The vision presented in The Framework for K-12 Science Education requires educators to shift their thinking and practices as we transition to the NGSS. To me, two of the biggest shifts are using phenomenon to drive student learning and intentionally designing learning opportunities that are three dimensional. I am hearing that some teachers are finding it difficult to return to the phenomenon between learning activities, either because their learning activities are not well connected to the phenomenon or because it is hard to redirect the focus of the classroom when students may be in different phases of the learning process. Some teachers feel that student sense making around phenomena is just one more thing that they will need to grade. In this blog post, I hope to share some insights on why phenomena should drive the learning and how to refocus the classroom using tools to promote student dialogue. I also want share this very important idea: It is not necessary that you grade the sense making process surrounding phenomena! It is much more important that you listen and look for evidence of sense making and do your best to promote the sense making process with students.
The EQuIP Rubric
Facilitating Student Dialogue
The best way to figure out what students are thinking, is to listen to them talk! Revisiting phenomenon does not need to be a chore or one more thing on the TO DO list for students. It should be organic and interesting as they are trying to make sense of the world around them. It may help to have white boards or butcher paper on a table to help students express their ideas, but this should not be a requirement. Try and mix up the learning strategies to keep the sense making process fun and interesting.
If you are struggling to find the time to revisit phenomenon, consider using a system like "Phenomenal Fridays" where you spend the first half or more of the class discussing and asking questions about the phenomenon. Here are some strategies that can be used when revisiting phenomenon to help promote student dialogue and sense-making:
No matter the strategy used, students should be engaged in the sense making process. We are no longer explaining the science to students, we are facilitating the sense making process. It is fine if some students are further along in their sense making than others. Those who are further along find ways to clearly express their ideas and those who are struggling benefit from hearing these ideas from other students. It is a win-win!
I hope you find some of the resources provided useful and wish you the best as we all continue on our NGSS learning journey!
Cari Williams is a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) for the Tustin Unified School District in Southern California. She holds a MS in Instructional Design and Technology from Cal State Fullerton and works on the side as a consultant writing science and STEAM curriculum and training teachers. After working for 12 years in the classroom as a middle school science and STEAM teacher, she transitioned into the role of Digital Learning Coach in 2013. In this role, Cari helped teachers innovate curriculum and shift pedagogies through the integration of educational technologies. Her most current work as a TOSA is focused on engineering design in robotics, computer science, and Makerspaces. She is an official VEX Robotics event partner hosting tournaments for teams from around Southern California as well as leading 28 robotics programs servicing over 100 teams in the Tustin Unified School District. Although her expertise has taken her deep into STEAM education, she remains passionate and engaged in helping teachers transition to the NGSS through participating as a Science Peer Review Panelist for Achieve and as a Professional Learning Facilitator for NSTA.