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: 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…