At the NSTA’s Boston Conference this year, I attended a Professional Development Institute on the Next Generation Science Standards. Since then, I have been looking forward to taking the time to review the standards in greater depth and consider how I can incorporate them into my curriculum.
I am pretty lucky to work at a private school that gives me a good deal of freedom with what and how I teach. I have a set of standards for each grade level – but to be honest, they are nearly identical. There are perhaps ten changes between fifth and sixth grade’s seven page documents. I have been thinking how challenging it is to cover all of that material in one year’s time (and actually, in only three quarters of the year, because I am supposed to teach health as well!), and really, how unfeasible it is to truly explore the content.
As I started to brainstorm some approaches for next year, it occurred to me that because I teach two grades, and these middle level grades are all working towards the same school curriculum documents and NGSS standards, I could divide the curriculum in half. Fifth grade could explore one half of the seven page list of standards, and sixth grade could cover the other half. This allows us to take enough time to truly engage with the content and build science practices, instead of just memorizing and “spitting back” a cursory overview of the topic.
Right now, I’m leaning toward starting with the physical sciences in fifth grade (matter and energy), moving into earth science (energy resources/natural resources), and ending with a unit on weather, climate, and global warming/climate change. Then in sixth grade, they would begin by taking a broad view of life science through the study of ecology, move into biodiversity, and end with a focus on biology (organisms, life cycles, adaptation, anatomy, etc.). Additionally, I plan to include a “citizen scientist” project and/or a service learning component. With this approach, I would still meet all the standards I am required to over the course of two years, but students would have time to reach deeper depths of complexity and understanding.
Anyway, I will be posting my unit plans on the blog as I complete them, but in the mean time, check out the new lesson planner I created —
While the other lesson plan templates I have made focused on Common Core State Standards and 21st Century Skills, this template is designed for lessons that align with the NGSS. There are spaces to checkmark which Science and Engineering Practices students are developing and also which Crosscutting Concepts are to be incorporated into the lesson. It also has room to record the Disciplinary Core Ideas that the lesson will address, as well as the Performance Expectations students are working toward mastering. On the second page, there are spaces for you to record your lesson’s Warm Up, Instruction, Activity, and Assessment.
I plan to create more designs for this template, utilizing different colors and patterns. Do you have any designs you would really want to see? I am always up for suggestions!
At the time I applied for the Maitland P. Simmons Memorial Award in November, my goals for this conference were three-fold: improve my understanding and application of inquiry based learning; learn how to utilize technology into my daily instruction; and discover how to incorporate literacy-based activities into my curriculum and develop literacy skills. In the few months since my initial application, as I matured as a science teacher, I found that my goals had slightly changed. Inquiry-based learning and project-based learning still ranked first on my list of conference goals. Similarly, I still wanted to know how to incorporate scientific literacy into my instruction and how to develop my students into science writers through the use of scientific argumentation. Finally, I decided to use this conference as a way to build my content knowledge in topics that I could connect to my curriculum – such as citizen science, ocean acidification and coral bleaching, and climate change. Additionally, I shifted away from the focus on technology and instead directed my efforts to understanding the Next Generation Science Standards.
I spent my first day of the conference attending PDI-8 NGSS 101. Through this all-day session, I gained a greater grasp on the NGSS standards and how to use them. Prior to the conference, I found the standards overwhelming—particularly how the disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and performance standards tied together. I came away from this session with, I believe, a much clearer understanding of the standards. The Disciplinary Core Ideas is the actual science content students should know. The performance standards reveal student understanding—they prove that students understand the DCI. The Science and Engineering Practices are the practices, or approaches, that scientists use as they study the natural world. These are skills that students, as scientists, need in order to find success in the sciences. Finally, the crosscutting concepts are themes or ideas that apply to the many disciplinary areas of science and engineering and unify each of these fields as a natural science. While I’m still not an expert, I feel much more comfortable using these standards and understanding how to truly know if my students have mastered them. I am very excited to take a look at my current curriculum and determine ways I can shift my units to address these NGSS standards!
On a slightly more silly note – I had a great time with these two ladies from Texas! Meet Lara and Kelsey:
I also added another goal to my conference “to-do list.”
On Thursday and the first half of Friday, I traveled to research institutions at Cape Cod, Woods Hole, and Northeastern University’s Marine Lab to learn about ocean ecosystems. This area is very much of personal interest to me – I studied coastal ecology during a short study-abroad session the summer after my freshman year of college, and I am still very drawn to that field. Even though my students and I don’t live by the ocean, its role in the health of our planet is especially important today as threats of overfishing, climate change, and pollution threaten our stability and perhaps even the survival of our way of life. As a student in a landlocked state, I was never really exposed to the disciplines of coastal ecology and ocean sciences, and I truly wish I had been. I would have loved to study it in more depth during college and perhaps even pursue a career in the field. It is my hope that by incorporating some ocean science into my curriculum through our examination of climate and climate change, I can expose my students to this interesting field, even though we are geographically removed from the ocean.
Through my field trip experiences, I gained an understanding of the work marine scientists do, their areas of research, and actual fieldwork techniques. I enjoyed a presentation by a doctoral candidate from Northeastern University who is currently looking at the genetic diversity of algae in intertidal zones, as well as heard how researchers are using synthetic muscle to create robots that respond to “neural impulses” (or something like that. I don’t remember the specific vocabulary, as it was a pretty complex presentation). It was also very interesting to hear of the work being done at the salt marshes in Cape Cod, particularly the efforts to quantify the “carbon sink” and “methane sink” abilities of saltwater marshes to open the possibility of using marshes as “carbon offsets” or “carbon trading.” I was also able to learn about the history of the region and its contributions to the field of science, such as the fossils that were discovered by Agassiz that filled in some gaps in the fossil record. Finally, I was able to participate in “fieldwork” as we examined the intertidal zone, identifying species and counting number or estimating percent cover in randomly selected plots in the lower, middle and upper intertidal zones.
Friday night I was able to participate in the Teacher Awards Gala at the Renaissance Hotel. Not only was it wonderful to be a part of the celebration and delicious food, but it was also inspiring to see the achievements of other science teachers. I am motivated to continue to grow professionally and do what I can to earn another opportunity to attend NSTA’s awards gala. While the PDI on Wednesday allowed me to “check off” the NGSS content on my conference goals list, and through my fieldtrips build my content knowledge, Friday afternoon and all day Saturday were devoted to improving my instruction in the areas of inquiry-based learning and scientific literacy development. I attended conference sessions on the use of interactive notebooks in science classes (“Writing to Learn Through Science Notebooks/Journals in Elementary and Secondary Classrooms”), the progression from hands-on to mind-based models in science (“Moving from Hands-On Models to Minds-On Models”), and the utilization of NOAA’s resources for instruction on coral reef and ocean acidification (“Engage Your Students With NOAA’s Coral Reef and Ocean Acidification Resources”). Additionally, I attended a presentation by Loree Griffin Burns on citizen science designed to engage, inspire and empower students to participate in the science community from a young age, and I learned about the Boston Schools Environmental Initiative’s partnership with Dennis Haley Elementary Pilot School, where an integrated thematic curriculum and a dedication to outdoor learning is engaging students in scientific practices and increasing the relevancy of classroom content. While I plan to stay in my present position for a few more years, it is wonderful to hear about the success of school and community collaborations like this in the hopes that I may have the opportunity to work in a similar environment someday.
Finally, although it is not the last session I participated in, I attended the presentation, “To Lead from the Classroom, Get Out of the Classroom!” My goal in attending this presentation was to identify additional strategies to engage with others and take advantage of opportunities to develop as a scientist, instructor, community member and ultimately, a leader in the field of science education.
Overall, I am so grateful for the opportunity to attend the NSTA National Conference on Science Education, and I can only hope to be lucky enough to attend next year. Not only was I able to connect with other professionals in this field and learn from their experiences, but I was also able to explore the New England coast and Boston’s city life. I definitely have expanded my understanding of the Next Generation Science Standards and inquiry-based learning, and I am so excited and motivated to bring that learning to my classroom! Thank you, NSTA for the Maitland P. Simmons Memorial Award!
I am currently taking down a delicious Vermonter – ham, apples, melted cheddar and dijon – at a restaurant called Pie In The Sky in Woods Hole. First, this town is adorable. (Is that insulting to native Woods-Holesians?) Second, this sandwich is great. Third, this field trip has been awesome.
First, we visited the main house of the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve…
The Reserve protects Cape Cod’s estuaries, which are places where freshwater and saltwater meet. They’re interesting because they are “one of the most productive habitats in the world!” A few years ago I spent part of the summer in a place called Puerto San Carlos in Baja California Sur, Mexico. My memory of the mangrove forests and rocky coast intertidal zones are what prompted me to sign up for this field trip in the first place! Anyway, while I was familiar with estuaries, I did not know they are major carbon sinks! They take up and store more carbon than any other ecosystem – and unlike freshwater marshes (though I still don’t know why), they don’t release methane but rather take that in too! This ecosystem service – which we benefit from through their simple existence – is huge!
So I am sitting in the lobby of the Westin – holy cow, this is a nice hotel! Apparently this is where all the New Teachers Academy cadets are shacked up… Gotta remember to apply for that for next year! I sure wouldn’t mind hitting up Chicago in 2015.
Anyhoo, the session I have been attending is an introduction to the NGSS standards. I’ve been sitting at a table all morning with three people from Texas, one who spent a few years teaching in Alaska, and another guy who was born in my own home town – Erie, PA! He currently lives in Maine, but still – small world, huh! It has been pretty cool connecting with these teachers. You can see below how well we hit it off:
But seriously now, it was cool to talk about these teachers’ experiences teaching in their very different environment. Apparently in at least some parts of Alaska, many locals have trouble accepting “outsiders.” That would be a serious challenge toward building the relationships so important to effective classroom management. On the other hand, I definitely heard some teachers discussing challenges I have in my own class – students being so worried about grades, they lose sight of the experiences and learning; the importance of extracurriculars; pressure from parents, etc. As a result of these pressures, the teachers mentioned, their students were often afraid to try and fail – which is a problem when incorporating the engineering aspects of the NGSS. I have found my fifth and sixth graders don’t yet have that type of response to engineering activities, but at the same time, I can understand how high school students might worry about grades for projects that don’t quite work, or about peers looking down on designs that aren’t quite right. Unfortunately, the failures are part of the learning process (and really scientific methodology all together), and students are missing out on this experience…
So yesterday a fellow science teacher and I spent the day traveling from good ol’ Erie, Pennsylvania to Boston, Massachusetts for our first day at the NSTA’s National Conference on Science Education. Today we will be attending the Professional Development Institute for a day-long program on the Next Generation Science Standards. Right now, I am (well, obviously updating this blog but also) waiting for my fellow teacher to get ready to hit the road! We stayed last night in a hotel just south of Boston, so it will probably be a 40 minute drive to the Convention Center.
Side Note: I really have no idea how this happened, because usually I make great time on the road, but it was only supposed to take us 8.5 hours and it definitely took us closer to 10. It was a long drive and kinda sucked. I mean, I have done long drives before (and alone at that!) from Erie to Charlotte (and on several occasions!), but this drive definitely felt longer. Maybe it was because we were literally on I-90 for like 400 miles (that’s just a guess, I don’t know exactly how many miles).
Anyway, I started off yesterday morning with my car packed and ready to go:
I definitely overpacked. However, my dilemma this morning was that I didn’t have enough clothes. Last night, I didn’t want to bring up my huge suitcase since we were just staying here one night, so I tried to grab just a few clothes to wear today to the PDI session… It left me with very little wiggle room this morning (although that might be a good thing because I sometimes have trouble deciding what to wear). Anyway, I am doing black leggings, long white shirt, black vest, and maybe a scarf (haven’t decided). I really hope I’m not underdressed… but I also really hate real pants. Maybe I’m wrong, but I like to be comfortable – and I think the learning that is going to take place today is way more important than my fashion decisions. (Because who can argue with that statement? Hah!)
Anyway, so now I am in Boston and ready to go! The PDI session I picked is called “NGSS 101: An Introduction to the Next Generation Science Standards.” Basically, it is a look at the new standards, what they mean, and how to adapt teaching and classroom learning toward implementing those standards. I expect to learn a lot… but I’ll let you know!