As an educator, I found community in professional development groups and a master's program that included fellow teachers. I was fortunate to find the Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching (TRC) early in my career, where I became part of a community with which to learn, laugh, plan, and reflect. As a cohort of teachers, we conducted investigations to increase our own content knowledge while considering best practices for working with our students. Later in my career I had the privilege of leading one of the Collaboratives, and worked to establish similar cohorts and build a community of educators which spanned grade levels and crossed school and district lines.
Jennifer as part of the Camp MSS learning community, October 2017
On some level, I’ve always been aware of the importance of community in learning. As a child it meant doing things with family, like taking vacations to the forested lakes of Wisconsin where we learned how to catch and clean fish. As a student it meant doing things with classmates, like field trips to the museum to discuss the wonders of animals long extinct, and later, trips to the nearest amusement park to “study” the physics of roller coasters.
It was during this time I was introduced to Making Sense of SCIENCE (MSS) and was reminded of the power of community in group sense making. The teachers in the room supported each other as they worked to understand difficult science concepts. But it didn’t stop there. The teachers took what they learned and used it with their own students — transforming their classrooms into communities of problem solvers working together to figure out the challenges of the day.
As my experience came full circle back to the classroom as a PhD student, I realized that community is always important, regardless of where you are in your learning process. There are moments when you are the one supporting the community and other moments when the community is supporting you. It is the community that helps build a deeper and more meaningful learning experience — one that sticks with you because it’s not just about the “what” of science learning, it’s about the “who.”
This SCIENCE Corner was brought to you by Jennifer Jordan-Kaszuba. Jennifer is a graduate student at the University of Texas, Austin, where she is currently working towards her PhD in STEM Education. She is also part of the Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching and has been a Making Sense of SCIENCE Instructor since 2012.
Recently, our district has started to discuss how to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’ve been ready to dive into NGSS for a while and in fact, have wished things were moving faster! As a classroom teacher, this puts me in a difficult position — should I slow down to keep pace with my district, or find another path that works for me and my students?
I decided to take the plunge!
By starting with a simple framework and choosing smaller components of the standards to focus on, I felt ready to go! Like our students, we as teachers and institutions move at different paces according to our strengths and interests. Instead of being frustrated with what I can’t do, finding things I can do makes transitioning to NGSS just a bit easier.
This SCIENCE Corner was brought to you by Wendy Pierce. Wendy is an 8th Grade Science and English Language Arts Teacher at Chief Joseph Middle School in Bozeman, Montana. Wendy is also a Making Sense of SCIENCE facilitator. Check out her other SCIENCE Corner post about Using Misconceptions and Scientific Explanations below.
Select a phenomenon that:
One of the remarkable things about using phenomena to engage learners is that everyone looks at phenomena in different ways. Each individual reaction is colored by that person's existing knowledge and life experiences. Another person might look at my vase of decaying flowers and wonder about an entirely different, yet equally relevant set of questions — Why are the flowers yellow but the stems green? Where did the plant get the matter to grow in the first place? How are these flowers pollinated? From investigating something as simple as decaying flowers, we can grow as learners.
This SCIENCE Corner was brought to you by Jennifer Mendenhall. Jennifer is the Senior Communications Lead on the Making Sense of SCIENCE (MSS) team and has been a MSS instructor since 2014.
Visit our Teacher Resources page to download our Phenomena-Based Learning resource which outlines four simple steps to incorporating phenomena in classroom instruction.
My team and I left the Making Sense of SCIENCE (MSS) Energy Facilitation Academy excited to put our new knowledge into practice. We were energized by the experience you might say!
On the drive home, we discussed which “moves” the MSS facilitators used that contributed most to our learning. Most of the moves we identified as important were the direct result of the facilitators embodying the MSS Facilitation Principles. We came to realize that the MSS Facilitation Principles will be a critical part of the support we provide to students as they engage in the key practices of science and engineering.
For the next year, one of the practices our district will focus on most is modeling. An obvious link we saw between the practice of modeling and the MSS Facilitation Principles was the push to explore ideas with words, actions, images, and symbols. We want students to develop a variety of models to represent relationships, components, and connections and help them come to understand that a diversity of representation helps build a more complete understanding than words alone.
We also realized that as students develop a model, they are not only making their thinking public -- they are also making their thinking more visible to themselves. When we invite students to discuss the benefits and limitations of each other’s models, we want the focus to be on helping them come to deeply understand the ideas and phenomena the models represent, not on judging the thinking of the individuals that made them.
We came to understand that encouraging students to keep their conversations evidence-based is an especially useful move. We want to support students giving feedback on models by referring to evidence from experiments, discussions, and readings. Pushing them to not stop at one idea (even when it seems correct) enriches their models and opens their minds to many ways of thinking. In the end, this leads to deeper understanding.
As we pulled into our hometown, we realized something that perhaps should have been clear from the onset — Making Sense of Science’s Facilitation Principles were just good teaching. They remind us of the things we should do with our peers in professional learning, as well as with our students in the classroom. And the NGSS Science & Engineering Practices? They are just what good science looks like in action.
This SCIENCE Corner is brought to you by Patrick Moyle. Patrick is a Science Teacher on Special Assignment in Fresno Unified School District in Fresno, California.
You can read more about the Making Sense of SCIENCE Facilitation Principles in our earlier SCIENCE Corner on the topic. Find the Facilitation Principles chart and other FREE downloadable content on our Teacher Resources page.
Besides helping my students make sense of the science, the misconceptions:
As a teacher, using incorrect ideas as a tool has given me a new approach to tackling the misconceptions my students have in science. It’s become a favorite part of my teaching, and my students find it helpful. When I mention that we will be doing incorrect/correct statements, they actually cheer!
This SCIENCE Corner was brought to you by Wendy Pierce. Wendy is an 8th Grade Science and English Language Arts Teacher at Chief Joseph Middle School in Bozeman, Montana. Wendy is also a Making Sense of SCIENCE facilitator. Check out her other SCIENCE Corner post about Scientific Explanations below.
To download resources related to Earth’s Orbit, visit the Teacher Resources page.
The teachers participated in the Making Sense of SCIENCE: Energy course and the Making Sense of SCIENCE: Matter course, as well as additional professional learning activities focused on science and engineering practices (e.g., modeling, discourse and argumentation, and evidence-based explanations). Teachers were able to immerse themselves in the type of learning they wanted for their students and collaboratively plan for integrating the concepts of matter and energy into their instruction.
At the conclusion of the program, even accomplished veteran teachers noted important shifts in their teaching. For example, it affected how they taught about a multitude of science topics including state changes, food webs, climate and weather, and plate tectonics. Many also reported that they changed the sequence of their instruction to emphasize connections between matter and energy. One teacher commented:
This SCIENCE Corner was brought to you by Jane Kirkley. Jane is the Professional Development Coordinator with Northern Arizona University's Center for Science Teaching and Learning. Jane is a longtime friend of the MSS project and played an integral role in the Exploring Energy & Matter Collaborative.
The Exploring Energy & Matter Collaborative was made possible through Arizona’s Mathematics and Science Partnership. Research was conducted by Magnolia Consulting. For more information about the project, download the Evaluation of the Exploring Energy & Matter Collaborative.
Visit the Teacher Resources page to download assessments (PDF) related to concepts of matter and energy like the Energy for Hawks task, the Massive Air task, and the Food Mind Map task.
Our curriculums are deep and wide, which can lead to spoon-feeding our students rather than supporting them thinking through challenges. If students believe they are capable of great learning, of finding their passions, or of authoring quality work, they are likely to create personal connections, engage, and learn.
As teachers, we have the power to create an environment where students are questioning everything and are excited about trying to find answers. By creating these experiences in our classrooms, students take ownership of their learning and develop an intrinsic motivation to continue learning.
This SCIENCE Corner was brought to you by Judy Keene. Judy is a PreK–12 Instructional Coach for the Peoria Unified School District in Peoria, AZ.
The idea of the growth mindset is derived from the work of Carol S. Dweck. Dweck is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Visit the Teacher Resources page to download printable posters (PDF) of the quote graphics featured in this article as well as other resources to support inquiry-based learning in the classroom.
We use the CER format in several ways. We start by keeping an ongoing list of claims and the supporting evidence as we explore new science content through lab activities, reading, and other research. As we go through the lesson, the class critiques the claims, fine-tunes the list, and keeps the best ones. Finally, we tackle the reasoning. We list science theories and principles that can be used to support our evidence and connect the evidence to the claim. But we don’t stop there.
Students then complete a series of related activities to expand their thinking. They start by working in small groups to choose one of the claims and design a poster that illustrates the claim, as well as the supporting evidence, and reasoning. Students are encouraged to use the languages of science as they discuss their thinking and draft their poster. In their small groups, students then compare and contrast their collective thinking with what’s written in the textbook. Finally, students work individually to translate their new understanding into an essay that includes their claim, evidence, and reasoning.
Sequencing activities in this way allows students of all ability levels to engage with the content multiple times and in different ways.
Classrooms are busy places. It’s always a balancing act to decide what to emphasize. Using this CER approach, I’ve watched my students become better critical thinkers, verbal communicators, and writers — skills that transfer to any subject.
This SCIENCE Corner was brought to you by, Wendy Pierce. Wendy is an 8th Grade Science and English Language Arts Teacher at Chief Joseph Middle School in Bozeman Montana.
For resources related to CER writing, download our CER handout, which can be enlarged to poster size.
This SCIENCE Corner was brought to you by Jennifer Jordan-Kaszuba. Jennifer is a graduate student at the University of Texas, Austin, where she is currently working towards her PhD in STEM Education. She is also part of the Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching and a Making Sense of SCIENCE Instructor since 2012.
For related classroom resources, visit our Teacher Resources page and download the Types of Models handout and the Blood Cell Lineage and Differentiation Diagrams.
Making Sense of SCIENCE also offers a half-day workshop on Models and Modeling. Visit the Register page for a list of upcoming workshops.