November/December 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 2

Laying the Foundation: Our NGSS Journey of Getting Elementary School Students Ready for Middle School

Posted: Thursday, January 12th, 2017

by Kim Chanda, Janel Poon, and Richard Yang

Providing quality science instruction at the elementary level is an endeavor for many general education teachers. Although intimidating, science instruction in elementary school allows students to develop skills that will enable them to compete in an increasingly scientific and technological society. As California NGSS K-8 early Implementation Initiative Teacher Leaders for Aspire Public Schools, a charter organization that focuses on providing education for underserved students in low-income neighborhoods, Richard Yang and Kim Chanda are elementary science specialists, and Janel Poon is a 6th-grade middle school science teacher.

The position of K-5 science specialist allows Richard and Kim to teach every student at their elementary site. This allows them to develop their students’ scientific understanding from one year to the next. Their elementary schools feed into Janel’s middle school, where the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is continued, and practices introduced in the elementary grades can continue to grow in sophistication. Having the students feed into a common middle school allows us to monitor their learning well after they have left our site. In the three years we have been a part of this grant teaching the NGSS and emphasizing the development of student competence in the science and engineering practices, we have been able to observe our students develop through elementary to middle school and improve their understanding of scientific principles.

As teacher implementers, starting work at the beginning of this grant was an overwhelming process. During our journey, we sought out to gain a deeper understanding of the three dimensions of the NGSS for ourselves. The three dimensions being: Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas. As we unraveled the dimensions, we chose “Develop and Using” models, one practice out of the Science and Engineering Practices to focus our attention on.

First, we needed to redefine what we knew as “modeling.” Before the NGSS, we believed the kids were modeling when they would make a poster showing the water cycle with definitions. As we began learning about the NGSS vision of modeling, we learned that the students weren’t modeling at all they were making a “posterization” of information. A “posterization” does not actually show the student’s depth of knowledge or understanding of a scientific principle, instead, it might feature a drawing and some definitions they could have copied from a textbook. In the NGSS, a scientific model shows the students thinking and reasoning of a scientific principle. It includes drawn pictures of the seen and unseen and student written explanations of their understanding based on observations and experience. Models are made to help generate questions, predictions, and explanations. As a unit of study continues and more information is revealed, models are meant to be revised and edited to show a change of understanding from before. Discovering our own misconception we had in modeling made our focus more attainable.

Next, we implemented scaffolded models in each grade level. Students were expected to draw, explain and revise their understanding of the phenomenon they were learning, increasing the complexity of the models as the grade levels progressed. For example, in grades K-2, our focus was to get students to model what they observed by drawing pictures and labeling them. In grades 3-5, our focus was to build on what students learned in K-2 by having the students model the scientific principles behind their observations, the unseen, and to explain their models in writing. Scientific modeling is also a practice that is easily differentiated for our high English language learner population and students with special needs since no model is expected to look the same. Also, the use of pictures to explain their thought process was a good starting point for many English learners and special needs students. We found that when the students would model on whiteboards they were more likely to take risks when making explanations because they knew they would be revising it later on.

As the students progressed through the elementary grade levels, modeling became a part of an everyday occurrence. Modeling became second nature to students, and they began to use modeling to explain their reasoning without being prompted to do so.

As our students advanced into middle school, teachers began to notice the influence of elementary science education on their understanding of middle school science concepts. Students that had previously completed Richard and Kim’s fifth-grade classes were better able to use modeling to describe scientific principles, cause and effect relationships, and unseen phenomena, compared to students from outside schools. In addition, our Aspire students were more likely to collaborate with others, question deeper, look at the relationships between phenomena, and understand concepts at an abstract level.

Students who come from our Aspire elementary schools are quick to use as models to show their reasoning. They are creative in showing different ways of making connections of in-class investigations to the real world. Students who did not come from Aspire elementary schools needed more prompting and scaffolding to create models beyond a picture of the observable. It is imperative that students begin to learn science at the elementary level.

Science education at the elementary level is important in developing young minds. As grades K-5 science specialists, we have a limited amount of time per week with our students, but even just focusing on a piece of the three dimensions has shown that even a limited amount of quality science instruction is better than nothing. A little goes a long way!

Kim Chanda is an elementary science specialist for Aspire Public Schools, a teacher leader for the K-12 Alliance California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative, and a member of CSTA.

Janel Poon is a middle school teacher for Aspire Public Schools, a teacher leader for the K-12 Alliance California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative, and a member of CSTA.

Richard Yang is an elementary science specialist for Aspire Public Schools, a teacher leader for the K-12 Alliance California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative, and a member of CSTA.

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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.

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Priority Features of NGSS-Aligned Instructional Materials

Posted: Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

Recommendations for Publishers, Reviewers, and Educators. The California Science Teachers Association and the science teachers associations of three other Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) west-coast states, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, have co-authored a white paper on priority features of NGSS instructional materials. This is the first time our states have collaborated to convey a common vision on an issue of great importance for the implementation of the NGSS. We understand all too well that for meaningful shifts to happen and to support the full vision of the NGSS, strong K-12 Instructional materials are required. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

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

State Board Moves Forward Two Key Pieces Supporting CA NGSS Implementation

Posted: Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

CSTA President Jill Grace provides public comment at the November 8, 2017, California State Board of Education meeting.

On November 8, 2017, the California State Board of Education (SBE) took action on two items of import relating to the implementation of the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS). One item was relating to the California Science Test (CAST) and the other to instructional materials. CSTA provided both written and oral comments on both items along with providing input on what CSTA and many other advocates view as a critical component of our state’s emerging accountability system – student access to a broad course of study. 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.

NGSS – Early Attempts and Later Reflections from an Early Implementer Teacher

Posted: Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

by Christa Dunkel

  • There are so many acronyms! Where do I start?
  • What “baby step” should I take first? 
  • How can I make this happen in my elementary classroom?

All of these thoughts and more swam through my head over three years ago when I began my journey into NGSS. I was fresh from a week-long institute with the K-12 Alliance as part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. Much of the week was spent on digging into the NGSS architecture – how the standards are set-up, how to read the standards, what each of the three dimensions meant. Now that I knew how to read them, I needed to figure out how to implement them into my classroom of 24 eight-year-olds. With some guidance from the K-12 Alliance leaders and my own district-level NGSS team, I began the process with some easy “baby steps.” Learn More…

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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.

CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

Expanding Your Definition of Informal Science Education

Posted: Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

by Lori Walsh

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Written by Lori Walsh

Lori Walsh

Lori Walsh is the Education/Operations Supervisor at SEA LIFE Aquarium at LEGOLAND California Resort and Informal Science Director for CSTA.