January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Finding My Way Down the NGSS Path – One Step at a Time

Posted: Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

by Lisa Hegdahl

I want to preface this article by saying that I am a proud member of the CSTA Board Directors. I am also an 8th grade science teacher and have been for the past 23 years. While I am excited about the changes coming with the Next Generation of Science Standards, I am also asking many of the same questions as other middle school teachers: What will NGSS look like in my classroom when it is fully implemented? How do I prepare for the NGSS Performance Expectations I have not taught before? What will the assessment look like? And, just like other middle school teachers, I don’t have all the answers to all the questions, but I do know that there is a great deal of support available as we implement the new standards together. CSTA will continue to be an irreplaceable source of information as implementation continues, as will all the organizations with which CSTA works. Teachers will not have to figure out how to implement the NGSS alone.

After my school’s science department chose the preferred NGSS Integrated Learning Progression Model for middle grades, I had to answer the question – Where do I start? The only reasonable answer for any of us is – I started where I was. I was currently teaching the old California Science Content Standard for 8th Grade on Forces – specifically, friction. I wanted to begin turning from the path of my former teaching practices onto the new NGSS path.

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Small steps I took to steer me towards NGSS:

1. Let the students make their own “aha!” moments – Rich Hedman, Director of the Center for Mathematics and Science Education and Co-Director of the Sacramento Area Science Project, gave me this good advice.

2. Adjust the lesson so the students base their conclusions on collected data.

3. Allow students to create their own investigation.

4. Provide students time to collaborate with each other.

5. Give yourself permission to make mistakes while learning to implement the NGSS. Every time we incorporate a piece of the NGSS, we will learn something in the process.

The Old Lab

In the old friction lab, students groups of two have a folder that contains three surfaces – a piece of cloth, a sheet of coarse sandpaper, and crinkled construction paper. The fourth surface is their desktop. The lab sheet’s procedure explains how students will use a spring scale to drag a mass across each surface at a constant speed of approximately two inches per second. Students record the data in a table and answer the follow up questions in the conclusion section. Ultimately, they write a few sentences explaining their understanding about how surfaces affect the amount of force required to move an object.

The New Lab

Students are told that they work for a Fortune 500 company that has been hired to make a recommendation on the best flooring for a company. Before a recommendation can be made, students need to design and carry out an investigation that will generate data to assist them in making the recommendation. The flooring should be safe for people to walk on and still be suitable for pulling massive containers across it on a regular basis. Their final report should be written to the CEO of the company and include:

      • A description of the steps used to conduct the investigation
      • Data displayed in a table, graph, or chart
      • Interpretation of the data
      • The recommendation of which flooring the company should use
      • The reason behind the recommendation

Collaborative groups of four conduct the investigation and have access to the materials and their colleagues for 30 minutes. At the end of that time, they return to their ‘office cubicle’ where they finish their individual report. The time limit is to ensure students are efficient when working with their teammates.

The best part of the new lab was the conversations I heard among students. They discussed the most appropriate techniques for testing the surfaces, deliberated what the data indicated, and argued about how to compose a comprehensible letter to the CEO. Participating in a task that had a clear purpose kept the students engaged from beginning to end.

If I do this lab again, I will have student groups share the data they collect with the entire class and look for patterns. The class will use the patterns to predict the amount of force needed to move an object across an unfamiliar surface. While this year the students used the materials from the old lab, I will invest in real flooring materials or seek out donations for them.

In the end, I met all of my goals for my first attempt at transitioning to NGSS. My students came to their own “aha!” moments about the relationship between surfaces and the force required to move objects across them; their acquired knowledge was based on data they gathered; they designed and carried out their own investigation; they collaborated to come up with the best way to accomplish the task; I allowed myself to try the lab, and even though it was not perfect, I noted areas in need of improvement and I will carry those insights into the next activity.

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Written by Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and is President for CSTA.

2 Responses

  1. This is a very clear example of how science education is changing. You entry has helped to to understand the change in perspective and emphasis. Thanks. I teach Science for Grades 1-6, let me know if you can connect me with others with great ideas.

  2. Janette,
    I encourage you to consider joining our Facebook group for elementary science educators: https://www.facebook.com/groups/515472468554988/. The group just started a month ago and already has 30+ members.

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