KnowAtom's Blog

How Important is Routine and Structure in NGSS Storylines?

May 9, 2023 by Staff Writer

When we talk about storyline pedagogy, we describe the individual lessons, or ‘episodes’ that make up a storyline as unscripted opportunities for student-led discovery. But, without the frameworks and classroom routines in place to prepare students for this next-generation model of instruction, we’re not setting them up for success. In fact, without strong routines and structures in place in the classroom, the idea of ‘unscripted discovery’ may make teachers and their students uncomfortable. That energy, however, is what sparks scientific discovery. Students need the time, space, and structure to create, to interact with phenomena personally, and to make mistakes and learn from them – for deeper learning to occur. With frameworks and processes in place, students and their teachers have common tools to engage critical thinking, personal reflection, and hands-on investigation.

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Topics: Socratic dialogue, Thinking Routines, NGSS Storylines

How NGSS Storylines Shift the Roles of Students and Teachers

May 2, 2023 by Staff Writer

When students own their own learning, they are more engaged and personally invested in the outcome. One of the keys to implementing storyline pedagogy effectively is allowing the students’ own questions to drive the storyline. In this model, teachers are co-creating an understanding with their students. For students, it is an understanding of the lesson’s big ideas, and for teachers, it is an understanding of the dimensions of their student’s learning. To engage in deeper learning, students need a safe space where intellectual risk taking is protected and encouraged. Processes and frameworks can be put in place to allow them to be creative, take risks, and create on their own. As co-creators in the classroom, a teacher’s role is different, but even more important than transferring knowledge. 

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Topics: Socratic dialogue, NGSS Storylines

How Important are Generative Questions in NGSS Storylines?

Apr 25, 2023 by Staff Writer

Storyline pedagogy gives students a chance to decide what they want to learn more about. To take the lead in the classroom, our students need to know how to ask good questions. Teachers can model intellectual curiosity to help students learn how to think more critically. Asking authentic questions, ones that we don’t know the answer to, is an important part of storyline pedagogy. For example, ‘What do you think of when you think of wind,’ is an authentic question. When compared to the question, ‘What is wind,’ this example highlights how asking better questions encourages students to connect personally with science phenomena and think deeper about its impact on their life. The first question is both authentic and generative, because it sparks even more questions. Generative questions help power student-led investigation and NGSS storylines, as the students build knowledge around an anchor phenomenon and pick the next question they want to investigate. 

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Topics: Socratic dialogue, NGSS Storylines

How to Improve the Effectiveness of NGSS Storylines with Formative Assessments

Apr 6, 2023 by Francis Vigeant

In Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-based classrooms, students are required to learn more than facts. The standards are skills and performance-based, grounded on the understanding that students need to build their own skills and work with their own ideas, rather than the ideas of others. NGSS storylines promote this type of personal, hands-on learning through an investigation into real-world challenges.

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Topics: Socratic dialogue, NGSS Storylines

How to Use Socratic Dialogue to Drive Discussion in NGSS Storylines

Feb 24, 2023 by Francis Vigeant


A student-led discussion offers a low-stakes way for kids to wonder, ask questions, and change their minds. In the classroom, Socratic dialogue encourages students to think like scientists and engineers as they connect new information to their current knowledge, learn from their peers, and strengthen their understanding of the world around them. Socratic dialogue is the second step in the KnowAtom Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-led lesson routine.

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Topics: Socratic dialogue, NGSS Storylines

Using Socratic Dialogue with NGSS Curriculum

Feb 4, 2022 by Francis Vigeant

The second step in the KnowAtom lesson routine for grades K-8 is Socratic dialogue. This is an important part of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-based curriculum for students of all ages. If you're new at implementing scientific discussions or looking to improve the Socratic dialogue in your classroom, it's important to set clear expectations for yourself and your students. Knowing what you should expect as a teacher-facilitator and what you should expect from your students as they become more familiar with Socratic dialogue in your science class, will help improve your results.

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Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, Socratic dialogue, Implementing New Science Standards

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, STEM / STEAM, Middle School Science Curriculum, Next Generation Science, Implementing New Science Standards, NGSS-Designed Curriculum, Phenomena-Based Learning, Remote Learning, Thinking Routines

5 Concrete Steps to Ensure Students Are Making Deep Connections

Jun 13, 2018 by Sara Goodman

Socratic dialogue is an important way to get students to begin working with their own ideas and the ideas of others, clarifying what they think and why they think it, and then refining their thoughts as a result of the discussion.

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Topics: Socratic dialogue, Next Generation Science Classroom Instruction, Three-Dimensional Learning

7 Expectations You Should Set for a Genuine Socratic Dialogue

Jun 6, 2018 by Francis Vigeant

Socratic dialogue is an important part of a next generation science classroom because it is all about students learning how to work with their own ideas and the ideas of others. The skills students need to actively contribute to a Socratic dialogue take time to develop. 

The amount of time that it takes is really a function of how clear and consistent you are as the teacher, communicating your expectations and coaching your students.

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Topics: Socratic dialogue, Next Generation Science Classroom Instruction, Three-Dimensional Learning

How to Get Students to Participate in Socratic Dialogue

May 23, 2018 by Nicole Lanoue

A strong Socratic dialogue can be helped by the layout of your class and how you organize students. We'll focus on three different formats for Socratic dialogue.

Choosing a Socratic Dialogue Format

The layout of your classroom and how students are positioned can go a long way toward getting students to be active participants. The format you choose will depend on your grade level and the familiarity of your students with Socratic dialogue.

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Topics: Socratic dialogue, Next Generation Science Classroom Instruction, Three-Dimensional Learning

5 Features of All Socratic Dialogues

May 16, 2018 by Francis Vigeant


To understand why Socratic dialogue is so important in a next generation science classroom, it’s important to first describe what exactly a Socratic dialogue is—and equally importantly, what it is not.

What a Socratic Dialogue Is:

There are 5 key features of all genuine Socratic dialogues.

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Topics: Socratic dialogue, Next Generation Science Classroom Instruction, Three-Dimensional Learning

Why is Socratic Dialogue So Important in a Next Generation Science Classroom?

May 9, 2018 by Nicole Lanoue

A next generation science class is all about students learning how to work with ideas, both their own ideas and the ideas of others.

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Topics: Socratic dialogue, Phenomena-Based Learning, Three-Dimensional Learning

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