September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Chapter 1 Will Be Re-Written

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Pete A’Hearn

“With NGSS, every science textbook will have to re-write chapter 1” – Helen Quinn, Professor emeritus Stanford University and Lead scientist on the development of NGSS

(Seriously has anyone EVER used the Deka prefix?)

(Seriously has anyone EVER used the Deka prefix?)

Like most science teachers, I used to start my year with a unit on measurement and a unit on the scientific method. When my students tried to measure things they weren’t very precise and also didn’t really know how the metric system worked. Starting with the scientific method seemed like a good foundation for the rest of the year. Year after year we worked on measurement. We used this fun little metric staircase. I would arrange different sized chairs and step stools so I could walk up and down the ladder!

It wasn’t until I got out of the classroom and became a science coach, that I realized there was a problem. Students began EVERY year with measurement and the scientific method. Yet they didn’t seem to arrive at the next year any better at these two subjects.

The reason is not hard to understand. Teachers often teach kids measurement skills without following that up with actually measuring something. People learn what they use and forget what they don’t. The same goes for the scientific method, we learn what we use. A much better way to teach measurement is to teach it right before we are actually going to measure something to collect data. Then the measurements will be meaningful and the learning will be reinforced. Also, knowing that kids get taught measurement every year, you might just want to give them the tools and see how they do with no instruction. If the measurement looks badly off, this is a great time to lead a discussion about how we measured and what might give us the most accurate measurements.

NGSS Mobuius Strip Logo

The NGSS favors this approach. The NGSS logo symbolizes the idea that the Science and Engineering Practices – what we traditionally frontload at the beginning of the year should not be taught separately from the core ideas and the crosscutting concepts. They should be part of every lesson. Students need to do science as they learn science.

You won’t find the scientific method in the NGSS Framework. Instead you’ll find this diagram that shows how science works in the real world. Not a simple step-by-step process but a continuous back and forth between the real world and how we make sense of it. How do we get students to understand this? By doing it! This is a reason that a Science and Engineering Practice is attached to every performance expectation. There isn’t a division between learning about science and doing science.

Figure 3-1: The three spheres of activities for scientists and engineers. from the Framework for K-12 Science Education, National Research Council http://www.nap.edu/catalog/13165/a-framework-for-k-12-science-education-practices-crosscutting-concepts

Figure 3-1: The three spheres of activities for scientists and engineers.
http://www.nap.edu/catalog/13165/a-framework-for-k-12-science-education-practices-crosscutting-concepts

So with NGSS, chapter 1 isn’t needed, because chapter one is all year long. Next year try diving right into content (making sure to go slow and set up strong routines, procedures, and norms) and realize that you have all year to work on doing the science.

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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

One Response

  1. Excellent point!!

    This phenomenon of “use it or lose it” also holds true when learning a foreign language. You can memorize vocabulary and grammatical constructions all you want, but they won’t stay in memory unless used repeatedly.

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