NSTA Conference in Chicago…
So here we are in year 2 of transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). By “we” I mean Washington State and my school district, but since these are national standards, most 3-4 year “NGSS Transition Plans” are very similar. I went to the 5-day national conference (NSTA = National Science Teachers Association) hoping to get help for several areas of our own transition. The national community of science educators is simply amazing…so knowledgeable, hard-working, and generous in sharing their resources, invented tools, and lessons learned. I gathered as much as I could, and now have a treasure trove of NGSS transition supports that will keep me busy for months to come.
I’ll describe each conference nugget with a too-short blurb plus a link to more information. Which of these is interesting or important to you? Do you have other resources to add?
NGSS@NSTA Share-a-Thon – I had a half-hour to visit about 25 stations manned with folks telling their stories of implementing NGSS where they teach. Awesome! I collected many handouts, took pictures, and engaged in rapid Q & A about work that resonated with my own. I was especially engaged with the K-5 teachers at Table 16, “NGSS in Elementary School.” These folks shared a number of resources that their PLC was using to support student thinking and discourse over the course of an investigation. I asked them for nuggets of wisdom about “KLEWS charts,”and they said, “Make them big (like, 4-5 feet!), and be selective about which student contributions to post.” Talk moves and talk formats were especially important instructional practices that they’ve been implementing in their PLCs. It was noteworthy to me that these folks are continuing to focus on effective instructional practices as they transition to NGSS.
Full-day PD Institute (engineering) – This pre-conference workshop deepened my understanding of engaging students in engineering, gave me experience with new tools, and set me up for designing an engineering activity within existing science units. What should be included when posing engineering challenges to students? The “Design Brief” is a standardized, 1-page format for posing engineering problems. I like the potential for groups of teachers to use Design Briefs to build shared expectations and practices across many engineering experiences for students at their school. How can students systematically evaluate different solutions to a problem? A “Decision Matrix” tool is a table that lists and prioritizes the criteria that will be used to evaluate students’ designs. We finished the day by making a Design Brief that can be used in our 5th-grade “Landforms” unit.
Vendors! – Every conference has vendors–some selling, others giving freely. One of the freely-giving was the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). Their “Biointeracitve” program includes numerous high-quality, free instructional materials for high school science–video, mini-units, interactive apps. A group of our Biology teachers is already preparing to use “The Beak of the Finch“–real data, video, and lesson plans based on a 40-year study of bird traits that help them to survive on an isolated island in the Galapagos. Another HHMI resource that surprised me with its potential for high school is the HHMI “Holiday Lectures.” The 2015 lectures, “Biodiversity in the Age of Humans,” are about 25 minutes each, given by current field researchers who use visual tools and evidence to make understandable the compelling ecological challenges (and solutions) that we face. These kinds of materials are simply not available in our current instructional materials.
Workshops focused on “dimensions” of NGSS – So many fine workshops! I’ll highlight three that provided nice tools that help teachers support students in the NGSS Science & Engineering Practices (SEP) and Crosscutting Concepts (CCC):
SEP #7, “Engaging in Argument from Evidence” – Katherine McNeill has coauthored well-known materials such as What’s Your Evidence? Her NSTA session was titled “I Introduced the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning Framework…Now What?” In addition to writing scaffolds that help students structure their arguments, this session presented activity structures to engage students in critiquing anonymous or peer-written arguments. Check out this new resource that McNeill is developing: Instructional Leadership for Science Practices.
SEP #2, “Developing and Using Models” – The professional development folks from BSCS led an active session titled “Engaging Students in Making Sense of Phenomena with Data and Models.” I really like their “Analogy Map” tool, which helps students to systematically relate a model to the phenomenon that it represents. Our 7th-grade phenomenon was a hot air balloon; the model was a bunch of jiggling ball bearings in a closed petri dish. The analogy map was partially completed, and challenged us to relate parts of the model to the balloon, the air particles, and the air’s temperature.
Crosscutting Concepts – Jennifer Gottlieb and Mike Klein’s session was titled “Creating Meaning Through the Crosscutting Concepts.” After engaging us in looking at 4th grade and 11th grade student work for evidence of their use of CCC #5 (Energy & Matter: Flows, Cycles, Conservation), Jen & Mike suggested a powerful, ongoing strategy (check out slide 24+ in their presentation). Put the Crosscutting Concepts on the wall with mini-blurbs, refer to them in-the-moment to call out specific CCCs being used in text or speech, and attach samples of student work on the wall next to the CCC that it illustrates. Of course, this was quite a moment for me to discover that Jen & Mike–working in Michigan–are thinking about the Crosscutting Concepts in a way that resonates with the CORElaborate post, “The Reasoning Problem,” just before the NSTA conference.
That’s it! (whew!) Which of these nuggets is interesting or important to you? Do you have other resources to add?