AAPS Editor’s note: This is the first of profiles of AAPS curriculum coordinators, our behind-the-scenes educators who fill an important role in our students’ school days. These coordinators plan and facilitate the selection, implementation (and often development) of curriculum and assessment systems. They also plan and lead professional development for teachers and others on all aspects of curriculum, assessment and instruction.
By Jo Mathis / AAPS District News Editor
Amy Deller-Antieau has been the district’s Science Department Chair, Grades 6-12, since 2010.Prior to that she worked as the science department chair and teacher at Pioneer High School teaching biology, ecology and environmental science for 15 years.The Michigan native lives in Grosse Ile with her husband, Lyle. They enjoy visits and time with their kids, Lyle and Rachel, who stop by occasionally after having left the nest a few years back.Deller-Antieau also enjoys cycling and keeping track of the wildlife on the Detroit River and on Lake Erie while kayaking or paddle boarding.
How would you describe your job to someone you just met?
Rather than teaching students, I support and teach teachers, science teachers in particular. While all our teachers and classrooms have something unique and special, there are some elements that need to be coordinated across the district so that we can guarantee that all students in the district are getting access to certain agreed-upon elements at certain times.
I view my role as one where I connect teachers to new learning and ideas with the aim of continually working toward supporting all students in accessing science. I help them navigate the district-wide systems that help us to be able to reflect on our successes and needs for growth. I help with communicating and understanding new expectations from the state, turning them into realities in our classrooms and situating them in ways that help us keep the focus on deep, relevant learning for our students. I help to facilitate teacher collaboration so that they can support each other and particularly the new teachers who arrive in our district.
Last but not least, I work hard to try and ensure that teachers have resources they need to do this work by facilitating access to to all the bits like sensors, scales and microscopes and to high-quality curriculum and reference materials.
What is your vision for K-12 science education at AAPS?
My vision for K-12 Science education at AAPS would include all students actually doing science and as a result,coming to understand how science helps us to “figure out” the world and solve human problems. I envision students working together in small groups to ask, “What will happen if….?” or “Maybe if we try this…?” and in large groups to discuss, “What do we agree upon? What differences do we see? or “Who can summarize what Aisha and Jake just said?” or negotiating “What do we still have questions about, and still need to figure out next?” At any moment a guest could enter and receive an engaged, excited response from any student about what and why they are trying to figure out today or this week.Our science classrooms should be spaces where students are pursuing the questions and problems about which they are curious and passionate, and in doing so come to understand the practices scientists use and the important ideas and concepts they use to explain the world and solve problems in it. Our students will come to understand how to use evidence (from their own experience and from empirical investigations of their own design) to understand their world and take action to make their own lives what they want them to be. Students will come to understand that science is at it’s best when we are collaborating and engaging in public reasoning to build the best solutions.In this vision, our teachers build relationships and are expert facilitators who recognize,value and build upon student strengths and experiences on the path to ensuring that students deeply understand core ideas and concepts, and can actually apply them to explaining events or solving problems.
Do teachers ever complain that they don’t have freedom to tweak the curriculum to reflect their students’ needs?
With the onset of new science standards in 2015, came a vision of practice and curriculum that expects teachers to anchor the classroom work in solving problems and “figuring out” phenomena. The real work of the teacher is to support students in putting initial ideas, related experiences and their basic reasoning approaches on the table, and then help students to develop the routines and thinking that scientists would use to narrow those ideas, use the experiences as evidence, design investigations for further evidence.We proceed through a unit based on the strengths and experiences and ideas that the students bring, and then use those strengths and experiences to connect and develop deep conceptual understanding of the science ideas and practices. The goal is to build from where the students begin. So,in recent years, they do not complain about having the freedom to meet students needs. Students should have a sense that they are driving much of the learning and pursuing questions they pose.The learning is grounded in the student needs. The real challenge I hear from most teachers is about time to do this type of learning and refining practice to facilitate this type of learning. Its a big shift from past practice.
How often does the K-6 math and science curriculum change?
My colleague, Tony Stamm, is currently our curriculum coordinator for K-5 Math and Science. His focus is on the K-5 curriculum, but we do collaborate on our K-12 vision for Science. In an ideal world, a curriculum review cycle would have us consider the effectiveness and possibly change curriculum on 5-6 year cycle or decide that the current curriculum is meeting needs for the time being. There are a number of factors that can influence the timing of adopting new curriculum. One factor is the introduction of new standards. When new standards are adopted by the state, we are obligated to consider whether our current curriculum can address those standards and develop a plan for reviewing and implementing a new curriculum that is aligned with those standards.
Further, the introduction of new curriculum is often a multi-step process that takes place across a couple years to ensure that we do not create gaps in content for students. For example if we switch curriculum while a student is in grade 3, we need to make certain that content the student was to learn in grades 4 and 5 hasn’t been moved around causing them to miss pieces. A careful plan and process for training and implementation have to be laid out. We are currently in the process of a curriculum review and changes due to new standards at both the elementary level and in middle school science.
What are your thoughts on standardized testing?
I prefer to use the word “assessment” rather than “test” to help us move beyond the idea that the only way to gather evidence of student learning and understanding is a traditional test. For example, a useful form of assessment is performance assessment; a task that students complete to demonstrate learning and ability to apply concepts. Having standardized tasks with teacher collaboration around interpretation of the evidence can be a very helpful way to assess our student learning, teaching and our programs. There are some types of learning that can be measured reasonably through more traditional standardized tests, but no single indicator or test should be our sole tool for understanding a student, teacher or program. The most problematic element of standardized tests is inappropriate use or flawed interpretation of results stemming from a lack of understanding about the design of the assessment and the limits of what it can tell us.
We must aim for a balanced system of assessment, one that recognizes the varied purposes for assessment and ensures that we have assessments that meet the purposes and afford the most opportunity for productive and continued learning.
Do you find teachers who “teach to the test”?
We are in a “data-driven” world, our teachers will prioritize what is assessed. Our challenge is ensure we are assessing what truly matters. Our classroom and district assessments need to measure what we most want students to learn and then its not problematic if teachers really aim for that end. If we want to know whether students can revise a model to be consistent with new evidence, then we need the assessment to elicit that practice in an authentic, contextualized way that won’t introduce bias. The best assessments do not simply check memorization, but rather check student ability to use their understanding for a purpose. My hope is that teachers are providing rich science learning opportunities as the best kind of “teaching to the test” and not repetitive practice of questions completely out of any learning context.
Our state-wide science assessments have been undergoing revision and field testing in the past two years. We will be looking closely this coming spring to understand how well it measures what is most important in science learning, and what it tells us about efforts to meet those objectives.
On this question, I find that leadership and assessment knowledge really matter. How we facilitate the conversations around assessment and learning, how we use the results to support growth are factors in how we value assessments.
Some studies show that girls lose interest in STEM in middle school. Is that true here? If so, how does AAPS combat that?
Studies do show that girls lose interest in STEM at several steps along the continuum and that the reasons may differ at each level, including middle school, high school and post-secondary. I have anecdotal evidence from my many years as a 9th grade Biology teacher that this is likely true here. Admittedly, we haven’t done a formal survey in recent years. There are several ways that we need to work to combat this along with the loss of interest in STEM for any students:
1) We need to stay the course on our vision for science education where all students are doing the work of science and solving problems. They need experience with hands-on investigation and “doing science” in order to feel confident and competent that these are possible avenues for them.
2) We need to provide examples of women and minorities working in science and other STEM careers. Along with this, our students need to better understand the variety and have better exposure to information about STEM careers as part of classroom experiences and good career planning.
3) In addition to in-school opportunities to get excited and feel confident, we can generate many opportunities for students to participate in STEM clubs or activities. Out-of-school activities have been shown to be a strong component of inspiring students to pursue STEM and developing the confidence to maintain that pursuit.
4) We need to very carefully consider the language we use with students and understand the subtle ways that we may encourage or discourage students to participate, take risks and see themselves as able to “do” math, science and technology pursuits and coursework. How both teachers and parents encourage students has a profound impact on the likelihood of pursuing STEM careers.
I would really like to credit my teacher colleagues in our PLTW programs, coordinated by Tom Pachera and our Computer Science programs coordinated by Anne Marie Nicoll-Turner and taught by Ted Emch, Kevin Behmer and David Coupland among others, for adding really important layers and opportunities beyond our basic math and science opportunities to improve and support interest and understanding about STEM careers in middle and high school. This is a many-hands-on-deck challenge, and I feel optimistic that we are improving our opportunities each year and will continue to better encourage students in this arena.
How close is the current science classroom at AAPS to the one you envision?
I fully acknowledge that the vision we hold for science instruction is a work in progress. This is work happening around the state, and around the country. We are connected to a network of dedicated scientists, science educators, and teacher educators all working hard to shift science classrooms from a place where science is construed as a bunch of facts in a book to be memorized to a place where we think deeply, gather evidence, collaborate and revise to solve problems and explain our world. In a percentage of classrooms this is playing out holistically on a daily basis, in a significant number of classrooms, it is happening in some units of instruction, but not others.
As the new standards are being implemented in our classrooms, we are starting with model units that demonstrate and support this approach and gradually implementing additional units that increase and improve the work. We have a number of teachers that serve on our core curriculum team that often take the lead on trying new units, developing new units, and then supporting others in trying them as well.
What do you most want parents to know?
I most want parents to know that we are working night and day including summers to bring about science classrooms where all students experience work that engages, supports and interests them in science learning. Our classrooms should be classrooms where each day each student could affirmatively answer that they shared an idea that day, and that someone else benefited from the idea that they shared that day, and they benefited from an idea someone else shared. In doing so, they will learn that everyone has a role to play and a responsibility in lending their voice to the work of solving problems and explaining the world.
In brief form, I most want parents to understand that they should expect these changes to be more and more apparent in our classrooms when science learning is taking place: