How Does Tinkering with ELLs Impact Their Content Knowledge?

A PICTURE OF PRACTICE BY 2018-2019 AGENCY BY DESIGN OAKLAND TEACHER FELLOW ERIN POSBERGH

Oakland International High School is a small public high school for newly arrived immigrants who have historically been underserved. All of Oakland International’s students immigrated to the United States within the last four years and are English Language Learners.

A newcomer student from Oakland International High School works on her final rollercoaster design.

A newcomer student from Oakland International High School works on her final rollercoaster design.

“That’s hard” is the common response I get from friends in other fields when they find out I am a high school Physics teacher. They’re right, Physics is hard for many students. It’s especially hard for students who are immigrants to the United States who are trying to learn both the Physics content as well as the English language they need. However, what many don’t know is that Physics has the opportunity to be a lot of fun and use many materials and experiments to help students learn and deepen their content understanding. 

They’re right, physics is hard for many students. It’s especially hard for students who are immigrants to the United States who are trying to learn both the physics content as well as the English language they need.

My inquiry question in Agency by Design Oakland’s teacher fellowship was “How does tinkering with materials impact student content knowledge?”  This inquiry cycle coincided with my final unit on energy and roller coasters. Ultimately, I wanted to see results in the application of content knowledge, as well as a demonstration of deeper conceptual understanding of kinetic and potential energy post-tinkering. 

Prior to teaching anything about energy, I had students spend time with materials.  Students spent class periods experimenting with different types of marbles, foam, track and other materials that they would ultimately use to build their roller coasters.  I saw students using their prior knowledge during this materials exploration, using content vocabulary I had taught in a previous unit. It was surprising to hear all of the vocabulary and content I had taught since August emerge.  Students were using words like “velocity,” “friction,” and “resistance” correctly and with confidence. It was awesome to hear all this language come spilling out!

Final roller coaster design.

Final roller coaster design.

It was surprising to hear all of the vocabulary and content I had taught since August emerge. Students were using words like “velocity,” “friction,” and “resistance” correctly and with confidence. It was awesome to hear all this language come spilling out!

After tinkering and playing with these materials, students engaged in content lessons that had them grappling with new conceptual ideas in Physics. My hope was that students would be able to engage with these ideas at a deeper level, and I am not sure if they succeeded. There was still confusion over exactly what potential energy was and how it connected to gravity and height.  Students still asked about the connection between kinetic energy and velocity (higher velocity = more kinetic energy). There was still a general confusion that came out of the energy calculations. Checking in on student understanding through questions, reflections, and assessment, my students’ confusion over these Physics concepts remained consistent even after their extended tinkering time. 

After this inquiry, I cannot make a clear connection between tinkering with materials and deepening content knowledge within my classroom. Even though I didn’t get the results that I expected or wanted, this experience demonstrated the importance of tinkering with materials for newcomer students. Hearing students use prior content knowledge and vocabulary comfortably was a huge boost to our student community! While tinkering, students were confident in what they were talking about, and they were able to connect these new materials to prior knowledge. I’m looking forward to a new inquiry cycle where I can investigate and implement language supports in tinkering and scaffolding in order to better support newcomer English language development.

Final roller coaster design.

Final roller coaster design.

"I believe that making creates student agency, choice, and empowerment — students will be able to drive their own learning through choice. Making provides confidence and opportunities for students to find success and joy in their learning. Preparing students for real-world challenges, making allows for students to design, create, and test solutions to relevant problems."

Erin Posbergh is currently Assistant Principal at Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa, CA. During her time as an Agency by Design Oakland teacher fellow, Erin was a Physics Teacher at Oakland International High School. Prior to teaching in California, Erin taught Physics in New Jersey and New York City. “I grew up on a farm,” says Erin, “so naturally, I love all animals.” Erin has also run six marathons and enjoys spending time outdoors.

Students as Curriculum Designers

AN IGNITE TALK BY 2018-2019 AGENCY BY DESIGN OAKLAND TEACHER FELLOW Jeff embleton

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“What we did to support [refugees] was we made donation boxes and gathered money for the IRC (International Rescue Committee),” said Ariana, a 7th Grader from ASCEND. “We created t-shirts and helped refugees by donating the proceeds.”

Jeff Embleton is the Assistant Principal at ASCEND. In his Ignite Talk, presented at Agency by Design Oakland’s year-end event on Saturday, May 4, 2019, Jeff shares how ASCEND’s 7th graders became part of the design process, co-constructing a curriculum focused on the refugee experience.

“I’m going to talk with you today about students as designers, and actually working side-by-side with their teachers to create the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ in their learning — exercising true agency by doing work that matters with a local impact.”

Watch Jeff’s inspiring Ignite Talk below! And follow the #pictureofpractice hashtag to see more Ignite Talks and leadership from our 2018-2019 Teacher Fellows.

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“Maker-centered learning provides opportunities for youth and adults to access and unlock their agency. It empowers all ages of learners to think critically about an issue, problem solve and attempt to create solutions to address or repair a need. Maker-centered learning also addresses our environmental needs and teaches the mindset that things can be REPAIRED rather than just sent to the landfill.”

Jeff is the Assistant Principal at ASCEND, leading the charge on deeper learning and student-centered experiential learning. He is committed to creating equitable access and opportunities for youth to forge their own paths and create the world they want to live in.

Whose Agency? Reflections on Building Critical Consciousness Through Maker-Centered Learning and Arts Integration

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An Ignite Talk by 2018-2019 Agency by Design Oakland Teacher Fellow Kurt Kaaekuahiwi

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Kurt Kaaekuahiwi is an Ethnic Studies, Art, and Making teacher at Roses in Concrete Community School. In his Ignite Talk, presented at Agency by Design Oakland’s year-end event on Saturday, May 4, 2019, Kurt and his students explore how art and making can impact engagement within the course content. “How do we humanize using Arts and Making in ways that promoted critical consciousness?” Kurt asks in his Ignite Talk.

“We looked at the design process of making our own skin color. We mixed primary and secondary colors using tinting and shading to make our own shades of brownness. ‘Look Mr. K -- this is actually my skin color. I made it, look!’ Students were able to talk about internalized racism, talk about the politics of identity, the politics of being light skinned and of being dark skinned and bright, and talk about what ‘she's hella dark’ comes from, what that means.”

Watch Kurt’s inspiring Ignite Talk below! And follow the #pictureofpractice hashtag to see more Ignite Talks and leadership from our 2018-2019 Teacher Fellows.

Kurt standing by his students’ collaborative mural of Nipsey Hussle.

Kurt standing by his students’ collaborative mural of Nipsey Hussle.

Oakland Teachers Designing for Student Agency

What stood out was the great energy of the presenters. It really gave me enormous hope for the teaching profession and the future.”
— Miko Lee, Executive Director, Youth in Arts

On Saturday, May 4, at Urban Promise Academy in Oakland, educators from across the Bay Area came to engage with our 2018- 2019 fellows' inquiry work and leadership through a morning of ignite talks, workshops, and documentation booths.

“Connecting with new people is the best part. We live in a rich community of art and design and it’s great to see what people are doing.”
— Laura Garcia, Teaching Artist, Museum of Children’s Art (MoCHA)
Can we get copies of these talks? They were incredible!”
— Catherine Rice, Art Teacher, Madison Park Academy
Both of my workshops were fun and immediately applicable to my work.”
— Nico Janik, TK-8 Makerspaces/Engineering Coordinator, Ravenswood School District
Unlike a lot of maker related initiatives, Agency by Design Oakland uses making in a way that opens the door to having conversations about systems of power and students, which is so needed in this world.”
— Angi Chau, I-Lab Director, Nueva School

PHOTOGRAPHY by Yasser Alwan, Melhik Hailu, Nico Chen