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Improving Teacher Expectations of What Students Can Learn with NGSS-Based Explorations

Posted by Samantha Ozgood on Jul 25, 2021

An in depth look at the use of KnowAtom’s science curriculum by fourth and fifth grade teachers by Northeastern University researcher Dr. Tracy L. Waters revealed major changes in both teaching practices and the teacher’s expectations of what students can achieve. The educators who participated in Waters’ study expressed having higher expectations of their students after implementing the hands-on curriculum that aligns with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Teachers find students strengthening writing skills, modeling their knowledge, and using core vocabulary in context

Instead of memorization and recall, teachers found that their students were strengthening writing skills, modeling their knowledge, and using core vocabulary in context when using the KnowAtom curriculum.

Teachers changed both their teaching methods, incorporating more collaborative, hands-on learning, and their testing methods as their expectations for student achievement grew. Science tests no longer asked only for vocabulary recall, they required students to perform the expectations of the next generation science standards in context.

Replacing simple student handouts with cognitively demanding tasks results in better student behavior and performance

Professional development for teachers, getting the sage off the stage

Hands-on lab work in the classroom increased dramatically with the use of KnowAtom. One educator described previous lab work as a simple handout asking students to fill in missing spots, which required low-level cognition but aligned to the teacher’s expectations for the students. When reviewing the KnowAtom curriculum for the first time, the teacher reflected on the student thinking involved saying “My kids can’t do this. We always had such lower expectations for them.” The teacher reported a change in her belief about what her students could accomplish after using the KnowAtom science curriculum in her classroom, crediting it for improving classroom behaviors, student engagement, and achievement levels.

KnowAtom science resources helped transform students’ readiness for NGSS testing

Showing just how different her classroom became with the use of KnowAtom, the teacher described the change between pre- and post-NGSS implementation in the study of weather. Instead of asking students to recall the differences between the definitions of weather and climate, her students analyzed data and described the weather and climate of a specific region. They identified factors that contributed to changes in the weather and climate, applying core concepts to real-world situations. The hands-on learning process better prepared her students for NGSS and the types of questions asked on new performance-based standardized tests designed for the NGSS, the teacher also reported.

School leaders see district-wide transformation in elementary and middle school science

According to Waters’ research, school leaders saw major changes in their science classrooms district-wide after implementing KnowAtom curriculum and its professional development. One administrator noted seeing students do more writing in the science classroom, when previously there had been no expectation that reading or writing was a part of the science curriculum. With KnowAtom, teachers identified more cross-curricular opportunities and students strengthened communication, critical thinking, math, and other key skills while learning science.

Critical thinking skills, teamwork and collaboration are just a few of the 21st century career skills students develop with KnowAtom

Teachers reported that holding their students accountable for more than low-level recall, instead requiring them to model their ideas and understanding during classroom discussions and debate, helped improve literacy skills. Another marked change came in student engagement levels. When students took the lead, working through lab activities together and using quality science materials, teachers reported they were less distracted and had better classroom behaviors.

Better science supports math and literacy skills

KnowAtom integrates the scientific and engineering design process throughout its curriculum. When using the NGSS-based lessons, one teacher reported, “[Students] do a lot more writing in class. We do a lot more hands-on activities. I do less lecturing, …they now discover more through the inquiry-based [activities] that we do with this program.”

Students’ success inspires change in the way teachers view students’ learning

After changing her approach to teaching science with the use of hands-on challenges, the teacher now asks students to “Come up with the hardest question you can, but that you can [try to] figure out” and then coaches them to work together to find the answers hands-on. The teacher reported seeing her students rise to the challenge of STEM time and time again, which helped her change her own expectations of what they could accomplish together.

Learn more about KnowAtom.

Topics: science and engineering practices, Inquiry Based Learning, Next Generation Science, NGSS-Designed Curriculum, New Standardized Testing

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