Sunday, October 4, 2015

My students are taking ownership of the NGSS - Part 2: The Crosscutting Concepts

In a previous post, I talked about how my students have taken ownership of the Science and Engineering Practices by identifying the practices and making their thinking visible. When it came down to tackling the Cross-Cutting Concepts (XCC) with the students, I knew that I had deliberately model the thought process and make the connections visible. I disagree with the statement, "If you are teaching the content, students will grasp the crosscutting concepts. I don't need to teach the connections"; I cannot expect the students to just magically connect the dots themselves.

This led me down the internet rabbit hole, looking for a way to clarify my own ideas about the CrossCutting Concepts, as well as a framework that I could share with the students. During that exploration I came across Peter A'Hearn's CrossCut Symbols. Not only does he provide some cutesy graphics, but delving deeper into his site, I discovered that he had taken the time to develop a series of questions that can guide students in their explorations of the XCC. The framework had already been created!

I printed out his graphics and questions, and placed them in the back of my room, really as my own reference to use while I was teaching. When the students entered, they noticed the change, and being who they are, asked "What are we supposed to do with that?". As usual, I put the question right back on the student's shoulders and replied, "I don't know... What could you do with that?" To my surprise, one of them answered, "Well, we could try to answer the questions." That simple statement was the beginning of the XCC interactive board, and what has become my go to exit ticket for all classes.

As I am teaching, I will move to the board and sometimes point to specific XCC as I explain my thinking. At the end of each day, students are invited to write post-its in response to connections they made to specific XCC. This is a win in itself.
I read through the post-its, but do not use them for anything other than to guide my instruction and address misconceptions if needed. The only "reward" the students get for doing this is when one of them makes a significant leap, and it gets mentioned during a subsequent lesson or as a starting point for a discussion.

Now, for the real ownership part. This exercise has started to trickle down to their weekly writing. Notice the wording of that last sentence. That is the XCC - Stability and Change.

Although we have a ways to go in the "explaining department", the fact that they are beginning to add those ideas to their weekly writings makes me believe that we are on to something great.

What do you think? I would love to hear some more ideas about how to help students take ownership of the NGSS.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

My students are taking ownership of the NGSS - Part 1: The Practices

Image source: 

In a recent conversation with a group of colleagues, I was surprised to hear comments such as:
"I teach science, this NGSS are just the same content standards I already use",  "I use inquiry all the time; my lessons are already NGSS aligned" and finally "If you are teaching the content, students will grasp the crosscutting concepts. I don't need to teach the connections". This got me thinking about just what the NGSS asks educators to do, and what it means in terms of guiding student learning.

At its most basic, the NGSS tells me:

  • What to teach: Disciplinary Core Ideas
  • How to teach it: Science and Engineering Practices
  • Why I teach it: Cross Cutting Concepts

I teach middle school, and my district has not decided whether they will adopt an integrated or science domain model. However, even if I don't know this yet, I decided that I needed to begin working towards analyzing my lessons to determine whether they are NGSS aligned, and to make the alignment visible so that students can really become immersed in the content. For this, I need a different mindset.

The question then became, "How do I get my students to think like scientists so they can make the connections necessary to apply the cross-cutting concepts?" In my quest to answer this question I asked my students to recognize when they were applying the Science and Engineering practices in my classroom. I provided students with the same yes/no questions I use when I am developing my lessons and gave them sentence frames to compose their answers.

The following examples represent student responses to the same lesson.

The fact that both students identified different practices is not a problem. They just have different perspectives on what they did to develop an understanding of the content. That in itself is a win towards making "thinking like scientists" visible and NGSS alignment

Going back to the original conversation, and specifically the comment "I use inquiry all the time; my lessons are already NGSS aligned", I would say, unless the students are asking the questions and developing their own investigations, the lesson is not NGSS aligned. Inquiry is not equal to NGSS alignment. However, having the students think like scientists as they develop their understanding is a first step.

What do you think?