May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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 NGSS 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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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HappyAtoms

Please contact Rosanne Luu at rluu@wested.org or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. 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 NGSS 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.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.