Math

Cavity Nester Citizen Science Study: Field Biology Boosts Math and Science

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American Kestral
Photo from https://madisonaudubon.org/

In 2012, HawkWatch International (HWI) created a school-based “Cavity Nester Urban Bird Study” in partnership with the Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE) in 2017. Designed to be a student-led expansion to the project, the study has allowed them to start studying all cavity-nesting birds living in urban settings.

In this project you’ll learn more about how citizen science increased student awareness related to cavity nesting species, specifically the American Kestrel, a species in decline across much of its natural range. Both the Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE) and Farmington High School participated.

What were the goals of this project?

Barn Owl from Field Journal
Barn Owl from Field Journal , Project Artifact

The goals for this project were to collect data that allowed an understanding of the
survivorship and reproductive success of the American Kestrels, and to reinforce high school math and science concepts by allowing students to gain hands-on experience in field biology. Students would complete a field journal where they would record observations, collect data, and draw conclusions. They would also present their findings at a symposium open to their peers, families, and the broader community. The journals and presentations were to be shared to draw attention to the project and its benefit to local students.

How did they approach the project goals?

This goal was achieved through several visits to each classroom, a total of eight visits — focusing on project and monitoring procedures, natural history information about American Kestrels and other cavity nesters, nest check ethics, and how to determine the age of nestlings. They brought in live birds to connect students to the natural history of raptors, as well as actual monitoring equipment for the students to become familiar with the technology used and to ensure a comfort level with the process. 

Participation in Large Scale Citizen Science

Working directly with the students and teachers in the classroom and in the field to practice and understand the necessary protocol to monitor the nest boxes, capture photos and videos of the activity in the boxes, and to enter their nest box data. Project leaders worked with students and teachers to learn how to use the technology employed to check the nest boxes and how to use the data platform, Jotform, to enter the data. And they participated in the regular monitoring of the nest boxes.

Journaling for students and lesson plans for teachers

They developed sixteen lesson plans related to both math and science, as well as a journal developed with teachers for students to keep track of their own data. The journal also included some valuable reference information about the American Kestrel and the nest box procedures.

How did they achieve their goals?

Through the project, three visits were offered to SLCSE and five visits to Farmington High School. These visits helped develop relationships with students and teachers. At each visit, they established an aspect of the project, covering the concepts of natural history of cavity nesters, procedures for the project, and practiced how to use the technology and equipment necessary for the project. This was accomplished using Powerpoint presentations and actual equipment in the classrooms. 

Additionally, they went out with the students and teachers on nest box checks to make sure they understood the process and equipment use.

What was the impact of this project?

Here is a quote from one of the participating teachers. 

“We have a student at our school who is autistic and struggles socially and academically. In an effort to provide opportunities for students of all abilities, we’ve invited this student to participate in our nest box monitoring because of his love of birds. Each week we checked the nesting boxes, and this student was required to complete all of his homework to attend because he was not actually in the statistics class. He did not miss a week. He is constantly telling me about the new information he is learning about random raptors. Just today he went out with his group to check his assigned boxes and there were some people there from Hawkwatch who were kind enough to point out some nearby raptors. His enthusiasm about birds keeps growing.” -Emma Chandler, SLCSE science teacher 

Working on this allowed educators to develop and execute an in-depth citizen science program. They often only see students for one class period and then part ways, but with this project, programs were offered for teachers and students on a regular basis throughout the semester. They were able to share their passion with them and engage students in a way wherein they started looking forward to checking boxes and developing “relationships” with the nestlings in their assigned boxes. Having the students see science careers that happen outside the lab and working directly with scientists was beneficial for students in considering higher education and career opportunities in science.

What challenges did they encounter?

Project Photo
Project Photo

They budgeted for 12 cameras for Farmington High School, but had to allocate 4 of those cameras to SLCSE due to wear and tear on the older cameras. In an effort to mitigate this challenge next time, they plan to meet with the administration of Farmington High School to encourage support for allowing the students to check boxes during school hours. They will also ensure there is a camera and set up for each group, rather than a certain number per school. 

The other challenge faced was ensuring timely and accurate data entry by the students. A greater focus was needed in emphasizing the importance of entering the data in a timely manner from the nest box checks. The same is true for the accuracy of the data entry by the students. A fair amount of time was spent by staff going back and verifying data entries with students and/or teachers. In the future, they plan to practice data form entries more diligently with the students prior to actually checking nest boxes in an effort to prevent these kinds of challenges moving forward.

Explore Citizen Science

Math and Maritime Place-Based Learning – M2BPL Re-thinks Math Workshop

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Math and Maritime Place-Based Learning

Project Photo, Math and Maritime Place-Based Learning
Project Photo, Math and Maritime Place-Based Learning

Rig up the mast, batten down the hatch and come sail away with the educators at the Blue Heron School in Port Townsend, Washington as they embark on their exciting project: Math and Maritime Place-Based Learning – M²PBL. The district’s Maritime Discovery Schools Initiative (MDSI), implemented in 2014, is guiding their transformation by encouraging teachers to change instructional pedagogy, increase student engagement, and experience connections between classrooms and business partners. This proposal develops 30 teachers over three years.

What exactly is the Math and Maritime Place-Based Learning – M2PBL?

Project Photo, Math and Maritime Place-Based Learning
Project Photo, Math and Maritime Place-Based Learning

Research has shown these educators that students benefit highly from using a Math Workshop (MW) model.

When executed successfully, MW models support a culture of underlying beliefs:

  • all students are capable of quality thinking;
  • participation through hands-on activities and discourse builds student thinking;
    and
  • through true engagement, all young minds can make real sense of mathematics.

An engaging environment is also the premise for Project Based Learning (PBL), where students use 21st century skills to learn collaboratively while working on projects to benefit themselves and others. The M²PBL proposed a structure for K-8 teachers to collaborate and design sense-making math environments tailor made for their students.

Through deepening knowledge of the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSSM) – particularly in Number and Operations, Measurement, and Geometry – teacher teams (K-2, 3-5, 6-8) focused on:

1) Number Talks (NT), a workshop element where students apply and verbally share strategies to solve and improve mental computations (number fluency),
and
2) PBL projects to apply students’ growing math strategies and conceptual knowledge. The MDSI promotes community partnerships between the school district and maritime-related industries.

Project Photo, Math and Maritime Place-Based Learning
Project Photo, Math and Maritime Place-Based Learning

As exciting as this is for the teachers, when the students get involved it brings it to another level. The educators are partnering with Port Townsend Sails, a local business specializing in “quality sails for traditional and modern rigs.” Teachers, students, and employees will collaborate to explore authentic mathematics on-site in the sail loft. There, and in classrooms, student mathematicians will count and measure to possibly build boats, design sails, and and/or navigate!

Project Photo, Math and Maritime Place-Based Learning
Project Photo, Math and Maritime Place-Based Learning

What were the goals for M²PBL?

They had two primary goals to accomplish in year one.  They wanted answers to the following questions:

  • How do Number Talks increase the quality of students’ number fluency?
  • Does authentic application of number fluency deepen student learning in project-based mathematics?

Eleven teachers initially met for professional learning in an elementary group and an intermediate group; each grade level met for two full days (early fall and mid-winter).

Those teachers recorded 10 half-day visits into classrooms (using a substitute) which totaled to around 15-20 visits arranged during planning times and/or with colleagues to “step out” for a short period to observe.  One teacher also requested a grade level team observation one morning, so three teachers not technically a part of the grant this year joined in on observations of Number Talks.  This was a productive way to share knowledge around fluency outside of the core group.  Teacher texts, classroom fluency instructional materials, and PBL supplies were purchased. Items included: student journals, chart paper/markers, wood (for boats), bird feeders, bird ID texts, meter tapes, weights, calculators (specifically for order of operations), and math manipulatives for Family Math Night (dice, spinners, etc.).  There, two classes taught fluency activities to parent/students, and the activities went home for continued learning. In-kind donations included dowels (masts), sail cloth (from PT Sails), sand paper/wood pieces for sanding blocks from the high school shop.  Volunteer support was received from parents (chaperones), the Schooner Martha captain and family, the Northwest Maritime Center/Wooden Boat Foundation shop personnel, Carol Hasse and crew of Port Townsend Sails, the PT High School STEM/maritime students, and parents to help first graders drill boats for the mast and to tack sails to masts.

What were some of the challenges?

As we can see, they’ve been busy this year.  But like all new project ideas, they are not without challenges.  The biggest challenge was the collaborative work that required teachers to be out of their classrooms.  One participant asked that her grade level team be able to collaborate around classroom observations, and that was accomplished.  It’s also been more difficult than anticipated to get teachers to keep up with data collection.  But they are already coming up with ideas on how to improve next year.  Things like: 1) Supporting a full day of professional learning around math fluency/PBL for any teacher not involved in year one who volunteers (sub time/materials stipend);  2) Supporting grade level teams to collaborate around math fluency through collegial visits/observations (sub time); 3) And finally, approaching Port Townsend Rigging Company as an additional maritime partner to help expand and grow the program for years to come.

All in all, it’s an exciting project to see come together.  We’re all waiting with bated breath for this ship to come back to harbor with tales of their next success.

Project Photo, Math and Maritime Place-Based Learning
Project Photo, Math and Maritime Place-Based Learning

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Teachers Solve Problems in Collaboration to Improve Mathematics Instruction in Project RENEW

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Summer Institute, Project RENEW photo.
Teachers investigate current practices and work to improve mathematics instruction for Common Core, Project RENEW photo.

We talk a lot about how isolating it can be to be a teacher, but nowhere is that more apparent than in small, rural districts.  The teachers there are often the only instructor for a single subject.  This is especially difficult for such an important and variable subject as mathematics.  As Phillips and Hughes explain:

“Too often, teachers do not have sufficient opportunities to work together to examine work and structure interventions within their classrooms.

As the new standards are implemented, we must ensure that teachers are not left alone to figure out how best to teach to them.

The standards are an opportunity for greater collaboration, fresher thinking, and a rearticulation of shared goals for teachers and students.

By collaborating with each other and with instructional specialists through cycles of examining student work, creating hypotheses about how to implement common-core-aligned lessons, implementing them, and making adjustments in their practice in real time, teachers can find the best ways to help their students reach these higher expectations while still maintaining individual styles and flexibility.” (2012, Education Week)

With multiple levels and subjects within it, math is a daunting subject to teach.  But that’s what the educators at West Elementary School in Manhattan, Kansas plan to do.

What is Project RENEW?

Project RENEW emphasizes the development of deeper content knowledge among teachers, as well as pedagogical knowledge aligned with a standards-based approach to content teaching. By building a cadre of elite math educators, the teachers at West Elementary School aim to create an easily adoptable model to improve math scores within their district and beyond.

What are the project goals?

Word Cloud from Kansas State Department of Education Math Website
Word Cloud from Kansas State Department of Education Math Website

With the adoption of a much more rigorous set of standards, Common Core Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM), the teachers at West Elementary realized that they must rethink how they teach mathematics. So, they came up with the following goals:

  1. Increase student achievement in mathematics for ALL students in grades K-12.
  2. Strengthen the content and pedagogical knowledge of K-12 teachers.
  3. Increase the implementation of CCSS-based mathematics instruction and curriculum in K-12 classrooms.
  4. Strengthen and expand existing leadership opportunities for teachers in mathematics to enhance collaboration to address the needs of K-12 schools, especially in small rural school districts.

The project proposed that by completing goals two through four (strengthening teachers, instruction and math leadership) that goal one (improved student achievement in math) would follow shortly after.

How did this project strengthen teaching in mathematics?

Project participants attended a summer math academy to develop CCSSM aligned curriculum and tasks. This academy helped the group understand their current practice and focus on ways to improve it.

Summer Institute, Project RENEW photo.
Summer Institute, Project RENEW photo.

First, teachers were pre-tested on their mathematical knowledge in relation to how they would implement mathematical practices in the classroom and had to submit an “action plan related to these practices and instructional strategies used for implementation.”

Next, they were observed during instruction and given feedback during professional development sessions.

In addition to this, teachers in smaller districts nearby that do not have funding for professional development and/or resources were contacted by the teachers from Project RENEW. Together, they were able to share resources and provide professional development for these small districts. Funds provided by McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation were also used to purchase new materials for the academy, so they were able to box up their “used” standards-based textbooks, load them up in a truck and delivered them to four different districts in the area.

How did this project impact the math instruction?

After a year of funding they’ve improved “by leaps and bounds and are ready to tackle the next steps” according to the project report.

The difference between the teacher Pre-Test and Post-Test was phenomenal.  The average score starting out was a 2/7 correct responses and by the end that average had improved to 5/7. That’s 42.8% improvement in teacher knowledge of how to implement math instruction for CCSSM.

Teachers were also observed showing marked improvements on their in class instructional skills, particularly in the realm of “providing problem solving opportunities for their students, requiring productive struggle and discourse.”

To further extend the benefits of the program in their community, the teachers involved in the project were also responsible for disseminating what they learned in professional development sessions with the smaller districts.

What knowledge would they share with teachers exploring similar projects?

Like many of these ambitious projects one of the hurdles that must be overcome is the lack of resources. Even with the grant funding, they were unable to accommodate all the educators they would have liked to. The waitlist for additional involvement is long and shows no sign of letting up, much to the disappointment of those who know the project’s promise.  In the future, they plan to video tape the lessons to help smaller districts to gain access to this valuable resource. This will be a focus in the year to come.

Also of note, the implementation of this program might encounter challenges operating on a larger scale due to the vast time requirements put on the educators and the stipends needed to cover their time.  They hope that in the coming years that the texts, videos, and seminars resulting from this program will be able to be adapted for use by other districts and schools around the country.

Further Readings

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