March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Trying NGSS with Paper Clips and Gummy Worms

Posted: Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

by Joanne Michael

By now, most teachers have heard of NGSS, know that it is not going away, and have realized they will be teaching this new set of standards within the next few years. While some are excited at the possibility of new happenings, others are terrified at the prospect of having to change curriculum that they have spent years fine-tuning and tweaking. A few districts are implementing NGSS early, working out the kinks and creating guides for the rest of the state, but what about the teachers that want to venture out and try the new curriculum without the support of the entire district? It seems daunting, but there are some ways to ease into the NGSS world.

I am not in an “Early Implementer” district, so I have relied on colleagues in other districts, resources online, and various books to help me begin to get a handle on it. I am not fully implementing, but have begun to do individual lessons that overlap both the current science standards and NGSS. It is challenging for me to give the more “open-ended” lessons, as I am so used to holding onto the reins, but once I started seeing the results, it gave me the confidence that this really is helping the students internalize the information.

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One of my first times doing this experience was doing a lesson called “Save Fred.” I did it in my 4th grade classes, giving them the opportunity to work towards the 3-5 Engineering Design DCI’s (defining engineering problems, developing possible solutions, and optimizing the design solution). There are variations all over the place of this activity, but the basic idea is that a group of 4 students (no more, but could be less) have a gummy life saver, a dixie cup with a gummy worm resting on top, and 4 paper clips.

Poor Fred went for a ride in a boat, but it capsized into the lake! Fred DOES have a life saver…but he wasn’t wearing it at the time, and he can’t swim. He was able to climb on top of his boat, but is going to need to wear that life saver around his middle if he is going to be able to get help! There are some issues though- humans’ skin is extremely toxic to Fred, so no students can actually touch Fred with their fingers (or other parts of their bodies!), and any tools cannot hurt Fred (paper clips stabbed through Fred’s middle would not be a good idea to try to save him). If Fred falls into the “water” (touches the table) without the life saver, he “dies”, and everything must be re-started (with the exception of bending the paper clips). Students look at the materials, and draw out a possible solution, explaining what they did, and why they made those decisions. As a table, they compare designs, and either select one design outright, or (most often), create a combined solution. After showing it to me, I give them the paper clips (I hold them back, so they can’t start playing early, but show them what they will be working with when designing solutions), and they get at it!

The most difficult part of this activity for me is seeing the students struggle, and not helping them when they ask for it! The ONLY parameters I give are the ones above, and I have seen some pretty unusual solutions! It gives me an opportunity to see how students interact in groups, their problem-solving skills (both individually and in teams), and the look of elation on their faces when that piece of candy is successfully placed around the gummy worm’s middle is unexplainable! It’s a great introduction to the NGSS world- we’re no longer teaching them straight out what they are to know. Instead, through experiences, opportunities, (and some traditional lessons mixed in), they are learning more about their world, and REALLY ingesting it. Give it a try!

kids

photos taken by Joanne Michael

Written by Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael is a K-5 Science Specialist for Manhattan Beach Unified, former CSTA Upper Elementary director, and is a current CSTA member.

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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.

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Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.