Next Generation Science Standards: Jump Right In
Posted: Tuesday, January 6th, 2015
by Jennifer McGranahan
In the midst of all that is new this year – implementing Common Core for Language Arts and Mathematics, the new ELA/ELD Framework and our district’s Personalized Learning Plans – we are also hearing more about the Next Generation of Science Standards (NGSS). As a 6th grade classroom teacher, when I heard the acronym “NGSS,” I quickly put it out of my mind. My brain couldn’t face one more new expectation. However, I had majored in biology in college and had decided I wanted to focus on improving my teaching in science, and NGSS kept creeping back into my thoughts no matter how hard I tried to ignore it. Before I knew it, I was part of a team of teachers in my district selected to be part of the California K-8 NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. With the honor of being an Early Implementer came trainings during the summer and regular school year, and hours crafting and planning “beautiful” NGSS lessons that include 3-dimensional learning that I am not familiar with. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Actually, it is!!
I was terrified at first, one more thing to do, right? However, I decided the best way to approach NGSS was to jump right in. Fortunately, I was not alone. All of those hours of trainings I mentioned earlier were with educators who are pioneers in NGSS implementation and are passionate about not only science, but education in general. I was able to learn the reasoning behind the new standards designed to help students develop and use models, collaborate to problem solve, make real world connections, and use science practices. I was also fortunate enough to participate as a student in a three-day, K-12 Alliance cadre that gave me a springboard to start my science teaching this year.
In the cadre, we were exposed to a lesson series that covered the water cycle and thermal energy transfer. Because engineering is a component of the NGSS, as a culmination to the lesson we were expected to take what we had learned about both subjects and apply them to building a Mars habitat. Our habitats consisted of old two liter soda bottles, various materials to put inside (rocks, bark, etc.), and additional materials like aluminum foil, saran wrap, water, etc. Our habitats had to be able to absorb and hold heat while also demonstrating the water cycle in the form of precipitation or condensation. Precipitation would have been AWESOME to achieve, but my group was only able to produce a little bit of condensation. We deduced that we had not included enough water in our initial model. Considering that we, as adults, were not particularly successful at accomplishing all the requirements for our habitat, I wondered how 6th graders would handle the task, but what the heck… I decided to give it a try. Jump right in, right?!
What took adults nine hours to do in our cadre took my 6th graders 4 weeks (45 minutes a day/4 days a week). To prepare my students, I challenged them to participate in many of the same activities I had participated in during the time with my cadre. For example, students reviewed the water cycle by doing a “Water Cycle in a Jar” experiment. Students put water into a jar, dropped a match into the jar, covered the jar with plastic wrap, and then put ice on top of the plastic wrap. They could then watch the water molecules in the air move to the top of the jar and notice condensation on the sides of the jar. My students also participated in an activity where they ‘became’ water molecules and traveled to stations such as a river, ocean, cloud, animal, glacier, etc. At each station, they rolled modified dice that told the students where they would end up next. Another preparatory activity involved investigating heat transfer by placing ice on thermal blocks after which they read and did a Quick Write about the three types of thermal energy transfer and kinetic energy. We cloze read small chunks of our existing textbooks, read supplementary materials, watched videos, and researched conditions on Mars. I was also able to bring in science-related current events by showing students some online video clips of the Curiosity Mars Rover.
Each step of the way I was very focused on specific, clearly defined principles I wanted the students to master and the Science Practices (part of the 3-dimensional learning of NGSS) that would help them reach that goal. The scope of the science can get complicated quickly and I did not want to overload the students. To avoid that, I previewed all of the texts and narrowed down the content, concepts, and practices the students needed to know in order to successfully engineer their Mars habitat.
I had introduced the habitat project at the very beginning of our unit and the students were eager to get to it. When the day finally came to design and build the habitats, I was nervous. Did they have the understanding and skills they needed? Would they be successful or just get frustrated? Well, I didn’t need to worry. They amazed me!!! I witnessed them working collaboratively in groups creating and problem solving. When we tested our habitats (taking heat measurements in the sunlight to absorb heat and then in the classroom to see if the habitats retained the heat), not every group was successful. But here is the best part… they had the opportunity to modify their models and them test again! The conversations I heard were amazing!!! (Application of Common Core Speaking and Listening Skills.) At the end, I asked each group to present their models and their results and give their hypothesis about what the results meant. I honestly could not believe 10-12 year olds were using science vocabulary so confidently about science concepts and engineering practices. The concepts they were able to discuss with conviction and the problem solving strategies they employed to better their habitats were amazing! I will never doubt the ability of my students again.
I can tell you with absolute certainty that I would love it if all of the NGSS lessons were already created, if it was already established what 3-dimensional learning really looks in a classroom, with all the materials already on site, and it was neatly packaged in a ‘Science for Dummies’ teacher’s edition. I can also tell you with certainty that I would not trade jumping right into NGSS for anything. My students are excited about science. They look forward to it and are genuinely disappointed if we don’t have it one day. My students are speaking and writing about scientific concepts that I had mistakenly thought would be over their heads. They understand those concepts in the context we learned them in, but are also transferring that understanding to other, real world, situations. My teaching has improved, their ability to learn has improved, and I am more excited than I have ever been about science. I encourage all my elementary colleagues to jump right into science.
Jennifer McGranahan is a 6th Grade Teacher at Marango Ranch Elementary in the Galt Joint Elementary School District. She was invited to write for eCCS by CSTA President Elect Lisa Hegdahl.
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Joseph Calmer
Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”
I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…