Students Apply NGSS Science Practices in Environmental Stewardship
Posted: Thursday, January 14th, 2016
by Deborah Tucker, Bill Andrews, and Kathryn Hayes
Regardless of the grade level(s) you teach and the ability levels of your students, if you are looking for collaborative projects that get your students excited about learning while applying the NGSS science practices, read on! We surveyed California teachers who participated in a 4-month Environmental Education (EE) Professional Development (PD) institute in Spring 2015 and found they were re-energized and truly inspired as they facilitated student-driven environmental stewardship projects that encouraged student use of NGSS science practices. Based on participating teacher feedback, your passion for teaching may also be renewed and your students will be proud that they made a difference for the environment!
EE Professional Development Institute
Science practices can be taught at all grade levels in a variety of environment-based projects, as evidenced by 28 teachers (K-12) from the Los Angeles area with an average of 13.5 years of teaching experience. The teachers participated in a 4-month environmental education professional development institute and received in-depth content instruction from experts provided by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the California Environmental Education Foundation (CEEF) in partnership with the CA Department of Water Resources, Sandia National Laboratories, and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District. The institute also focused on effective pedagogy (including the 5Es), required teacher facilitation of a student-driven environmental stewardship project, and provided follow-up support from both the local California Regional Environmental Education Community (CREEC) Network Coordinator and a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance. The teachers were asked to incorporate two NGSS science practices (#6 explaining and #8 communicating) into the student work.
The students determined the topic and conducted the research. Projects ranged from water conservation and water quality testing to energy audits, school gardens, and campus beautification. Most projects contained a communication component, for example, a local campaign to “pick up your trash,” a parent “Eco” night, or a digital storybook.
All stewardship projects can be viewed on the CEEF website. This list includes descriptions of the environmental benefits of the stewardship projects, as well as the teachers’ observations of student engagement in the stewardship projects.
Research Conducted on the Institute
The teachers’ shifts in instructional practices while engaged in the institute were the subject of a research study. Pre/post quantitative data analyses demonstrated that teachers made statistically significant instructional shifts in their integration of stewardship, their use of reasoning, explanation, and argument (Science and Engineering Practices 6 and 7), and data collection and analysis (Science and Engineering Practice 3 and 4). Teachers were able to incorporate grade-appropriate science practices into their instruction. (See Appendix C: Progression of the Science and Engineering Practices in Grades K–12 of the draft CA Science Framework), successfully aligning them with several of California’s Common Core (CCSS) anchor standards (e.g., Reading 1, 2, 8; Writing 1, 2, 7, and 8).
Qualitative data analyses of teacher interviews and reflections also demonstrate increase in the use of the NGSS practices and shifts in integrating EE activities and stewardship into instruction. The research indicated the following three key findings:
- Environmental stewardship is an effective vehicle for science practices, with the inclusion of science practices “legitimizing” EE in schools. From a high school science teacher, “The advantages of integrating the NGSS practices and CCSS into the environment stewardship projects is that you will be teaching the students what needs to be taught at their grade level and at the same time you are helping them learn the importance of taking care of the environment and how they can become advocates…” A high school teacher wrote how essential it is to bring the practices to life. “I think that integrating environmental stewardship strategies into your teaching practice will bring life into the NGSS practices [emphasis added]. So when you have standards like that, they tend to be abstract. But there are things like energy flows [integrating the crosscutting concepts of Energy and Matter: Flow, cycles and conservation], … if you use the framework of environmental stewardship and figure out how to teach the standards…then you can make the NGSS practices come alive for the kids. You’ve got to have something real at the core.”
- Students were engaged in and excited about learning and exhibited positive As another teacher stated, “Students have become more aware of their personal responsibilities as stewards of the environment.”
- Teachers noticed the integration of NGSS science practices was seamlessly applied in the stewardship projects. One grade 5 teacher whose class worked on campus beautification wrote of her students, “Then they actually started tallying, going to different areas of the school to see if they could notice any different trends when there was more litter, to kind of get an idea of what’s happening. Like are the students walking out to the yard and just throwing their trash anywhere?…So they were walking around and tallying and taking notes. Then we brought it back together, talked about the data and why they think the results were the way they were.”
In the context of this stewardship project, the teacher combined practice 8 (communication) with both practice 3 (Planning and Carrying Out Investigations) and practice 4 (Analyzing and Interpreting Data).
What does this mean for California’s teachers?
Whether you’re teaching science, math, or environmental science, you can incorporate the NGSS science practices into your instruction. Make the science practices an integral part of your curriculum, integrating them into every activity your students do, and consider using environmental stewardship as a means to powerfully motivate your students and recharge your enthusiasm for teaching.
Bybee, R. W. 1997. Achieving scientific literacy: From purposes to practices. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Loucks-Horsley, S., K. Stiles, S. Mundry, N. Love, and P. Hewson. 2009. Designing professional development for teachers of science and mathematics. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Deborah Tucker is an Independent Science Education Consultant and a past president of CSTA. Bill Andrews is an Environmental Education Consultant and member of CSTA. Kathryn Hayes is Assistant Professor, Dept. of Educational Leadership, CSU East Bay.
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…