Using Summary Charts to Press for Evidence and Promote Coherent Science Instruction: 8 Tips!

To the average student, science class feels like a series of disjointed learning activities. They don’t really know why they are learning what they are learning, nor how what they’re learning connects to the real world.

There are two things teachers can do to address this lack of coherence:

  1. Plan each instructional unit around a specific science phenomenon (read more about how to plan science units around intriguing phenomena here).
  2. Use a summary chart to help students keep track of what they learn from their lesson activities and then use their learning to help them explain how and why that phenomenon occurs.

In this blog, I focus on summary charts as a high-leverage tool in science classrooms.

What is a summary chart?

Alexa Summary Chart Nabisco Factory

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Your Best Year of Science is Here! 4 Guides to Start MBI Today

If we keep doing the same thing we will continue to get the same results.

The time is NOW to transition to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Our students can’t wait! The Chicago Public Schools transition plan below has us at FULL implementation of NGSS next year:

CPS Transition Plan

Two of the key shifts with NGSS are the following:

  • Phenomena: K-12 students should be using science ideas to explain HOW and WHY science phenomena occur.
  • Science and Engineering Practices: K-12 students should be engaging in the 8 science and engineering practices (e.g., developing and using models, engaging in argument from evidence) in order to learn the content and explore the crosscutting concepts. The days of teaching an isolated unit about the scientific method are over (note: the scientific method does NOT provide an accurate vision of the work of scientists–read more here).

Model-Based Inquiry (MBI) is one way to address these two NGSS shifts:

MBI Overview

The following MBI “How To” Guides were developed by AUSL teachers for AUSL teachers. Over the last two years, the teachers that make up the AUSL Science Teacher Network Team have been studying NGSS and best practices for science teaching. They’ve tried out and refined these strategies in their own classrooms and through Lesson Study, and synthesized their learning in these guides and Tch AUSL videos.

MBI Guides:

  1. MBI Guide #1: How to Come Up With an Engaging Phenomenon to Anchor a Unit (TchAUSL VIDEO)
  2. MBI Guide #2: How to Engage Students in Developing and Using Explanatory Models (TchAUSL VIDEO)
  3. MBI Guide #3: How to Use Summary Charts in the Classroom (TchAUSL VIDEO)
  4. MBI Guide #4: How to Enhance Discourse in the Science Classroom (TchAUSL VIDEO)

Special thanks to the following staff for creating these resources:

  • Darrin Collins (Phillips Academy High School)
  • Deanna Digitale-Grider (Solorio Academy High School)
  • Kristel Hsiao (formerly at Solorio Academy High School)
  • Kat Lucido (Phillips Academy High School)
  • Nicole Lum (Orr Academy High School)
  • Sarah Rogers (formerly at Howe School of Excellence)
  • Alexa Young (Marquette School of Excellence)
  • Chris Bruggeman (AUSL Technology Coordinator)

Post your questions and the examples of MBI from your classroom below.

Spring [Your Science Instruction] Forward: 5 Steps to Implementing MBI

Model-Based Inquiry (MBI) is an engaging, NGSS-aligned, research-based approach to scienceinstruction (Windschitl, Thompson, & Braaten, 2008).

There are 5 steps to implementing MBI:

  1. Plan your instructional units around meaningful real world phenomena
  2. Elicit and work from students initial ideas
  3. Engage students in ongoing and in-depth sense making
  4. Provide students with opportunities to revisit and revise their thinking
  5. Have students apply their learning to a new, related phenomenon

In the following video, we introduce you to Model-Based Inquiry and provide you with a peek into what it looks like in action (in our very own AUSL classrooms). After you watch the video, scroll down to read more about the 5 steps to implementing MBI, as well as 3 tips for improving your teaching practice immediately. Enjoy!

Welcome to MBI


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Introduction the Next Generation Science Standards: 4 Things to Know

Happy 2015! It’s that time again–time to make your New Year’s resolutions. If you are a K-12 teacher and have not yet familiarized yourself with the new science standards then this blog’s for you! To help you get acquainted with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), here are 4 things to know…

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Summer Reading and Resource List: Get a Head Start on Planning with these 8 Science Recommendations

With the school year coming to a close, it’s time to start making your summer plans! Sure, you probably have plans to head to the beach, travel, and partake in TONS  of outdoor activities–especially after the winter we’ve had to endure, here, in Chiberia!

Of course, you’ll also set aside time to do some reading and think about your how you’d like to run your classroom during the next school year….right?? We wanted to send you off on summer break armed with the best readings and resources to help you get a head start on your planning.

Check out these 8 awesome, free, and teacher-approved resources (click on the links in red)…

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Talking the Talk: Tips for Engaging Your Students in Scientific Discourse


The Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) provide us with a clear picture of what inquiry instruction should look like in the science classroom:

  1. Asking Questions (Science) and Defining Problems (Engineering)
  2. Developing and Using Models
  3. Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
  4. Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  5. Using Mathematical and Computational Thinking
  6. Constructing Explanations (Science) and Designing Solutions (Engineering)
  7. Engaging in Argument from Evidence
  8. Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

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5 Planning Tips to Ensure an Engaging DBQ Experience

Editor’s Note:  This week’s blog comes to us from Laura Bean, history teacher at Phillips Academy High School and member of the Network History Team.

Our blogger Laura Bean in action at Phillips Academy High School

Our blogger Laura Bean in action at Phillips Academy High School

Quarter three is coming to an end. Are you ready for our 4th quarter common world studies DBQ? If you’re anything like me, you’re up to your eyeballs in grading and not even close to wanting to think about whether the Reformation or Exploration was the most important consequence of the printing press.

Fear not! We’re here to get you started down the path of making this DBQ meaningful before our Q4 DBQ Day.  In fact, even if you’re not teaching the world studies DBQ, the tips below might spark some great planning ideas.

The Printing Press DBQ – what’s it all about?

This DBQ is all about comparing and evaluating the effects of innovation. Students must first be able to describe how the invention of the printing press shaped the Reformation and Exploration and then compare and evaluate their effects.

Below are our top five tips for teaching this DBQ, based on our AUSL Historical Reading and Writing Framework.

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Translating NGSS into Classroom Instruction: 5E Planning Tool and Teaching Tips

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) may seem overwhelming at first glance. However, just like with Common Core, we need to realize that the transition to NGSS will take time: Start slow. Just start!

Even though we don’t yet have ready access to NGSS-aligned curriculum materials and assessment items, you can enhance student learning now by…

  1. regularly incorporating the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices into instruction (see my September Blog)
  2. using a student-centered, constructivist approach to planning instruction (e.g., the 5E Learning Cycle)

This blog focuses on the 5E model as a framework for planning the type of instruction promoted by NGSS. It includes an overview of the instructional approach, a planning tool to help you get started, tips for what teachers and students should be doing during each phase of the cycle, and examples of what each phase might look like in the classroom.

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You Know You Love Some 3.14159…Pi!

by Grant Snider

by Grant Snider

March 14th (3/14) also known as “Pi Day” is upon us!  It’s the one day a year math nerds all over the world celebrate an infinite, irrational number that is equal to the ratio of a circles’ circumference to its diameter.  As a fellow math nerd and lover of history, I’m going to drop some knowledge on the history of pi that you can share with your students, family, or even with your friends and co-workers while celebrating the end of ISAT (FOREVER!!) during happy hour on PI DAY! Read more

What’s Your Evidence?: Supporting Students to Construct Scientific Explanations

Every day we are bombarded with claims about how to lose weight, stop smoking, become a better athlete, or make quick money. Yesterday, at the grocery store, I picked up a jar of peanut butter claiming: “Reduced Fat.” The uninformed consumer may think, great, I’ll buy this kind because it’s healthier. However, if you check out the food label on the back, you’ll see some other not-so-healthy differences between this product and the regular option: more sugar and salt!

Skippy labels

Food companies will often dilute a product with water to reduce the percentage of fat and then add salt and sugar to make up for the lack of flavor. When we consume excess sugar it gets converted by the liver into fatty acid—yup, that’s right, the extra sugar turns into fat! So, is the “low fat” option really a better choice? (Check out this 60 Minutes segment for more info on the adverse effects of sugar.)

Implications for the Science Classroom

To evaluate claims and make strong arguments of their own, students need to learn the features of a scientific writing. This blog describes the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning-Rebuttal  (C-E-R-R) framework for constructing scientific explanations and includes tools for teaching this approach to students, including scaffolding tips, a rubric, and examples of this approach in each of the sciences.

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