Merging Science and Common Core with "Claims, Evidence, and Reasoning"

This morning I attended a professional development workshop at the Museum of Science titled, “Merging Science into the Common Core.” The program was facilitated by Massachusetts educators, Cecilia Owens of the Fay School in Southborough and Siobhan Foley of the Thompson School in Arlington.

Museum of Science Butterfly Garden via MOS Flickr stream

Cecilia and Siobhan emphasized three of the “guiding principles for English Language Arts and Literacy.” The principles state that strong ELA curriculum 1) develops thinking and language together through interactive learning. 2) draws in informational text and multimedia to build academic vocabulary and content knowledge and 3) emphasizes writing arguments, explanatory/informative texts, and narratives.

To help us connect these principals with classroom practice, participants were introduced to a number of science-centered activities including a “mystery box” observation, a reflection on bird feeder design in “Beak Business,” and a lesson encompassing mass and measurement in the balloon-based “Weight Debate.” All of these activities were what one would consider interactive by design and/or asked forced students to collect multimedia on the topic (such as the variety of beaks on birds) to build stronger claims and develop sound reasoning for the results they uncovered.

In each of the activities participants were asked to follow the “Claims, Evidence, Reasoning” or CER method of inquiry.  By performing the activities me and the other participants came to recognize the opportunities for developing student language and argumentative / evidence-based writing with very simple, scaffolded CER prompts.

Later, participants took a “field trip” through a museum exhibit to identify different ways in which the Museum of Science integrated claims, evidence, and reasoning into their interactive displays. Exhibits such as those in the “Lighthouse” room I explored presented claims as challenges for students to pursue, where evidence of the scientific concept was present by students successfully completing the challenge, much like how problem-based learning challenges presented in a classroom setting are considered best-practice for learning science.

The reasoning behind the scientific phenomena presented could be found embedded in the text associated with each demonstration. It was noted that reasoning was particularly more difficult to engage kids with in the museum. With so many interactives on hand, getting students to read the posted scientific information is a challenge, but an important one to push students towards if any understanding of the phenomena is to be achieved. For this reason we were provided with handouts to use during our exploration designed as guides to focus users on all three facets of the CER model.

CER table used for exhibit exploration at Museum of Science

 In classrooms that reasoning comes from students learning of scientific phenomena through effective texts and multimedia (see guiding principle 2!), and the opportunity to explore multiple demonstrations or simulations of the phenomena at work in order for a student to later apply their understanding to a challenge effectively.

The development day left me thinking about the activities currently performed by my students and whether or not 1) the programs adequately ask students to make claims, find evidence, and reason and 2) provide an appropriate amount of time for students to digest their experience through writing and / evidence-based argumentation with their peers. Just like the Museum of Science, a bell for dismissal or transition time to a new subject presents new opportunity for students minds to shift focus and lose the opportunity to really grasp the reasoning behind the phenomena they are observing or  manipulating. Without opportunities to put down their thoughts (while inadvertently practice skills demanded in the ELA common core) the value of the experience may diminish.

I want to continue to learn more about the value of writing in science and how we as teachers can integrate ELA (and math!) common core principles into our science curriculum without taking away from the science curriculum itself. Today was just another positive experience. Where have you found success in merging science with the common core principles?


About MrMusselman

K-5 Science Specialist for the Burlington Public Schools of Burlington, MA.
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