November/December 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 2

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.”

Modeling

One of the easiest Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) for me to start with was Developing and Using Models. Using my old curriculum, I adapted lessons so the learners were including modeling into what we were already doing. In third grade, our old curriculum had a heavy focus on biomes. Instead of simply reading about the biomes, the learners created models of each biome. This included showing the interactions amongst the organisms residing in each one. Since then, I’ve realized the importance of revising models. If I were to do it again, I would begin the unit by having learners create an initial model to show what they think the interactions amongst organisms might be. This would allow me to tap into the learner’s prior knowledge of the topic. Later, after doing some investigations and reading, the learners would go back to revise their model. I have found it useful for learners to use a different color to show revisions. It helps them see their own learning as the unit progresses.

Collaborative Conversations

I recently heard a colleague share a sentiment from an engineer: teach teamwork. What better way to start with the idea of teamwork than with collaborative conversations? Since we were already required to teach collaborative conversations as part of the Common Core State Standards, it made sense to make that one of my beginning steps. It also seemed to be a natural starting place for beginning to implement the SEP of Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information. Many of my learners were already familiar with collaborative conversations in math and language arts. We transferred many of the same skills over to science, including being an active listener, waiting your turn to talk, and responding to the other person’s thought before expressing your own idea. To help learners transfer their skills to science, I provided them with sentence stems, using an adaptation of a “Think Like a Scientist” placemat shared by the Oakland Unified School District, another district participating in the Early Implementer Initiative. Last year I developed my learners’ skills even further by working with constructive feedback regarding their modeling. Learners practiced explaining their models using scientific language. Their partners were responsible for sharing one part of their partner’s model that they thought showed the science well, and one part that they felt could be improved with an explanation as to why. At first, many learners used a very broad statement as to what was done well and what they could improve. However, by the end of the year, they were questioning each other for clarification and giving specific examples for improvement.

Crosscutting Concepts

#5

During one of our early trainings, the CrossCutSymbols created by Peter A’Hearn were introduced to the Early Implementers as a resource for Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs). Being a visual learner myself, I latched onto these symbols. It was a perfect way to make connections to the crosscutting concepts in my classroom. I hung each of the seven posters up in my classroom. Then, as one became apparent in our learning, I could refer to the relevant symbol. Soon enough, the learners started making their own connections to the CCCs and referring to the symbol themselves. A few of them even utilized them in other disciplines. I’ll never forget the little boy who pointed to the cause and effect symbol during our literacy lesson. By using the crosscutting symbols mentioned above, I started to get more familiar with the CCCs myself. It became easier to add questioning into my lessons to ensure that my prompts led us towards the CCC that best matched our content. In the force unit that I helped to create with my district NGSS team, we were trying to get learners to see that there are patterns in motion so that they can later predict motion (3-PS2.A). We utilized the following question to do so: “How is this activity similar to Explore #1 or Explore #2? How is it different?” Even though “pattern” is never directly called out in the question, they actively engage in finding patterns as they observe the similarities and differences between the investigations.

Prompts and Questions

As I mentioned above, my use of the CrossCutSymbols helped me to increase my own understanding of the CCCs. It became very apparent that refining my questioning and prompting skills was the next step for me to take in my NGSS journey. Over the last few years, largely through a TLC Lesson Study process with K-12 Alliance, I’ve come to realize just how critical questioning can be in an NGSS lesson. Phrasing a question just the right way can lead to a rich scientific discussion. At the beginning, my questions were rarely of that caliber. In fact, many were just some simple twists to the prompts provided by our old curriculum. There were many times I would think of a better way to phrase a question after a lesson, and I would write it down for reference the following year. As time went on, my questioning became more strategic. Now I know that when there is a specific SEP or CCC I wish to bring out, I do so through fashioning my questions and prompts to draw those ideas from learners. For example, in the force unit our district NGSS team created, we utilized the following question: “Can you think of a way scientists would show the effect of a learner pushing on the desk?” Before, I may have simply prompted them to draw what happened to the desk. However, this easy change in the question gets the learners thinking about the cause and effect relationship (CCC) of the learner and the desk. It also gets them thinking about how to develop a model (SEP) in a way that shows the scientific cause and effect relationship.

Three years ago, I was a very overwhelmed third-grade teacher who began with the simplest of instructions – take a baby step. So, that is exactly what I did. Taking one baby step at a time led me to a greater understanding of how to improve my classroom science practices. After three years of trials and tribulations, when I now see the eyes of my learners light up every time I mention that it is science time, I realize that it has been worth it. What will your baby step be?

Christa Dunkel is a third-grade teacher at Vernon E. Greer Elementary School, a Core Lead Teacher in the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative for Galt Joint Union Elementary School District, and a member of CSTA.

Email: cdunkel@galt.k12.ca.us

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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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  • What “baby step” should I take first? 
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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.

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