Phenomena Are Jawsome!
Posted: Tuesday, September 15th, 2015
by Jill Grace
This past August, I worked as part of the Content Cadre for the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd’s California K-8 Next Generation Science Standards Early Implementation Initiative. My partners on the Cadre were Lisa Martin-Hansen (Science Education, California State University, Long Beach) and Ed Price (Physics, California State University, San Marcos) and it was our job to provide adult-level education to our 8th grade Teacher Leaders from five southern districts/charters (High Tech High, Lakeside, Palm Springs, San Diego, and Vista) at the VIDA School in Vista. In the process, we modeled what instruction using the NGSS could look like in their classrooms.
It was no small task! As you know, the NGSS is not curriculum and currently there are no state adopted instructional materials. There is no book to tell us what to do. We had our combined content knowledge, A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012), and the California NGSS to guide us. To plan for instruction, we began by considering an overall big picture for the year. We then followed the same set of steps you might have experienced in the Statewide NGSS Roll Outs: Conceptual Flow, Phenomena-Question-Practice (PQP) Charts (adapted from the Sacramento Science Project), and the 5E Learning Sequence to plan out our institute week. Despite planning, we also did some adjusting on the fly, based on learner needs, as you will likely do in your classroom.
It was our first step, thinking about “the big picture”, that I would like to focus on here. Those of you familiar with the California K-8 NGSS Early Implementer Initiative know that participating middle schools are following the California Preferred Integrated Model. This means that middle school content is a mixture of Performance Expectations (PE) from all of the disciplines, physical science, Earth and space science, life science, and engineering. To help envision what we thought the big picture was, we started throwing out ideas of things that might allow us to bundle PE’s across disciplines. At one point, our conversation went something like this:
Ed: “What if we looked at flight in birds?”
Jill: “I will be of more use to you if we stick with something marine. Oh!!! How about sharks? ”
My thinking was that biologists who try to understand sharks have to apply understanding of physical science (think technology that uses electromagnetic radiation and acoustic transmitters) to track and study sharks. Of course, my first instinct was to impress my colleagues by showing them a video of the REMUS Shark Cam. This brief video features a submarine robot used to track and observe sharks where the hunter becomes the hunted.
After lots of oh’s and ah’s, we suddenly realized we had our phenomenon!
You’ve heard of phenomena, yes? You know, those things in the world around you that spark curiosity and make you want to know more, to ask “How is this possible? Why is this happening?” Phenomena ignite excitement and interest and have that sneaky attribute of making you want to know all of their secrets. You investigate to understand, but are often left with more questions than answers. They make you wonder. They are the backbone of science and do not respect traditional disciplinary boundaries. Because of this, phenomena speak to the nature of science and therefore the 3-dimensional nature of the NGSS and the connection between disciplines. Remember, the National Academy of Sciences selected the DCI’s because they hold explanatory power across multiple disciplines.
I have yet to meet a kid that wasn’t interested in sharks. Yes, even kids who are “landlocked”, whether they live near or far and can’t get to the beach because of geography or economics. As humans, we are naturally drawn to sharks, despite that fascination being admiration, fear, or both. The topic naturally draws out many questions. After watching the REMUS video, our room was flooded with questions.
The phenomenon held the momentum for the entire week (aka, ”unit”). We decided to name our class “Team Jawsome” and jump in with all fins (toothy humor and all). The phenomenon inspired our “unit” big idea: Biologists apply understanding of physics, programming, and engineering to understand sharks.
Basically, sharks and shark tracking served as a “story line” and gave a reason to understand the physics. This allowed us to bundle several Disciplinary Core Ideas (PS2.B, PS4.A, PS4.B, PS4.C, ESS3.C, ETS1.A, and ETS1.B). In addition, the engaging phenomenon provided a rich context for 3-dimensional learning (blending the Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts). There were times when we would “geek out on the physics”, but always returned to the context of our phenomenon when we knew there was a new challenge to tracking sharks (for example, how would we accurately tag an underwater shark from a boat when refraction affects the image we see, or how would the tag send information to a satellite or receiver).
Sharks also gave us a context for understanding the impact humans have had on the local environment and why data from shark tracking was important to help us understand that. Sharks even gave us a special engineering challenge: how could we apply understanding of electrical interactions to design a salt-water switch (switch activates the tag’s transmitter when the shark comes to the surface), and how should we encode the data transmitted? We also continued to return to our questions generated by the REMUS video and starred those questions we were gaining a new understanding through our many investigations.
Sharks also allowed us to incorporate active scientific research by partnering with CSULB’s Shark Lab, directed by Chris Lowe. Not only did he help with our preparation and understanding the phenomenon of tracking sharks, he was able to bring graduate and undergraduate research students to the Early Implementation Institute to help inspire our Teacher Leaders with their work.
I have been asked many times by teachers how to choose a phenomenon. There are probably a few key points to consider. In our case, sharks worked for us! Our team was enthusiastic about the phenomenon and we put in the leg-work (er, fin-work) spending time to make sure we understood the relevant disciplinary core ideas (DCIs), science and engineering practices (SEPs), and crosscutting concepts (CCC). At some point, each of us found that if we didn’t have knowledge in one aspect of the content related to sharks and shark tracking (for me it was having no background knowledge of digital vs. analog signals), another team member did and, and with time and being a learner ourselves, we all achieved the understanding we wanted for our teachers. Some teachers may choose a phenomenon for a single DCI, but we decided to choose one that would allow us to bundle several in an integrated way. Teacher passion/enthusiasm for a phenomenon, a willingness to dig in and learn more, and the potential of the phenomenon to allow for an integrated experience are probably important components to consider.
A special part of this process for me personally was realizing that in order to make phenomena come alive for students (in this, case, our Teacher Leaders), teachers aren’t alone. Even without the support of a major initiative, there are a lot of scientists and engineers in your community that would gladly support you – all you have to do is ask! I encourage you to tap into your local resources (college/universities, businesses, informal science education centers, even organizations with on-line support). Sometimes folks are busy and have to say no, but it never hurts to ask. When Chris Lowe said yes, I knew we would add expertise and experience to our storyline.
Finally, we asked teachers to respond to the prompt, “I used to think… now I know…” You might be interested in some of the feedback we got from the teachers related to our use of sharks as a phenomenon to integrate science:
“I used to think…
… that California’s integrated model still stayed domain specific, just within a grade level. Now I know the integrated model can integrate all three domains in a unit.
… waves should be taught in a physics setting. Now I know it can be really engaging to loop in biological factors.
… that the NGSS was more one dimensional, shifting just content, and now I know it’s more 3-dimensional as there is increased focus on cross-cutting concepts and science and engineering practices.
…that teaching NGSS would be more difficult as a teacher because of the three dimensions. Now I know how engaging and student led it can be.
… waves were boring to teach, now I know they can be fun.
… storylines to teach science in an interesting way was impossible, now I know it isn’t.
… little research happened at the undergraduate level at many CSU’s and now I know that is not the case.
… it is difficult to apply physics in a simple way to biology education and now I know that is where so much meaning is found.
… that I had to give kids answers and now I know they can explore the answers and I don’t have to be the reference book.
… NGSS was so complicated, now I know there’s a method to the madness.
… Great Whites were scary, and now I would like to know more about the research on them.
… that the issue of ocean pollution was getting worse in our area, now I know that increases in the populations of top level aquatic predators are an indicator of the “health” of our oceans is getting better. I’ll be sure to pass on this positive message to my students, that humans (through environmental legislative action) can make a relatively quick impact on the environment. Thank you.
Through the use of a compelling phenomenon, we were able to build an engaging and integrated lesson sequence that connected well with middle school teachers.
You can follow Tweets that our Cadre and Teacher Leaders Tweeted during our institute week by searching @EarlyImplement or #CANGSS with #Jawsome. If you look really hard, you’ll even find a photo of our unit conceptual flow!
Posted: Saturday, January 14th, 2017
The Council of Math/Science Educators of San Mateo County will be hosting the 41st annual STEM Conference this February 4, 2017 at the San Mateo County Office of Education. This STEM Conference is the place to get lots of new lessons and ideas to use in your classroom. There will be over twenty-five workshops and a variety of exhibitors that provide participants with a wide range of practical and realistic ideas and resources to use in their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs from Pre-K to grade 12. With California’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, we are dedicated to ensuring that we prepare our teachers to take on these educational policies.
Teachers, administrators, and parents are invited to explore the many exciting aspects of STEM education and learn about and discuss the latest news, information, and issues. This is also an opportunity to network with colleagues who can assist you in building your programs and meet new friends that share your interests and love of teaching. Register online today!
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
Achieve has launched and is facilitating an EQuIP Peer Review Panel for Science–a group of expert reviewers who will evaluate the quality and alignment of lessons and units to the standards–in an effort to identify and shine a spotlight on emerging high-quality lesson and unit plans designed for the NGSS.
If you or your state, district, school, or organization has designed NGSS-aligned instructional materials, please consider submitting these in order to help provide educators across the country with various models and templates of high-quality lesson and unit plans. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
An upcoming Perry Outreach Program on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at the Orthopaedic Institute for Children in Los Angeles, CA. The Perry Outreach Program is a free, one-day, hands-on experience for high school and college-aged women who are interested in pursuing careers in medicine and engineering. Students will hear from women leaders in these fields and try it for themselves by performing mock orthopaedic surgeries and biomechanics experiments. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
by Jessica Sawko
January 2017 has proven to be a very busy month for science education policy and CA NGSS implementation activities. CSTA has been and will be there every step of the way, seeking and enacting all options to support high-quality science education and the successful implementation of CA NGSS.
California Department of Education/U.S. Department of Education Science Double-Testing Waiver Hearing
The year started with California Department of Education’s (CDE) hearing with the U.S. Department of Education conducted via WebEx on January 6, 2017. This hearing was the final step in California’s efforts to secure a waiver from the federal government in order to discontinue administration of the old CST and suspension of the reporting of student test scores on a science assessment for two years. As reported by EdSource, the U.S. Department of Education representative, Ann Whalen, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary John King Jr., committed to making her final ruling “very shortly.” Deputy Superintendent Keric Ashley presented on behalf of CDE during the hearing and did an excellent job describing the broad-based support for this waiver in California, the rationale for the waiver, and California’s commitment to the successful implementation of a new high-quality science assessment. As previously reported, California is moving forward with its plans to administer a census pilot assessments this spring. The testing window is set to open on March 20, 2017. For more information visit New CA Science Test: What You Should Know.
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
by Jessica Sawko
The early-bird registration rates for the 65th NSTA National Conference on Science Education in Los Angeles is just days away (ends Feb. 3). And as the early-registration deadline approaches excitement is building for what is anticipated to be the largest gathering of science educators (both California and nationwide) – with attendance expected to reach 10,000 or more. If you have never had the pleasure of attending the NSTA National Conference, I recommend you visit their website with tips for newcomers that describe the various components of the event. A conference preview is also available for download. Learn More…