Teachers and school leaders often want a one day introduction to the landscape of new science standards. Importantly, Wisconsin's model academic standards (WMAS) in science remain the same. In consideration of science program reviews, some districts are looking to build on the WMAS with the National Research Council's Science Education Framework and the Next Generation Science Standards. A one day workshop can be the starting point for the more in depth process I outlined in my last blog post, though I think teachers would benefit from reading through the NRC Framework beforehand (a guided book study perhaps?). I definitely do not think that groups of teachers should get a brief introduction to a new set of standards and then be left to implement a new science program in their limited PLC time.
Here are links to the slides from some CESA 2 elementary and secondary standards workshops (note, there’s an extra unit idea at the end of the secondary slides with a HS life science focus):
When I start these workshops, I ask participants to think about their main goal(s) for their students’ science learning for the year. Because I see many teachers who get too hung up on covering the content, I want them to consider the big picture of science. I refer back to these ideas throughout the workshop, particularly when a teacher asks something like, “Why don’t they mention the stages of meiosis within these DCI’s?”
I next discuss the development of the NRC Framework and NGSS. I think it’s important to note that the NGSS were a state-led, non-federally funded effort!
We then review the structure of the standards, looking together at a page. What is this disciplinary core idea vs. topic view? How are we supposed to use the PE’s? What is a standard here? Notably, here in WI, we’ve decided that the standard is the whole page – emphasizing the practice, DCI and CCC connection. For some reason teachers rarely ask questions as we go through the structure, even though they have them (maybe it’s just a bit overwhelming). I make sure to discuss what the acronyms and numbers mean, as well as those little asterisks. I’ve found that this resource from NSTA on the three dimensions to be useful. I make sure to point out that each PE connects the three dimensions, showing the handy multi-color view provided when looking at standards on www.nextgenscience.org. I also note that ability to get more info by clicking on almost anything on those nextgenscience.org standards pages – linking directly to the framework and the CCSS (excellent!).
Recently, I have next been going through some of the basics of designing a unit. We first talk about interesting phenomena in the world around us. Students (particularly those not generally interested in science/math) are really engaged by talking about issues in their community or on the news now. My units that I detail a little on my slides are oil spills (ES), Near Earth Objects (MS), and the Wisconsin wolf hunt (HS). There are certainly loads of other possibilities, and at the early elementary grades students could do fairly simple phenomena like animals, people and plants in changing seasons (very appropriate in WI with a wind chill expected to be -30ish next week!).
I then imagine that I’m a teacher at a particular grading wanting to connect a unit to a particular phenomenon. I ask, does this work with the DCI’s and the PE’s designated for my grade? I have found that interesting phenomena don’t work at every grade in K-5, but do connect within every grade band somewhere. And, they typically connect across science disciplines and build well into engineering connections.
After discussing connections to students’ background knowledge, and having some type of entry event to kick things off, we do some modeling. I emphasize that modeling is an iterative process where students create some sort of representation of their thinking. In the elementary PD, teachers draw out the basics of an ecosystem/food web at a local river. We then discuss the oil spill incident (and I’d do some background with students on what oil is). We go back to the model (drawing) of the river and create an after scene—adding an oil spill to it and asking how it would affect the ecosystem. Teachers ask, so is modeling just drawing something? No. It could be 3-D or computer-based. It should likely include some words and details. The key is that it shows student thinking before the learning activities and is used as a tool to develop and assess their thinking throughout the unit. Tools for Ambitious Science teaching has a fabulous primer on modeling. I have teachers do this modeling in groups, as it fosters some great conversations. As a teacher I could see doing the modeling as a whole class, particularly at the beginning with lower elementary students. In the end, I would have students create the models individually to assess their learning, although I don’t have teachers do that step.
I only describe the interim learning in brief. We do reference and read from the Engineering is Elementary unit on oil spills. It has a lot of great ideas. Many learning experiences will happen between the introductory modeling and engagement steps, and the final model creation and presentations. In the workshop, the learning activities that we actually do include creating an experimental or engineering model, and going through writing claims, evidence and reasoning.
To do a little hands-on science, we do what’s really an engineering activity. Teachers try out some sample oil spill clean up. Within the PD I ask teachers to design how to do these tests, though I’d give elementary students a bit more structure. After they model an oil spill clean-up (vegetable oil with black oil based food coloring in it put into water), we discuss the benefits and limitations of the model with this worksheet.
Next, we discuss the claims, evidence and reasoning methodology to write a good conclusion. Notably, the claim is not a hypothesis here. The claim is the beginning part of the conclusion students are writing after they’ve done the investigation. Evidence can be pictorial or written, qualitative or quantitative.
I use this CER template to guide this writing (built from work of Joe Krajcik and Eric Brunsell).
There is some review time built in here. How can we include authentic engineering? What NGSS practices and crosscutting concepts did we use in our activities? How would you assess this work (think PE’s)?
Teachers at this point are anxious to think about their own lessons and units. I use this worksheet to help guide those small group discussions around improving a particular lesson. I ask teachers to bring a lesson or their books to the workshop. After some review time (about 30 min depending on how engaged they are), we create a set of considerations together for what teachers should do as they review their current lessons.
I tend to think that the NGSS appendices (see the left column here) are an underutilized resource, so we jigsaw them next. When groups report out, I ask them to especially focus on how these appendices could be used by groups of teachers to support their implementation efforts. In the secondary session we discuss appendix K for quite a while, including an exploration of the pros and cons of an integrated science program.
At this point I acknowledge that standards purists would likely prefer teachers to build units and lessons up from the standards, rather than tweaking what they already have (being practical I think both are legitimate parts of reconsidering your science instruction). We use this Understanding by Design template to map objectives for an NGSS unit (basic idea from Eric Brunsell). I review this template with ideas included to describe the unit planning process. Within this discussion, we talk about how crosscutting concepts (CCC’s) can provide the frame for essential questions. Scientists and engineers certainly have particular lenses for looking at the world around them—these are basically represented within the CCC’s. So, I discuss how you might look at a particular phenomenon through the lens of each of the CCC’s (on my slide of ideas, I’m considering brain-eating amoeba in ponds). I credit Emily Miller with this CCC and essential question idea.
Finally, we have a little time for planning. What are you main takeaways from the day? What are your short and long terms goals? How are you going to share what you’ve learned with others within your school/district?
And, at the end of the workshop, I always offer my willingness to answer questions by email as they come up – kevin-dot-anderson-at-dpi-dot-wi-dot-gov!
*I want to also note the great work done by Dave Bydlowski and Greg Johnson of the Wayne County RESA. Check it out here for further PD ideas.