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New science standards: Learning from educators who have implemented them

Monday, June 13, 2016

Educators from across Iowa this week will learn about putting new science standards into practice during the Science Standards Immersion Institute in West Des Moines. Iowa’s new science standards are based on the Next Generation Science Standards, which all states can consider adopting and adapting to meet their needs. Some of the institute’s facilitators are educators who have experience implementing science standards in the classroom:

Michael Fumagalli

Mike Fumagalli has taught life science at Leyden High School in Franklin Park, Ill., for nine years.

I began my transition to Next Generation Science Standards-guided instruction as a cautious optimist. I was still early in my career and had grown in my comfort in the classroom. I felt the more routine I had in my teaching from year to year, the easier it would become and the more effective I would be. I felt more productive in long-term planning because I could make copies for one month at a time and practically teach a lesson blind-folded.   

However, I came to a critical realization soon thereafter. I was getting bored. Instead of teaching for six years, I realized I had taught one year, six times. I realized I was seeking the routine and comfort in educating kids, not the innovation and exploration. Additionally, I realized if I was bored with myself, I couldn’t imagine what my students must think of me. So, cautious about the idea of “standards,” I saw new expectations in the NGSS as an opportunity to get better at my craft.

As I initially explored the performance expectations, I grew in my confidence “alignment” would be easy.  I thought “We teach most of this stuff already. We’ll have to do some more modeling and maybe a few other things, but I think we are good.”

As I was selected to participate in developing model science curriculum for Illinois, I soon realized many of my prior understandings about the NGSS were, in fact, misconceptions. I was introduced to the concept of three-dimensional learning and coherence, where students use science and engineering practices meaningfully to make sense of important science ideas and crosscutting concepts as tools to assist that learning.  

I went on a journey that completely transformed my classroom in a seemingly indescribable way. My students who were typically bored were now engaged because they were meaningfully pursuing answers to their own questions. Anything I, personally, had grown accustomed to had been replaced by newfound energy and enthusiasm. I was excited about teaching again. That began several years of learning, experimenting, revising, and sharing the things I had learned. To put it simply, learning the true vision of the NGSS revolutionized my understanding and effectiveness in teaching and learning science.    

Patty Whitehouse

Patty Whitehouse teaches science and engineering to first-through-fourth graders at Goudy Technology Academy in Chicago, Ill.

I think the biggest “aha” moment for me in my transition to using the new standards was truly understanding the phrase “Going from “learning about” to “figuring out.” It’s OK for students to not know the right answer right now. Rather, my focus has shifted to help students be able to articulate what they have figured out so far. This approach constantly brings me back to the standards. What have the students have figured out so far? Is that what I had intended? What else do they need to figure out? How can I provide the opportunity for them to figure out some other things?

The new standards ask me to change a lot about the way I teach, and I realized it wouldn't happen all at once. So I don’t only ask what the students have figured out so far, I also ask it of myself. What have I figured out so far about using the standards? Did it work the way I thought it would? What do I want to change? What can I add next time?

Tricia Shelton

Tricia Shelton teaches anatomy and physiology, integrated science and biology at the Boone County School District in Florence, Ky.

I have described my Next General Science Standards (NGSS) journey as “climbing a mountain” requiring persistence and a sense of purpose. This sense of purpose is grounded in the beautiful vision of the Next Generation Science Standards and A Framework for K-12 Science Education. My journey began by studying the framework changing my perspective about how instruction should be designed in my classroom. The framework and NGSS are grounded in the current research on how kids best learn science. My learning resulted in the following transformations in my classroom:

  1. The focus moves from “learning about” to “figuring out.” We chase evidence, not the one “right” answer.
  2. Students must be working to explain a phenomena or solve a problem.
  3. Students build understanding over time as they are engaged in 3D learning.
  4. By needing to engage in 3D learning to explain phenomena, the students help drive classroom instruction and create coherent storylines.

My journey continues through partnership and collaboration.  I have much appreciation to have my students as partners in creating an NGSS classroom experience. We are energized by the constant iteration. In addition, I have an incredible professional learning network of teachers and educators from across the nation to collaborate and converse with as we translate the NGSS into instruction. This team effort is the key to climbing the mountain.  Our classroom successes are directly related to three elements: a guide that gives us purpose (the framework, NGSS, and resources like the NGSS@NSTA Hub), partners who are willing to persist (my students and the classroom research approach), and my professional learning network who gives me perspective. Through my experiences with the NGSS, I have seen how common language around a shared vision provides an opportunity for teachers, students, and classrooms to be part of something bigger than what four classroom walls can contain. There is not one path to follow, but there is a vision and shared challenges. Carve out your classroom’s path up the mountain. Find your team of support. As you find things you value, share your journey to impact the thinking of others and collectively work towards figuring out the NGSS.  

Check out the entire Climbing the NGSS Mountain article.

Michael Novak

Michael Novak is a middle school science teacher in Morton Grove, Ill.

Planning coherent instructional units aligned to NGSS is one of the most challenging tasks I have ever tried to do. And it is also the most rewarding.

It is rewarding, because I’ve seen what happens in the classroom when that alignment is just right. Students working with each others’ ideas, reveling in what we as a class don’t know, curious about so many things we want to find, willing to go public with new ideas, excited to defend and reconcile competing models, and anticipating the next investigation, the next question, and the next piece of the puzzle we have to figure out.
That type of classroom culture and engagement is so different from what I used to focus on and what I used to experience from eighth graders in my classroom. I remember the days when my focus in my science instruction looked like this over the year: start the year with three weeks of an experimental design unit and spend the rest of the year covering lots of content, include a few isolated labs, and do very little three-dimensional learning. Sheepishly, I have to admit, this was my routine for almost the first eight of the last 18 years that I have taught science.

It obvious to me now what started to change everything for me. It was when my two colleagues Lisa Brody and Keetra Tipton and I decided to take a risk together back in 2004. Dissatisfied with the lack of science materials that we were using that were nothing more than an eclectic collection of activities, we started looking for radically new approaches to teaching science, that were accessible for students and more research-based.

Though there were very few exemplars out there, we stumbled on two that looked promising: “How Can I Make New Stuff From Old Stuff?” by Joe Krajcik and “Where Have All The Creatures Gone?” by Brian Reiser. We were so excited to try them. We agreed to pilot them at the same time.

The pilot experience was amazing. Scary and hard, but amazing. We wanted our students to have more experiences where modeling, explanation, and argumentation (practices that were previously foreign to our classrooms) were the primary generators of new understandings for students. We wanted more units where the purpose for developing new science understandings was always in service of answering students’ questions about phenomena that they observed in the world around them.

We reached out to the authors, Brian and Joe, asking if we could help, learn, pilot, and crash test some of the new units they were developing, as part of a larger instructional materials design project they were working on. We were so excited when they eagerly invited us to help them in this work.

From those years of working together, we learned a lot about what three-dimensional learning looks like, and how really challenging it is to teach and learn that way. What I am most excited to share with others though, is how incredibly fun and rewarding it is for both the students and for the teacher. I know I am still just scratching the surface of what that really ambitious teaching and really coherent learning for students in science could look like in the years to come. I am so excited to be a part of that same journey with you here in Iowa


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Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on April 25, 2018 at 9:25am.