hartlove shared her work on epidemic model materials. Physics teachers Mike Knoll and Kerry Anne Kedzierski worked collaboratively on developing a new model involving inclined planes. Others examined and provided feedback on some new model materials in early development stages.

Modeling Implementation

  • Center Director - First semester biology classes at North East High School worked through all the biology materials as presented in the summer workshop. During the second semester, the Center Director tested revisions of the materials with a new crop of students.

  • Supporting Teachers - The two supporting teachers have implemented almost the entire range of biology and physics models in their classrooms and have provided very valuable feedback and insights.

  • Participating teachers - Much to our delight, most teachers had implemented 3 to 4 models in their classrooms during the first semester. All had done at least two. Clearly, Core Models has become an important component of their curriculum. This level of implementation is of particular interest, since systems and higher order thinking are probably not integrated into student thinking processes through one or two activities alone. These processes, almost certainly, require "scaffolding" and continuity for development. Two of these teachers have already presented modeling activities to other teachers in their county at an inservice workshop.

  • Other Teachers - Four non-program teachers within the Center Director's school have implemented models. In one case, a math and a science teacher co-implemented a model activity in an Integrated Math-Science class.

Peer Support

The Center Director was able to visit 4 out of the 6 participating teachers when they first presented a model. Most teachers had been visited three times by the end of March. Visits were quite frequent in September and early October and again in February/March. E-mail contact has been very regular between the teachers and the Center Director.

Strengths, Problems, Possibilities

The greatest strength may be the high implementation rate of classroom activties and the willingness of participating teachers to try new activities and offer valuable feedback. Supporting teachers have shown an exceptional high integration of materials into their classrooms. They have also contributed a great deal to materials development and revisions.

Distance: There are fairly large distances between most of the schools and the center. All of the schools required from 1 hr 15 min to a 2 hour drive for the center director. This has made it more difficult for the Center director to visit the schools on a regular basis. Supporting Teachers also had to travel quite a distance to visit participating teachers.

Visits - Notification, Communication & Scheduling: One of the biggest barriers to visits has been lack of notification. Teachers have often failed to notify the CD or ST that an activity will be presented on a certain day. This is in spite of frequent email reminders and calendar updates of classroom model use. One reason for this might be the perceived lack of purpose for the visits. Their summer workshop experience may have been comprehensive enough to make them feel they are not in need of further support. If so, we have perhaps not communicated clearly that ongoing peer collaboration is necessary to foster our ambitious goals of systems and higher order thinking in students. The historical lack of collaboration between the northern counties, compounded by the distances, may lead to a sense of isolation which is difficult overcome. Other factors which almost certainly play a significant role involve the difficulties involved in missing time when visiting another teacher. These include scheduling around; parent conferences, committee & faculty meetings, students seeking after school make-up work for labs and tests, coaching, club activities, sudden altered school calendars (e.g., fire drills, assemblies, snow cancellations). Other factors include possible discomfort at having visitors to their classes and the accompanying associations with supervisor's evaluations. In addition, many teachers already miss a lot of time because of work on county and state initiatives. The unreliability of substitutes in following plans and preventing theft and damage to the classroom has also been a factor. Several of the teachers during the first semester rarely checked their email either because of lack of habit or because of lack of access at the school. This has improved quite a bit.

Computers: For one school, the lack of a computer lab availability and the lack of cooperation on the part of a technician has affected full implementation of models. Most of the schools have had major changes in the last year in computer availability. Mostly in the positive direction.

Possibilities: Despite the challenges in arranging mutual school/classroom visits, there has been a great deal of collaboration. If we can give teachers a greater sense of purpose for their visits; if we can "communicate clearly that ongoing peer collaboration is necessary to foster our ambitious goals of systems and higher order thinking in students", then perhaps they will find the motivation necessary to overcome the numerous obstacles to our peer collaborative visits. Also exciting, is the pace of sharing of ideas for promoting student learning and for refining and developing of new materials. These promise to include an even broader spectrum of science curriculum and more varied approaches to instruction. Additionally, teachers have already begun to share many of our activities outside of the program with others in their schools, counties and beyond.

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