There it was. HS.PS3.1: Create a computational model to calculate the change in the energy of one component in a system when the change in energy of the other component(s) and energy flows in and out of the system are known.
As my fellow teachers rolled into the first day of summer break with visions of trips to the beach with their families or plane flights to South Africa, I rolled my chair up to the table with the other curriculum leads and jabbed my finger into the bold text next to HS.PS3.1.
“That’s what we’ve been missing in Chemistry. We don’t spend nearly enough time on thermochemistry, and it would be cake to teach Hess’s Law.” My fellow Chem teachers leaped at the opportunity, as we don’t truly have a Thermo unit in our curriculum. Yet.
In a world where we’re constantly tempted by the easy solution and the quick fix, we always push our students to review all the possible choices instead of jumping immediately to a conclusion at the first glimmer of a correct response. And like our kids that reflexively reach for distractor responses like cheese in a mouse trap, we teachers often leap at that first “correct” response, the low-hanging fruit on how to appear like we are making strides towards a Next Gen aligned curriculum.
So when our district’s Science TOSA Bill asked “How can we better incorporate Next Gen Science Standards into our Chemistry Curriculum?” during our August PD days, I pointed my finger at HS.PS3.1 with pride, said “Hess’s Law. Boom.” and figuratively dropped the mic.
Bill said “Great – what Cross-Cutting Concepts and Science & Engineering Practices are you presenting that content through?”
In describing my job I always call myself a Science Teacher. Science comes first, teacher comes second. That reflects how I approached curriculum planning – Science Content first, with the Teaching part to come later. Yet, in states all across the country like Michigan, we science teachers are intentionally reframing the discussion around what Science looks like. We want to teach students that science isn’t a prescribed set of questions with known cookie-cutter answers, but rather we strive to focus students on the process of science – the process of asking questions that lead to data collection that leads to newer and better questions.
Our current students are growing up in a world that has always had high-speed internet, where many of them have never cracked open an encyclopedia to find an answer but almost all of them have asked Google or Siri what the molar mass of Sodium Chloride is. These are kids that don’t need to be taught to memorize content but need to be taught how to sift through the garbage to find the content and need practice on what to do once you find the content.
With that frame of mind, it seems only logical that what we teach should focus a lot more on the process of developing good questions, filtering out noise, using data and evidence to back up claims, and solving problems with information. How can I expect students to do that when they graduate if they don’t have authentic opportunities to practice during their school careers?
I can’t claim to have solved every problem, but now when I tell people I’m planning to teach Hess’s Law, I don’t point to HS.PS3.1 anymore – I point to SEP 5 (Using Mathematical and Computational Thinking) and SEP 6 (Constructing Explanations and Designing Solution) and have students look at alternative sources of energy that contribute less heat waste to the environment. As unnatural as it will feel at first, we science teachers need to lead the way by practicing more intentionally what we teach.
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