KnowAtom's Blog

How Learning Happens at the Point of Challenge

May 13, 2024 by Francis Vigeant

In the book Making Thinking Visible, researchers and authors Karin Morrison, Mark Church, and Ron Ritchhart write, “Learning happens at the point of challenge.” When we think about what is occurring in the highest performing classrooms, we can come to a better understanding of how learning happens at the point of challenge.

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Topics: Teaching Tools & Strategies

Using Thinking Routines to Teach Students How to Learn Science

May 7, 2024 by Judy Higgins

All teachers have experienced the dreaded silent ‘no response’ from students when you ask them ‘what do you think about this?’ If this is a challenge you know about firsthand, ask yourself – what am I expecting from my students when I ask them to think? Thinking routines are used to help students understand what’s expected of them and to learn how to think critically. They show students that there are many different ways to think and help them build the confidence to engage in the classroom.

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Topics: Learning Methods

Why We Need to Conquer Fear, Uncertainty, & Doubt as Adults in the Classroom

Apr 26, 2024 by Judy Higgins

How Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt Affect Teaching and Learning Outcomes 

Teachers face different types of pressure throughout their careers. As teachers, we want our classrooms to be fun, challenging places full of curious and engaged students. Balancing that desire against the question, ‘how is this going to help every student do well on the upcoming standardized test,’ can cause stress, uncertainty, doubt, and even fear. That fear can affect our decision-making in the classroom. 

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Topics: Professional Development

How To Improve Student Performance in Science

Apr 24, 2024 by Judy Higgins

To transform student performance, we must build a classroom culture and environment for students to actively engage in. Providing authentic learning opportunities and releasing responsibility to our students increases student engagement and performance. To build an environment where students are rewarded for risk-taking, teachers can model listening and critical thinking, while implementing frameworks that keep students on task and focused on their own discovery. 

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Topics: Teaching Tools & Strategies

Student-Centered Learning: How to Teach Students to Ask Good Questions

Oct 23, 2023 by Judy Higgins

One of the most important things we can teach our students, no matter what grade level or topic you teach, is how to ask good questions.

When I think about this important topic, I can't help but consider how my teaching style has changed over the past 20 years. Today, when I think about how to support student centered learning in my classroom, I want to make sure that I am modeling good questions. That's because teacher modeling is an important way to teach students how to ask good questions themselves.

In this article, I am going to share with you what a good question looks like and how to teach your students ways to identify and use them effectively.

Student-Centered Teaching 

A student-centered classroom starts with the teacher. We've learned that we can improve student engagement and achieve better outcomes by giving up some of the control we have as teachers.

Students who are given an active role in the classroom have more opportunities to think critically about the concepts and how they relate to the world around them. Rather than asking students to read and memorize, we need to be asking them to collaborate with their peers, discover new ideas, and make strong connections.

With student-centered learning, giving students a voice in the classroom helps improve student engagement, but students need to develop the skills to take the lead. Learning how to ask authentic questions of their peers, their teachers, and their sources – is a great way to start.

Student-Centered Teaching and Asking Good Questions

Good questions are good questions regardless of who you're interacting with or what subject you're teaching. If you're not a KnowAtom teacher, if you're a teacher who teaches another subject, a parent, or a principal, all of these things will apply to your students as well!

Let's look first at where we can expect students to ask good questions when implementing a student-centered approach during a lesson.

KnowAtom's science curriculum starts off with a nonfiction reading component every time. That's where a lot of the questioning will happen in a student centered teaching model.

From there, we move on to Socratic dialogue, where students discuss the questions, wonders, or connections they made from the reading. Questioning plays a big part in this section of the lesson and if we can improve our students' questioning skills, we can improve our classroom dialogue.

Students then move into planning, and we ask them to think like scientists or engineers. That entails a lot of questions about what's going to happen in the hands-on investigation portion of the unit. Then, the students carry out their investigation, experiment, or engineering activity. Lots and lots of questions are happening as part of this section as well.

Finally, students share their conclusions in a debrief. One of the things that I enjoy most with student centered learning is listening to students question each other about their data and their outcomes.

Why Encourage Questioning in Student Centered Learning?

What's the purpose of questions? The main purpose of encouraging students to ask good questions is to engage them in taking a position on a concept or big idea from the reading. When you think about it, that's a really risky proposition. Perhaps that's why when I first started teaching, I asked questions like "What is a hurricane?" rather than "How are hurricanes related to the water cycle?"

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Topics: science and engineering practices, Next Generation Science Standards, higher order thinking, STEAM, STEM / STEAM, STEAM Curriculum, Next Generation Science

What is the NGSS Three Dimensional Learning Approach?

Oct 18, 2023 by Francis Vigeant

Want to understand the Next Generation Science Standards? In three words: three-dimensional learning. Figuring out exactly what those words mean and how they make NGSS different from existing standards will get you much closer to understanding exactly what is expected in the next generation of science education.

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Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, Three-Dimensional Learning

How to Promote Your School's Science Vision and Curriculum

Oct 18, 2023 by Francis Vigeant

As school leaders become more focused on successfully implementing the Next Generation Science Standards, I’ve noticed one topic is getting more attention than ever before: how important it is that principals understand the new standards and the expectations of a next-generation science classroom.

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Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, Implementing New Science Standards

Challenging How Schools Ask Students to Think in the K-8 Classroom

Sep 1, 2023 by Staff Writer

Changing the "what" and "how" in science education doesn't have nearly as much impact as looking at the "why."

SALEM, Mass., ( - Typical conversations about education reform revolve around things like how we teach (education policy) or what we teach (the curriculum). But today, according to Dr. Ron Ritchhart, world-renowned educator, researcher, and author, and Francis Vigeant, KnowAtom's Founder and CEO, changing the "what" and "how" in K-8 science education under NGSS doesn't have nearly as much impact as looking at the "why."

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Topics: Press Release, NGSS-Designed Curriculum

How Thinking Moves Bring NGSS Storylines to Life

May 16, 2023 by Staff Writer

The idea of using learning tools to think isn’t new, but what storyline pedagogy provides students is a creative place to practice their critical thinking skills. Students who repeatedly work together as a team, speak in front of their class, and provide feedback to their peers – get better at it. Engaging in NGSS storylines in the classroom gives students a chance to take the lead in their own learning process, while practicing hands-on investigation skills and thinking moves in the process.

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Topics: Thinking Moves, NGSS Storylines

How Important is Routine and Structure in NGSS Storylines?

May 9, 2023 by Staff Writer

When we talk about storyline pedagogy, we describe the individual lessons, or ‘episodes’ that make up a storyline as unscripted opportunities for student-led discovery. But, without the frameworks and classroom routines in place to prepare students for this next-generation model of instruction, we’re not setting them up for success. In fact, without strong routines and structures in place in the classroom, the idea of ‘unscripted discovery’ may make teachers and their students uncomfortable. That energy, however, is what sparks scientific discovery. Students need the time, space, and structure to create, to interact with phenomena personally, and to make mistakes and learn from them – for deeper learning to occur. With frameworks and processes in place, students and their teachers have common tools to engage critical thinking, personal reflection, and hands-on investigation.

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Topics: Socratic dialogue, Thinking Routines, NGSS Storylines

How NGSS Storylines Shift the Roles of Students and Teachers

May 2, 2023 by Staff Writer

When students own their own learning, they are more engaged and personally invested in the outcome. One of the keys to implementing storyline pedagogy effectively is allowing the students’ own questions to drive the storyline. In this model, teachers are co-creating an understanding with their students. For students, it is an understanding of the lesson’s big ideas, and for teachers, it is an understanding of the dimensions of their student’s learning. To engage in deeper learning, students need a safe space where intellectual risk taking is protected and encouraged. Processes and frameworks can be put in place to allow them to be creative, take risks, and create on their own. As co-creators in the classroom, a teacher’s role is different, but even more important than transferring knowledge. 

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Topics: Socratic dialogue, NGSS Storylines

How Important are Generative Questions in NGSS Storylines?

Apr 25, 2023 by Staff Writer

Storyline pedagogy gives students a chance to decide what they want to learn more about. To take the lead in the classroom, our students need to know how to ask good questions. Teachers can model intellectual curiosity to help students learn how to think more critically. Asking authentic questions, ones that we don’t know the answer to, is an important part of storyline pedagogy. For example, ‘What do you think of when you think of wind,’ is an authentic question. When compared to the question, ‘What is wind,’ this example highlights how asking better questions encourages students to connect personally with science phenomena and think deeper about its impact on their life. The first question is both authentic and generative, because it sparks even more questions. Generative questions help power student-led investigation and NGSS storylines, as the students build knowledge around an anchor phenomenon and pick the next question they want to investigate. 

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Topics: Socratic dialogue, NGSS Storylines

How to make NGSS Storylines a Student Centered Learning Experience

Apr 21, 2023 by Francis Vigeant


Storyline pedagogy is modeled on a new partnership between students and teachers. The students’ own questions are the catalyst for each part of an NGSS storyline. Through self-discovery, reflection, questioning, and risk-taking, students make connections across science disciplines and concepts. Through student-let investigation, they make personal connections with the phenomena and engage in deeper learning. The teacher’s role in this next generation learning model is essential. They must create a culture of thinking and a safe space for risk taking by allowing students agency over their own learning. Classroom frameworks and formative assessment can help release responsibility onto the students for this to occur consistently.

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Topics: Phenomena-Based Learning, NGSS Storylines

How to Improve the Effectiveness of NGSS Storylines with Formative Assessments

Apr 6, 2023 by Francis Vigeant

In Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-based classrooms, students are required to learn more than facts. The standards are skills and performance-based, grounded on the understanding that students need to build their own skills and work with their own ideas, rather than the ideas of others. NGSS storylines promote this type of personal, hands-on learning through an investigation into real-world challenges.

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Topics: Socratic dialogue, NGSS Storylines

Deeper Learning Hands-on Screens-off: NGSS 3 Dimensions & Storylines

Mar 24, 2023 by Francis Vigeant


The world needs more big thinkers – scientists and engineers with the critical thinking skills to tackle the big challenges facing our world. Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-based three-dimensional learning, or “NGSS 3 Dimensions’ are designed to build those critical thinking skills and connect learning science with building a better understanding of the world we live in. Storyline pedagogy sparks hands-on learning over a series of episodes where students create, evaluate, and analyze. These are higher-level thinking skills that scientists and engineers use every day.

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Topics: Phenomena-Based Learning, NGSS Storylines

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