A teacher can learn a lot by taking a close read of the classroom.
However, the pace of a typical school day doesn’t allow for much time to step back and take it all in. That’s why video is a great tool to help teachers understand what’s really happening in the classroom as students engage in learning activities.
In the videos I collected of students, I began to notice there was a pattern to their conversations. Based upon the task at hand, my role was to be a facilitator. As teachers embark into NGSS territory, it will become more obvious that students are highly engaged in their tasks. They’re excited and need help making sense of their thinking.
I have tried a variety of classroom dynamics to ensure student success, such as partner work, team collaboration, and student reflection on where they are in their engineering design process, depending upon the task on which they are working. In the following videos you will notice different grade levels and different tasks. The one consistent thing throughout is how I use language to guide student thinking based on the Evidence Statements and Focus Question for that lesson.
Without giving away the answer that the student was identifying plants, I guided student sense making by referencing plants with which they might be familiar. I wasn’t sure if they knew what corn or clover looked like. But they were quick to understand the difference between the two plants.
Lesson Context: (00:37) Students had to plan their investigation for planting a farm. They were required to select a specific number of seeds and work together to make a map of where the seeds would be planted. Students left the terrariums for a few weeks to come back and discover their farms had grown.
Kindergartners needed to explain their thinking and construct an explanation for making a shade structure that kept the earth materials (sand) cool from the sun. This student created his shade structure out of straws and made sense of his design by explaining it to me through guided questioning.
Lesson Context: (00:14) Explaining how something is made and what materials are used is evidence that students can explain their ideas and construct explanations.
Making Sense of Thinking
Fourth grade students were working through a wind power design challenge. Students worked in collaborative groups to create a windmill design, test the design, and then retest the prototype created. The students in this group were confused by the curve they built into the blade, but I guided their discussion so they were able to figure it out and make sense of the design they chose: Why does it work? How does the wind lift the blades? Providing the students with space, a whiteboard, and time to think about specific feedback was all it took for them to make sense of their design.
Lesson Context: (00:14) One student was trying to make sense of her own thinking and explain it to her team members. She had the beginning of a solution, but needed more time and a whiteboard to draw it out so it could be visible for her teammate. (00:58) She was so lost in thought, she called me by the wrong name! But she just needed a little help to think it through. (01:21) Different minds working together to solve a problem… let’s just test it! This teaches students collaboration can work to solve problems in engineering.
Students had to explain their design and construct explanations on what they knew about how the sun moves across the sky throughout the day. This student solved the problem instantly and made changes to his design based upon my questioning strategies.
Lesson Context: (00:53) Based on what students have already learned about how the sun moves across the sky each day, how can the student demonstrate his learning with the home design that must allow sunshine inside throughout the day? (01:33) How does the student solve the problem of allowing sunshine inside at midday?
What Did I Learn?
- The Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) focus on the developmental nature of science practices. Scientists approach problems with a variety of tools and in a nonlinear way, unlike the Scientific Method. All eight of the SEPs are accessible at all levels of learning and are cumulative over time from K to 12. Students have authority over their learning progress and can approach topics in their own way.
- Students bring their own set of experiences, prior knowledge, and learning style to the science lab. I realized I’m able to cultivate what students know, predict what misconceptions they might have, and design rigorous and challenging lessons, all while creating opportunities for success.
- I can accomplish my goals without feeding students too much information. By gauging what students know, I can really take the temperature of what they’re capable of understanding. Simply telling students information doesn’t imply understanding. Shifting my role to one of listener, I can create more intentional learning experiences that engage students in science.
- When I began implementing SEPs, I was initially focused on language: How do I guide students to speak and listen, explain their ideas, and engage in arguments based on evidence gleaned from investigations? Slowly, a pattern emerged in which students were having rich and engaging discussions about the topics and solving problems related to the challenge at hand. Collaboration flourished and students were able to build their language skills along the way.
- We must ask ourselves what we value in a classroom culture. I value creativity and agency, so I work to create a culture where students feel safe to share their ideas and take risks. My students have come to expect this in my lessons.
Focus on one or two Science and Engineering Practices and make small changes to the great work you’re already doing with your students. Consider your students first. Where are they having the most difficulty? Then look at the SEPs to guide your shifts.
Think about the following questions to get started:
- How do students talk and develop ideas?
- How do students disagree respectfully and focus on evidence?
- How to students come to tentative conclusions and make claims?
I’d love to hear about your work with the Science and Engineering Practices in the comments below!
Jennifer Munoz is a STEAM + Science Specialist who works in San Diego, California, in the Del Mar Union School District. Jennifer enjoys working with other science teachers as a Tch NextGen Science Squadster, and stays connected with the local research and science industries throughout the San Diego region as a BIOCOM Teaching Fellow. Currently, she works with K-6 students as a science specialist. Jennifer has taught grades 8-12 in both Physical Sciences and Life Sciences, but truly loves teaching all sciences and engineering projects. Recently, she has been focusing on the design process and how it connects science with art and literacy to bring real world experiences to the classroom. She is truly grateful to work with children each day because they have no filters, and enjoys sharing these experiences to further her work of strengthening the hearts and nourishing the minds of children. Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @pettaluma.