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Learning Styles Are More About Teaching Styles: Teaching All Learners

Sep 21, 2021 by Judy Higgins

One thing I've learned over the past 20 years of teaching is that learning styles are really more about teaching styles. There are many different types of learning styles and it's important to make sure that we are teaching all learners and giving students the tools they need to succeed in the classroom. One example of how to accomplish this challenge in your own classroom is by improving access to the assigned reading for all students. To help, I am going to share the tools and strategies I use to engage all students in the nonfiction reading component of the KnowAtom science curriculum.

KnowAtom's next generation science standards (NGSS)-designed curriculum uses a similar routine for each lesson so that students begin to know what to expect. For each lesson within every unit, we start out reading. Students then take part in a Socratic dialogue using what they've learned from the reading. Next, we plan for a hands-on experiment, investigation, or engineering prototype. To wrap up the investigation, teams share their conclusions and debrief. As you can see, the nonfiction reading provides the launching point for each lesson.

No matter what level a student is reading at, whether they are an English language learner or whether they are predominantly a visual vs. an auditory learner, it's important that they can access the information in the reader upfront. To help students with different types of learning styles access the nonfiction text, teachers must understand how students learn differently. One popular model is the VARK learning styles theory. VARK identifies four different learning styles: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing. While most students have a combination of these different types of learning styles, some students learn predominantly from only one.

Connecting new phenomena to past experience

When beginning a new lesson, teachers should consider what knowledge and experiences students bring with them to the class. By establishing a common background when introducing new phenomena, teachers help level the playing field for students who are at different places along their learning journey.

For example, if we're investigating friction and the impact that a dog sled might have moving over snow, that context would be really difficult for a student who hasn't experienced snow to think about. "I don't understand because I don't know what it's like to walk on snow. I don't know the properties of snow. I haven't experienced that," the student is thinking. With the KnowAtom curriculum, the text before every unit helps give every student a common background and some insight into the phenomena they're about to explore.

For students with reading/writing predominance in their VARK learning style, reading the text before the hands-on experiment helps them understand the new concept when it is introduced. But that's not the only type of learning style you have in your classroom. Visual learners are better supported by the visuals in the nonfiction reader, including photos, charts, and graphs with explanatory text. Auditory learners may learn best from classroom discussions about the reading and can be supported by tools like sentence starter frames and annotating the text, so they come to the class discussion with the right questions to ask. Finally, kinesthetic learners learn from doing – and the tactile experience of completing an engineering project related to the new concept will help them better understand the lesson.

Another way students with all different types of learning styles can relate to the nonfiction text in the KnowAtom student readers is by connecting the new information to current knowledge – what they've learned before. Students start to think about, "Oh, I remember learning a little bit about that last year," or "I experienced something like this when I was cooking at home and the water started to boil." When working in pairs, small groups, or as a class – teachers can help students connect new phenomena with current knowledge by asking questions about what they've learned from the text and what it reminds them of.

KnowAtom's introductory text helps students start to think about what they will be exploring in the hands-on activity. It introduces or reinforces the vocabulary needed for the Socratic discourse, so students feel more comfortable joining in the classroom discussion. When using KnowAtom's NGSS-designed curriculum, we challenge our students to act like scientists and engineers, interacting with their peers in a professional setting. This helps level the playing field even further because all students are accessing the same vocabulary when discussing the new phenomenon and understand the rules of engagement when taking part in the classroom discussion.


Tools to strengthen reading fundamentals for all types of learning styles

One of the first things I do to help improve access to the reading material for all students is using prereading tools. The majority of my students are English learners, so they are often not reading at grade level yet. One tool I use to help them access the text is focusing on pictures. Asking students to find meaning in the images in KnowAtom's student readers and using a picture thinking graphic organizer helps them identify the images' object, action, and property. Students build critical thinking and active reading skills as they wonder what they will be reading about through the images and connect it to their current knowledge. This can be done together as a class, or in small student groups, or individually.

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Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, higher order thinking, Socratic dialogue, Expert, Middle School Science Curriculum, Phenomena-led teaching, Next Generation Science, Implementing New Science Standards, NGSS-Designed Curriculum, Remote Learning, Picture Thinking

The Best KWL Chart is Actually a Picture Thinking Routine

Sep 15, 2021 by Judy Higgins

What is a KWL chart, and how is it used in teaching science? Let's take a look first at what the 'KWL' stands for – it's an acronym for what students KNOW, WANT to know, and will LEARN during a lesson. KWL charts are graphic organizers that help students collect information before, during, and after a unit. Using a KWL graphic organizer supports the constructivist teaching model – the idea that deeper learning happens when students are actively involved in the learning process instead of passive recipients of new information.

When teachers use KWL charts to introduce new ideas and topics, they help students identify what they already know about the topic and better understand the objectives of the lesson. KWL charts can also be used by teachers to monitor student success. KWL charts help guide students through nonfiction texts, as they track their progress in three columns titled KNOW, WANT, and LEARNED. There are many different KWL chart format examples, and they can be used to teach a variety of topics and subject areas. I am going to share how I used a Picture-Thinking graphic organizer (one type of KWL chart) with the KnowAtom science curriculum to implement the Picture-Thinking reading strategy. This graphic organizer is even better than a KWL chart because students are working within a context to identify what they know, want to know, and what they've learned. I have been a teacher for about 20 years, and for the last five years of my teaching I have used the KnowAtom curriculum.


KWL Charts and Picture-Thinking Reading Comprehension

The picture-thinking routine is one of my favorite routines. I started using this in my classroom about two years ago, and it really made a huge difference in my students' engagement with nonfiction texts. When I made it part of my regular classroom routine, students started thinking in such different ways. I'm going to take you step-by-step through exactly how to implement this routine in your own classroom, using the Picture-Thinking graphic organizer to help.

What is a "picture thinker?" A picture thinker is someone who thinks more in pictures than in words or sounds. Incorporating the picture-thinking routine in your classroom will help not only those students who think "in pictures," it's a great way for all students to make strong connections between the context and new vocabulary words, concepts, and what they already know. Here's an example of a Picture-Thinking KWL graphic organizer I use in my classroom:

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Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, interactive science, Inquiry Based Learning, Next Generation Science Classroom Instruction, science education, KWL Chart, Picture Thinking

In the Know: Why NGSS Science and Engineering Practices Matter

Sep 1, 2021 by Sara Goodman

Now that the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are upon us, there has been a lot of talk about the NGSS three dimensions. One of the most significant shifts under the NGSS learning standards comes in the integration of the eight science and engineering practices with the disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts.

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Topics: NGSS

The NGSS 3 Dimensions of Science Learning: Understanding Why They Are Key

Sep 1, 2021 by Francis Vigeant

The STEM cycle of innovation is about relationships between the core STEM components – science, technology, engineering and math.

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Topics: NGSS

CER Science with Thinking Moves: Using Claim Evidence Reasoning

Aug 31, 2021 by Judy Higgins

What is CER? CER stands for Claim, Evidence, Reasoning. It is essentially a framework that educators use to teach the scientific method. Simplified, it looks like:

Claim (answer to a question) + Evidence (student’s data) + Reasoning (scientific principle or rule)

When we ask students to support scientific claims using CER and we model thinking moves in the process, we help spark their own curiosity about the world around them. When teachers introduce KnowAtom’s hands-on engineering labs and science experiments, they are bringing real world phenomena into the classroom. And when students make a scientific claim and back it up, they are taking charge of their own learning process.

Learning about thinking moves was one of the most transformative steps in my 20-year teaching career. One of my favorite quotes is from an American writer, Elbert Hubbard, who said, “The object of teaching a child is to enable him to get along without a teacher.” Thinking moves provide a structured approach to better understanding how we think. For teachers, it’s also a well-tested strategy to help propel students towards learning connected to their own natural curiosity and cognitive abilities. When students take the reins in the classroom, studies overwhelmingly show that engagement levels rise, and learning outcomes do too.

Thinking Moves in the Classroom, CER, and NGSS

Whether you are an educator, parent, guardian, or principal – you can learn from teachers who incorporate thinking moves into their classrooms. Thinking moves help students develop a much deeper level of understanding of the topic at hand. Here’s a list of thinking moves developed by the authors of Making Things Visible (2011):

1. Observing closely and describing what’s there
2. Building explanations and interpretations
3. Reasoning with evidence
4. Making connections
5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives
6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions
7. Wondering and asking questions
8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things

You’ve probably already noticed how well these go along with next generation science skills (NGSS). For those teaching science and engineering practices in the classroom – here’s how thinking moves align directly with STEM:

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Topics: NGSS, STEAM, Scientific Method, Thinking Moves, Frame Model, Discourse Frames

Constructivism In the Classroom: Concept Mapping for NGSS

Aug 23, 2021 by Judy Higgins

As a science teacher for over 20 years, I’ve seen a lot of teaching strategies come and go. Today, the focus is on Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) to help prepare students to join the workforce of the future. The teaching methods required by NGSS are based on constructivism – the idea that learners actively create new knowledge and understanding based on what they already know. Concept mapping is one way to help students link new ideas to knowledge they already have.

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Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS Assessments, STEAM, interactive science, Professional Development, Inquiry Based Learning, STEAM Curriculum, Phenomena-led teaching, Next Generation Science, Implementing New Science Standards, NGSS-Designed Curriculum, Next Generation Science Classroom Instruction, science education, Remote Learning

Improving Teamwork and Collaboration Skills with Hands-on NGSS Science

Aug 1, 2021 by Samantha Ozgood

KnowAtom’s interactive science curriculum is designed to help students strengthen teamwork, collaboration and group communication skills through authentic instruction, hands-on lab work, and student-centered STEM investigations. As a result, teachers who use the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-based curriculum report improved collaboration among their students, as they work together in teams to investigate, question, and explain core theories. One researcher from Northeastern University, Dr. Tracy L. Waters, evaluated KnowAtom implementation in fourth and fifth grade science classrooms and identified diverse examples of increased collaboration amongst students throughout the year.

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Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, higher order thinking, Professional Development, Implementing New Science Standards, Time on Learning

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

Jul 25, 2021 by Samantha Ozgood

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).

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

New Constructivist Teaching & 5e Model Remove Barriers to Learning K-8

Jul 18, 2021 by Samantha Ozgood

Research from Northeastern University’s Dr. Tracy L. Waters shows that using the KnowAtom Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-based curriculum is helping teachers spark excitement from young learners. Promoting differentiation in how students are taught core science concepts, build 21st century career skills, and utilize scientific process for hands-on discovery is helping improve student success and increase collaboration and engagement in the classroom.

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Topics: Middle School Science Curriculum, 5E Instructional Model, Next Generation Science, Implementing New Science Standards, NGSS-Designed Curriculum, Next Generation Science Classroom Instruction

Teachers Using KnowAtom Engage Students in More Hands-on Science Investigations

Jul 11, 2021 by Samantha Ozgood

One of the highlights of Northeastern University researcher Dr. Tracy L. Waters’ review of fourth and fifth grade science classrooms using the KnowAtom curriculum is a shift in both teaching methods and belief in what students can achieve together. Dr. Waters evaluated classrooms using Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) led by teachers who had been teaching the KnowAtom curriculum for at least two years and who ranged in teaching experience from 2 to 25 years.

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Topics: Professional Development, NGSS-Designed Curriculum, Next Generation Science Classroom Instruction, science education

Research: Student Math & ELA Achievement Rises Using KnowAtom for NGSS

Jul 4, 2021 by Samantha Ozgood

In 2015, the National Research Council released it’s landmark Guide to Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards. The framework for K-12 Science Education and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) was a vision for how to teach hands-on science processes and practices to build the skills needed for the workforce of the future. Since then, NGSS have been adopted by at least forty-five states and the District of Columbia, impacting the vast majority of the U.S. school aged population, according to Northeastern University researcher Dr. Tracy L. Waters.

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Topics: Professional Development, Implementing New Science Standards

New Research Results on NGSS Curriculum Effects on Students and Teachers

Jun 21, 2021 by Raquel Jenks

A new era of learning has arrived. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for K-12 has dramatically transformed the way students learn, leading to a deeper level of understanding of critical scientific concepts. The eight fundamental science practices of the NGSS are designed to generate curricula that nurtures students’ capacity to think critically about key scientific theories, utilize skills learned in other areas of study to communicate their findings, and collaborate with their peers to work towards common goals.

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Topics: Professional Development, Elementary, Middle School Science Curriculum, NGSS-Designed Curriculum, Evaluating Curriculum

Schools Show Success in Improving Student Learning, Engagement and Behavior with a Combination of KnowAtom’s Research-Based Instructional Practices and Professional Development

Jun 14, 2021 by Samantha Ozgood

Implementing a Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-based curriculum transforms educators from transmitters of information to facilitators of learning. KnowAtom’s innovative approach to teaching science helps transform classrooms into collaborative teaching laboratories – where students take the lead in their own learning process. That’s just what Northeastern University researcher Dr. Tracy L. Waters found when evaluating fourth and fifth grade science teachers implementing KnowAtom – measurable improvements in student learning, as well as changes in teaching methods, as educators began to give students more responsibility in the learning process.

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Topics: NGSS, Next Generation Science Standards, Professional Development, STEAM Curriculum

Review Finds Big Impact on Teaching & Learning with KnowAtom for NGSS

Jun 13, 2021 by Megan Powers

Northeastern University research finds that public school classrooms using KnowAtom’s STEM curriculum designed for NGSS observed a variety of positive and sought-after results, from shifts in teacher beliefs about teaching and learning to improved student engagement to increased standardized test scores and more collaborative student classroom behavior.

The independent research reviewed KnowAtom curriculum designed for NGSS in elementary and middle school classrooms of professional public school teachers in multiple schools, including urban schools with high percentages of special populations including English Learners (ELs).

The research titled “The Effects of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) on Teaching Practices: An Instrumental Case Study” by Dr. Tracy L. Waters, found KnowAtom designed for NGSS effectively integrated the goals of the Next Generation Science Standards and strongly supported elementary and middle school teachers in effectively making instructional and curricula shifts necessary with strong evidence of transformed student performance and engagement as a result.

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Topics: Case study, Professional Development, Next Generation Science, Next Generation Science Classroom Instruction, NGSS-Aligned Curriculum

New Findings: Teachers & Students Transformed by Next Generation Science Standards with Curriculum Designed by KnowAtom

Jun 8, 2021 by Samantha Ozgood

New research from Northeastern University researcher Dr. Tracy L. Waters identifies the changes middle and elementary school teachers made to their instructional practices when implementing KnowAtom’s Next Generation Science Standard (NGSS)-based curriculum. She describes the KnowAtom curriculum as “built on an innovative approach to teaching science based on the NGSS, where teachers become facilitators of learning rather than givers of information.” Her research shows just how much “teaching practice was transformed through curriculum implementation when teachers began to release responsibility to students…”.

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Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, STEM grants, Policy, Professional Development, Implementing New Science Standards, Next Generation Leadership

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