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The Best Cooperative Learning Involves Release of Responsibility

Oct 17, 2021 by Judy Higgins

What is cooperative learning? Cooperative learning is an instructional model designed to improve student learning outcomes by promoting teamwork. Do you allow students to work together on small group learning projects? If so, you're already modeling cooperative learning strategies in your classroom. When our students work together on interactive classroom activities, they strengthen communication, social, and critical thinking skills. When collaborating in small groups of two to four peers, students have the opportunity to take responsibility for their own learning. Collaborative learning strategies require teachers to give up some responsibility for classroom instruction to their students, letting them take the lead.

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Topics: science and engineering practices, Next Generation Science Standards, higher order thinking, STEAM, interactive science, Professional Development, STEAM Curriculum, Next Generation Science, NGSS-Designed Curriculum

The Best Student Centered Classroom Starts with Authentic Questions

Sep 29, 2021 by Judy Higgins

One of the most important things we can teach our students, no matter what grade level or topic you teach, is how to ask good questions. When I think about this important topic, I can't help but consider how my teaching style has changed over the past 20 years. Today, when I think about how to support student centered learning in my classroom, I want to make sure that I am modeling good questions. That's because modeling is an important way to teach students how to ask good questions themselves. I am going to share with you what a good question looks like and how to teach your students ways to identify and use them effectively.

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student-centered classroom starts with the teacher. We've learned that we can improve student engagement and achieve better outcomes by giving up some of the control we have as teachers. Students who are given an active role in the classroom have more opportunities to think critically about the concepts and how they relate to the world around them. Rather than asking students to read and memorize, we need to be asking them to collaborate with their peers, discover new ideas, and make strong connections. With student centered learning, giving students a voice in the classroom helps improve student engagement, but students need to develop the skills to take the lead. Learning how to ask authentic questions of their peers, their teachers, and their sources – is a great way to start.


Student centered instruction and asking good questions

Good questions are good questions regardless of who you're interacting with or what subject you're teaching. If you're not a KnowAtom teacher, if you're a teacher who teaches another subject, a parent, or a principal, all of these things will apply to your students as well! Let's look first at where we can expect students to ask good questions when implementing a student-centered approach during a lesson.

KnowAtom's science curriculum starts off with a nonfiction reading component every time. That's where a lot of the questioning will happen in a student centered teaching model. From there, we move on to Socratic dialogue, where students discuss the questions, wonders, or connections they made from the reading. Questioning plays a big part in this section of the lesson and if we can improve our students' questioning skills, we can improve our classroom dialogue.

Students then move into planning, and we ask them to think like scientists or engineers. That entails a lot of questions about what's going to happen in the hands-on investigation portion of the unit. Then, the students carry out their investigation, experiment, or engineering activity. Lots and lots of questions are happening as part of this section as well. Finally, students share their conclusions in a debrief. One of the things that I enjoy most with student centered learning is listening to students question each other about their data and their outcomes.


The purpose of questioning in student centered learning

What's the purpose of questions? The main purpose of encouraging students to ask good questions is to engage them in taking a position on a concept or big idea from the reading. When you think about it, that's a really risky proposition. Perhaps that's why when I first started teaching, I asked questions like "What is a hurricane?" rather than "How are hurricanes related to the water cycle?"

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Topics: science and engineering practices, Next Generation Science Standards, higher order thinking, STEAM, Expert, STEAM Curriculum, Next Generation Science

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

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

Three Years In, Science Program in the Kurdish Region of Iraq Yields Positive Results  

Feb 16, 2018 by Sara Goodman

A program aimed at providing children living in camps for internally displaced people in the Kurdish Region of Iraq with important skill-building science instruction has established a vital network of people who know STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and who have a desire to learn and to teach other people in one of the most challenging environments on Earth.

The program began in 2015 in an effort to build relevant and lifelong skills for children living in conflict while at the same time helping to take their mind off of the conflict. Since its beginning, KnowAtom has partnered with local aid workers and the precursor to STEM Synergy, a non-profit that partners with community leaders to deliver quality STEM education to communities on the cusp of rapid development. 

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Topics: higher order thinking, Creativity, Next Generation Science

Success, Higher Order Thinking Skills and Grit

Nov 1, 2016 by Francis Vigeant

Higher order thinking is a crucial aspect of a 21st century science education. Without a grasp of creative, analytical and evaluative thinking skills, students have scant chance of developing the science and engineering practices they need to engage meaningfully in these subjects, as well as in English language arts and math. While higher order thinking skills are critical to the latter two subjects, science and engineering provide the best possible arena to teach them. In this article, we'll take a look at how grit and higher order thinking skills intersect to the student's benefit.

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Topics: higher order thinking

Defining Effective STEM Instruction

Apr 6, 2016 by Francis Vigeant

Here at KnowAtom, our focus is on helping districts align to the Next Generation Science Standards with authentic inquiry. In order to do this, we are focused on the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards and the National Research Council's definition of effective STEM instruction. 

 

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Topics: higher order thinking, STEM, Three dimensions

Critical Milestones for the Release of Responsibility in an NGSS Classroom

Apr 3, 2016 by Francis Vigeant

When evaluating alignment to NGSS, ask how well the curriculum releases responsibility to students over the course of the year.

Let’s begin by asking how much time should you be spending on learning. This question is easily answered, even if the implementation is not quite so simple. 

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Topics: higher order thinking, System-Level Alignment, release of responsibility

Next Generation Science Standards Could Refocus Standardized Testing

Mar 27, 2016 by Francis Vigeant

The next generation science standards are calling for a new model of science instruction. As educators make the switch from traditional instruction to next generation, state-level standardized testing for science must make the same shift that the classroom environment is making.

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Topics: higher order thinking, standardized testing

Redefining "Museum": A Fireside Chat with Dr. Carol Tang of the Children's Creativity Museum

Mar 18, 2016 by Sara Goodman





"There's not one way to do science. Each of us have our own strength, our own approaches. We could get to the same answer, or we could actually come up with different answers, and maybe that's what's exciting. ... Museums need to be that place where society can come together and create things together."

Dr. Carol Tang, executive director of the Children's Creativity Museum of San Francisco, joined KnowAtom CEO Francis Vigeant via webinar to talk about her own journey from exploring museums as a child to directing one; the overlap between classroom and museum education; and the advantages and challenges of doing "stealth education." What follows is a transcript of their conversation on Jan. 29, 2016.

In this interview, you'll read about:

  • Her childhood in Buffalo and how visits to museums shaped her love of science and her eventual career path
  • The idea of co-creating content in classrooms and museums versus delivering it 
  • Higher order thinking
  • How the museum environment is uniquely suited for explorative thinking and play
  • How the Next Generation Science Standards complement museum education
  • Additional resources for teachers seeking to recreate museum activities in their classrooms
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Topics: NGSS, higher order thinking, Creativity, interactive science, Museums

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