Feb 15

Using “How Does Music Work” as a Through Line to Help Students Think Like Musicians

Thanks to Mandy Oberst, General Music Teacher at Way Elementary, for sharing her reflection on using a through-line to help students think like musicians using music from the Carnival of Animals.


I love the Carnival of Animals.  I love how students connect the music to the animal.  However, it hasn’t always been a connection that supported a conversation about music.  Over the years I have fiddled with my lessons trying to make sure that music was at the heart of it.  This year I put up a Music Burger that I found from Tracy King (you can get it on teachers pay teachers).  It is a great visual that puts the elements of music in front of students.   The music burger guided our conversation.  We started by generating a list of music ideas and terms.  Then as a class we sorted them into the different elements on the music burger.  Understanding the terms  helped our conversation immensely.
 During the study of Carnival of Animals I really enjoyed making the animals a mystery for the students.  They loved coming in and trying to “crack the case”.  For the Swan I put it in a box and the students listened to the music.  While they listened we went through the different parts of the burger and added our ideas.  When we were done we generated a list of animals that matched our criteria.  I would then reveal the swan and the class would be thrilled because they had it on their list!
To crack the case of the tortoise I actually did the opposite.  Again,the animal was in the box, we listened to the music, and recorded our ideas on the music burger.  However, I already generated a list of animals (I used a free bingo sheet of animal pictures http://www.freeprintable.com/free-printable-bingo/animal-bingo-1) and we then started eliminating animals based upon our ideas from the music burger.  Students would make a claim of the animal they think it is and support their thinking from the music burger.
  I took a different approach for the hens and roosters piece.  Studentswould observe and describe what they saw as well as what they heard through a zoom in.  I had on the board a picture but it was covered.  Slowly I would reveal a couple pieces of the picture while they listened to the music.  Students would again make a claim of what the animal could be and support the answer based on the music burger.  Student would think pair share with a partner near them.   We would repeat the process several times until the picture was completely revealed.
It was awesome to walk around and hear students describing the music.  Again, I took a different approach to introduce the fossils.  Students watched an animated score (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zZye8IuobwQ).  There was no sound.  After watching the video I asked the class what they noticed and we recorded it.  Next, I asked them to think like a musician.   They watched the video again with no sound. We again recorded ideas that they had connected with their first results.  First example, they might notice that it goes up and down.  Students will then suggest that the pitches could be moving.  Finally, the third time the class watches the video and listens to the music.  However, I guide their thinking by asking them to focus on our throughline, How does music work?   Students again share their thinking and find support for the claims or may change their thinking based on what they observed.  It is exciting to hear the students discuss elements of music.   I am still working on “bumping up” other pieces but was pleased to hear the discussions that were unfolding and the excitement the students had for the pieces.

Jan 08

Using Compass Points in Music Classroom

Mandy K Oberst Reflects on Using Compass Points

General Music Teacher, Way Elementary

Bloomfield Hills Schools, November, 2014

I am sure that many of you have just finished your concerts for December.  The week of the concert is filled with students coming and telling you how excited they are to be on the stage or how excited they are that their parents are coming.  Not only do you hear the excitement, but often you get suggestions on how to improve the performance  and even a couple of worries.  It tends to be overwhelming when 20 students all approach you at the same time while you are supposed to be rehearsing before your performance.

Over the years, I have started to capture the heart of the performance by using the Compass Points thinking routine.  The students seem to really appreciate the chance to be heard.  It also allows for students that wouldn’t necessarily share their concerns and needs, to have a voice as well.  I ask that every student use at least one sticky note to add to our class Compass Points.  However, I allow them as many as they want.  I rarely have a student that only wants to put up one sticky note.

I ask them to write their name on their sticky and write the letter that corresponds to the compass points on the sticky note.  They write down any needs for N  (I Need to know…) , any excitements for E  (What is excited to you as we prepare for the performance?), any suggestions for S, and any worries for W.  It has helped to make my concerts run more smoothly and has eliminated answering the same questions 30 times (what time do I have to be here, what do I have to wear, when do I go on the stage etc…).

I have four different poster boards (4 classes in a grade) so that I can keep the classes organized.  After the classes leave I organize the sticky notes so that any worries or suggestions etc… that are the same I can address just one time.  I always say the student’s name so they know I have read their sticky and recognize their thoughts as important.

A couple of years ago I was sorting sticky notes and found a worry.  The worry read that they had lost their cat.  While it was a serious worry I realized that I forgot to make sure that the class understood that they were capturing the heart of the musical and making connections to music class.  The students at my school are comfortable with Compass Points so I didn’t spend a lot of time on directions and neglected to remember  that we had new students that hadn’t been doing it for years.  It was very eye opening to notice the culture that had been created.    With that…have a great winter break!


Compass Points Routine in Music


Working on Compass Points in Music

Dec 09

Mandy K Oberst, Music Teacher, Reflects on CoT Throughline

Mandy K Oberst Reflects on CoT Throughline for Music

General Music Teacher, Way Elementary

Bloomfield Hills Schools, November, 2014

I have struggled with my throughline in the general music classroom.  What is a throughline?  When I first started VT I joined a school that had been using throughlines and had already adopted VT.  I was embarrassed to ask so I thought I would just Google it!  Big mistake.  Nothing showed up!  Now I know that a throughline is your big umbrella for the year.  What will every lesson continually be about?  I have tried having a throughline for every grade level but I was so confused that my brain couldn’t keep up.  I have tried having a couple of throughlines that would hit lessons through every grade.  However, nothing seemed to really feel right and fit naturally.  So at the end of last school year I changed it…AGAIN.  I changed it for a couple of reasons.  First my students were not able to tell me any of my throughlines.  Even after continuously repeating it in every class students were not able to tell me any of it.  Secondly, I changed it to make it accessible.  My thought is that if it is natural, students would be able to repeat it easily.   I worked with my VT coordinator and adapted the kindergarten throughline (thanks brilliant kindergarten teachers).  My throughline is now, how does music work?  At the beginning of the year I knew I was headed in the right direction when students noticed it posted on the wall and immediately wanted to have conversations about their thinking surrounding the new throughline.  It has been easy to connect all my lessons to this new throughline and has also made a great conversation starter.

During Thanksgiving students created Headlines that connected to the music throughline.  Students had no difficulties coming up with a wide variety of answers. Some of the students made connections based on their personal experiences; others made connections from music class.


# 1 Using Headlines to Connect to Music Through-line


# 2 VT Headlines Connecting to Music Throughline


Using Headlines to Connect to Music Through-line



Now you’re thinking great, Thanksgiving is over how am I going to use this!  Well, you can change it to a flower (maybe for the end of the year J).    How about a sun (we always dream of the sun in Michigan during winter J).    You don’t have to be cute either.  Have the students generate a list.  They could even sort them helping lead you to more great conversation (generate, sort, connect, elaborate).  If you don’t have the time to include it the way you want, how about keeping a poster board of Headlines from each music class.  You will be surprised how much you accomplish by the end of the year.

This poster board is from second grade from the first couple weeks of school.  You will see that Headlines are repeated.  Some of that is due to multiple second grade classes.  Now I send you all on your way to find your through-line!  Take time with it and feel free to tweak it as you go!  Good Luck!

First Try Using Music Headlines by Second Graders

Dec 05

Invitation to Informal CoT Dinner Discussions


Hello CoT School Leaders,


This is a reminder that Clarkston is hosting a series of informal,
Cultures of Thinking Dinner Discussions at the Moose Preserve (43034
Woodward Ave, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48302) from 5:30 until 7:00 on the
following dates:

Tuesday, December 9   *including a conversation about the group’s
interest in having a CoT lab tour for music, art, PE and Media
Specialists to be held in March.
Tuesday, January 13
Tuesday, February 10
Tuesday, March 10
Tuesday, April 14

Please bring with you: ideas, articles or books, resources, and processes
to share along with money for your meal! Come when you can and stay as
long as you like. This is simply an opportunity to connect across Oakland
County. No rsvp is required.

Dec 01

CoT Reflection by Kindergarten Teacher Jamie Goldschmidt

Sit Down, Stay Still and Listen

          Jamie Goldschmidt, Kindergarten Teacher

       Way Elementary, Bloomfield Hills

November, 2014

How many children have heard those words or a similar message in their school career?  I have heard it myself too many times to count.  We all function and think more clearly when movement is allowed.  Still common, however, are children in school who are asked to remain motionless while “learning.”

Last year, in my fifth year at a Culture of Thinking school I began to wonder if I was making my kindergarten students sit too passively when I wanted them to share their thinking.  Our team had come up with some amazing images for routines like Looking 10×2, See-Think-Wonder and Think-Puzzle-Explore.  We had the children draw their own images for CSI and GSCE (which kindergarten boys don’t particularly care for).  But how could I get the children more physically and verbally active in their thinking?

Last year I began to restructure some of my thinking routines to allow more movement.  For the fall GSCE, I provided an image to each child and let them sort themselves.  The children loved this!  I didn’t even need to prompt the children making connections, because several of them saw connections they could make with their classmates.

Fall GSCE Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate






















Another experiment I tried in order to get the children moving and manipulating was to add shape blocks to a geometry Chalk Talk.  The children had a shape at each table and were able to look at it and feel it as they were trying to add their thinking to the “talk.”

Chalk Talk

In February, as we studied force, motion and gravity, I tried to find a way to incorporate movement so the children could more easily explain their thinking.  Marble painting seemed to be the perfect experience.  As the children were painting, each child had to explain the concept of push, pull and gravity as it connected to the marble going through the paint.

Marble Paintings: Push/Pull

As Spring rolled around and the students were becoming quite adept at making their thinking visible.  They were also more capable of sitting for longer periods of time.   I wanted, however, to keep incorporating movement and manipulation of materials into the routines.  My provocation for kicking off our economics unit was to lay several objects in a group and have the children Look 10×2.  If you notice the photo below, the children were able to discern wants and needs from the objects during their second look.  The objects were then sorted.

Wants and Needs


What have I learned from adding movement to my thinking routines?  I have more questions than answers.  Is a child’s thinking “better” when movement is involved?  If so, how?  Does a child’s thinking stay focused and purposeful when movement is involved?  How could I provide evidence of that?

Providing young children movement during thinking routines is sound developmental practice.  I look forward to studying the routines we offer our kindergarten students to see where more movement and manipulation of materials can be incorporated.




Nov 25

Reuther-Brandon M.S. Customized CoT Tour

Reuther M.S./Brandon M.S. CoT Customized Tour:  Session 1/3

Hosts:  Reuther M.S. Science Teachers & Cheryl Gambaro, Principal   

Partners as Guests:  Brandon M.S. Science Teachers

Rochester Hills MI.  November 18, 2014

 Background:  A Customized Tour is one in which a guest school is partnered with a host school and together they design an agenda based on needs and strengths. These tours are intended for schools and districts that have 3 or more years of experience with CoT.  The goal is to promote deeper insights and understandings for guests and hosts as they continue on their journey of building a culture of thinking.  The experience includes classroom visits,  deep teacher dialogues and sharing with emphasis on the 8 cultural forces.  A guest school/district may contact Jean Schmeichel, (jschmeichel@gmail.com) who will help connect you with a host school or you can go to the CoT Blog School Tour Page at blog.oakland.k12.mi.us/cot where  dates and host schools for 2014-15 are posted

 Early in the fall of 2014, Principal Cheryl Gambaro, Reuther M. S., contacted me and expressed Reuther’s interest in a customized tour.  She shared one or more areas of strength and needs to help identify a partner school.  I contacted Principal Tina Chambers of Brandon M.S. and shared Cheryl’s request.   After checking with her staff, Tina contacted Cheryl and they developed the customized tour based on the strengths and needs of each staff.  They decided to hold three sessions during the year:  November 18,  (Reuther Hosts),  January 27 (Brandon Hosts) and March TBD (Reuther Hosts).

Summary of Customized Tour Session I

 Introduction:   To begin the customized tour, Cheryl Gambro met in the office conference room at Reuther  with the four science teachers from Brandon and four from Reuther in addition to two Reuther teacher-facilitators .  She reviewed the process that resulted in this partnership and that teachers were excited to try a Customized Tour.  They established as their learning goal:  “Is the thinking of students and teachers getting deeper as the year progresses?”  Together they devised an action research project to include:  1) There will be visits to science classrooms. 2) The presenting teachers will bring products from the lessons observed for the whole group to review and discuss using the Opportunities Protocol. 3) Each teacher will bring their own student products to each meeting and work together as they look at the outcomes of student thinking using the Student Thinking Continuum Rubric provided by Ron Ritchhart.   A Data Record Sheet was designed to record the rubric results of student products for each of the three sessions.  This data will be compared and conclusions drawn at the end of the third visit.

 Science Classroom Observations:  The following is a brief summary of each science lesson observed by those in attendance.   First we observed teacher Kim Dyas followed by teacher Erica Rossell. We were each provided a journal to record observational notes.   Kim Dyas and Erica Rossell were both teaching the same sixth-grade science lesson on understanding and calculating density.  We spent about 20 minutes in each classroom.

 Lesson Goal:  Understand density and use the density formula to determine density.

Kim Dyas, Part I Observation)  distributed a thinking routine template called Observe (Use as many senses as apply to this activity)-Infer (Attempt to make sense of what you are observing and why)-Inquire (Always ask questions and challenge what you observe).   She referred to this as See, Think, Wonder (Science Style).  With the 25 students seated at their desks, she explained that she would be pouring equal amounts of different liquids into a beaker and they should record their observations, inferences and inquiries.  She reminded students that their inferences could result from their observations or from their inquiriesFor a more detailed account of  this lesson, see the following post on this blog:  Understanding and Calculating Density in Middle School Science, Kim Dyas, Reuther M.S. Teacher

 Erica Rossell: (Part II Observation)   As we entered, the 33 students seated at desks were reviewing the concepts of mass and volume and relating this understanding to the calculation of density, i.e. mass/per unit of volume.   Ms. Rossell pointed to the white board and a heart shape divided by a horizontal line as she reminded students that at the beginning of class she had told them that she loved density.  Now they could see that the heart divided by the line made an “m” over a “v.   Building on the understanding of the relationships of mass, volume and density, Ms. Rossell led students in constructing a table with five headings:  Substance, Mass, Volume, Density and Rank.  As the demonstration proceeded, students recorded data in the M & V columns and calculated density for each fluid.  Finally the students ranked the liquids by density from the most to the least. For a more detailed account of  this lesson, see the following post on this blog: Understanding and Calculating Density in Middle School Science, Erica Rossell, Reuther M.S. Teacher

 After observations:  Opportunities Protocol Number 1 (Tasks)Principal Cheryl Gambaro and the Reuther and Brandon science teachers met to debrief on the observations.  Three  additional Reuther teachers, Rachel Mainero, Natalie James  and Deanna Knox, served as rotating facilitators.  They began the Protocol discussion by reviewing its purpose:  “to guide conversation to gain a deeper understanding of the kinds of thinking opportunities provided to our students in the assignments and tasks we give them.  “Sometimes we are so close to the content that we are not aware of the opportunities afforded and other times we may over estimate the thinking involved in our assignments.”   Rachel Mainero reminded us that it is good to have colleagues look at student-thinking products and give you feedback.  This promotes a thinking culture among the group and growth for teachers as well as students.

Reviewing Teachers Discussion and Analysis:  The two presenting teachers brought student products from their lessons for the group to analyze.  They listened quietly while peers gave feedback using the Understanding Map to help identify kinds of thinking.


 Facilitator:  What kind of thinking do you as observers see?  What thinking is central to these products?

Peer Comments:

  • Reason with evidence.
  • Making connections, e.g.to the paper chromatography experience.
  •  Building explanations, e.g. students were asked to write down what you think now.
  •  Their wonderings were connected to their inferences.

Facilitator:  So, you think wanderings and connections are central?

 Peer Comments:

  • It shows in most of the products but they all started with data.
  • The lesson goal was to understand density and use the density formula to determine density.  They could have done the formula but not understood it.  This instructional approach with emphasis on inquiring gave them deeper understanding.
  •  It engaged them in making connections and made the learning more authentic.
  • Density is hard to understand.  This helped them understand the concept.  They could see density.

Facilitator:  Did students need to stop to think or was thinking built in the instruction?

Peer Comments:  Built in.  They were questioning as the lab went on, e.g. not by chance but by instruction.

FacilitatorHow were students pushed or supported in thinking?

 Peer Comments

  • Students wrote a lot of ideas.
  • They were engaged in the tasks not just observers.
  • Connect extend challenge at the end helped.
  •  Questions like:  “What do you think made this happen?” were helpful.

Facilitator:   How might we push them more?

 Peer Comments:

  •  Some of their wonderings are superficial.  You could connect this to real life examples such as oil spills.  Have you used these kinds of connections?
  • Do you revisit these inquiries/wonderings so they answer some of their own questions?
  •  Maybe you could use a different color marker for their revisit comments.
  • I sometimes pass the wonderings around and see if classmate can answer as gift from one classmate to another.  This way you support, push and challenge misconceptions as you have them revisit and revise.

Facilitator:  What tells us that the students are developing as thinkers rather than just completing assignments?

 Peer Comments:

  • Some students ask:  “ What would happen if we flipped it over?”  They are wondering.
  •  This student asked:  “Does density have anything to do with if a person can swim or not?”   She is doing deeper thinking.
  •  Another asks:  “Why are they all liquids?”
  •  This student is wondering:   “What is the biggest density and smallest known density?”
  •  When they share they learn to ask better questions and it helps them see that they are asking better questions.

 Facilitator:  How might the task be bumped up to encourage deeper thinking?

 Peer Comments:

  • You could use the Micro Lab Protocol.
  • Students could rewrite their own questions after see questions from classmates.
  •  Model good questioning and thinking.

  Sharing by Presenting Teachers

  • In response to the question about connections to real life examples, we have different labs that help.  We try to connect to real life examples.
  • I will have my students revisit some of their inquiries/wonderings in the future.  I think that will help them go deeper.
  • To the suggestion that we pass the wonderings around for other classmates to comment or answer them, we use Google docs and sometimes do this collaboratively.
  • The type of deep thinking I was going for was Uncovering Complexities.  I wanted students to understand the complexity of density as a concept and what lies beneath the surface of the formula and computation. Only a few of my students got there.  I found my instruction left out some of the *key things for this kind of thinking,  and this meant the students couldn’t perform at that level.  I did not look at the rubric carefully before I taught this.  I can grow this way.  I think if we do the 3-2-1- Bridge Routine, it will help. *(According to the Student Thinking Continuum from Ron Ritchhart, this means that the student:  “looks beneath the surface to explore deeper meaning and structures.  Pushes boundaries.  Identifies layers.  Finds insightful connections. Remains open.  Shows awareness of potential breadth of topics and ideas.)
  • Peer:  You have just modeled what this is all about.   We are all learners.   This is about teachers as well as students developing deeper thinking and what you have shared is an indication of your deep thinking.

FacilitatorUsing the Headline Routine, jot down one or more take-aways in your journals.   Develop a headline  (3-7 words) that will attract attention about your analysis and dialogue and make us want to know more about this kind of professional development.  (Allows think and write time)

Teacher Created Headlines:

  • The Wonderful World of Synergy.
  •  So Many Things I Had Not Thought About That Could Make It Better.
  • Eleven Minds Really Are Better Than One.
  • Many Heads Give Many Questions.
  •  Can Only Answer If We Revisit Them.
  •  Classes Think And Dig Deeper
  • Some Thinking Routines Lead Into Other Thinking Routines.
  • In This Together– Teachers Collaborate to Promote Student Thinking.
  • Good to Work with Others From a Different District.
  • Opportunities Abound when Teachers Connect, Extend and Challenge.

FacilitatorWe will spend 20 minutes analyzing and reflecting on our own student products that we brought to this meeting.  Use The Student Thinking Continuum and ask:  “What thinking was I going for and how did my students do?”   Use the scale to rate the outcomes at this time.  Use the Data Recording Sheet, Data Box # 1 and record your data.  Record your reflections in the box under the data point section.  What is needed to deepen student thinking, e.g. more modeling, change the thinking activity, more time, more emphasis on one or more the 8 Cultural Forces, etc.?   This needs to be done repeatedly to see if students are improving.

Facilitator:  We will close by sharing insights about our student product analysis using the Connect-Extend-Challenge Routine.  Connect:  Where in the student artifacts do you see thinking?  What aspects of the artifact provide insight in students’ thinking?  Extend:  Where might this lesson go next to further extend and build on students’ thinking?  Challenge:  What questions does this artifact raise for you?

Reflecting teachers (R) and peer response (P):


(R):  I have a quandary I need to share.  I did a Think, Puzzle, Explore in groups of 4. Then four weeks after the lesson I had them go back to their products and individually write down what they would change in their Think and Puzzle columns as a result of what they learned.  When they did Claim, Support Question, they chose as a group which part of the activity they would change.  They are not always in the same group across activities nor reevaluating the same part of the routine–.

How do I deal with group-thought when comparing results?  Do I keep groups consistent and compare across products?   Maybe the  next time I need to ask them to pick the most challenging to follow up on?  Should I do pre/post for a unit, e.g.  after more discussion and instruction compare pre to post?

(P):  The unit pre-post would give you feedback on performance within the              unit but what could you do to compare data across units?

(R):  I could do a pre-pre-pre comparison and a post-post-post.

(R) I made a connection: I did a step inside to take on characters from a novel.  I saw connections to student feelings and emotions.

(R) Students had opportunity to make connections to their own lives.  It was interesting to see how basic their connections were.

(R) Our reflections provide insights into student misconceptions and where they are coming from when they look at diagrams.  I wonder if they will get better at their thinking.

The Reuther Weebly was shared.  Go to http://rcsthinkfromthemiddle.com/. It has VT  and MI-Class resources, e.g. documents and videos and is linked to the Oakland CoT blog.  This shows the CoT journey of Ruether—how they got started and problems they encountered.  Other schools can access this to help with their own journey and use as PD resource.


Nov 25

Using Observe-Infer-Inquire and Connect-Extend-Challenge in Science–Part I

Using Observe-Infer-Inquire and Connect-Extend-Challenge 

Understanding and Calculating Density in Middle School Science

Lesson Observation Part I:  Reuther/Brandon Customized Tour

Kim Dyas, Teacher, Reuther M.S., Rochester

  November 18, 2014

 Introduction:  This lesson by Kim Dyas is the first part of a two-part science observation forming an important part of the Reuther/Brandon Customized CoT tour.  This lesson is linked to the lesson Understanding and Calculating Density by Erica Rossell that is posted on this blog. See the post Reuther/Brandon Customized Tour for the full summary of this tour

 Lesson:  Using Observe-Infer-Inquire Routine to Understand Density

 Before the Observation:  The week prior to this lesson students spent their time learning about the difference between mass and weight.  We focused on metric units of measurement for length, mass, and volume.  After a few days of practice finding mass and volume (of regular and irregular shaped objects), we were ready to move on to density.

During the Observation:  Kim Dyas distributed a thinking routine template called Observe (Use as many senses as apply to this activity)-Infer (Attempt to make sense of what you are observing and why)-Inquire (Always ask questions and challenge what you observe).   She referred to this as See, Think, Wonder (Science Style).  With the 25 students seated at their desks, she explained that she would be pouring equal amounts of different liquids into a beaker and they should record their observations, inferences and inquiries.  She reminded students that their inferences could result from their observations or to their inquiries.

First she poured honey followed by corn syrup, dish soap, water (using a syringe), vegetable oil, rubbing alcohol (using a syringe) and lamp oil.  Students watched and recorded their thinking as each liquid stacked above the other.  As she poured she asked:  “Are your observations getting repetitive?”  The students replied:  “Yes.”  She assured them there was a reason for that but allowed them to wonder why.  When this part of the demonstration was complete, she gave them two minutes to reflect and then record any additional thoughts.  The following are some examples:

  • Observe:  Each liquid stayed on top of the other; the alcohol dipped and then separated; Air bubbles are rapped at the bottom and some are trying to rise up and break through.
  • Infer:  She chose things that do not mix; maybe they stay on top of each other because they are less dense than each other; maybe the sugar content of the liquids is different; did she use the syringe to keep the water and alcohol from mixing with the others.
  • Inquire:  Why are they stacking?  If we switched the order, would it stay the same?  Why did she use this order?

In response to the question about switching the order, Ms. Dyas tipped the beaker upside down as students watched the liquids reverse and then return to their original order.  Through discussion she guided the students to conclude that this was due to density differences.  She asked students if they could make a connection to their paper chromatography lesson the week before.   They were amazed that the marker colors on their filter paper was separating into many different colors over time, especially the black and brown markers.  The connection to this lab was that the color pigments have different densities.  As the water moves up the paper through the marker, the pigments settle out into separate layers by densities.  Similar to the liquid layers in our demo.

After the Observation:  After this part of the lesson, we took some notes about density.  They wrote the definition and formula for mathematical calculation.  We also talked about water having a density of 1g/ml.  Using the demo and this information, we used various objects (coke, diet coke, orange, peeled orange, potato, nerf disc, poker chip, candle wax etc.) and predicted if it would sink or float in water.  They did not calculate the mass or volume; this one was just for fun and for a connection to sinking or floating.  After the second demo, students did a Connect-Extend-Challenge to connect the two demos together.  They were then given some density practice math problems.  They had to fill in a chart for each problem listing the density formula, variable values, equation, and answer with proper unit label.  Next, on the same sheet they had to look at the answer to their equations and determine if the object would sink or float in water.  Finally, students had to justify their choices by writing an answer to the question “What makes you say that?”  If their math was correct, items that had a density of 1 or less g/mL it would float and greater than 1 would sink.  Our next lab will be to use density cubes to calculate density of regular shaped objects.



Nov 25

Using Observe-Infer-Inquire and Connect-Extend-Challenge in Science–Part II


Using Observe-Infer-Inquire and Connect-Extend-Challenge

Understanding and Calculating Density in Middle School Science

Lesson Observation Part II:  Reuther/Brandon Customized Tour

Erica Rossell, Teacher, Reuther M.S., Rochester

  November 18, 2014

Introduction: This lesson by Erica Rossell is linked to the M.S. Science lesson by Kim Dyas posted on this blog.  See the post Reuther/Brandon Customized Tour for the full story on how these two lessons were linked and formed the basis of the tour observation and professional development discussion.

Science Classroom Observations:  We were each provided a journal to record observational notes.  We observed two teachers, Kim Dyas and Erica Rossell, each teaching the same sixth-grade science lesson on understanding and calculating density.  We spent about 20 minutes in each classroom.

Lesson:  Understanding and Calculating Density

Before the Observation:  Erica had done an observe-infer-inquire with the students in which they had to observe different household items being placed into a density tank.  Next, they were required to infer why the objects sunk, floated, or remand suspended.  Then students wrote new inquires they had after view this demonstration.  After this portion of the lesson Erica lead the students through the mathematical process of solving density.  She used many power-teaching strategies to help students remember that density is equal to mass divided by volume.

During the Observation: Erica Rossell’s class finished the beaker demonstration before we arrived.   As we entered, the 33 students were reviewing the concepts of mass and volume and relating this understanding to the calculation of density, i.e. mass/per unit of volume.   She pointed to a heart shape divided by a horizontal line on the white board and reminded students that at the beginning of class she had told them that she “loved” density.  Now they could see that the heart divided by the line made an “m” over a “v”.   Then she led them in using hand motions to draw the heart and horizontal dividing line as they said “ density = mass over volume.” Students enthusiastically participated.  (Note:  This is a research-based brain compatible strategy.  Body motions and movement related to a skill help students commit something to long-term memory.)

 Building on the understanding of the relationships of mass, volume and density, Ms. Rossell led students in constructing a table with five (5) headings:  Substance, Mass, Volume, Density and Rank.   She randomly introduced the same five liquids as in the beaker demonstration:  honey, corn syrup, dish soap, water, vegetable oil, rubbing alcohol, lamp oil and explained that she had 10 ml. of each liquid.   Students recorded this in the volume column.  Next she asked different students to decide which item would be weighed first, next, etc. and as the liquids were weighed they recorded the mass in grams.  Using what they learned about calculating density, they determined and recorded the density of each liquid.   Finally the students ranked the liquids by density from the most to the least.   The rankings produced the same order as the beaker demonstration.  She asked students to use the data and make a connection to the demonstration at the beginning of the class.  Many students made the connection that the objects displayed in the density tank that sunk must have a greater density than water and objects that had a density of less than one floated in the water.

After the Observation:  Erica concluded the lesson with a Connect-Extend-Challenge.  During this thinking routine students were asked to connect what they just saw and learned about density to things they already knew and demonstrations of examples of density in their everyday life.  Then they need to extend their thinking by writing down ideas they had never thought about before entering class today.  Finally students were asked to write challenges which could include questions on the concept that they were still not sure they understood or concepts like, “how does a boat float when the density of steel is greater than the density of water?”  The connect extend challenge was a great way to end the lesson because it tied up all the lessons of density and provided questions for further discussion.


Nov 19

Thinking Culture Immersion in Art Class

Thinking Culture Immersion in Art Class

Pine Knob Elementary, Clarkston

November 13, 2014

Jody Sebring, Teacher

 Background:  Principal Jodi Yeloushan emphasized that At Pine Knob culture is who and what we are; it is not something we do.  Cultures of thinking are places in which group’s as well as an individual’s thinking is valued, visible and actively promoted as part of the regular day to day experience of all group members.  The eight cultural forces are our focus.  “We started with the routines but the eight forces are the heart of our Cultures of Thinking journey.  We know we are making progress by observing the interactions of students and teachers, using the language of thinking, modeling thinking, and allocating time for thinking.  All these are critical parts of developing a culture of thinking.

Note to Reader:  As you review this art classroom story, please look for the indicators of a Culture of Thinking—the 8 forces:  physical environment, expectations, modeling, time, thinking opportunities, language of thinking, interactions and relationships and use of routines.

Before the Lesson:  Students had experience in ceramic making and basic process of ‘score and slip” or “scratch and attach.”  They observed an owl in flight via slow motion with attention to the texture and body features such as the talons. http://youtu.be/jc9En9WUzI8.   They practiced with modeling clay in the week prior to using earthenware provided them opportunity to experiment in shapes and design of owls.  “Parts”, eyes, beak, wings, talons, are made in one lesson and stored in a plastic sandwich bag. All the bags are stored in a larger gallon sized plastic bag and labeled with the class and table sign to make easier distribution for the next lesson.

Lesson Goal:  Students will experience hand building and slab construction by designing a clay owl.-Hand building/slab construction.  -Application and attachment of clay to clay.   -Applying texture elements to clay.

Lesson Expectations:  For each art session a PowerPoint is established to provide students with clear expectations. Goals and objectives are color coded for guided actions.  

What do we need to complete today?

1. Finish owl “parts” from last week

2. Gather materials for today’s work.

(For example…Slab of clay, rolling pin)

3. Roll clay to smooth and prevent cracks.

4. Roll clay over PVC pipe to create top.

5. Arrange and Rearrange parts of owl on body (be careful not to push too hard while arranging.

5a Do I like it? What do you think is your favorite part of your art so far? Did you decide to rework a part?

6. Scratch and Attach.

7. Initials on back

8. Texture, Texture Texture! How? With stamps and tools.

9. Remove Pipe…carefully.

10. Place on Tray



(Our PKE behavior plan for students to strive for good listening, respecting others, effort, material and equipment expectations and being a safe and responsible student.)

During the Lesson:

 With the fourth grade students seated on the carpet in close proximity to her, teacher Jody Sebring began the lesson by showing students a piece of slab clay and asking:  “How do you work with slab clay as a medium, put pieces together and make the clay project your own?” She demonstrated how to use a pipe art tool to roll out the slab clay.  She first rolled horizontally and then vertically.  She kept students thoughtfully engaged by asking:  “Why do we need to roll out the clay?”  “Why do you think I turned it and rolled it both ways?”  After giving this some thought, students concluded that this would keep the clay from cracking either way as they worked with it.

Next Ms. Sebring demonstrated how to use additional art tools to design their clay product.  Using a smaller pipe, she rolled the top section of the slab over it to make an opening for hanging the end product.  She emphasized the importance of carefully removing the pipe by twisting it so the opening remained in tact and explained that students would later run a string through the opening.  Using a pin tool she began to scratch on the slab of clay before adhering owl design pieces made in the previous art session.   She asked:  “Why is this necessary?”  Students concluded that this would help secure the attachment of the design pieces to the clay slab that formed the base of the owl project.  She also introduced and modeled using texture tools made from imprints of old buttons into ceramic pieces.

As students returned to their work stations, Ms. Sebring reminded them that they should make “artful decisions” as they worked on designing their own product.  She encouraged them to try different arrangements of the previously made pieces (eyes, beak, wings, etc.) before making a final decision.

As students worked, I circulated among them and observed them engaged in problem solving as they tried different layouts for the final design.  For example, Aria was engaged in problem solving as she tried to decide how to make the feet of her owl fit the rest of the design.  As I talked with her, she explained that she figured out how to make the talons of the owl’s feet by using a sculpturing tool to cut away part of the top of a rectangle.  Next she folded over the bottom part to make a groove for adhering it to the base of the owl.

Owl design in process





Following lesson post-bisque firing-glaze application process.

Glazed owls












After the Lesson:  Evaluation

When the owls are completed, they are placed around a table with an evaluation sheet for peers to ask questions for the artist and provide general or specific feedback. A routine such as “see, think, wonder” is effective for this process.


Peer evaluation








Macintosh HD:Users:jeanschmeichel:Documents:Cultures of Thinking:Vignettes:2-4:Pine Knob:14-15:Art.docx

Nov 19

Pine Knob Lab Tour with Focus on Art, Science, Math

Pine Knob Elementary CoT Lab Tour

Focus on Art, Science and Math

Jodi Yeloushan, Principal

Clarkston, MI.  November 13, 2014

 Background:  Pine Knob is a K-5 Title I building with 475 students.  There are four sections at grade two and three sections at each of the other grade levels, two resource rooms and one basic classroom in special education.  There are two Title I teachers for reading and math. The agenda for the tour included:  a) Welcome and Overview, b) # 1 Pre-observation with host teacher and classroom observation, c) Gallery Walk of the building, d) # 2 Pre-observation with host teacher and classroom observation, and e) Debrief with classroom teachers, Community Loom and Wrap-up session.

Welcome and Overview

 Jodi Yeloushan, Principal, and Karen Kumon, teacher, gave a presentation on the school’s CoT journey that began five years ago.  They reported that Superintendent, Dr. Rock, (present at the tour) brought CoT and Making Thinking Visible to the attention of the district.  Clarkston already had IBS at H.S and along with other initiatives, CoT was aligned with the direction they were going.  Members of the Pine Knob leadership team have presented at Project Zero conferences in Michigan, Tennessee and San Francisco.

 Staff at Pine Knob started their journey with a teacher leadership team doing a book talk on Making Thinking Visible.  They repeated this book talk the second year with other staff members who tried routines and brought them to the book talks as part of the discussion.   They established as their goal, Reasoning with Evidence,  and through Gallery Walks of their own school, they surveyed their environment and asked:  What do we value?”

 Jodi Yeloushan and Karen Kumon emphasized that at Pine Knob culture is who and what we are; it is not something we do.  Cultures of thinking are places in which group’s as well as an individual’s thinking is valued, visible and actively promoted as part of the regular day to day experience of all group members.  The eight cultural forces are our focus.  “We started with the routines but the eight forces are the heart of our Cultures of Thinking journey.  We know we are making progress by observing the interactions of students and teachers, using the language of thinking, modeling thinking, and allocating time for thinking.  All these are critical parts of developing a culture of thinking.  Visitors were asked to look for these indicators rather than just focusing on a routine as they observed the lessons.

 Anticipatory Set/Engaging the Thinking of Tour Visitors

 Jodi and Karen engaged visitors in a Chalk Talk routine as a way of making their thinking visible, developing a mindset for their observations and getting helpful information for the closing discussion.  They put one of the following questions on each table and asked visitors to respond in writing only.  Each responded to the question on his/her table first and then walked around and contributed to questions on other tables.  The questions were:  1.  What do you think you will se at Pine Knob? 2.  What do you hope to see?  3.  What does culture mean to you? 4.   When you tell someone you are thinking, what might be going on in your head?  5.  What questions do you have for us?  6.  What do we want the children of today to be like when they grow up? 

Pre-observations and Classroom Visits

 All visitors were divided into three color-coded groups and each group was assigned to visit one classroom during the first session and one during the second.  Since this was a Lab Tour, each session had art, science and math opportunities. To give visitors some background on the lessons they were about to observe, the teachers came in at the end of the opening session and briefly provided an overview.  For a sample of the classroom observations/stories, see the posts for Art (Jody Sebring) and Science (Janice Driver) under classroom stories on this blog.

 Before leaving for the observations, we were asked to notice the red thread in our folder and the Loom next to art room.  Pine Knob is emphasizing that we are all connected globally and inviting all who come into the school (visitors, parents, students, staff) to add their thinking by weaving it into display using a red thread.  They are making a weaving to show how we are all connected.

Gallery Walk

 Between classroom visits, tour visitors had an opportunity to engage in a Gallery Walk at Pine Knob.  The hallways show student thinking using a variety of routines and/or modified and combined routines.  One display showed kindergarten students doing a chalk talk all in pictures.  Throughout there was evidence of depth and complexity in student thinking.   The hallway displays are mixed up across the grade levels so students, parents and staff can see the growth in thinking across the K-5 spectrum.

Closing Q & A Session

 The courageous teachers who opened up their classrooms to tour visitors came to the closing session to answer questions observers might have.  The pre-observation and post-conversations are very important parts of the learning experience for visitors.

 QWhat a great job!!  With the science, do you have a kit?  What program do you use?

A:  We are part of the Maker/Tinkering Movement: Exploring the thinking and learning that takes place during maker-centered learning experiences.  Students are engaging in creative thinking and playing/tinkering with ideas and materials, problem solving, etc.  They get excited and make things.  We exploring our thinking and have a variety of resources, books, Delta, supplements.

Q. How often do you use routines? 

A.  We use them when they are purposeful.  The hardest part was learning that it was not about the routine but using the routine to get the thinking.  We are now finding that the routine is just part of the way we instruct.  We use the language, and immerse them in thinking by having a culture of thinking in the classroom.

 Q.  Did your building decide to make the shift or did each teacher make the shift from routine use to establishing a classroom culture of thinking?

 A.  It was a growth factor.  As a building we talked about getting to that place.  We looked at what this meant in our book talk for two years.    When we introduce a new routine, we use the name, but when we know the students know the routine, we don’t use the name.  Instead we use language like: “what do you see, what do you notice, what makes you say that, what are you wondering about?”  We are noticing a progression of thinking with our students.  They naturally say:  “I think it is this because…”  Often we don’t have to ask what makes you say that?

QTell us more about 2 years of book talk?  Why again?

 A:  When the learning started to take off, we focused on particular routines and digging deeper into those routines.  We looked not only at student thinking but each other’s thinking.  It helped to go through the routines as a learner.  I learned how difficult the thinking could be.

A:  We learned that we need to disturb ourselves to keep growing.  Going through the routines ourselves did that.   Thinking is messy and not always pretty; you find misconceptions and work through them.    One of the biggest turning points was when we took one routine (See Think Wonder) across grade levels and saw the progression across the grade levels.  Then we began to tweak routines like asking students to justify their thinking when using See Think Wonder.  This helped us see how we could push student thinking more.   We don’t always do the entire routine; sometimes we do a part or modify or create our own.

Q:  Do you notice a difference from K-5 and how do you keep students motivated/ willing to participate?

A:  We do lots of writing using routines like chalk talks.  This helps booster their confidence.  I have gone away from hands up to thumbs up. I wait a little longer; have students write ideas first, etc.  It has to be okay to share thinking rather than give the right answer.   This kind of instruction guides the thinking to the goal by pulling evidence.    I used tot each second grade now I teach fifth grade and I notice that students grow in their risk taking through this approach.

A:  It is about engagement.  We are interested in your thinking not the right answer.  Set up environment of respect for each other’s thinking.  The teacher models this.   I also make mistakes and invite them to challenge my thinking.

Q:  How do you decide on which routine to use?

A:   We use the understanding map to help pick the kind of thinking they want to get in a unit.  Then, we select the routines that helps structure that kind of thinking through instruction.  First we determine the goal of the unit or lesson.  Then we decide how deep we want to go.  See Peeling the Fruit Protocol.

Q:    How do you get everyone to come aboard? 

A:     We keep doing the work as grade levels and this gradually pulls individuals on board.  It takes time for some.  We are in our fifth year.  We keep moving forward with conversations and noting the positives.

Q; What do you consider your greatest success to date?

 A:  Our greatest success to date is that we can challenge ourselves with data and new information.  We know we are about learning and we need to open our doors to learn from each other and from visitors.  We are so glad we have so many here today.




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