Saturday, October 3, 2015

My students are taking ownership of the NGSS - Part 1: The Practices

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In a recent conversation with a group of colleagues, I was surprised to hear comments such as:
"I teach science, this NGSS are just the same content standards I already use",  "I use inquiry all the time; my lessons are already NGSS aligned" and finally "If you are teaching the content, students will grasp the crosscutting concepts. I don't need to teach the connections". This got me thinking about just what the NGSS asks educators to do, and what it means in terms of guiding student learning.

At its most basic, the NGSS tells me:

  • What to teach: Disciplinary Core Ideas
  • How to teach it: Science and Engineering Practices
  • Why I teach it: Cross Cutting Concepts

I teach middle school, and my district has not decided whether they will adopt an integrated or science domain model. However, even if I don't know this yet, I decided that I needed to begin working towards analyzing my lessons to determine whether they are NGSS aligned, and to make the alignment visible so that students can really become immersed in the content. For this, I need a different mindset.

The question then became, "How do I get my students to think like scientists so they can make the connections necessary to apply the cross-cutting concepts?" In my quest to answer this question I asked my students to recognize when they were applying the Science and Engineering practices in my classroom. I provided students with the same yes/no questions I use when I am developing my lessons and gave them sentence frames to compose their answers.

The following examples represent student responses to the same lesson.

The fact that both students identified different practices is not a problem. They just have different perspectives on what they did to develop an understanding of the content. That in itself is a win towards making "thinking like scientists" visible and NGSS alignment

Going back to the original conversation, and specifically the comment "I use inquiry all the time; my lessons are already NGSS aligned", I would say, unless the students are asking the questions and developing their own investigations, the lesson is not NGSS aligned. Inquiry is not equal to NGSS alignment. However, having the students think like scientists as they develop their understanding is a first step.

What do you think?