August 2015 – Vol. 27 No. 12

NGSS and the Primary Classroom

Posted: Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

by Michelle French

Since the public reviews of the Next Generation Science Standards have come to a close, like many primary teachers, I’ve been wondering what science will look like in kindergarten, first, and second grade classrooms. When I reviewed NGSS, its three dimensions were initially overwhelming to me. Then I took a deep breath… reread the document… and realized that the blending of NGSS’s three dimensions: Disciplinary Core Ideas, Science and Engineering Practices, and Crosscutting Concepts, actually created an environment for young students to not only know science content, but know how to act, think, and reason scientifically.

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw just how many of the concepts from the three dimensions my students and I were already exploring in my life science learning sequence. The sequence actually began many months before formal instruction began: my first grade students and I made frequent observations about the changes in the artichoke plant growing in the garden in front of our classroom. The standards students would be exploring were the current first grade standards: LS: 2a, 2b, 2e and IE: 4a-b. (CA State Science Standards for First Grade)

To organize the new learning sequence, I used the “5E” lesson design from K-12 Alliance. The 5E design consists of: Engage, Explore, Explain, Evaluate, and Extend. I have attached a shortened version on the lesson sequence. The attachment shows the “Engage” and “Explore” sections. In the Explore section, you will only see Day 5 in explicit detail. Know that the other four days followed a similar plan and addressed different structures. By mapping out the learning sequence, I was able to identify opportunities to highlight the NGSS Crosscutting Concept of “Structure and Function” repeatedly (see photo 5).

By the time we officially begin our learning sequence; my students had already developed many authentic questions about the artichoke plant. Students were encouraged to ask questions, and I recorded them on chart paper (see photo 1) that was left hanging on the wall throughout the learning sequence. Many student questions guided the inquiry process and we frequently referred back to them. This part of the learning sequence could be the NGSS equivalent in the Science and Engineering Practice dimension as “Asking Questions and Defining Problems.”

As we later began the “Engage” section, students drew upon their prior knowledge about living things, with plants in particular (see photo 2). This tied in with the NGSS Science and Engineering Practice, “Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions,” which specifically states, “…solutions in K-2 builds on prior experiences and progresses to the use of evidence or ideas in constructing explanations….” It is imperative that students surface not only their accurate evidence and ideas, but also their misconceptions at the beginning of the learning sequence. This information needs to be explicitly recognized in order to allow students to connect and reconcile their new conceptual understandings of content with their previous understanding.

As we moved through the learning sequence, students used other components of the Science and Engineering dimension. For example, “Developing and Using Models” encourages students to record their knowledge in various ways (see photo 4). Throughout this sequence, students made diagrams and drawings that demonstrated the relationship between the plant’s structures and their functions. Additionally, “Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information” calls for students to read “grade appropriate texts.” This is part of the Explore section that I did not include in the plan itself. After the Explore section was completed, we turned to our adopted consumable science textbook. It was then that students could compare and contrast what they had learned in their direct observations and experiences with the information from the textbook and they could relate their understandings directly to the textbook. This process gave validity to what they experienced first-hand.

Not only do the NGSS allow us to rethink what we are doing specifically in science, they make direct connections to Common Core State Standards in both language arts and mathematics. As we teach science, we will be able to provide real, authentic reasons for listening, speaking, reading, writing and engaging in mathematical thinking. Common Core and NGSS have a beautiful synergy. It is time to stop teaching factoids and begin teaching for deeper, more meaningful understandings of content. The primary grades have an awesome responsibility of setting the foundation for this synergistic type of teaching and learning.

Again, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that many of the practices my students and I were engaging in are explicitly explored and refined in NGSS. I hope that this 5E learning sequence has highlighted some of the NGSS components for you. This lesson is just a beginning for me, and I hope that when our new science standards are adopted, primary teachers come to embrace the wonderful opportunities they provide for our young students.

Please, visit the NGSS website: http://www.nextgenscience.org/ for more information. Many of the supporting documents are still available to review even though the main document has been removed for revision. The NGSS final draft will soon be available for us. I encourage all primary teachers to have a voice and comment on the final document.

Photo 1: Engage:  Student’s Authentic Questions

Photo 1 – Engage: Student’s Authentic Questions

Photo 2 – Engage:  Accessing Students’ Prior Knowledge

Photo 2 – Engage: Accessing Students’ Prior Knowledge

Photo 3 – Explore:  Classroom artichoke sample

Photo 3 – Explore: Classroom artichoke sample

Photo 4 – Explore:  Classroom garden artichoke

Photo 4 – Explore: Classroom garden artichoke

Photo 5 - Highlighting the NGSS Crosscutting Concept of “Structure and Function”

Photo 5 – Highlighting the NGSS Crosscutting Concept of “Structure and Function”

Written by Michelle French

Michelle French is a STEM Curriculum Specialist at the Tulare County Office of Education, was CSTA’s primary director (2011-2013), and is a member of CSTA.

One Response

  1. Awesome stuff Michelle!

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Where California K-12 Science Teachers Go for NGSS

Posted: Friday, August 14th, 2015

RegisterNowMedNow is the time to register for the 2015 California Science Education Conference presented by the California Science Teachers Association (CSTA).  Attending the CSTA 2015 conference is a great way to gain professional development, and network with other science teachers from across the state, and obtain new classroom ideas, in one place over three days!

The California Science Education Conference is your best source of information on implementing NGSS in your classroom.

The California Science Teachers Association hosts this conference to focus on what California science educators need to know to hone their craft, stay updated on standards, and apply best practices gleaned from experts throughout the state. Learn More…

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California Science Teachers Association

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

What Is the Role of Lecture in NGSS?

Posted: Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

Is there a role for lecture in NGSS classrooms? Anyone who has spent much time working on the NGSS knows that NGSS is learner centered, more about helping students to develop the tools to investigate the world than about teachers supplying knowledge. The traditional teaching style of the teacher talking and students taking notes seems to be opposite of this vision.

This vision is supported by research indicating that traditional lecture is not an effective way to teach science. Nobel Prize winning physicist Dr. Carl Wieman makes a strong case against lecture as a way to teach science.  Click here to read a summary of his findings. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Middle School Integrated Science – Getting Over It!

Posted: Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

6th graders design bionic hands as they study how body systems work together in a unit that was moved to 6th grade this year- photo by Peter A’Hearn

6th graders design bionic hands as they study how body systems work together in a unit that was moved to 6th grade this year- photo by Peter A’Hearn

Last spring I wrote an article/blog post that addressed the growing discussion about the decision to teach middle school integrated or discipline specific science. The article gives the rationale for the change and also some different models that were considered for how to transition.

There was a lot of feedback to that post: strongly supportive, deeply skeptical, and many follow up questions. Now that Palm Springs USD has finished the first year of the transition, I thought it would be a good time to look back and see how it went.

The middle school teacher leaders who helped to make the decision chose the “fast” transition plan below. Year 2 was what we just finished. 6th grade teachers (and kids) were introduced to structure and function in living things. 7th graders tried chemistry for the first time, and 8th graders played with waves. Everyone tried a little (or a lot) of engineering. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Staying Connected by Volunteering

Posted: Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

by Lisa Hegdahl

As an 8th grade science teacher in a district that is participating in the CA NGSS Early Implementation Initiative, I spent much of my summer break training with members of other Early Implementer districts (see NGSS Blog- Middle School Integrated Science- Getting Over It! By Peter A’hearn. Just as our students want to feel connected to each other (see Starting the School Year Right, by Joanne Michael) teachers also seek opportunities to connect and collaborate with other educators – even more so now with NGSS implementation actively happening in California. Perhaps connecting with others is the reason why, this year, the California Science Teachers Association had a record number of its members volunteer to serve on its committees. Teachers know that we are stronger when we come together to overcome our challenges. Learn More…

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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.

Where to Go in Sacramento: Field Courses for the CSTA Conference

Posted: Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

When it comes to conferences I’m pretty much a workshop guy. You get lots of great ideas in a short time, lots of choices, and you are hearing it straight from teachers. But looking at the field studies being offered at the 2015 California Education Conference in Sacramento this October, I’m thinking I might just spend the whole conference learning science on the amazing field courses being offered.

Here are your choices:

AHearn_Field_Course_Photo_1The Science in Your Beer: Chemistry, Microbiology, and Sensory Analysis at Sudwerk Brewery – Visit with the scientists at the UC Davis Brewing Program, the yeast geeks at White Labs, and the brewers of Sudwerk Brewery to learn about the biochemistry and microbiology that goes into the beer you love to drink. We will share NGSS aligned activities (classroom appropriate) on reaction rate and population biology. You will also explore the chemistry of beer flavor and learn how to make taste testing scientifically rigorous! Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.