I had the privilege of attending a 2-day workshop this week regarding the NGSS standards and how to train teachers to implement them in their classrooms. The best thing about this workshops was the clear entry points it gave teachers looking to implement the NGSS in their classrooms. And by “implement” I don’t mean “teach content the same old way only now just teach the stuff mentioned in the NGSS;” I mean really getting students to be scientific thinkers and problem-solvers through transforming what science instruction looks like. In sum, the most powerful take-aways from this workshop for changing science instruction under the NGSS are listed below:
- Go for deep understanding to foster scientific literacy. This means giving students more time to think rather than covering content.
- Curriculum, instruction and assessments should all be three-dimensional, intertwining the crosscutting concepts, science and engineering practices, and the disciplinary core ideas in order for students to master the performance expectations.
- Instruction must shift from teaching topics to teaching phenomena.
- Instruction must shift from telling students stuff to having students “figuring it out.”
- Assessments must evaluate student understanding based on proficiency scales that are developed from the level of thinking demanded in the performance expectation.
It’s those last two bullet points that seem like major obstacles to teachers who may be used to traditional methods of science instruction that require the teacher to be the focal point of the classroom most of the time. It means giving up some control of what’s happening in the classroom and handing over the learning to students, letting them view scientific phenomena and come up with their own questions and generate their own explanations before the teacher tells them anything. The quick and easy example (to engage students in the disciplinary core idea ESS2.B) the presenter gave was that of an anticline and a syncline (upfolds and downfolds in rock layers) that had been revealed as a result of road construction, showing us a picture similar to the one below (mainly an anticline, but you get the idea):
After showing students the picture (and pointing out the human in the picture for size reference), students generate their own observations and questions regarding the phenomenon shown in the picture, which sets the stage for what the focus of the unit will be. Example questions would be:
- How much energy is needed to bend rocks that way?
- What types of energy are needed to cause the bend in the rocks?
- How long did that bend take to form?
- What causes the rocks to bend in the first place?
- Why are the rocks in layers?
- What types of rocks are the layers made out of?
- Why are some layers different colors than other layers?
Students do their own research first on the questions they generated, seeking to come up with their own explanations for the phenomenon. After that teachers can have students verify their explanations in some way, and then extend their understanding via some sort of application activity – i.e., a lab, creating and/or using a model, analyzing data…in other words, engage in those science and engineering practices. Teachers then evaluate student understanding based on proficiency scales (rubrics) derived from the performance expectation being assessed. These proficiency scales should show what students CAN do at each level of understanding rather than state what students can’t do.
As someone who spent the first 10 years or so of her 18-year science teaching career feeling like it was my job to dispense information first before giving labs that simply confirmed what I told my students, I understand that this process is going to be hard for some teachers to implement in their classrooms. However, the advice the presenter gave (which is also the advice I give my science teachers in my district) is this: Start small. Start with just integrating phenomena first. Start by making rubrics from performance expectations for evaluation. Start by letting students create explanations first rather than lecturing right away.
Start small…but just get started. Just like mountains and earthquakes and those anticlines and synclines pictured above, small changes will eventually lead to big changes in classroom instruction and student learning. And the process outlined above is way better for student learning than having them sit and passively watch teachers do their jobs.
In order to help teachers get the small starts they need, a lot of good resources were explored over the two days of this workshop. I have collected them all in a Blendspace learning playlist for easier access. They are divided up into categories, with a text page at the start of each category that lists out what the next few links will be. Please feel free to share them with anyone who needs resources for NGSS implementation in their classrooms.