Life as a Phenomenon
One of the recurring themes that is arising with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) implementation, is looking for authentic phenomena to teach science ideas. A phenomenon provides a concrete event or example that functions as an engaging vehicle for students to ask authentic questions, observe and research, make inferences or predictions, and then learn the scientific answers to their genuine wonderings… which happen to tie into the Next Generation Science Standard that the teacher is introducing. If students have some avenue for a personal connection, then your level of classroom engagement will be even higher. And every student can relate to life because they are living it.
Body as a System
A recent experience highlighted using life as a personal connection for teaching science phenomena. The light bulb for this went on as I sought different ways to teach the cross cutting concept of systems. When students realized that their body was a system composed of a variety of subsystems, then suddenly they could personally connect to the different characteristics of a system and became very interested. Then we could compare and talk about what their body as a system has in common with solar systems, computer systems, molecular systems, school systems, etc. Students are fundamentally curious about how their bodies work, because it’s them. To say that kids are egocentric by nature is an understatement. They can relate to the phenomenon because it applies to them, and therefore they also want to know more about and understand the science.
While making sure content is age appropriate, teachers can use this engagement and interest to look at birth, death, disease, growing up, and more as phenomena to engage students in life science. For younger students, talking about this via family pets may be safer and easier to comprehend. Everyone and every living thing experiences birth, life, and death. The sum total of which is life science and thus the life science standards under the NGSS.
Be careful not to get too personal, but when you share that “I know someone who…” then that becomes more real for students as well. Their worlds are relatively small, so when there’s a direct connection to some sort of life event or characteristic then they are suddenly more engaged to study it. Teachers are human too, and when you are more naturally engaged in what you’re teaching then your students will be too. Passion and personal interest are contagious in the classroom.
Elementary Standard: NGSS 3-LS3-2: “Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits: Students who demonstrate understanding can use evidence to support the explanation that traits can be influenced by the environment. Clarification Statement: Examples of the environment affecting a trait could include normally tall plants grown with insufficient water are stunted; and, a pet dog that is given too much food and little exercise may become overweight.”
Middle School Standard: NGSS MS-LS3-1: “Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits: Students who demonstrate understanding can develop and use a model to describe why structural changes to genes (mutations) located on chromosomes may affect proteins and may result in harmful, beneficial, or neutral effects to the structure and function of the organism.”
High School Standard: NGSS HS-LS3-3: “Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits: Students who demonstrate understanding can apply concepts of statistics and probability to explain the variation and distribution of expressed traits in a population.”
This Crazy Thing Called Life
There is so much to life that you could really create a class or entire branch of science around it. Oh, right, there already is: Life Science! I think we take this for granted as a given, but instead should take advantage of this as an inherent opportunity to help students better access all science standards. In my next post, I intend to circle back to this topic of life because there’s so much to explore… I’ll cover the lion’s share of my own recent personal connections with a few good puns thrown in for good measure.
Possible Resources and Connections
Upcoming “Circle of Life” Post: http://corelaboratewa.org/circle-of-life-science/
NGSS Redesigned Website: http://www.nextgenscience.org/
NSTA NGSS Hub: http://ngss.nsta.org/
Seattle Children’s Science Adventure Lab Page: http://www.seattlechildrens.org/classes-community/community-programs/science-adventure-lab/
Institute for Systems Biology Website: https://www.systemsbiology.org/