It seems that one of the most important shifts for teachers in transitioning to the NGSS is learning how to facilitate the sense making process with students. We are moving towards helping students "figure out" rather than providing resources for students to "learn about". This idea is reinforced with the very first criteria of the EQuIP rubric as shown below.
Criteria 1B continues to reinforce this idea of facilitating sense-making through the use of the SEPs, DCIs, and CCCs. In order to get an "extensive" rating in this category when using the EQuIP rubric, each of the three dimensions needs to be in service of the sense-making process.
Three Strategies to Facilitate Sense-Making
In hopes of helping teachers better facilitate sense-making in their science classrooms, I would like to provide resources on the following three instructional strategies:
Driving Questions Boards- an instructional tool designed to support inquiry and project-based learning by organizing and focusing students' questions and linking them to content learning goals
Classroom Talk Protocols- instructional strategies to foster student talk in the science classroom and help to promote equitable conversations
Sense-Making Notebooks- a tool used to make student thinking visible
Driving Question Boards
A driving question board (DQB) is an instructional tool that helps to structure the process of asking questions in a science classroom in order to facilitate student sense-making throughout a unit. It also provides opportunities for students to "contextualize the content of a project based unit and provides students the opportunity to connect it to their personal experiences" (Weizman, et al., The Driving Question Board 2008). A DQB is usually a large poster that presents the driving question that can not be solved immediately surrounded by sub-questions that will be the foci of different lessons and investigations throughout the unit. Teachers direct students to return to the DQB to add evidence of learning and elicit new questions many times throughout the unit. Here is a quick summary of how this works:
1. Teacher presents the driving question through an anchoring activity/phenomenon that is used to engage students
2. Students generate questions (in groups) that interest them and they think will help make sense of both the anchoring activity/phenomenon and the driving question
3. Students write down their questions on "sticky notes"
4. Teacher then presents the sub-questions (categories representing the main learning goals of the unit)
5. Students use these categories to organize their questions and possibly ask new questions
6. Each group sends a representative to post the questions on the board or a temporary poster
7. A whole-class discussion then leads to some of the questions being merged, re-categorized or deleted
8. At the end of the lesson the teacher takes the temporary poster or "sticky notes" (take a picture of note locations) and prepares the actual DQB to be posted in the classroom for the next lesson
9. The DQB is then referred to during relevant lessons and students help to choose the order in which they answer the questions on the board by prioritizing the sub-questions.
10. Evidence of sense-making or what students have "figured out" is added to the DQB as well as any new questions that might arise after students participate in a learning activity.
Please take some time to check out this website by Gretchen Brinza who is an award winning science/STEM educator and author, pilot teacher, and research participant with the Next Gen Storylines project. There are many examples of DQBs within her website like the one shown below.
Classroom Talk Protocols
Classroom talk is vital to the sense-making process and it is important that students understand the expectations of different types of talk protocols. The talk protocols help teachers plan the purpose of the talk activity. Sometimes we may want students to revise their thinking while other times we may want students to reach consensus. Science talk helps to build language and literacy skills and talk protocols help to provide a format that promotes equitable conversation.
Here are three resources to help include more science talk and talk protocols in your classroom.
STEM Teaching Tools: Student Talk Flowchart and Protocols
Talk Science Primer (nine talk moves)
Science Talk: A Tool for Learning Science and Developing Language
STEM Teaching Tools: Talk Resource Tools: Conversational Supports
Just like scientists and engineers, student use sense-making notebooks as a tool to record observations and thoughts about phenomenon or design problems they are trying to figure out. Sense-making notebooks are unique to each scientist, engineer or student as they propose ideas, participate in investigations, collect data and refine their thinking.
Sense-making notebooks are a window into student thinking and help teachers understand and identify levels of prior knowledge, misconceptions, and conceptual understanding. They help teachers figure out the interventions needed while they help students recognize the learning process.
It is important the sense-making notebooks are used to help build understanding and value the process of how people learn. Often these are not graded because the goal of the sense-making process is on the learning and not getting the right answer.
Here are a couple resources on sense-making notebooks:
Sensemaking Notebooks: Making Thinking Visible for Both Students and Teachers
Science Notebook Corner: CA Academy of Sciences
I hope you have a great start to the new school year and some of these resources help you begin thinking about how sense-making is happening in your classroom. Let me know if you have any questions or seek support! firstname.lastname@example.org
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.