Ringing in a New Year is an event that brings about reflection on the major events of the past year and inspiration to set some new goals for the unchartered territory of the year ahead. Science education in California experienced some major happenings in 2016, priming 2017 to be the beginning of a truly new era for students in our schools.
The Next Generation Science Standards may have been adopted a few years ago, but relatively few districts took immediate steps to plan for a transition to implementation. Those that did took action in a variety of program and policy areas, including: collaboratively creating mission and vision statements for science education, brainstorming ways to ensure adequate instructional time for science in K-5, developing leadership teams to help identify needs, innovate, and take steps to move implementation along, and more. These trailblazers had a variety of factors motivating their work as early implementers; however, in 2017 it becomes imperative that ALL districts begin the important work of NGSS implementation.
A new assessment system and “dashboard” of school performance indicators (in which science counts!) is on the horizon and our students deserve a core educational program that includes quality instruction in science - no matter their English Language status, reading level, mathematics proficiency, socioeconomic status, school size, or any other factor that’s traditionally affected access in past years. Science, done the NGSS way, can allow all students to shine. Embrace it as a means to disrupt some NCLB-era policies and programs that remain unchanged or modestly altered despite a drastically different vision for standards and performance. I urge all of us in education to collaborate and do the tough problem-solving around helping schools truly move toward 21st Century goals: collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity and innovation in all content areas - or even better - within authentic, interdisciplinary learning.
I don’t consider myself a particularly social person but somehow in the last few months I’ve found myself engaging more and more with the social media toolTwitter - and I’ve made some new friends! Ok, maybe not true friends, but I have broadened my PLN (professional learning network) significantly by connecting with educators all over the country. Some would say, “It’s about time! Twitter just celebrated its 10th anniversary.” Whereas for others Twitter brings to mind something used only by young folks, those “digital natives” we hear so much about. No matter, I urge you to keep reading! I had a Twitter account for 6 months before really using it, but once I dove in it didn't take long to see its many benefits.
What used to be a foreign environment has become a place I now visit daily. Mostly lurking . . . sometimes contributing. What hooked me in were astronaut Scott Kelly’s daily “good night” photographs sent from the International Space Station; I watched with excitement as he returned to Earth after a year in space. The compelling thing about Twitter is how it connects you to people both locally and worldwide who are doing things you admire or have an interest in, or to communities talking about things you can learn from.
Want to learn more about what other elementary teachers are doing with math instruction? Participate in (or read the archives of) subject and/or grade-level Twitterchats. Or follow people like the Teaching Channel Laureates who provide insight into their teaching strategies and goals for professional growth. Are thereeducational organizations you often go to for resources? Follow them. You can also use Twitter to connect your students to other classrooms, or to professionals in various fields. For example, some teachers have sent a class question to a scientist who is an expert in the topic the class is currently studying (or to a zoo, aquarium, or other informal educational institute), or they’ve connected with other classrooms to share student work and engage in authentic feedback or discourse. Twitter can also be a great way to connect parents with what is being done in the classroom. (Be sure to protect student privacy and follow district guidelines for the use of photographs.) Hashtags are used to connect conversations or groups and are easily searchable. Recently, @realscientists began a conversation about what inspired people to pursue science; the hashtag #GatewayToScience connected the responses. Another example is the use of hashtag #CANGSS to connect tweets from educators that are relevant to Next Generation Science Standards in California. A hashtag can really be anything you make up, but as you become familiar with Twitter you'll find common hashtags that you can add to your tweets that make them even more valuable to other educators.
When you follow a person or an organization tweets appear in a way similar to how your friends’ posts appear on Facebook. It’s quick and easy to scroll through and find what interests you on a given day. If someone shares a great resource, you can easily email it to yourself - I then save and organize links or documents on my computer for future access. You can be as social or unsocial as you wish. You can simply “like” a Tweet, or retweet it (with or without commenting) if it’s interesting or helpful. These simple actions make you part of the Twitter ecosystem. But trust me, writing and sending out your first tweet is a little exhilarating! It was like writing “hello world” embedded in computer code in my first lesson on html programming. Your written words show up for the world to see—magically! And you feel empowered. You have a voice. (Dont worry! With Twitter there’s no coding involved - you just need to know how to type!) Soon you’ll get your first “like” of one of your tweets and some followers and you’ll find encouragement to continue building your PLN and growing your expertise as an educator.
After using Twitter regularly for just a short time, I found my connections grew exponentially. One big difference between Twitter and Facebook - with Twitter you don’t need to send a request for someone to “accept” you as friend. Just click the “follow” button and you’re in! Twitter will recommend people or organizations you may be interested in based on who you begin to follow (think six degrees of separation). Or you may see an existing connection retweet (RT) something really cool, and then you, in turn, can follow said cool person who wrote the original tweet. Before long, you’ll develop an interesting collection of connections that represent your professional interests.
One of my favorite finds: once I started to follow some science teachers and coordinators talking about Next Generation Science Standards, I learned about a new group called @NGSS_tweeps. Each week a different teacher tweets about their NGSS-aligned lessons and classroom activities, offering the science teaching community a window into their approach to transitioning to the new standards. The idea is that no one teacher is “doing it right” yet, but by sharing our experiences, asking questions of each other, and reflecting on our teaching we can grow our skills together. This is the power of social media - opening classroom doors to the world. The connections, while virtual, feel real and contribute to extending one’s professional growth in ways that may never happen within the walls of our school buildings. Truly 21st Century Learning.
Hover over the screenshot of a Tweet to learn more.
Did you know last week was National Engineers Week? Don’t worry if you missed it! You can still introduce your students to engineering before the end of the school year, using resources from the National Engineers Week website or from other awesome organizations like NASA, PBS Design Squad Nation, Teaching Channel, and Engineering is Elementary. With the increasing interest in “STEM” in recent years, some teachers began to use engineering activities to provide for a practical application of math or science. But in today’s classrooms, engineering is for ALL students because it is part of the Next Generation Science Standards and a core discipline of science for grades K-12.
While I've loved science since I was a little kid, I was never introduced to engineering. I thought that if you love science you should be a scientist. After teaching high school science for 12 years I had the unique opportunity to venture out into private industry for a few years and, in doing so, I happened to learn a few things first-hand about engineering. This exposure to the engineering field was exciting - engineering is interesting work! Here are some things I learned:
The company I worked for designs and produces technology for science education. Some of this technology is in the form of hardware - sensors that measure things like temperature, carbon dioxide levels, acceleration, or pH for example. The other type of technology they engineer is software - they write the code for applications on computers, tablets, or even phones that take the data from a sensor and display it for the user in some form (such as a graph of temperature vs. time). So there are hardware engineers who work through problems like, “How do I design a wireless spectrometer that meets the needs of both high school and college science classrooms?” or “How can the principles of optics be used to design a sensor that accurately and easily measures the amount of oxygen dissolved in natural waterways?.” And there are also software engineers that need solve different problems, such as “How do we change the layout of our application’s buttons to fit in the limited space of a phone screen?” or “How should the application be designed so a sensor can send data to a student’s device wirelessly? and “How can other students in a lab group also get the same data at the same time as the device that is connected to the sensor?”
In fact, engineering even extended past the hardware and software design departments into the production area. Engineering not only solves problems through the design of a product, but can also involve designing processes that solve problems. A problem that can be solved by engineering a specific process would be something like, “How can we design a system of work for the production technicians that is most efficient for getting products made and shipped?” and “Should the system be the same for all products, or will employees need to learn a couple of different systems?” The problems the engineers need to solve are not easy, but the engineers have a strong knowledge of science, math, computer coding and the engineering design process - and a good attitude toward teamwork - that allow them to design an effective solution (product or process).
Engineering might sound like hard stuff . . . but even young students can be engineers! Engineering is a perfect place to start if you’re wondering how to begin transitioning to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). It can make the transition easier by providing an opportunity to move away from teacher-centered or textbook-focused science lessons and, instead, use more student-centered lessons in which children develop, use and apply science and engineering practices. Engineering is for all students - exposing students to this field will inspire some to become the next generation of engineers, and it will help all students develop a stronger understanding of science concepts as well as problem-solving skills and design-thinking habits that benefit them no matter their career.
Find out more about engineering in the grade level you teach
Read more about engineering in K-12 education (and see classrooms in action!)
Third grade students at Marcum-Illinois Elementary take on the role of geotechnical engineers as they collect and analyze core samples from model building sites. (Part of the "Stick in the Mud" unit from Engineering is Elementary)
Any teacher that has looked at a standards page for NGSS has wondered “where do I start?” with regards to planning and teaching lessons aligned to the new standards. It can be a daunting task for sure! In this post I wanted to share a few tips.
One first step that I always encourage is to take a close look at the National Research Council’s Framework for science education as a way to be sure one understands what is meant by “practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts” (the three dimensions of NGSS). In fact, the official website of NGSS has embedded links within the standards pages that direct you to the relevant page of the framework. For example, a third grade performance expectation might expect students to use the science and engineering practice of “analyzing and interpreting data,” specifically, “represent data in tables and various graphical displays...to reveal patterns that indicate relationships.” On the nextgenscience.org website, if I click on the bulleted statement describing the practice in the blue box, the link takes me to the page of the framework that describes what this practice is, how scientists and engineers use this practice, and the progression of how this practice should develop over K-12 (click the picture below to see a demonstration). For the practice of analyzing and interpreting data, I can learn from the framework that at the elementary level students should begin to collect and organize categorical or numerical data for presentation in tables or graphs that facilitate interpretation, and that the use of computers and other digital tools to enable this practice is encouraged.
The orange box (disciplinary core ideas) and the green box (crosscutting concepts) also have embedded links to the NRC Framework so you can easily learn more about each dimension. Additionally, the nextgenscience.org has links to Evidence Statements for each Performance Expectation. Evidence Statements are a good resource for understanding how a students' understanding might be demonstrated in "three-dimensional" assessments.
Once you have explored some of the performance expectations for your grade level and the NRC Framework in enough depth to feel pretty familiar with the three dimensions of NGSS, you can begin to think about how labs or other lessons can be NGSS-ified. February’s NGSS article in the NSTA journals provides one teacher’s insight. She shifted her planning and teaching of lessons* in the following ways:
Find additional support and resources for NGSS Pedagogy at this "In Your Classroom" website. These archived webinars at the NGSS@NSTA Hub are also a great support for helping you make the transition.
When you NGSS-ify lessons, you might also consider a Venn diagram framework in which you think about the lesson components and how the three dimensions either are - or are not - represented in the lesson. Sometimes the shifts in lessons will be making changes to make the connections between core ideas and the practices and crosscutting concepts more explicit for our students.
Learn more about the Venn diagram representation of three-dimensional learning:
A tool for evaluating and modifying curriculum
You are definitely not alone in trying to find or modify lessons as you implement NGSS! Click here to access a google document providing some places to start your search, such as NGSS@NSTA which has a team of teacher curators working to add resources for performance expectations at every grade level.
The word "lesson" in NGSS does not refer to a daily lesson plan - an NGSS lesson is an instructional sequence that extends over several days and contains multiple activities that teach a complete concept. And while each performance expectation explicitly connects to one practice and one crosscutting concept, it is important that instruction combines different practices and crosscutting concepts in varied ways as the core ideas are explored.
I recently read about productive struggle in a WestEd blog. The writer states, "For years, philosophers have been saying that nothing worth having comes without some effort. So why are we so quick to jump to the aid of our students, thereby removing the opportunity to learn from grappling with the mathematics?"
While the article was discussing productive struggle in the context of the new math standards, it applies just as well to NGSS. If we implement NGSS right, our students should experience productive struggle. In an NGSS classroom, students that are trying to make sense of phenomena or design a solution for a problem using engineering will encounter problems. And these problems are not only "normal," or expected in the NGSS classroom, they are welcomed because it means the learning environment is authentic. As Mardi Gale reflected, "how do we expect students to become problem solvers if they never encounter a problem? And self-confidence is built through accomplishments - real accomplishments - not just answer getting and superficial praise."
To topic of productive struggle then came up again recently, this time during discussions with a small group of educators as we reviewed the new CA framework for NGSS. We realized that both students AND teachers will experience struggles with NGSS. As long as the stress of these struggles is "benign" and not "killer," both students and teachers will learn new things and grow.
Learn more about productive struggle and a growth mindset:
The Mindset Kit (from Standford University)
Videos that show growth mindset practices in action
What pitfalls can we try to avoid to prevent false growth mindset?
With NGSS there is renewed focus on providing learners time to wrestle with ideas and construct explanations, both individually and collaboratively through the science and engineering practices. So it is important to reflect on the difference between description and explanation. I've been thinking about how many times I asked my students (on a test, a worksheet, in a lab, or class discussion) to explain something and whether I was really looking for them to explain - or if sometimes I really meant describe. So I suppose the first question to ask is whether distinguishing between these is actually important. I think it is.
Think about the moon's phases. What answers do we expect if we ask students to, "explain the phases of the moon?" Explain means that students provide a causal account for the phases, which would include things like, the moon orbits the Earth approximately every 28 days, and as it position changes within the Earth-moon-sun system, the one side of the moon that is lit due to reflection of sunlight from its surface is seen either wholly or only in part by an Earth-based observer. When we see the whole side of the sunlit portion of the moon we see a full moon. But when we can see only a proportion of the sunlit side, say only a sliver of it, then the moon is said to be in a different phase - the crescent phase. (Video explanation)
If we only ask students to describe the phases, then they can describe what an Earth-based observer sees, but they don't need to have any greater understanding of the Earth-moon-sun system if they are only describing. With NGSS we need students to go beyond description and develop explanations of phenomena. But this requires giving them time to develop understanding and the tools (practice with the practices) that help one make sense of the natural world. Thinking of "Depth of Knowledge," NGSS requires DOK 3 and 4, so our teaching must push students to these greater DOK levels, with appropriate scaffolding to help them achieve at those levels. One great scaffolding strategy is asking students guiding questions that require explanation rather than description. When working with student groups, you can ask questions that remain unanswered - you can pose questions to a group and then leave the students to work collaboratively with each other to develop explanations (video).
Does the difference between describing and explaining really make a difference in learning?
Read more at these links:
@NGSS_tweeps is a community Twitter account: each week a different educator tweets about NGSS, providing a window into their classroom