CEP 817 Problem of Practice: Empathize Mode

Module 2 required me to think deeply about my problem of practice, creating a STEM infused middle school literacy classroom, and empathizing with the individuals I’m designing instruction for. I teach sixty-minute literacy blocks to sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students in Chicago. As a balanced literacy school, there is an expectation to integrate shared, guided, and independent reading and writing daily. With clear expectations, adhering to a daily schedule with fidelity, and fostering a space to fall in love with books, my students and I maximize our instructional time to accomplish our learning goals. In previous school years, I taught middle school science and participated in a STEM fellowship that instilled in me the importance of infusing opportunities to collaboratively wonder and create. As my problem of practice, I plan to figure how I can infuse those big ideas seen in STEM instruction into my current practices in an authentic way that not only fosters a love of reading, but also a love of science.


During the empathize mode, I utilized the following three methods of empathy research which include the What? How? Why? method, composite character profile, and the empathy map. I photographed 3 of my students during their first experience using a Makey Makey as part of the What? How? Why? method. When analyzing the photograph, I’m immediately drawn to my student’s facial expressions. The student is smiling widely as he is exploring how the Makey Makey functions. How does he figure out the Makey Makey works? He uses trial and error and peer collaboration. Why? Our class received some maker kits as part of a Donors Choose grant. The students were early finishers and asked to explore the materials before they were actually going to be used. Seeing the excitement on the one students’ face made me wonder how I could replicate those expressions for other students.


Below I include two character profiles. After informal interviews, observations during both literacy and science instructions, I’ve observed that there are two types of students in my classroom. The first profile I include is the student that enjoys reading, writing, and experimentation and the student that does not. There are quite a few students that lack the skills to persevere when problem solving and would prefer instructional activities to lead to one right answer. My challenge will be to figure out how to create a space for students to engage in a productive struggle, but also experience the beauty of both success and failure. Some questions that I brainstormed in relation to these two profiles include:

  • What strategies are needed to help students persevere when problem solving?
  • How can I infuse opportunities to wonder?
  • What authentic products can my students create in ELA that infuses STEM in an authentic way?
  • What will instructional activities spark an interest in literacy and STEM?


Lastly, I made an empathy map to analyze what my students say, do, think, and feel. As a a result of analyzing my empathy map, my students need to:

  • Play- Engage in play to create meaning and wonder
  • Create- Create authentic products to showcase their discovery
  • Collaborate- Work in cooperative groups to problem solve
  • Share- Share work for feedback and reflection
  • Redesign- Rethink how they can approach their problems differently

Through this research, I hope to tackle the challenge of creating a STEM infused literacy classroom. The empathize phase has really made be consider who I’m designing instruction for despite time and curriculum constraints.


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