March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Time for Practices

Posted: Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

by Pete A’Hearn

This is a strange time for those of us who have been following the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) closely.  We are excited and ready to dive in, but there is still a period of public comment and then the California Board of Education won’t make a final decision about adoption until November. Assuming that happens, it will be a few years before there is a California State Framework and assessment plan in place. In the meantime we are still being held accountable for the California State Standards, the CST test this year, and maybe next year. So what do we do now?

It is time to play with the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices and see what you can do in your classroom to move in that direction. This weird 15% of the school year between testing and the end of instruction is the perfect time to try something new. If your experimenting doesn’t work well or maybe falls flat on its face you only have to live with it for another few weeks.

Ways to take the leap:

Get your students to engineer and design as if the future of the human race depended on it (it might)! If you teach Earth science, build earthquake-resistant structures or design a passive solar building. Physics and chemistry teachers can refine designs for alternative energy, 8th grade teachers can launch water rockets to explore gravity, motion, and forces. Fourth grade teachers can help students design circuits or hand pollinators, and/or come up with a way to protect biodiversity in your area.

Consider thinking more deeply about models. We all use them, from the paper double helix to the ball and stick chemical compounds to Styrofoam moons and planets. What can they tell us about the natural world? What does the model distort or ignore? Can we make a better model that represents nature more closely?

Struggle with data. K-12 Alliance has a good process for looking at a set of data, the messier and more self-collected, the better. The process involves:

  • Make observations (without inference)
  • Come up with a visual (we teachers like graphs, but students might need more concrete visuals like pictures and number lines as a scaffold for understanding graphs)
  • Make inferences
  • Ask questions
  • Collect more data

Argue and insist on using evidence to support arguments. Evidence is what makes it science! Otherwise it’s just arguing.

This is going to be a big change. Don’t be afraid to take risks and be willing to fail. I would love to hear about how you are already using the practices and what experiments you are going to try.

Next issue- What’s Up With Those Cross Cutting Concepts?

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

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