Two members of Ascend curriculum team recognized by national science and math teacher organizations

By Elizabeth (Betsey) Hun Schmidt April 16, 2016

In a powerful and committed shift in our curricular model, Ascend has, over the past two years, built a 13-person curriculum team of experienced subject matter experts who create the shared liberal arts curriculum used across the Ascend network of nine schools. This spring Ana Appel, assistant director of lower school science, and Lincoln Campbell, associate director of math, gained recognition for their curricular leadership from two national teacher organizations. Ana was invited to serve on the Conference Advisory Board for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and Lincoln was invited to lead a presentation at the 2016 annual meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

We are so proud of Ana and Lincoln. They have both been instrumental in bringing a liberal arts approach to math and science at Ascend, inspiring students to think flexibly and creatively and engage in rigorous academic discussions about challenging problems. It’s exciting to see that their innovative work will impact the national discussion on how to teach these subjects with depth and rigor in order to close the STEM achievement gap for children from educationally underserved communities.

This fall Ana Appel was among the winners of the Southwest Airlines Essay Contest, which provides travel to one of the fall National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) area conferences on science education. Following the fall conference, Ana was invited to serve on the national Conference Advisory Board for NSTA.

Ana has designed and implemented a powerful inquiry-based science program for Ascend grounded on the 5E model and aligned with the New York State Standards. Beginning in kindergarten, students study science three times a week. In addition to typical pencil and paper assessments, scholars across grades in the lower school engage in project-based learning and the engineering design model. Already this year, students have completed and presented projects on animal adaptations, biome designs, and machine designs. Ana also leads professional development for teachers across the network, building strong science content and skill knowledge.

The invitation from NCTM to lead a presentation at the annual meeting was an exciting moment for former middle school math teacher and current curriculum designer Lincoln Campbell. The math program he helped create at Ascend uses an inquiry-based approach, inspiring students to ask questions, test strategies, and devise solutions on their own. While teaching middle school, Lincoln discovered that many of his students had not developed a real understanding of the meaning of the equal sign. He followed research about the importance of equal sign understanding in the middle grades from the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and then, once on the curriculum team, revised the curriculum accordingly. During Lincoln’s NCTM presentation “Moving beyond balanced scales: conceptualizing the concept of equality,” participants discussed how to help students understand the concept of equality through math tasks with real-life contexts and routines.

The focus of the discussion was how students use operational thinking when they should use relational thinking. “Weights on a bench press offer a great context for pushing students’ relational thinking with the equal sign,” Lincoln suggested to participants. “For instance, ask your students, ‘If the left side of a bench press has two 10-pound weights and two 5-pound weights, and the right side of the bar has one 25-pound weight, how much more weight should be added so that the weights on both sides of the bar are equal?’ This could be expressed as 10 + 10 + 5 + 5 = x + 25.”

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