Feb 18, 2018

How do the New NGSS Standards really affect me?

As Next Generation Science Standards come out, and start to be utilized in more states, and more classrooms, you may be wondering how this affects your science classroom.

I participated in this very basic short training for NGSS, and had some discussion in this facebook group. Through that reflection I thought I had a beginning understanding of NGSS, at least how it is set up, and had some thoughts about how it would affect my classroom. I was waiting to see how the assessments worked, but felt that I had a pretty good start. 
 
A reflection and broad overview of NGSS and resources as you transition


Now, however, I am working on designing curriculum for a new course that that will be aligned to NGSS, and I found myself again confused and thinking through some of the issues surrounding it.

I wanted to write a post where I share with you a few of the main points that I am taking away, and hopefully open up some further discussion.

A little background on NGSS

Make sure you check out the NGSS website. It is pretty easy to navigate, and has sections on Understanding the NGSS. Two of the most useful handouts, in my opinion, were
As you may have noticed right away, each standard is broken down into performance expectations (what students need to know or be able to do to demonstrate competence), framework dimensions, and then correlations to common core.

The NGSS draws from three dimensions. These are as follows:
  • Disciplinary core ideas: our traditional content - subject matter
  • Science and engineering practices: what may previously have been called science skills such as using models, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing and interpreting data, etc.
  • Cross-Cutting concepts: concepts and themes the cross many different science areas - such as patterns, cause and effect, stability and change, etc. 
These dimensions remain constant across grades P-12, but obviously go into greater depth at higher grade levels.

The NGSS are also correlated to Common Core, so they support math and literacy integrated into the science classroom.

These changes were made with a few larger shifts in mind. The shifts are:
  • from isolation to integration
  • from science inquiry to science and engineering practices
  • from discrete science ideas to science and engineering crosscutting concepts
As we look at using NGSS in the classroom, it is not a complete departure from what we have been doing. These standards emphasize greater depth, problems solving, writing, engineering design and problem solving, and more progression through the grades. This is in line with teaching science as inquiry, using the 5 E’s, phenomena-based teaching, and many other good science teaching practices, but often takes it a step farther. As part of NGSS, these science and engineering practices and cross-cutting practices need to be taught more explicitly than we are used to doing. We may think that we are already teaching them, but in NGSS they get more emphasis as skills and content in their own right.

Here are a few of the ‘takeaways’ from our PD circle in the Facebook Group

Engineering design:

The biggest takeaways for me from this module were the embedded skills, and the process itself - collaboration, optimization, and revision, grit. I think it is important to explicitly teach these skills. A lot of projects, or even experimental design lend themselves well to this if we spend more time on the design process rather than giving students a step by step method, but teach them modeling and design skills. It’s not so hard to do, but a different perspective.

Cross-cutting concepts

I learned that it is important to “draw the concepts into the foreground”. We can (usually) easily recognize patterns or cause and effect but students really struggle with those relationships. Starting to use the terms with young children is exciting because much like a foreign language it will be easier to become more fluent in science and get to a deeper understanding of science content in middle and high school.

I do think it requires a re working of lesson activities and instructional formats. I know most of my stuff mainly reflects disciplinary core ideas. I have to work in the practices and concepts more and make more integrated performance assessments.

Focus on a few at a time and be intentional! Looking at the planning sheet our district made, it matches completely with this idea. So manageable! Also, I agree that we need to pull them into the foreground, like the depth and complexity icons.

Science and Engineering Practices

I learned that science is really a much more round about discipline, which is so different than what I’ve always learned and taught. I realized how much more integrated science should be, and that I should be talking about it like that in class. Doing science in class was completing rigid labs to achieve a desired outcome. I started off teaching that way, but have loosened up over the years to encourage students to create their own investigations. BTW, I much prefer the term investigation to experiment. It can include so much more.

I need to be much more intentional in pointing out the practices not only when we do them, but whenever the opportunities arise. I liked identifying them in the video and article.

The students need to talk, and they need to experience by learning.

Science is messy, and it is so good for the students to see this. It is hard to let go of control and fear that the students will not learn what they need to learn. It may take longer and be louder, but it is good for them! They might be wrong sometimes, but over a few practices, can correct misconceptions.

How to match up the standards to your curriculum

When trying to match up the standards to my curriculum I got a bit overwhelmed at first because of the different dimensions. After looking at some other resources, and talking to some colleagues, here are the conclusions that I came to:

The part I am correlating my curriculum to is the performance expectations at the top. There are much fewer of these than there were in our previous state standards, but they are broad and more comprehensive, so as you teach them, you are covering more content.

These performance expectations also lend themselves well to developing projects that would demonstrate competency in these areas.

One, or just a few performance expectations might cover an entire unit.

However, as you are teaching these, you want to keep the other dimensions in mind.

For example. When you teach the core disciplinary ideas, make sure that you are including some problem solving, engineering design, and cross-cutting science concepts. Also make those cross cutting concepts really clear and explicit

Where do I find examples of NGSS in practice?

As you are looking for NGSS aligned lessons and further resources, I put together a few websites that I found while searching:
  • NSTA has an NGSS Hub that can be searched by grade level and core idea
  • The Next Generation Science Website itself has some sample classroom performance assessment tasks. There is not a big library here, but growing, and they give good examples of how the different dimensions are integrated.
  • If you prefer videos and examples, rather than lesson plans per se, The Teaching Channel has a “Deep Dive Guide to NGSS” and quite a few videos where you can see it in practice. 
  • One of my favorites - since NGSS is focused on finding phenomena, and students acting as scientists to explain, I love this database of phenomena that can be searched by standard! 
  • Lastly, although it may be a bit overwhelming, this concept map is a wealth of information on everything NGSS related! As I get further into NGSS, I definitely plan to explore it much farther!! 
I know some of you are way ahead of me in how your states are implementing NGSS. If you have insights or examples I’d love if you’d share them either here or in the facebook group.

A reflection and broad overview of NGSS and resources as you transition

Feb 4, 2018

Free, Engaging NGSS Aligned High Tech Resource For You

Free, Engaging NGSS Aligned High Tech Resource For You


If you are looking for a new and different, technology-rich activity to introduce students to a career in science, increase literacy in science, and practice using claim-evidence-reasoning (CER), I want to share a resource with you.

**Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, but all opinions are genuine and are my own.** #sponsored

I was asked to write a sponsored review of the UL Xplorlabs Fire Forensics Module, and I am very pleased to share it with you! I also asked my sixth grade son to go through it and give his feedback.

Xplorlabs has made two modules that are free, STEM-focused, and NGSS aligned. They have supplementary hands-on investigations that could be used in the classroom, and tie to both safety and real-world problems. I looked specifically at the Fire Forensics Module and found it very engaging, and found it to provide a fun, interactive online environment for students to learn from real scientists.

What is included in the Fire Forensics Module?

The Fire Forensics Module is an interactive web-based lesson that teaches about fire, but also teaches about building an evidence-based claim as students go through the process of being a ‘fire investigator in training.’ It is “designed to provide students with the understanding of fire, fire dynamics, and fire behavior so that they can read a fire scene and build a claim for the fire’s location of origin and cause.” It includes videos, embedded practice quizzes, a model where the students and instructors analyze the fire together, and then a culminating activity where the students analyze the fire themselves, from evidence, and then submit their analysis along with claim, evidence, and reasoning to their teacher or print it out.

The module is very well scaffolded, with short (1-3 minute) videos from current fire investigators, education on the fire itself, and on the tools used for investigation. There are interactive activities and self-checks, and also supplements hands-on activities that can be used (but it works fine without it as well).

The content covered focuses on the basic science of fire, and the fire investigation process itself, but they also use this as a lens through which to teach and practice claim, evidence, reasoning, and the scientific method. Depending upon the extension activities chosen, you could also use this to practice graphing.

As students work through this module, they are first introduced to the job of fire investigators and why it is important. They enter the ‘investigator’s academy’ and learn some background about how fire is defined, how fire develops, and how it behaves. They will then go through a ‘model’ fire in the lab, and then investigate a case and build a claim, based on evidence and reasoning.

What’s great about it?

I really liked this module, and would not hesitate to use it with students. The videos are short, engaging, and fast-paced. The website is very professional and easy to navigate, while still being kid friendly. There are self-checks built in and interactives to keep students on track. If students miss formative assessment questions they are given explanations, and then try the questions again before moving on. I really like that it integrates the career piece. This can be so important for students to just see what else is ‘out there’ and available to them as a career.

The whole module builds on itself seamlessly, and integrates supplemental activities if you choose. However, you could easily use only part of the module, and could include or omit as many of the extension activities as you choose. If, however, you do choose to include the extensions, they come with great teacher instructions, including materials list, roles, etc.

The whole module culminates with students solving a ‘case,’ establishing their claims, using evidence and reasoning to support it.

Feedback from my own middle schooler

This activity is geared towards middle school. I have taught middle school, but at the moment I’m teaching high school. I do, however, have a 6th grade son, so I asked him to go through at least some of the module and give me his feedback. He completed the first four sections during some free time. He liked it so much that he wants to go back and finish it, or check out the other module that they offer on his own! But he really liked the short videos, and the interactive charts in section 2 where you could modify the components needed for the fire and see how the fire changed (visually). He said he learned that the amount of heat, oxygen, and fuel changes how big the fire is, which he didn't know before. He thought all three had to be present, but didn’t know that the fire would change if there were different amounts.



He found the website easy to follow and thought the directions were very clear. He said he learned a lot, but the most interesting takeaway was that he had no idea there was such a job as a fire investigator. He said he could see his teachers doing this in science class, or even on a day where there is a sub because the students would be able to go through independently.

When would I use it?

As a teacher myself, I thought a lot about when I would use this activity. Some activities I’ve seen in the past are ‘fun,’ but really don’t fit with any curriculum. I think this one does, however. If you were teaching a forensics course, it is a natural fit, as well as a unit about careers. However, I think it would fit as a way to practice CER and using evidence. Because of the extension activities, it would be a good way to extend a unit on heat transfer, or even experimental design. Of course, it could also be a great activity to use with a sub, before or after the break, or any time you need to fill time. The module could take anywhere from two class periods to a week or more, depending upon how many of the extensions you use. There is one hands-on activity built into the module in Section 3 (Live Burns) after the video, at the top under the link 

There are also additional activities on their main website, under Xtensions.

Things to consider?

This activity is great, but there are two caveats to keep in mind, as a classroom teacher, and they are pretty simple:

If YouTube is blocked at your school, you may run into problems. The videos are beautifully embedded, and look like part of the website, but they are coming from YouTube and won’t work if YouTube is blocked. You may need to download these videos and show them together, or download and give students a separate link, but that will disrupt the flow of the activity.

The student’s responses on the final culminating activity, where they submit their claim, will get printed or emailed to the teacher, but the rest of the activity is self-guided. This would be fine for most students, and it is very straightforward, but depending on your student’s needs you may want to make some type of guided notes to go with it, so that students have a reference point when they get the culminating activity, and also have accountability.

What to do next?

So where to go from here? Try it out! Go here and check it out! If you do use it, I’d love to hear what you think either in the comments below, in my Facebook Group, or anywhere else on social media or email.

A free NGSS aligned resource that helps students practice CER in an engaging way

Jan 24, 2018

Top 10 Tips for Teaching in the Inner City

This blog post was co-written by Becca from Science Rocks and Tara from Science In The City. They have 22 combined years of teaching experience in the inner city. To read about their backgrounds, hop down to the bottom of the blog post.

A collaborative blog post by two teachers who have a combined 22 years of teaching experience.  They share their tips for successful urban teaching and classroom management.

10 TIPS FOR TEACHING IN THE INNER-CITY

1. Always treat students with respect

 Every year I give students a student information survey the first week of school. And every year without fail I have students that write in the comment section “If you respect me, I’ll respect you.” It bothered me that they even had to request this, because it implies that generally teachers don’t treat them with respect. Along with this, be conscious of what they see as signs of respect and disrespect. Several of these are discussed below (learning names, being flexible and respecting their lives outside of school).

2. Learn names quickly! 

Not to single kids out, but to build relationships, and show that you are saying their names correctly and recognizing them as a valuable part of the class.

3. Build Relationships

Take time to get to know your students and understand their home lives. For many, they are working to support their parents, babysitting siblings, have little food, and/or live in group homes. This also goes along with why kids fall asleep in class and why they don’t get homework done. If you assign homework, make sure they can do it completely independently, without outside supplies, and be flexible on due dates.

4. Build Confidence

Give positive praise frequently, especially to students that are typically underperforming. One really effective thing I’ve found is to send a quick email, phone call, or note home when a kid is doing well and ask the parents to also encourage their positive behaviors. Once the student knows you are rooting for them and recognize all their efforts, they will continue to work hard.

5. Be flexible

Realize that because of their home lives, they may have ‘off days.’ While this can’t be ok all the time, try to be a bit accomodating for students to make up work in extenuating circumstances. When a student returns after an absence, be sure to say something along the lines of “Welcome back - we missed you” rather than “where have you been? Why weren’t you in school?” or even “How was your break?” as for many kids their home situation, or their break were not good and this can trigger many negative emotions open up a conversation that you may not want to have during class.

6. Use Proximity

Consider ways that you can move around the room more - wireless mouse, more group work and stations, so that you have more opportunities to be in proximity and interact with students.

7. Be clear and consistent with expectations, and always be equitable with consequences

Class will run much smoother if students know exactly what to do when they enter the room, when it is appropriate to get up or use the restroom, or when it is ok to chat with their neighbors. If they aren’t meeting those expectations, be sure to be fair and equitable with the consequence. If one student gets a warning for having their phone out, but another student gets theirs taken, they will call you on it.

8. When possible, support them in extracurriculars

Many students don’t have parents that attend extracurricular activities due to work or family circumstances. If they see you there and know you have interest in their lives it really pays off in the classroom. Even if you can’t be there, try to ask them about their games and events the next day, or congratulate them, if appropriate.

9. When appropriate, try to not use names when redirecting behavior. 

Even as adults, we don’t like getting singled out for every little thing we do wrong. If you can avoid calling a student out then often times they will respond better. For example, if someone is whistling, instead of saying “Daniel stop whistling” try something like “if whoever is whistling could stop I would really appreciate it” and continue with the lesson.

10. Don’t assume a kid isn’t working because they don’t want to

It is highly possible they have tried to complete the work but they don’t have the skills. Many kids in group homes or other transitional living arrangements have been passed from school to school and have very low reading and writing skills. Make sure to scaffold and modify for these students. Also, some students might not be working or taking notes because they need glasses and can’t see the board. Look for cues such as students squinting and ask them privately if they need help getting a pair of glasses.

Tara’s Background

I started teaching 12 years ago, and ended up in an urban district. My education program had a big focus on urban education and social justice, but it wasn’t a particular goal of mine to teach in an urban district. However, I student taught in the city (as well as a neighboring suburban district) and it just happened that my urban cooperating teacher was retiring and negotiated with her principal for me to get hired into her position. I was pregnant (not very marketable), but she worked it out so that I was able to co-teach summer school with her, and she would be the sub for my maternity leave in the fall. I had a good experience student teaching with her, and it was too good of an offer to turn down!

Thus started my urban teaching career! I have now taught for 12 years in one of the poorest, lowest achieving districts in the state. I stayed at that particular school for 5 years, teaching Earth Science and Environmental Science. Then I transferred to a different school and taught middle school science for 2 years. Then as that school was closed down by the state, I moved schools yet again in the same district and taught 2 years of 9th grade Biology. During my last 3 years I have been working in a program throughout the district for students who are behind on credits and are taking classes online that they have previously failed for “credit recovery.” Students are scheduled into a computer lab with other students who are taking virtual courses (but maybe not the same ones). Different subject teachers rotate between the different schools to meet with their particular students, but also to monitor the computer lab and help students (of any subject area). Each of these settings has been a new learning experience for me, as a teacher.

I grew up in the same area where I live, but in the suburbs, rather than the city. The urban environment was foreign, despite being only a few miles away. I struggled at first with what it would take to be successful in that environment, but learned quickly. I am fairly small, and can be soft-spoken. I often experienced disbelief from people that I could teach, or would want to teach, in that environment. However, I don’t believe successful urban teaching is about intimidation or being ‘mean.’ For me it has been about building relationships, and seeing success for students who don’t have a lot of other sources of support, or models in their lives. For many students, knowing that someone cares, believes in them, doesn’t give up on them, and someone pushes them to do their best goes a long way. Many students come from families where no one has graduated from high school before, parents don’t speak English, and they may not have a stable place to sleep at night. Yet they generally want to be successfully at school, and to graduate, despite having so many strikes against them. I am proud to be able to be a small piece of that!

Becca’s Background

I started teaching 10 years ago and honestly didn’t give much thought to what type of school I wanted to end up at. After graduating (with student loan debt looming) all I cared about was getting a job. I completed my student teaching in the fall semester and wasn’t hopeful I would find a job mid-way through the school year. I started googling schools in my area and found out a middle school not too far from my apartment had a science position open.

It turns out the particular school that hired me had the highest poverty rates in the entire county. Many of the families were living in shelters or staying in cheap motels. We would send food home with the students on Fridays or many wouldn’t have anything to eat over the weekend. It was heartbreaking and also the most fulfilling job I could have asked for. I fell in love with the students and quickly learned teaching strategies that worked for me and my classroom. I remember my first month teaching I had colleagues mention to me “You need to be mean or they will walk all over you.” It turns out that what those students really needed was quite the opposite. They needed a mentor. They needed to be treated with respect. They needed to be understood. They needed to feel like my classroom was a safe place for them.

I’ve since moved from middle school to high school but am still teaching in a title 1 district and don’t see that ever changing. Each school and demographic has their own battles and struggles to overcome, and I choose to put my efforts towards helping kids in low income areas. Am I going to get starbucks gift cards for Christmas or teacher appreciation week? Nope. But I’m getting something far better. I’m building relationships with kids whom many had given up on. I get to help kids be first generation college students. I get to learn and teach humility and empathy on a daily basis. I get to truly make an impact on their lives.

A collaborative blog post by two teachers who have a combined 22 years of teaching experience.  They share their tips for successful urban teaching and classroom management.
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