THE BIG IDEA: Classroom problems are the focus of this first Workshop. Fellows engage with structured learning activities to find rich problem areas of focus to explore for the duration of the learning cycle. Some fellows choose student engagement; others opt for scientific explanations. Whatever the problem area, Fellows explore it in the time between this Workshop and the next. This problem of practice is the seed of the narrative that Fellows share at both Sci-Ed Showcases as Windows into the Classroom (WIC) talks. How Fellows attempt to solve this problem of practice, and the insights and questions that naturally emerge from this attempt, are the core learning experiences of the first learning cycle.
What follows are the key learning activities and work processes that constitute Workshop #1:
- Icebreaker and Opening Circle. These group rituals, carried over from the Kickoff, build social connection, support awareness of democratic teaching moves and parallel processes, and provide emotionally safe spaces for whole group dialogue. The first Workshop opens with an activity called Concentric Circles. All Fellows sit in either an inner circle or an outer circle and face each other in pairs. Each Fellow then responds to a question uninterrupted for a minute or longer. Who was your favorite teacher in school? What has been a challenge so far this school year? When time is up, the partner Fellow speaks. Once both Fellows have spoken, the inner or outer circle rotates. Fellows will have multiple conversation partners. Concentric Circles allows Fellows to establish one-on-one connection within the larger group without the pressure or awkwardness that some experience when meeting many new people in a social environment. Once Fellows have completed Concentric Circles, the group debriefs the experience. How did it feel to be listened to? How did it feel to talk? How might we use this in our classroom? These questions normalize the process of studying group interactions within the Sci-Ed group as a way to better understand the parallel process that occurs in Fellows’ classrooms.Finally, the group revisits the agreements made at the Kickoff. Which agreements are working so far? Which agreements need tweaking? Highlighting agreements is an important ritual that will happen at each Workshop. As with the icebreaker debrief questions, revisiting group agreements normalizes the idea that the way in which Fellows work together is socially negotiated and directly impacts the cohesion and success of the group.
- Learning Cycles Overview. This is a mix of didactic and group learning experiences. First, Fellows go through an overview of the two learning cycles. They learn about the components of the learning cycle and also watch and debrief a presentation about “beehive” professional development. As part of this unpacking, Fellows explore the implications of the Democratic STEM Teaching Framework for classroom practice. Using Democratic Science Teaching as a source text and a Save the Last Word protocol, Fellows define the strands of the Democratic STEM Teaching Framework and consider what each would look like in a classroom. Here is an example of this work from Sci-Ed Cohort 6.
- Structured Small Group Collaboration Protocols. The remainder of the day supports identification of a problem area of focus through two protocols. The first is Noticings and Wonderings. On Post-Its, Fellows record what they notice about their classrooms and what they wonder about these noticings. The noticings and wondering are meant to be as free of assumption as possible. “I notice that some of my male students do not come to class on Fridays”, for example, contains fewer assumptions than “I notice that some of my male students cut my class because they do not like to learn”. Fellows draw a picture of their classrooms that reflect these noticings and wonderings. Fellows explore their problem area of focus through interviews and observations as a way to develop a broader understanding of their classrooms. Sci-Ed has borrowed tools from the worlds of improvement science and design thinking to accomplish this task. Design Thinking Interview and Observation Guide as well as tools from Design Kit have previously helped to support Fellows’ work. Next, Fellows share their drawings in small groups. The group looks for patterns that might reveal a Problem Area of Focus. Each small group is facilitated by a Master Fellow (a fuller explanation of this role is at the end of this blog entry). For this particular activity, each Fellow within the small group uses the classroom drawing to present the full classroom context of their work as well as few noticings and wondering of interest. Other Fellows within the small group ask clarifying and probing questions of the presenting Fellow and have a conversation about what the noticings and wonderings might suggest. The presenting Fellow responds at the end of this conversation. The goal is for each Fellow to come away with an idea of a rich problem area of focus that they will continue to explore.
- Closing Circle: The closing circle is a time for Fellows to reflect on the workshop experience. What worked? What didn’t work? In what ways did learning activities create a democratic learning environment? How does our work with each other parallel our work with students? There may be loose ends that emerge at the closing circle that will not be resolved. This is a purposeful feature of Sci-Ed program design. Loose ends may or may not be worked through by the group during future workshops. But the ritual of the closing circle ensures that all Fellows are able to learn about the full range of responses to workshop activities, discharge any positive or negative emotions, and surface aspects of the group process that may or may not be working. In this way, the elements of the Democratic STEM framework - voice, shared and transformational authority, and critical capacity - drive the close of every workshop.
In addition to the activities outlined, there are two additional program features that are important to highlight.
First, in addition to the opening and closing circles, the Sci-Ed Innovators Fellowship collects feedback at two points during each workshop, once before lunch and once before the closing circle. To create democratic learning environments, we want to surface and center Fellows’ voices as much as possible. As such, all Fellows write their feedback into an online form so that Master Fellows and the Sci-Ed Leadership Team has as complete a picture of the Fellows’ experience as possible for Workshop planning. This gives fellows who may not yet be comfortable sharing aloud a forum to be heard. Here is an example of the form we use to collect feedback.
Finally, Sci-Ed uses a small group coaching structure for all Workshops in both learning cycles. Master Fellows within the program coach a group of four or five Fellows throughout the Fellowship. Master Fellows have completed the Fellowship as Fellows and are coached to become facilitators. After each Workshop in consultation meetings, the Master Fellows and the Director of the Master Fellowship debrief the experience.This nested coaching and supervision structure, of Fellows by Master Fellows, and Master Fellows by the Leadership Team, is an essential element of the Sci-Ed Innovators Fellowship structure. Each of these relationships presents opportunities to study and understand the way in which adults work together as a parallel of the classroom experience. Master Fellows are able to study their facilitation moves and the dynamics of their small groups with each other, just as Fellows are able to study themselves and their classrooms with the support and critical insight of other educators.
Keywords: Noticings, Wonderings, Forming, Beehive, Concentric Circles, Problem Area of Focus, Protocol-Driven Collaboration, Learning Cycle, WIC, Coaching Groups