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Engage Science and Engineering as a Way of Thinking with NGSS Practices

Posted by Francis Vigeant on Jan 20, 2023

Child scientist engaged in science and engineering practices

Exploring the Role of Scientists and Engineers with NGSS Storyline Pedagogy

The next-generation model of science instruction is not just about giving students a chance to take the lead in their own learning – it’s about students acting as scientists and engineers every day in the classroom. When we introduce real-world phenomena into the learning process, we connect classroom instruction to career exploration. With NGSS storyline pedagogy and science and engineering practices, students are unpacking complex phenomena over days and weeks. They explore real-world events, understand the purpose of the work of scientists and engineers, and use their current knowledge to uncover new information – strengthening critical thinking, communication, math, and ELA skills in the process.

In the blog, Encourage More Curiosity and Deeper Learning with Creative NGSS Storylines, we describe how NGSS storyline pedagogy aligns with the five-part KnowAtom lesson framework. By asking questions, leading hands-on activities, and sharing their conclusions, students are writing their own stories of exploration, just like scientists and engineers do in the workplace. Classroom activities are linked to real people and events, with students charting their own way and working together to overcome obstacles. The students have a chance to practice science and engineering practices while investigating core concepts, solving real-world problems, and coming to their own conclusions. KnowAtom’s classroom routines create a safe place for students to explore, be creative, and collaborate.


How can Science and Engineering Practices Help Students Explore Science and Engineering as a Way of Thinking?

Science and engineering practices are the activities and behaviors that professionals engage in as part of their daily work. Building models, designing engineering systems, and collecting data to prove or disprove hypotheses are all career skills that students can practice in the classroom. NGSS storyline pedagogy gives students context for what they are learning and doing. Engaging students to go beyond just doing science to actually playing the role of a scientist figuring out complex phenomena on their own is a powerful result of applying NGSS storyline pedagogy.

These are the science and engineering practices that students use to approach problems and answer questions with NGSS storyline pedagogy and the KnowAtom lesson framework:

  1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Asking Questions and Defining Problems

Empowering students to ask questions and design their own investigations gives them the opportunity to connect the core concepts they read about in textbooks with real-world events and their own life experiences. In contrast to teaching science through isolated tasks, storyline pedagogy introduces real-world events – like coastal flooding during a recent hurricane – to bring the science of weather to life. This takes time and in-depth analysis to tackle as a class, with students asking their own questions about the new phenomena.

Traditional teaching models tend to define the problem for students in advance with vocabulary terms to learn, questions to answer after reading, or step-by-step lab instructions. In contrast, NGSS storyline pedagogy introduces a complex phenomenon, for example, a major weather event that recently impacted the U.S., and challenges students to investigate the science behind it by asking their own questions, uncovering their own problems to solve, and learning what meteorologists do to help protect their communities.

Developing and Using Models and Planning, Carrying Out Investigations, Constructing Explanations, and Designing Solutions

Scientists and engineers create new models to help us better understand the world and make it a safer place to live. Students can also design and implement their own hands-on experiments, injecting creativity and critical thinking into the classroom every day. To truly investigate, students must apply science and engineering practices and observe the result. Student-centered investigation gives them the freedom to challenge their own ideas and create their own connections, within some boundaries.

For example, you can’t recreate the long-term effects of a drought in your classroom, but students can investigate the environmental interactions closer to home. They can build and test dew traps to see how surface area corresponds to the amount of water collected. They can investigate whether the school’s sprinkler system could be set for more efficient usage. They can research the water requirements of different kinds of plants and make recommendations for drought resistance in the school’s landscaping.

Hands-on investigations are more engaging when students design their own paths. In these classrooms, teachers steer their student engineers and scientists like a manager, rather than a lecturer. Using Socratic dialogue, classroom check-ins, and group projects to keep students on track, teachers can encourage deeper learning. Part of being a scientist is having that ‘Wow’ moment when things go right, or wrong. When students just follow the directions from start to finish, we’re not giving them the opportunity for their own ‘Wow!’

Analyzing and Interpreting Data and Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking

The idea of collecting and interpreting data can be daunting. When students practice designing investigations, testing their own hypotheses, and collecting and understanding their own data, they experience firsthand how this hard work pays off – in a better understanding of the world around them. Using NGSS storyline pedagogy, we can connect hands-on science investigation to real-world phenomena, like predicting a hurricane’s destructive path or reducing water consumption by choosing drought-resistant plants.

When students collaborate to test their own theories, revise their own hypotheses, and create their own conclusions, they learn first-hand the importance of scientific rigor, attention to detail, and math skills. They are also practicing career skills, from small group dynamics to persuasion. When students think about big ideas and connect science to the real world, we can engage them to overcome challenges like collecting and analyzing data with collaboration and scientific rigor.

Engaging in Argument from Evidence and Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

No matter how good your math skills are or how strong your mastery of core concepts is, if you can’t communicate your conclusions and show how your data backs them up, you’re not going to succeed as a scientist or engineer. Public speaking, argumentation, and writing are skills that students can learn in the science classroom. When teachers create a safe place where students are encouraged to investigate, there is more than one answer to a problem, and we practice giving and receiving constructive feedback, we are creating future engineers and scientists.

Using Socratic dialogue in the classroom helps students learn to speak up, share their ideas, question others professionally, and learn from their peers. After designing their own investigation and collecting and analyzing data, when students come back together to share their conclusions – they are learning how data helps build an argument and sway others’ opinions. NGSS storyline pedagogy helps to connect learning science to other subjects and promotes a love of learning based on questioning and investigating the world around us. When we set the stage for deeper learning, every student is the hero of their own educational journey.


Science and Engineering Practices and Skills


Topics: science and engineering practices, NGSS Storylines

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