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Posted by Francis Vigeant on Oct 10, 2016

The Difference Between Growth and Fixed Mindset with NGSS

In order to design science class for a growth mindset, we need to understand the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. The latter has dominated classrooms for years but does not leave room for students to really operate as scientists and engineers. Because Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are all about teaching true science and engineering, you must have a growth mindset in your classroom if you're to have any hope of succeeding.

Teaching STEM as a Cycle

STEM Cycle

The STEM Cycle is an endless loop in which we gather knowledge from experimentation and inform the engineering process, and as engineers we design technologies that solve problems. These technologies often enable scientists to pursue more scientific knowledge. In between and facilitating the process are technology, math, and knowledge.

Let's start by addressing the nature of science and engineering. Science is knowledge from experimentation, while engineering is solving problems through prototyping. The role of a scientist is to engage in asking questions, forming hypotheses, and trying to test those hypotheses through experimentation. The role of an engineer is to design prototypes, test them, and gather information that helps them decide whether to iterate the design process or start producing based on a successful prototype. Engineers don't "build" things. They design solutions to problems. They test those solutions similarly to the way scientists test things. They have, in essence, experiments to gather data and decide whether or not that prototype actually solves the problem.

It's important to note that we don't do science. We don't do engineering. We are scientists. We are engineers. We're participating in problem-solving and answering questions, plain and simple. That's where we get data to reflect back on our own ideas or the ideas of others and to form evidence-based conclusions.

Math is at the center of this cycle because it's a tool for communication. It helps us move from subjective to objective observation and gives us what we need to analyze data and provide evidence to support our claims. Technology and knowledge also enable the process.

Traditional Model of Instruction

Traditional Model of Science Instruction

The traditional model of science instruction puts the teacher between student and content, acting as gatekeeper and operating on a rote basis. The focus traditionally is on lower order thinking skills.

In the traditional model of instruction, content has to flow through the instructor, who models and demonstrates and explains scientific ideas to students. Students, for their part, recall facts, repeat demonstrations they have seen and summarize phenomena. They are not actually experimenting or designing on their own and are therefore not acting as scientists and engineers in the traditional model.

In this environment, students are required to be sponges and must show their proficiency through an ability to parrot knowledge back to the teacher. This runs counter to the whole aim of the Next Generation Science Standards, which is to help students participate in the roles of scientists and engineers. To innovate.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Bloom's Taxonomy is rearranged from the traditional pyramid model to put creating, evaluating, and analyzing in equal position.

Innovation, of course, relies on higher order thinking skills—specifically the skills to create, evaluate and analyze. That's why the Next Generation Science Standards rearrange Bloom's Taxonomy. Rather than being a pyramid, in this model creating, evaluating, and analyzing happens simultaneously.

From a standards perspective students should be developing and using their understanding of the three dimensions in the classroom as part of the NGSS inquiry experience.

When you look at the new standards, you see them in three dimensions. You have the skills dimension, the content dimension, and also the phenomenon dimension. These standards reference what students who have learned in the classroom will be able to demonstrate as a result of instruction. Rather than dictating direct instruction, the standards outline an experience in which students are able to develop and use content with skills and connect that content through the phenomenon they observe.

The Next Generation Model of Science Instruction

Next Gen Model of Science Instruction

Students have direct access to content, using their skills to interact with it, while the teacher tunes the inquiry environment and adjusts student support to gradually release responsibility.

The next generation model of inquiry is very different from the traditional one. In a full inquiry model, the teacher plays the role of coach. Students engage science and engineering practices that will enable them to develop and use the content, or disciplinary core ideas. They will connect these ideas through crosscutting concepts.

While it may look as though teachers have been downgraded, they actually play an even more vital role in this model. Their job is not to impart facts; a textbook can do that. They're there to help students engage appropriately, redirect and monitor them, and adjust supports along the way.

Science and Engineering Practices (Skills)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (NRC Framework 2012)

The science and engineering practices as defined by the Next Generation Science Standards.

This is where the science and engineering practices, or skills, come into play. Through development and use of these skills, students can plan investigations, analyze data, argue from evidence, ask questions and define problems, and more. This is not a role the teacher plays, but instead helps students do themselves. Only when they learn to do so do they have the best chance of going on to higher education and careers in which they actually act as scientists and engineers, innovating and contributing to global scientific knowledge and engineering solutions.

A Growth Mindset Emerges with Grit




GRIT was published in 2016 and discusses the importance of rigor in education. A rigorous environment is defined as one in which the challenges exceed the skills.




The New York Times bestseller Grit, written by educator Angela Duckworth, is an excellent read that highlights the importance of rigor in education. Her definition of rigor is where challenge exceeds skill. In a rigorous environment, one which prioritizes the growth mindset, students are continually challenged in such a way that each challenge exceeds their current skills. This is true for any grade level, from Kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Moreover, those skills are going to develop over the course of the year. Skillful teaching is all about continuing to challenge students and upping the level of expectations every time they master new skills and meet the current challenge. This takes a lot of skill on the part of the teacher and is not something a computer app can just take care of for you. Perhaps someday that will be possible, but today a skilled educator is needed to accomplish this.


Effective STEM instruction capitalizes on students' early interest and experiences, identifies and builds on what they know, and provides them with experiences to engage them in the practices of science and sustain their interest.

It's important to define effective science and engineering instruction—or more broadly, STEM instruction as a whole. The definition above comes from the National Research Council, which played a role in shaping and giving direction to the Next Generation Science Standards.

To unpack that, effective STEM instruction is an intentional nurturing process that starts in pre-K and follows children intentionally from grade level to grade level. It identifies and builds on what they know through that process, not only from one year to the next but from September through June as well. The unit order and lesson order really matter because that's how you identify and build on what children know, setting challenges that exceed their skill level yet are possible for them to meet. You have to be able to accommodate any child, whether they have been in the district all their lives, are new to it, or are entirely new to a country and have no formal education at all.

The only way we can identify and build on what children know is by actually creating that opportunity through non-fiction reading and different experiences, scaffolded to provide children the foundation in which to experience the work as scientists and engineers with the greatest chance of success. Providing children with experiences to engage them in the practices means engaging children in actually using and developing the skills specific to science and engineering. Having a scope and sequence, and actually using the activity as the means of learning versus as a culminating activity, is what sustains students' interest over time.

In the two photos above, you can see a shift away from what you see on the left—that traditional model in which students see something and then go imitate what they've seen—to what you see on the right, where students have done some non-fiction reading, held Socratic dialogue and are now coming together collaboratively in this student team to try and solve a problem or question. They don't know what the answer to that is, and the teacher doesn't necessarily know either. That's what developing and actually using the content looks like.

Designing for a Growth Mindset ebook
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