I had the opportunity to observe in Ms. Amy Dougan’s seventh grade science class at McDonough Middle School in Hartford, CT, this Thursday morning. McDonough Middle School is part of the Hartford Public Schools system. I expected a typical middle school experience, and I think my actual experience matched this expectation. I observed a class of around 20 students during their very first class of the day, so some students needed some time to wake up and get settled in. I expected some students to be engaged with the material and some to be, well, not so engaged, and I think this expectation was matched in my observation. This is middle school, after all.
After walking up one flight of stairs and rounding a corner, I found Ms. Dougan outside her classroom rounding up the students and getting them from their lockers and in to their first class of the day. She welcomed me and her students in to the classroom and we started with a “quiet 10 minutes.” The students take this time to get settled in and begin on a sheet the teacher prepares for each class where they are instructed to first copy down the “daily learning target” and then move on to the Do Now.
I noticed that Ms. Dougan has the daily learning target written in two different locations in the classroom, along with a statement written on the “long term learning board”, for this lesson, she wrote “should energy drinks be regulated for people under 16 years old.” Along with the daily learning target, words like “engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate.” This idea of evaluating and using evidence to emphasize arguments is a concept Ms. Dougan says she encourages in the classroom. A Word Wall was also incorporated into the décor of the classroom, with all of the vocabulary terms for that unit displayed, the most recent ones at the top. The purpose of this was to have a visual for the students to refer back to when writing and doing other tasks.
I caught the class at the end of a chapter, so they were working on a sort of final project on the chemistry of energy drinks. They had to pull evidence from a reading on energy drinks in order to support their claim of whether or not energy drinks should be regulated for people under 16. The project was a creative one in that they had to create an infographic. I saw student learning through their creativity and skills to pull out evidence to back up their claim. Student learning was also exhibited when Ms. Dougan asked the students what some effects of energy drinks were and they were able to recall information they had previously read. The teacher was using this infographic project as a form of assessment to see whether or not students were able to pull and interpret information from readings and use terminology learned earlier in the lesson to enhance their argument. I found it interesting that students behavior/attitude was also assessed, the rubric grading them on if they were “friendly, helpful, open, and positive.” This part of the rubric/assessment is interesting to me and I think it is a good thing to include in order to encourage students to be open to suggestions and also open to the idea of working together and helping each other. I think including a social element to lessons is good for students to start talking with each other about science. If one student shows interest, maybe it will spark interest in other students.
I asked Ms. Dougan how she typically assesses the students and she said usually with formative assessments like the one they were doing or writing assignments. She told me at McDonough there is a push to emphasize writing and reading skills. I noticed there was a board at the front of the classroom labeled “bravo” where students’ exceptional work was posted. The work there now was a short writing assignment where students had to choose a statement they agreed with most in regard to a certain topic and use evidence to support why they made that choice.
From this observation, I was able to pick up on the dynamic of the classroom and also speak with the teacher to hear what her needs are and what sort of curriculum she is planning on teaching next when it’s my turn to lead the class. She recommended use of a slideshow to aid learning and also said that having some kind of “do now” activity is most effective. Ms. Dougan is great to work with and is very helpful, I am looking forward to more experiences inside her classroom!