1. Start with the NRC Framework
Before we even look at the standards, we should read A Framework for K-12 Science Education. This book presents the evidence-based vision of science teaching and learning that led to the creation of the NGSS. Not only does the framework discuss each of the three dimensions in detail, but it also describes how to integrate them in your classroom. In almost every session of the NSTA conference, NGSS writers and collaborators urged teachers to read and refer to the Framework to understand how NGSS translates to instruction. If at any point during curriculum development we wonder if we’re being true to the NGSS, we need to ask ourselves, “What does the Framework say?”
2. Performance expectations are tri-fold
Each performance expectation (PE) within NGSS incorporates the three dimensions presented in the Framework – most often they consist of one Scientific and Engineering Practice (SEP), one Crosscutting Concept (CCC), and one Disciplinary Core Idea (DCI). These three dimensions are arranged in a recommended learning progression. However, as educators, we have permission to supplement the PE’s in a way that is meaningful to both us and our students. Need to bundle two PE’s into one? Go for it! Want to adjust this PE to add this crosscutting concept too? No problem! The PE’s are “assessable statements of what students should know and be able to do“—as long as you’re getting your students there, the menu’s order and additional seasonings are up to you!
3. Phenomena don’t need to be phenomenal
In order to help our students become scientists, we first need to kickstart their curiosity – enter “phenomena.” Phenomena are observable events in nature that anchor a unit and motivate students to utilize science skills and knowledge to reach a deeper, multidimensional understanding. Phenomena are successful when they trigger our students to 1) ask questions (like, “Huh, why did that happen?” or “How does that work?”) and 2) find answers by engaging in behaviors of scientists or engineers. Contrary to what we might think, the phenomena we choose to begin a unit doesn’t necessarily need to have a “Wow!” factor to be useful and interesting. Implementing phenomena doesn’t have to be overly complicated!
4. Get students talking
Engaging our students in meaningful discussions centered around open-ended questions not only allows us to informally assess their understanding, but also helps us support deeper reasoning by encouraging the use of evidence to make claims (TERC 2012). Talk Science Primer outlines elements of productive classroom discussions, different talk formats, and offers 9 Talk Moves to get our students talking. Science is ultimately a social and collaborative field, and if we want to prepare our students to be part of the scientific community, we need to teach them how to communicate their thoughts. Consider using a KLEWS chart (watch it in action) and discover more “talking the talk” tips from the Teaching Channel!
5. Engineering is not just applied science
Engineering is key to inspiring our students to engage with current issues in their communities, such as climate change and the spread of disease. Therefore, it is not enough to have only one unit on engineering or to simply end a unit with an engineering project. Rather than making engineering an afterthought in our classrooms, we need to highlight the mutually beneficial relationship of science and engineering. We should be spending equal class time on both science practices and engineering practices. Just as we know that students are natural scientists, they are also natural engineers. Check out the engineering design process to see how to approach engineering in your classroom.