Meet the Edcite Team: Intern Edition

Our monthly series Meet the Edcite Team continues! Each month we feature a different member of our team. This month we are featuring our intern, Heyaw Meteke.

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Heyaw Meteke (right) with team member Brian McIntosh

Heyaw recently created a Growth Report for our Edcite Schools platform. It allows administrators to chart growth in assignment averages and look for trends among groups of students. It is a great tool for schools who pre and post assess with the same assignment.

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Read below to learn more about Heyaw and his work at Edcite.
Where do you go to school? What are you studying? 

I’m currently a senior at Gateway High School in San Francisco.  My favorite class is physics because I can see how the math and concepts I learn apply to real life.  Our end of the year project was constructing a rocket that can safely return a raw egg after launch.

What brought you to Edcite?

I came to Edcite to gain an understanding of a company in the tech sector as well as building skills in a team environment that will help me become a better programmer.

IMG_8936Tell us about what you’ve been working on during your internship.

I’m currently working on a character recognition application which hopefully in the future will be able to parse and understand handwritten math equations.  This can be a major feature for devices like tablets and phones where users can easily write it instead of awkwardly typing math expressions with the keyboard.

What do you plan to do after high school?

I am planning on going to college to pursue a major in computer engineering and want to be an embedded engineer.  I am interested in that field because I enjoy working on hardware and devices that interact with the physical world.

What Heyaw’s co-workers say:

We’re very happy to have Heyaw help us prototype new features for Edcite’s student tools.  He’s been great at taking machine learning ideas and quickly implementing them in Python. Quite impressive for a high school student.   -Tony Thomas, Edcite Co-Founder

It’s been fun to have Heyaw as a co-worker after having him as a student in my computer science class. I have enjoyed getting to know Heyaw better outside of school. He has already built a report used in Edcite and is working on a project that uses machine learning to recognize handwriting. His willingness to dive into new projects is impressive and contagious, and I learn new things from him each week.   -Brian McIntosh, Edcite Project Manager and Teacher

Continue reading Meet the Edcite Team: Intern Edition

The Science Of Being a Science Teacher

Teaching science is one of the best professions in the world. Each day, you get to split open the minds of youngsters with bewildering, fantastical knowledge of structures and forces you can’t see with the naked eye. You have the privilege of leading your students to leverage existing information to access new knowledge. You can experience immeasurable amounts of joy when they start to recognize that inquiry is everywhere.

Nonetheless, science teaching isn’t all rainbows (or should I say, ‘refracted light rays’) and lollipops (‘sucrose sticks’). When I left the classroom in 2013, I was knee-deep in the planning process to help my science department transition to the Common Core State Standards (read this post about our CCSS for science planning process!, all while preparing my own students for the California Star Tests (CST) and the College Board AP exams. At that time, I believed this symbolized a changing tide for science teachers across the country. Two years later, I know this to be true. The science of being a science teacher is, in fact, evolving.

With the No Child Left Behind Act and Obama’s STEM initiatives like the Educate to Innovate campaign, increasing attention has been drawn to science teachers in the US. And while a lot of discussion has centered around what science teachers could or should be doing in their classrooms, there hasn’t be an equal amount of praise for the incredible amount they do in fact do, day in and day out.

This year is no exception. Science teachers are balancing the increased focus on the quantitative, analytical skills so desired in society with the literacy skills students need to communicate their ideas and succeed in reading-heavy college courses. Teachers have to juggle the Common Core Reading in Science and Technology standards (RST), the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and perhaps some state standards of AP material lumped on top of all that. Lastly, as testing shifts towards digital assessments, science teachers have been tasked with implementing more technology in their classrooms.

There’s no question that science teachers are juggling a lot right now, but these diverse needs won’t discourage me. It just makes even more excited to work with science teachers and provide this science perspective for the Edcite team. Though I miss teaching science every day, I’m just as excited now to work hard and build a website that can help, not hinder, the inspirational science teacher community during this time of transition.

Science Teachers and Education Technology:

Technology in the classroom should help science teachers with all of these new challenges, not add on to them. But, with the focus on the Common Core, many platforms and websites focus far more heavily on math and ELA. Check out this list of the 100 best apps and websites in 2014. Only 3 of them (out of 100!) relate to science… and yes, that’s counting the zoo animals app.

Helping science teachers with education technology was one of the main reasons I joined the Edcite team after leaving the classroom, and why I am ever-passionate about working to make our website better and better for science teachers. I believe that our site is already quite outstanding for science teachers. It offers the ability to tag and search for content by a range of standards – from content that aligns to a specific Common Core RST standard, to a specific NGSS standard. Moreover, it allows teachers to build assignments from a range of interactive question types, an innovation that is especially useful in science classrooms. Teachers can ask students to label atomic diagrams or cells with the image labeling question types (4 of them, actually!), practice their literacy with text-to-image and text-to-text matching, or practice their physics calculations with drag and drop tools.


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Most importantly, the Edcite team is committed to meeting the needs of science teachers as they continue to evolve. Recently, we won the iHub fellowship from the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, which will allow us to work alongside science teachers and gain their perspective on how to make Edcite better. As science teachers continue to navigate the tricky territories of testing, technology, and totally new standards, we hope to be there right alongside them. Onwards!

 

Next page: Edcite’s Best Science Assignments

Science and the Common Core

 

With the arrival of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), English and Math teachers have been busy at work. Still, science teachers, who are impacted by both the Common Core standards and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), are in a unique position as well. Thankfully, with a greater understanding of the Common Core science section, science teachers can prepare their students for both CCSS and NGSS simultaneously, and still infuse their classrooms with the rigorous, thought-provoking content that makes science classrooms so unique.

How does science play into the Common Core?

Science (and history, actually) technically falls under the ELA portion of the Common Core standards. Science-specific standards begin in the 6th grade. The science standards can be distinguished by the letters “RST”, which stand for “reading standards in science and technical subjects”. As the acronym implies, these standards focus mainly on literacy. Among other things, the standards assert that students should read age-appropriate science-level texts, understand domain-specific terminology, and distinguish between “fact” and “speculation” in science articles.

Now what?

Though your science classroom is likely infused with literacy already, implementing the 10 RST standards may still seem daunting. The 3-step method described below is one I used myself as the science department chair at KIPP San Jose Collegiate. This procedure will help you pinpoint department-wide areas of growth and give you discrete steps to address those needs.

Step 1: Determine Your Areas of Strength/Growth

To devise a meaningful implementation plan, the other science teachers and I first identified which standards our pedagogy addressed well and which standards were lacking from our classrooms. We structured our discussion by using a “Needs Analysis Worksheet”. I modified this worksheet for the rest of my department by writing in the science-specific standards, and then asked teachers to rank their efficacy of teaching those standards.

After reflecting individually, our team compared our rankings. Together, we listed 2-3 department strengths and 2-3 areas of growth. For example, my department recognized that we all teach standard RST.4, which asks students to “determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words…” We knew, for example, that students in all grades were familiar with the words hypothesis and pH, or that we regularly reviewed science vocabulary in our classrooms. On the other hand, our team acknowledged that we struggle with standard RST.6, which asks students to “analyze the author’s purpose in providing an explanation…” Though we often had students read science texts, such as published journal articles or news articles, we rarely asked students to ascertain the author’s reasoning, bias, or opinion.

Step 2: Standards Brainstorm Session:

Now that we had established which standards we hoped to focus on more as a department, my team and I began to brainstorm the “how”. This was the most helpful part of our strategy session by far. We went through our “Needs Worksheet” standard by standard and shouted out teaching methods that could be used. We weren’t thinking about the question in the frame of our own classrooms and we didn’t dive into our individual content areas; instead, we brainstormed general ideas for incorporating these standards in science. After generating a long list of science literacy strategies, we discussed ways we could implement these in our individual classrooms. Here are some of our ideas:shutterstock_176221823

  • Have students read a science news article as their “Do Now”. This will not only help students build their reading skills, but will also expose them to the modern applications of the science they are learning. You can scaffold this activity for English Language Learners (ELLs) by printing out different articles for your class that span different reading levels, and intentionally (but subtly!) handing different articles to different students. You can review the content in each of the articles, so students think you merely want to discuss different topics and don’t realize there is a greater reason behind which article they were given.
  • Offer students more opportunities to identify bias in written texts and science videos. Tell them they can disagree with an author! I did this in my class with this vaccines assignment, which helped push students to think critically about the sources they were reading and watching.
  • Read a book with your students! Our chemistry classes read “The Disappearing Spoon”, physics classes read “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”, biology classes read ““The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and environmental classes read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”
  • When students are peer editing each other’s lab reports, ask them to highlight their peer’s hypothesis, thesis and concluding statements in different colors. This will not only help the original author distinguish if these were clear in their lab write-up, but it will help the revisor practice identifying these components in a text.

Step 3: Plan, Plan, Plan!

After these sessions, I typed a “Needs Analysis Summary” and our brainstorming ideas and sent them out to the team. I also brought physical copies to each of our planning sessions thereafter, since they served as great guides when revising our long-term plans over the summer or while creating new unit plans. Plus, continuing to discuss these topics as a department helped foster even more collaboration and facilitated our vertical planning, ensuring that the necessary Common Core skills are reinforced in each science course.

 

Though science teachers don’t need to prepare their students for a Common Core science exam, they can still use their classrooms as a way to reinforce key literacy strategies that will help students succeed on their other exams and in life. Discussing these standards as a department helped me realize that I was not alone; I could tackle this change with my colleagues, and with a greater community of science teachers who, like myself, want to do what’s best for their students. If you have any additional ideas around the Common Core and science, please include them in the comments below!

A Look at the 21st Century Elementary School

Edcite’s Field Trip to Katherine Smith Elementary

At first, Katherine Smith Elementary seemed like it would be any other elementary school: tiny athletes played soccer on a field during recess and students smiled shyly at the visiting strangers during class transitions. Our visit turned out to be far from ordinary — the student learning and engagement is nothing short of amazing.

The 6th graders did the layout and planning for these garden beds.
The 6th graders did the layout and planning for these garden beds.

While our student ambassadors were wrapping up class, Lucy Helveston, K. Smith’s STEM specialist, gave us a brief overview of the school’s cornerstone: project-based learning (PBL). We were impressed with the amount of trust staff had in students’ ability to create and implement real solutions to real world problems. For example,  K. Smith fifth graders combined their learning about early explorers with their knowledge of volume and density design and build cardboard boats they tested on an actual lake. The sixth graders designed and drew the campus garden beds to scale and, amidst the California water shortage, mapped out best placement for their water pipelines. Their next project? Working on a rain barrel to capture and reuse rainwater for their garden and designing a greenhouse for potted plants! Kindergarteners applied their learning about helpful and harmful garden invertebrates by creating clay models they would then exhibit in the upcoming Maker’s Fair.

Practical Applications       

So how does one create this amazingly collaborative, innovative culture of learning that permeates Katherine Smith’s campus?

The Edcite team marvels at student poetry projects.
The Edcite team marvels at student poetry projects.

Part of the answer lies in the staff’s strong commitment to collaboration and culture. Two years ago, with Common Core looming on the horizon and a history of lower academic performance to overcome, Evergreen School District made a bold move allowing Katherine Smith Elementary’s administration to start afresh and adopt a project-based learning (PBL) curricula… and by adopt, we mean design!  K. Smith’s teachers make use of planning days and afterschool time to collaborate on interdisciplinary projects. Assistant Principal Nanette Donahue describes how the teachers are excited about learning as well and willing to give and take critical feedback. They care a lot about reinforcing real world skills: collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.  She explains their teachers value and maintain a “culture that excites” students to learn everyday.

Colorful murals like this one reinforce the school's core values on campus.
Colorful murals like this one reinforce the school’s core values on campus.

Another key for implementing project-based learning is to make sure to ground each project with a driving question, a question that all students will be able to answer at the end of the project. Along the way to answering this driving question, students and teachers create a list of “Need to knows” — a series of smaller questions that help define the path for the project. Questioning of this sort engages students in meaningful exploration and learning. “It’s a deeper learning movement,” Principal Brengard explains.

Looking Forward to a Brighter Future

Our small team of educators and engineers left Katherine Smith Elementary inspired by the staff’s trust in the students’ ability to acquire the necessary skills to create a lasting impact in its community. Given the right balance of freedom and guidance, Katherine Smith students prove that they can design a water pump and pipeline system, build boats, pitch startup ventures, code video games, publish poetry, and even identify ways to reduce their carbon footprint–all through effective collaboration and communication! What more can we hope for in our young, future leaders?