by Theress Stadeli, 4th grade teacher at Robert Frost Elementary in Silver Falls, OR
When educators dive deeper, they learn more! The fact is---that is just what we must do in order to refine the art of teaching science to our students today. When looking at today’s workforce, almost all of the jobs our students aspire for require a clear understanding of scientific content and skills. Repeated experience with the Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts will help our future workforce be successful when doing tasks such as presenting to co-workers, designing a plan, or testing and researching variables to solve a problem. Yes, not everyone in classrooms of today will grow up to be engineers, but they all will benefit from the collaboration, perseverance, and hands-on discovery they are being taught in order to solve everyday problems.
The shift towards NGSS-aligned teaching and learning in science education excites me because it is more engaging for students, and the skills taught cross over into all subjects. Throughout attending my sessions at the 2018 OSTA Fall Conference, I felt an even deeper understanding of this shift.
Modeling and the NGSS:
Very interestingly, many of the science and engineering practices were embedded into the old standards as well through the science inquiry process. One of these practices, Developing and Using Models, was not present in the old science standards. It is one of the main differences between the old way of teaching inquiry vs. the Science and Engineering Practices. The NGSS vision of modeling allows students to explain and predict phenomena, just as scientists would. Models are works in progress that allow visualization of phenomena. The process of modeling could be as simple as making a mystery contraption and having students model what is in the inside of the tube or box. Throughout the process, students are focused on the skills of explaining and predicting.
Place Based Science Education:
Want students to connect with their learning personally or remember it years later? The answer is place based education. Outdoor learning experiences and extended inquiry projects have lasting effects. We were posed with the task as educators to write down a learning experience connected to place that we remembered. We found common themes such as doing things outside of our comfort zone, tasks that allowed autonomy and exploration, a sense of purpose, and something where we felt competency. Being outside doing field studies, collecting data to solve an issue to help the community—these are examples of purposeful science learning that tie back to a place. The difficult part of this approach to science, despite its successful impact with students and the community, is scheduling, logistics, resources, time, and administration support. Hopefully in the near future, place-based learning will be more widely seen for students, no matter the age.
Lastly, the Crosscutting Concepts session I attended was also a good reminder of the mindset shift in three dimensional NGSS aligned science education. These concepts span K-12 and are touched on in almost every content area. They are important foundational concepts that the natural world teaches us. Energy and Matter, Structure and Function, Cause and Effect, Patterns…… These are examples of some overarching concepts that re-appear in every grade band and are commonly cross-curricular. The Crosscutting Concepts are good lenses to look through to help us pose questions to our students to frame their thinking in different ways. It was unique to look at a phenomenon once—a video of Portland Swifts, and then look at it again and ask questions that were only through the lens of a specific Crosscutting Concept.
What do I hope the NGSS-aligned, three-dimensional science shift truly brings to the future of education? An increased inspiration and need for outdoor field studies, and placed based science and engineering. Let’s take the challenge---why don’t we try to find phenomena in the backyard, school property, or community next time!