May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

A Teacher’s Journey: NGSS Is NOT an Add On

Posted: Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

Students looking at a beaker containing 55.85g of iron-

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“That is one atom of iron.”

Huh… Umm…Sinking feeling… I hope nobody who knows anything about science walks into my room right now.

My students were looking at a mole of iron (602,200,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms more or less) and concluding that they were probably looking at one atom of iron. And this was after two weeks of learning about the periodic table and structure of the atom. My formal observation lesson that year had been about how to figure out the number of protons, neutrons, and electrons in an atom based on the periodic table. My principal gave me all “3s” and told me it was one of the best lessons he had observed that year. In the post-conference I asked about something that was starting to bother me about all of my teaching, “Why won’t they remember any of it in a month? Why doesn’t it stick?” And now, a few weeks later my students were giving me clear evidence that they didn’t have the slightest idea what an atom was.

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What was wrong? I was giving clear (to me) lectures, following up with carefully selected readings, giving my students lots of practice problems, and following the logical order of topics in the textbook. My labs were very well planned with procedures thought out step by step to make sure students got the “right” result. I was teaching the way I had been taught, and everyone told me I was a good teacher. Maybe the students were lazy, not paying attention, or unmotivated. Maybe science was something that only some students were capable of learning.

I started to make changes in my teaching. If I did an activity with discussion before the reading, the reading seemed to make more sense. My lectures got shorter and shorter until they mostly disappeared. They just didn’t seem to lead to much learning. I gave more open ended questions on tests and was often disappointed with how little my students could explain. I didn’t have a plan or a strong idea of what I was trying to do, I was just doing what seemed to work better.
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When I first attended a K-12 Alliance institute (a statewide science professional development organization), it was confusing. People were discussing and working hard on things like inquiry, 5E lesson planning, conceptual coherence, using student work to guide instruction. It slowly dawned on me that there was a community of practice and a research base that already knew a great deal about what I had been struggling with. They knew that you can’t put ideas into people’s heads. People only learn when they struggle with ideas and build their own understanding. Prior knowledge is huge. Facts only make sense if organized in a conceptual framework. People need opportunities to reflect on their learning.

Nobel Prize winning physicist Dr. Carl Wieman took a similar journey in his teaching. His discussion of how his frustrations teaching physics at Stanford led to his research on teaching and learning can be found in the following article:

http://www.cwsei.ubc.ca/SEI_research/files/Wieman-Change_Sept-Oct_2007.pdf

You might have noticed that I haven’t yet mentioned NGSS in this NGSS blog. So what is the connection?

I often hear responses to NGSS along the lines of “We already do that.” Another response when the subject of NGSS expectations like engineering and modeling come up is. “We just don’t have the time for that.” These two responses are related in that they assume that most current science teaching is fundamentally sound and that NGSS must therefore be about small adjustments, calling things by different names, and some add ons.

But NGSS is NOT an add on. NGSS is NOT asking us to do everything we do now and then add NGSS on top of that. It is based on a strong body of research that shows that ways we have been teaching science don’t lead to strong understandings of science for most learners. NGSS is asking us to ask serious questions about what we teach and how. In Dr. Weiman’s article he notes that teachers might need a strong stomach to look deeply at learning. NGSS demands strong stomachs.

We know (from the research) that conceptual change is difficult and takes time. Teachers are not just going to read NGSS and change their practice overnight. They will be skeptical and demand evidence.

But I think that science teachers are better prepared than most for reflecting on and changing ideas about their discipline. After all, the history of science is all about overcoming deeply held conceptions: Earth can’t possibly move, mountains obviously last forever, there is a little person inside a sperm, living things are clearly made of something different than ordinary matter. The history of science is a history of letting go of what seemed like the most sure things.

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

2 Responses

  1. Most insightful Mr. A’Hearn, as always. Your thoughts gave me Cutis anserina!

  2. Hi Nina- thanks for making me look up Cutis anserina!

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or zi@cascience.org.)

New Information Now Available On-line:

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.