Engineering Science in Fletcher

Target 1. Student Centered Learning – FWSU students will engage in personalized learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creative learning opportunities.

Action Step – Highlight, create and model innovative learning opportunities that promote collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creativity for students and staff.

Indicators of Success – Students and staff will apply existing knowledge to create original works as a means of personal or group expression.

In June 2013, the Vermont Department of Education adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, commonly referred to as NGSS. Last year, teachers throughout Vermont familiarized themselves with the NGSS, which now represent the foundation of all science instruction in the state and beyond. Designed collaboratively by representatives from 26 states and a team of 42 writers, the NGSS have been adopted by a dozen states and the District of Columbia.

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Prior to the NGSS, Vermont teachers used the Grade Expectations for Vermont’s Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities to guide science instruction and as the basis on which student assessments were created. With the transition to NGSS, student assessments will also change from the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, commonly referred to as SBAC. The SBAC assessments are completed online and require students and schools to be prepared with the skills and technology to be successful with this new testing format.

The transition from our State Standards to the NGSS represents several cultural shifts including a substantially increased interconnectedness between science and other subjects and concepts such as technology, engineering, mathematics, reading, writing, critical thinking and more. Previous standards have been less clear about the importance of this integration and helping students realize the relationships between subjects. Additionally, the NGSS aims to create a strong connection between science instruction and the real world. The NGSS also strongly emphasize engineering skills across grade levels and throughout content areas.

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The NGSS are a set of standards and skills that children need to know and be able to do by the time they complete a particular grade level. They are not a curriculum. It is the job of skilled and trained teachers to design curriculum and instruction that supports students in their quest to achieve the rigorous NGSS and develop a love of science inquiry. In Fletcher, teachers have designed both curriculum maps and calendars that guide their implementation of the new standards at each grade level and inform families of the rigorous work happening in classrooms. These grade level documents are available on the Fletcher School website by clicking here.

The NGSS emphasize science as a coherent K-12 subject. While students learn varied content and details from year to year, they frequently revisit and build upon previous concepts in order to complete a progression that, by the end of high school, provides the overarching skills and knowledge to process complex material, gain an overall understanding of scientific literacy and apply content learning to real life.

unnamedEngineering and technology are receiving a new level of attention in the NGSS. The Engineering Design Process supports students in identifying and researching a real-life problem, brainstorming solutions, choosing and testing a model or prototype, communicating a solution and redesigning as necessary. Technology resources allow students to research and interact with global resources in countless new and exciting ways.

“Science and engineering are needed to address major world challenges such as generating sufficient clean energy, preventing and treating diseases, maintaining supplies of food and clean water, and solving the problems of global environmental change that confront society today. These important challenges will motivate many students to continue or initiate their study of science and engineering,” the NGSS authors wrote.

Vermont’s adoption of the NGSS also aligns with the ongoing implementation of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English Language Arts, providing opportunities for students and teachers to integrate and develop comprehensive learning across content areas.

Fletcher teachers continue to dedicate professional development time to the use of the NGSS. Most recently, Teacher Leader Denette Locke facilitated staff meetings that helped teachers understand the links between science and the other various content areas.

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“The idea is integration,” Locke said. “Math class should not just be 10:00 to 11:00. Students have a natural curiosity that blends subjects and that curiosity is just naturally there. We’re really teaching everything all day long and kids love that.”

BFA “Flips” Science Instruction

Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Action Step – Increase access to resources for all students using digital tools making learning more accessible for diverse learners.

Indicator of Success – Staff, students and community embrace the digital, social, mobile and “always on” learning styles of 21st century students.

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As part of student-led science investigations middle schoolers were charged with analyzing and interpreting their own data. They needed an orientation to the metric system and use of metric tools in order to clearly record and communicate their findings. Although some students felt confident in performing metric conversions, others needed additional support before moving forward.

Students must not only “know” science concepts; but also use their understanding to investigate the natural world through the practices of science inquiry, or solve meaningful problems through the practices of engineering design. (NGSS Standards)

Science Teacher Chris Palmer made the decision to “flip” his classroom instruction. He assigned a 14-minute audio-visual lesson for students to view on their iPad the night before. He developed the lesson using EduCreations to explain the basics of metric conversions. The video was the students’ homework, and he posed questions for their consideration prior to class.

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Once in the classroom, students formed groups and identified student leaders to facilitate discussions and practice performing metric conversions. Their teacher was available to support and answer questions as students applied the concepts.

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This is another example of how the “always-on” digital-age learning culture can provide endless possibilities for flexible instruction in today’s schools.

BFA Fairfax Deploys New Weather Station on Academy Roof

Target 3. Flexible Learning Environments – FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Action Step – Make relevant and authentic

problems become the focus of connected learning

Indicator of Success – Students are engaged in answering authentic questions and solving problems in collaborative settings.

BFA Fairfax recently installed a new weather station on the roof of the school. The purpose of the installation goes far beyond simply knowing the current weather. The station itself will directly impact the instruction of students at BFA as they explore data, trends and their implications in science classes. The study of weather is also an important part of the Next Generation Science Standards which are being implemented in Vermont. 

Davis Vantage Pro2 Wireless install on top of Bellows Free Academy.

Davis Vantage Pro2 Wireless install on top of Bellows Free Academy.

The station was purchased using funds procured by High School Science Teacher Tom Lane through VT EPSCoR Research on Adaptation to Climate Change. Special thanks to FWSU Computer Support Technician Jeff Smith who ensured the success of this project.

BFA Technology Support Team - Jason Smith and Jeff Smith - pose with the weather station after assembly.

BFA Technology Support Team – Jason Smith and Jeff Smith – pose with the weather station after assembly.

In addition, everyone can now obtain real-time data from the new weather station and soon a continuous weather data feed will appear right on the BFA website.

BFA Sophomore Geoff Schukel assists with the rooftop installation.

BFA Sophomore Geoff Schukel assists with the rooftop installation.

Already, this new station has proved to be great tool for our HS student scientists as they study meteorology, learn about climate change, and analyze the often unpredictable weather of our region.