When it comes to Next Gen Curriculum and Standards, it's important to unpack curriculum mapping. NGSS Standards are performance expectations (PEs), and there are infinite routes to student mastery but for students to get there requires the skill and knowledge of teachers to create deeper learning opportunities.Continue reading
Whether you are currently using KnowAtom or not, all teachers know the importance of a great discussion. I'd like to share with you some of the teaching strategies I've learned over the past 20 years to help prepare your students for meaningful scientific discussion. If you're not a science teacher, many of the cooperative learning and growth mindset strategies I am going to discuss will work with your students as well.
What is a growth mindset? The education concept was developed by psychologist Carol Dweck and shared in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She writes, "In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits…. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort." In contrast, "In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning…." says Dweck.
Teachers who use the KnowAtom curriculum understand first-hand how implementing cooperative learning strategies, including Socratic dialogue, in the classroom improves student engagement and strengthens learning outcomes. I've also seen how as I give the reins more to my students, letting them take the lead in classroom discussions and small group projects, they can accomplish amazing things together. Seeing this first-hand has definitely strengthened my belief in a growth mindset!
Preparing for student-led discussions
Giving students the tools they need to prepare for a great discussion is something that we really need to remember to do because students don't always know how to do it on their own. With this support, we can create students who are confident in their ability to discuss their ideas. With Dweck's growth mindset in mind, we can prepare students to engage in cooperative learning strategies that strengthen their critical thinking skills and set them up to become lifelong learners.
When using the KnowAtom curriculum, there are simple steps to every lesson that we do together as a class. We always start with nonfiction reading. Then we move into a Socratic dialogue where the students discuss their thoughts and get ready for what they will be planning next. The goal of a great classroom discussion is to create a bridge between what the students have read and the lab they will soon be preparing for. They are better prepared when we get to the cooperative learning groups' hands-on science investigation because of this step-by-step process.
The most important part of a good Socratic discussion is that the teacher is not the only one asking the questions. The students ask each other questions. They challenge each other to defend their thinking, and in the process, learn to use evidence to support their arguments. It's important to remember that cooperative learning doesn't happen overnight. When I started teaching with KnowAtom, my students were really excited about what they read. When it came time for the formal discussion, I assumed they would be very eager to discuss the information. I was wrong – we just sat there. The students either looked at me with panic or looked at their lab books. I was the only one asking questions. So, I had to go back and think about, how am I going to help my students feel prepared and comfortable to discuss these lessons?
Developing cooperative learning routines
The first thing we do together is develop routines. First, students gather the resources they need. Next, we review pre-lesson questions to get the students thinking about what they are going to read about. For the reading portion, we develop different cooperative learning strategies, including reading individually, as a class, or with a partner. We also use read-aloud videos and reading strategies to help all students access the nonfiction text. Finally, we use picture thinking graphic organizers to help students focus on the pictures from the text.
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.Continue reading
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
To help students achieve accelerated learning in the classroom, teachers need to improve how we set and communicate our expectations. In student-centered learning, students choose what they will learn, and they set the pace. Teachers become classroom facilitators when their students take the lead in an accelerated learning program. Implementing formative assessments in a student centered classroom will improve outcomes because students better understand the expectations because they are getting continuous feedback in the moment.
What's the difference between formative and summative assessments? Formative assessments occur in the moment as students are engaged in making sense of phenomena. This real-time approach allows students to incorporate the feedback into their thinking and their work, becoming more aware of their own learning process and refining their skills in the moment. In a formative assessment, the teacher's role is an interested skeptic, engaged in the student's argument but pressing for evidence and reasoning. A formative assessment requires a shift in responsibility. Instead of a student trying to guess what the teacher wants, the student is productively struggling to develop skills and content knowledge, with support/coaching from the teacher. Summative assessments are more high stakes and occur less frequently, typically at the end of a lesson or unit.
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.
A 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?"
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.
Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, higher order thinking, Socratic dialogue, Expert, Middle School Science Curriculum, Next Generation Science, Implementing New Science Standards, NGSS-Designed Curriculum, Phenomena-Based Learning, Remote Learning, Thinking Routines
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.Continue reading
Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, STEAM, interactive science, Professional Development, Inquiry Based Learning, STEAM Curriculum, Next Generation Science, Implementing New Science Standards, NGSS-Designed Curriculum, Next Generation Science Classroom Instruction, Phenomena-Based Learning, science education, Remote Learning, Formative Assessment
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).Continue reading
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.Continue reading
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.Continue reading
As new science curricula appear in the market claiming to be designed for the Next Generation Science Standards, more and more teachers are starting to ask what their purpose is in a next generation classroom.Continue reading
Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, Next Generation Science, Implementing New Science Standards, NGSS-Designed Curriculum, Next Generation Science Classroom Instruction, STEM Education Policy, Three-Dimensional Learning
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.Continue reading
We frequently hear statements like this: "We teach earth science in 6th grade." While assertions of this nature are now so common and entrenched in the educational tradition as to avoid question by most educators, that shouldn’t be the case. Because again, what happens if a student wasn't there for 6th grade? What if a student was there but they had some home issues or personal issues? In a one-and-done unit, that student has missed their chance to experience this entire facet of science learning, and indeed, of our world.Continue reading
Topics: Next Generation Science