Academic journal article Science and Children

Professional Development in Real Time: Teachers Learn from a Live Lesson on Binary Code

Academic journal article Science and Children

Professional Development in Real Time: Teachers Learn from a Live Lesson on Binary Code

Article excerpt

Students in Mrs. Wilson's fourth-grade classroom watch in anticipation as the guest teacher, Ms. Davis, demonstrates binary signaling using a lightbulb that flashes when she holds it in her hands. The students yelp, "Cool!" and "Oh, wow!" She challenges them to guess what she is trying to "say" while making the lightbulb flash on and off, explaining that the lightbulb stands for "0" when it is off and "1" when it is on. The students quickly realize that she is saying "hi" to them with a simple combination of flashes.


Meanwhile, 15 other teachers from the district sit along the perimeter of the classroom, watching Ms. Davis teach about creating and sending signals using binary code as a part of a "fishbowl" exercise in a professional development (PD) workshop. Ms. Davis explains how a system of zeroes and ones can make signals in a particular pattern. The students are then challenged to use their newfound language to send their own signals to a partner using flashlights and other toys. The groups test and retest their light signals, generating lists of codes in their notebooks.

Soon, Ms. Davis directs the students to split into groups of senders and receivers. The lights in the room go dark, and students start sending their signals to each other as their partners attempt to decode them, taking notes and verifying their signals. The teachers in the PD eagerly help each group create and send the signals and take notes on their results. Afterward, students report to the whole group about which signals seemed to be the most successful and the challenges they discovered in developing signals using binary code.

Subsequently, the teachers reflect on the lesson, other possible ways to teach the concepts, and connections to mathematics and language arts. They discuss how the students learned to "generate and compare multiple solutions that use patterns to transfer information," as suggested in the fourth-grade performance expectation (4-PS4-3) from the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013; see p. 35).

This article describes the PD program offered by The Center for Integrative Natural Science and Mathematics (CINSAM) at Northern Kentucky University through which teachers learn from watching master teachers teach NGSS-aligned lessons with real students.

About the Program

CINSAM conducts the embedded STEM education PD program in 20 school districts across the Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati region, reaching approximately 300 teachers in grades K-5. Master teachers--former classroom teachers, now full-time employees at CINSAM--conduct sessions in each district with primary and intermediate grade levels four times per year.


Each session contains two segments. During the first segment, known as the fishbowl, the master teacher models best practices while teaching a STEM lesson to students in their regular classroom. The PD participants--teachers from multiple grade levels and different schools in the same district--observe this teaching episode. This segment offers teachers the rare opportunity to experience PD embedded in their own school district with students who are very similar to their own. Here, teachers make real-time observations of students responding to the strategies demonstrated by a master teacher in each lesson.

Once the class is over, the teachers and master teachers meet for the second segment called the RECAP (Reflection and Exploration of Content, Alignment, and Pedagogy). During this segment, participants reflect on the best practices observed in the fishbowl, explore science content, discuss how these best practices and content align to their own three-dimensional teaching, and delve into the facets of high-quality pedagogy.

After attending the PD, participants are asked to share the lessons with their own students and teachers at their buildings. …

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