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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