Observation Protocol: 8th Grade Science


I have the pleasure and privilege of working with Kathryn Symmes in 8th grade science at Kodiak Middle School.   Kathryn started off the year by sharing her classroom rules with the students and there have not been any classroom management challenges since.

When students arrive in class, they get their notebooks out and start working through the “Starter” activity on the front board. Kathryn expects that once the students enter the classroom they’re ready to work; the kids wrap up their conversations at the door.   The Starter activity is consistently related to the unit we’re covering, usually reviewing a key concept from the previous class or, occasionally, an activity to get the students’ minds geared for a new topic.   By the time the bell has rung, everyone’s at their desks and writing or reading.   About 3 minutes after the bell, Kathryn will ask the class, “So how did everyone do on the Starter?”   Then, using wooden popsicle sticks onto which she’s written each student’s name, Kathryn begins calling on students at random to provide their answer.   She asks the class as a group to weigh in on the answers; this is the method used to guide discussion and it works nicely in achieving its goals of knowledge sharing and peer support.

After the Starter, students know what to prepare for next as Kathryn has written it on the front board, right under the Starter.   Transitioning from Starter to “Today” is quick and painless; and after approximately 10 minutes of lecture augmented by illustrations shown by overhead, the class shifts again to play “Periodic Table Scrabble.”   Students pair or triple up with friends and work on getting as many points possible for the next 5 minutes.   Kathryn checks in to see who has 6 or more words and gets and overwhelming response; it appears about 85% of the class is at this point.   Scores are written down and we’re off on the next topic:   Instructions for making a flip book or brochure illustrating atomic theory from Dalton’s theoretical model of the atom to the present day.   Materials are provided at the lab tables and the students work on their individual projects while sharing helpful hints with classmates.   Two minutes to wrap up . . . the bell rings and the students go on to their next class, having tidied up the lab before leaving.


From what I’ve observed consistently since beginning with Kathryn in early October, whatever method she uses to deliver her classroom rules is obviously working.   Students arrive in class, get working on the Starter, are cooperative, no chit chatting . . . it’s really pretty amazing.   And Kathryn is the mellowest teacher I’ve ever met!   She’s got a very calm voice, enjoys making science fun, and she really knows her stuff. So transitions between activities or between classes flows (at least since I’ve been observing) smoothly, students are able to anticipate the transitions between parts of the lesson — and Kathryn doesn’t spend more than 10 minutes engaged in any one modality — and they’re learning.


In all truth, there is no strategy that Kathryn uses that I don’t really appreciate.   However, two in particular stand out for me:   Don’t spend more than 10 minutes doing any one thing or 8th graders get bored; and using popsicle sticks to randomly choose students to respond to questions.   And with this second strategy Kathryn makes a really quick (lightning speed) note to herself regarding the student’s response and whether they’re moving along as expected or if they’re having challenges and she needs to help them along.



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