In order to create an environment in which challenge exceeds skill, you must be aware of the different levels of readiness. While traditional models of instruction typically get students to awareness or knowledge readiness, NGSS seeks to push students into performance and mastery readiness.
Creating an environment for science and engineering mastery K-12 is not a willy-nilly proposition. It requires a very specific set of resources and the goal of mastery readiness. Mastery readiness means that students have developed skills and knowledge that they can generalize, that they can use to solve any problem or answer any question rather than just answer a predetermined question or solve a predetermined problem.
In order to understand this, let’s back up and define each of these readiness levels. We start with awareness readiness, which really just means that students are aware something exists. Think about a trip to the museum: charts and pictures adorn the walls, plastic dioramas abound, and students can push buttons to get immediate answers to predominantly fact-based questions.
But awareness provides relatively little fodder for a real understanding of the world. Consider a blueberry. It’s blue on the outside, but greenish on the inside. You can know that a blueberry is only blue on the outside, but that doesn’t mean you understand why it’s adapted to be blue on the outside, what its seed dispersal mechanism is, how that helps to perpetuate blueberries in the ecosystem where blueberries exist, and how blueberries participate in the food chain or food web. You’re just aware of the color.
The types of resources that create awareness are the aforementioned museum trip, downloadable resources from teacher sites or museum websites, science kits and other canned sources of information.
Knowledge readiness is slightly better. Think about textbooks. They enable students to learn “all about” something. They might, for instance, learn all about what scientist have discovered and what engineers have created to solve problems. This is a backward-looking type of knowledge, and informs students about discoveries and solutions that have already occurred. The important point to realize here is that knowing that a scientist discovered something or an engineer created something is not at all the same thing as knowing how to do such things themselves. For the most part, these resources do not set students up for success as scientists and engineers themselves.
Performance readiness is again a higher level of readiness, but is associated with something like a science kit. Let’s say you have a rock and mineral kit that you get out to teach students about hardness. You use it for three months at a time, it isn’t linked to other units and students use it to perform predetermined activities like scratch various minerals to learn how hard they are. This is a task-oriented unit, in which students learn to perform one specific task. Unfortunately, that only means they’ve learned to perform that task. They will have a hard time translating this ability to other areas of scientific inquiry or engineering development.
Mastery readiness, on the other hand, means students can look at a novel scenario, analyze it and form an approach to answering a question of solving a problem related that relates specifically to the scenario before them. They can connect the knowledge and skills they’ve acquired in other lessons and units to this new scenario, enabling them to design experiments and prototypes, gather data and form evidence-based conclusions.
One of the things that makes KnowAtom unique is that we always seek to challenge students at the highest level. If you want to do this, you need a level of sophistication that goes well beyond canned experiments, workbooks and texts with questions at the end of the reading. You need the ability to create those gaps between current levels of skill and future levels, otherwise you are not paving the way for mastery readiness at all.
When we reference skills, we are talking about the science and engineering practices. This is a specific set of abilities that enables students to act as scientists and engineers in the classroom … and beyond.
So when we talk about skills, what specifically are we referring to? This isn’t some vague notion, but rather a specific set of abilities defined by the Next Generation Science Standards: the science and engineering practices. These include:
- Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
- Developing and using models
- Planning and carrying out investigations
- Analyzing and interpreting data
- Using mathematics and computational thinking
- Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
- Engaging in argument from evidence
- Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
These are skills that students have developed and can demonstrate as a result of instruction. Not only that, they can demonstrate them repeatedly in different contexts. Students who possess these skills can not only ask questions, define problems, develop and use models, but they can do them all independently in a variety of settings. They not only argue from evidence they have gathered themselves, but evidence that their peers have gathered or that has been presented to them in written form, and can use that evidence to support arguments they develop.
If you want students to possess these skills, you must build toward them intentionally. That's why scope and sequence, age-appropriateness and always creating an environment where challenge exceeds skill are such crucial elements of NGSS-aligned curriculum. Then you must align all those lessons and units to the new standards in a nurturing way from September through June and from one grade to the next.