Teaching the Exploration of Adaptation Through Engagement and Empowerment
Have you ever heard about the peppered moth? Well, if you walk into a seventh grade science classroom, the students there are more than eager to tell you all about it. “Before the industrial revolution in England, light colored peppered moths had the advantage for survival over dark colored moths because they were camouflaged against the light colored birch trees against predators. After the industrial revolution, factories using coal caused the trees to change to a dark color because of the soot and ash that covered them. The dark colored moths blended now and white moths were easily seen by birds, so then dark colored moths became more popular and there were less white colored moths,” said a student in Mr. Tocci’s seventh grade science class. “The dark colored moths now had the advantage for survival. This is an example of natural selection and survival of the fittest,” added another student.
Almost all of Mr. Tocci’s students had their hands in the air; they all wanted to share what they learned during this unit on Ecology. The story of the peppered moth introduced the concept of natural selection and adaptation to these middle schoolers and set them off to explore further examples of this natural process. During a period of what is described as “evidence revolution”, the students conducted independent research using a variety of tools and methods of their choosing: articles, books, worksheets, online simulations, ed puzzles, informational videos, and especially each other. “We shared information with each other a lot! I even talked with other students in different classes. It helped to compare information and see what else I could know about,” said another classmate. The work was structured to give students a choice in how, when, and where to utilize resources and teacher guidance to assess their understanding and address questions. “I felt like I did really well on the test because I was able to learn so much about the subject, like actually learn and actually know it. And if I needed help along the way, I knew where to get it,” reflected another student.
Outside of nature, history has shown that as the world evolves, we adapt our understanding through innovation that enables the creation of tools to face challenges, move forward, and thrive. This is evident in business, technology, science, and yes, even in the school classroom.
From an educator’s perspective, it can be argued that life’s most important skill is learning. And learning can be a very personal process. Since 2018, the Bronxville School has been working with Innovative Designs for Education (IDE), a company that provides teachers with professional development that supports curriculum goals and student achievement. How students learn is ever changing, and the IDE work consciously aligns itself to not only meet evolving landscapes and expectations, but also to continue to be at the forefront of student success. "The IDE framework allows teachers to offer students flexibility, autonomy and variety in their learning process and it gives students a little control over their education. IDE meshes well with my science curriculum as students have multiple options (through the use of activity lists) to gain and process information about complex and/or abstract topics," said Mr. Tocci.
The IDE Learner-Active Technology Infused Classroom (LATIC) framework consists of a system of interconnected parts, with teacher facilitation as its essential core component to activate student expression, choice and voice at each level of comprehension, application, connection, synthesis, and meta cognition.
If engagement is the key to connection, then in a classroom setting, how a student engages positively impacts success in mastery. When presented with a compelling reason to learn, or understanding a “felt need”, a student is empowered to set their own course towards efficacy. Introducing subjects through problem-based authentic learning puts the power of the content in the minds and hands of students, and allows for a plethora of possibilities and strategies in how a student approaches learning. Dr. Nancy Sulla, Founder of IDE, notes the difference between teaching that simply delivers information and teaching that facilitates learning is the movement from engagement to building a bridge for students to make decisions regarding their learning through choice. “Give students a compelling task or problem that gets them engaged and talking about it, and you will find they start thinking about how to solve it, thinking about what they need to know, and thinking about how they are going to find out,” said Dr. Sulla.
In LATIC, the teacher curates an environment of differentiated learning and then facilitates having that happen through a variety of resources: articles, videos, web-based programs, working in groups, working independently or one on one with the teacher. Students are encouraged to explore a variety of activities to support their learning. Mapping out resources requires the students to plan not only which activities and resources they will utilize, but also when it will serve them best to do so. “Executive Functioning is a highlight of this pedagogy as students utilize activity lists which provide the scaffolds for them to plan, problem solve, and manage time while the teacher is in the role of facilitator of the learning. Structures in this model include benchmark (whole class) lessons, small group lessons, expert boards, formative and summative assessment, and facilitation grids where teachers keep track of skills students have mastered and where they need support,” said Dr. Mara Koetke, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum at Bronxville School.
Dr. Sulla shared that what strikes her most about Bronxville students is how unique they already are in their efficacy, “Bronxville students walk through the doors of the school demonstrating a level of competency that lends itself naturally to authentic and problem based learning. It will be exciting to see what these students will do and how they will share it with the rest of the world. ”