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5 Steps to Use NGSS Phenomena More Effectively in Your Classroom

Nov 9, 2021 by Sara Goodman

There are 5 steps educators can adopt in their own classrooms to use NGSS phenomena most effectively in the classroom.

Step 1: Find a real-world phenomenon.

Phenomena are observable events where using ideas, based on evidence, we can explain or predict their occurrence. In accordance with NGSS, instructors will begin their lessons by selecting an anchor phenomenon for discussion. Note that NGSS phenomena are complex and based in real-world context. They represent questions we can’t answer in a single experiment or problems we can’t solve in one round of prototyping. They also should relate to one or more of the standards you plan to explore in the lesson/unit.

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Topics: NGSS-Designed Curriculum, Next Generation Science Classroom Instruction, Phenomena-Based Learning

The NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas: An Overview of the Fundamentals

Nov 3, 2021 by Francis Vigeant

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is a multi-state initiative to create new education standards for students from K-12.  It establishes a progression of performance expectations spanning the elementary through high school years that promote growth in students' abilities to participate in science and engineering.

Rich in content and practice, an NGSS curriculum should delivers a coherent learning experience across disciplines for a grade specific and internationally benchmarked education in STEM subjects.  There are three foundations of the NGSS standards which are the NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas, Crosscutting Concepts, and Science and Engineering Practices, which together guide the development of K-12 science curriculum, instruction, and assessments that form the most critical areas of science education.

What are the NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas?

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas ( DCI ) are fundamental scientific ideas that form the content of an NGSS curriculum.  They cover four domains: physical science, life science, earth and space science, as well as engineering, technology, and applications of science.

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Topics: NGSS, Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS-Designed Curriculum

Next Gen Curriculum Mapping: 3 Important Things to Unpack

Oct 28, 2021 by Judy Higgins

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.

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Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, STEAM, Growth Mindset, STEAM Curriculum, Next Generation Science, NGSS-Designed Curriculum

Tools to Develop a Growth Mindset in Cooperative Learning Discussions

Oct 26, 2021 by Judy Higgins

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.

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Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, STEAM, Growth Mindset, STEAM Curriculum, Next Generation Science, NGSS-Designed Curriculum, Remote Learning, KWL Chart

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

Evaluating an NGSS Aligned Science Curriculum: 3 Key Features to Look For

Oct 7, 2021 by Francis Vigeant

The curriculum translates the Next Generation Science Standards into a classroom experience where students can be scientists and engineers. It’s what helps students gain experience performing science investigations and making connections on an everyday basis in order to reach mastery. Over time, they can generalize those skills in a variety of situations.

The curriculum translates the Next Generation Science Standards into a classroom experience where students can be scientists and engineers. It’s what helps students gain experience performing science investigations and making connections on an everyday basis in order to reach mastery. Over time, they can generalize those skills in a variety of situations. 

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Topics: NGSS-Designed Curriculum

The Best Formative Assessment for Accelerated Learning in Student Centered Classrooms

Oct 3, 2021 by Judy Higgins

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.

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Topics: science and engineering practices, Next Generation Science Standards, interactive science, STEAM Curriculum, Next Generation Science, NGSS-Designed Curriculum

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

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 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

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

Research Shows Changing Beliefs and Attitudes About Teaching and Learning Science

May 28, 2021 by Samantha Ozgood

Connecting students with phenomena-based science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning opportunities is a driving force behind building the workforce of the future. For school leaders and teachers just starting to implement new hands-on learning models and those who have been incorporating collaborate STEM education for years, understanding the measurable effect on student learning and engagement levels is important. One Northeastern University researcher set out to evaluate the impact of implementing the collaborative, hands-on KnowAtom science curriculum in elementary and middle school classrooms.


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Topics: Case study, Professional Development, Implementing New Science Standards, NGSS-Designed Curriculum, NGSS-Aligned Curriculum

Do teachers have a new role in the NGSS classroom?

Aug 22, 2019 by Sara Goodman

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.

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Topics: NGSS, Next Generation Science Standards, Next Generation Science, Implementing New Science Standards, NGSS-Designed Curriculum, Next Generation Science Classroom Instruction, STEM Education Policy, Teaching in 3 Dimensions

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