I’ve been spending a lot of time of late examining boxed “NGSS ready” curriculums that might serve as the backbone to my district’s elementary curriculum-in-development. The sales experiences have often left me with more questions than answers about what me and other curriculum coordinators will need to do to fully implement and facilitate NGSS classrooms and curriculum. It was with this backdrop I left Burlington for NSTA Philadelphia to participate in a “Discover the NGSS Train-the-Trainer” workshop designed specifically for science education coaches, administrators, and PD facilitators. The workshop provided opportunities to connect with educators like me and wrestle with the NGSS and its implications for classroom curriculum and instruction. I left the conference mentally exhausted from the densely-packed two-day experience, but carrying with me some important takeaways:
#1: Cohesively intertwining the NGSS dimensions into classroom lessons and units is a labor of love (with the potential for fabulous results!)
High school science teacher (and science edu social media mogul), Tricia Shelton kicked us off with an immersive experience in three dimensional learning, by watching short clips of her own students engaged in articulating models of the urinary system.
Everyone in the room was impressed to see the potential understanding students command when teachers step beyond teaching to the content and structure their classroom and lessons to deepen student understanding of the practices and cross cutting concepts as well. After identifying the three dimensions her students utilized during the lesson we “immersed ourselves” in an erosion investigation where we able to both see and “feel” a three dimensional lesson.
Through this see it, hear it, live it experience facilitators (and the teachers that stand to benefit when we bring our experiences back) are more apt to be able to identify the presence of three dimensional learning in their own classroom and/or craft three dimensional learning experiences in the future.
#2: Modeling and exploring phenomena is at the core of NGSS curriculum.
It can be challenging to identify “phenomena”, events that are both comprehensible to students and rooted in one or more disciplinary ideas. “Anchor phenomena”, however take it one step further. These events must be complex enough and engaging enough for students to yearn to develop their own explanations of over several lessons, while leading students toward achieving bundled performance expectations (more on that later.) For Tricia’s class, students tried to come to a scientific understanding of how a healthy high school athlete was able to die due to a water overdose. For my breakout group exploring the topic of climate change, we bounced between several phenomena, from extreme weather patterns and temperature data in various regions of the world, to glacier calving, to changes in animal migrations, to the conflict in Syria.
#3: Storylines will take you from constructing strong NGSS lessons to constructing strong NGSS units.
It is a disservice to our students and ourselves to teach disciplinary core ideas in isolation, even if we are masterfully doing so using the practices while looking at them “through the lens” of cross cutting concepts. Not only will students miss out on making connections across core ideas and the larger science disciplines, but teachers will likely run out of classes to meet all of the performance expectations! Effective storylines combine the exploration of anchor phenomena and additional phenomena through the eight science practices. They examine these phenomena using the cross cutting concepts during their practice in the business of “sense-making”. Storylines carry the content over several weeks and help students draw connections between several disciplinary core ideas. Storylines ultimately lead students to be capable of completing multiple performance expectations under their umbrella, sewing connections between science disciplines and the interconnectedness of all the practices when “doing science.”
#4: Science educators are collectively on a proverbial white-water rafting excursion.
Halfway through our workshop, the moderators used photographs to formatively assessed our comfort with both seeing how three dimensional learning could take shape in our classroom and how comfortable we were with facilitating such changes across our school or district. There were several extreme sports photos to choose from. I ultimately selected the white water rafting photo, mindful of the fact that everyone in the room was “paddling furiously” with an endpoint in the back of our minds, but openly aware of the strong “currents” pulling on us and the obstacles (both hidden and observable) in our way. The workshop was mentally and physically taxing with long hours pouring over documents, appendices, and flow charts. Facilitating professional development designed to meet similar goals in our own districts with educators less familiar with coming science standards changes will be a challenge. It is important for all of us to not become overwhelmed with the challenges and pressures placed upon us, and stay focused on keeping the best course possible, mindful of our long term goals of a scientific literacy for all students.