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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Elements of Thinking: How Do Your Students Think?

homerHow do your students think?

Time after time, evidence from international examinations such as PISA suggest American students are falling behind globally in their ability to problem solve, work in groups or think critically.

But when we think about our jobs as teachers, is that what first comes to mind?  You probably find yourself asking, do I have a lesson plan, an exit ticket, extra copies, backup pencils, discipline referral forms, an up-to-date makeup work folder and so on. Asking those questions on a daily basis allows us to survive and live to fight another day. Read more

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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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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How to Achieve the Core: Make Powerful Connections Across Texts, Schools and Initiatives

His heart is in the right place…

The third quarter AUSL Instructional Shifts focus is Reading Across Multiple Texts.  This shift is the most obvious example of how the CCSS break from traditional standards.  Reading has traditionally been defined and assessed as comprehending a single text.

A recent conversation at a Critical Thinking Cohort 2 workshop showed that in order to meet such standards, we need to make powerful connections not only across texts, but across schools and initiatives as well.  Teachers were sharing the results of rigorous, CCSS-aligned performance assessments they had developed.  Meghan O’Keefe from Chicago Academy HS shared a freshman performance assessment she created with her teaching partner E. M. Miller.  It was an authentic task requiring students to write an editorial for a Chicago paper, making an argument for how citizens and authorities could improve Chicago’s communities by nurturing healthy adolescent identities.  This task required them to engage in “intertextual rhetorical analysis”, including analyzing central themes from “legacy” texts (canonical, complex texts that the CCSS emphasize, e.g. Romeo and Juliet) and connecting these themes to contemporary nonfiction texts (e.g. a 2 News Chicago report on challenges facing Chicago youth) to support their argument.  Clearly, the task required students to apply critical thinking skills such as comparison, analysis and evaluation across multiple texts.

As Meghan described how they developed the assessment, I was immediately struck by how many school and network PD initiatives contributed to this work.  They designed their unit backwards mapping from CCSS with the 9-10  Planning Guide 1.0.  They assessed student writing using the Argument Writing Rubric developed by the CAHS ELA and History teams in a half-day workshop led by their department chairs and supported by History Coordinator Carolyn Henderson and myself.  To prepare students for this work, they applied strategies shared in earlier Close Reading PD and their Content Cluster cycles.  Prior to writing, their students engaged in Paideia discussion, an approach developed by the mastermind behind Shared Inquiry, which has been at the center of our Instructional Shifts workshops (and additional coaching visits to several elementary and high schools).  They used Critical Thinking workshop tools such as the Elements of Thought and the Critical Thinking Rubric to help students refine their thinking and give feedback to peers.  Meghan and E.M. fine-tuned their co-planning in the Co-teaching PLC led by Tiffany Ko.

Meghan shared that they were pushing their freshmen further than ever before.  I asked her what made the biggest impact on her work and her answer was a combination of all of these experiences:

“I’m fortunate to have been included in the Critical Thinking Framework PLC for the past two years.  The work we’ve done in that PLC around the Common Core, performance tasks, and critical thinking has set me up for success during this major instructional shift.  The changes that teachers are having to make with the advent of new standards and assessments is profound.  We will be most successful if we’re all able to participate in quality PD like the Critical Thinking Framework, Close Reading, and Paideia PD I’ve been fortunate enough to receive.  I appreciate the investment our administration has made in my professional development, and I hope that everyone in the network has the same opportunities”. 

mountain clipped

Even with the support, it still took a leap of faith to give the performance assessment to her students since the task was far beyond what had been previously asked of them.  She realized the task itself didn’t have to be perfect, and the kids wouldn’t master it the first time.  Rather she was giving them the opportunity to show what they could do, and then examining their writing to determine their needs.  In this case, her students made clear claims and supported them with evidence, but they understandably need more support in combining evidence from different sources (e.g. learning and utilizing complex sentence structures that will help them integrate ideas across texts).

This discussion made me realize how intentional we need to be in making connections across schools and initiatives to insure all of our supports and PD opportunities work in concert with one another.  We need to highlight connections across initiatives for teachers as they make these “profound”, and intentionally share learning across schools.

Indeed, there is no shortage of good ideas worth sharing.  For instance, at that same Critical Thinking Cohort 2 workshop, Caprice Banks at Phillips shared her own powerful inquiry project.  Students learned that their school was a historic landmark, but few knew its rich history.  They researched their building, synthesized their learning, and served as tour guides for community and school groups.  At Collins, Chase James’ team is applying strategies from Close Reading PD beyond the ELA department and making connections to their school-wide focus on argumentation.  At Orr, Dr. Debbie Caise-Fitzpatrick led the ELA team in anchoring and scoring argument writing in a process similar to the one used at CAHS.  Their department recently hosted a Great Books leader to learn how Shared Inquiry discussions can raise the level of reasoning in student writing.  At Solorio, teachers have received monthly coaching in Shared Inquiry.  Their recent work includes preparing students to serve as discussion leaders and bridging shared inquiry discussions writing literary analysis essays, ideas they shared at the recent High School PD Potluck.

Resources for Reading Across Texts

Instructional ShiftsIn the spirit of making connections across texts, schools and initiatives, I will share a few resources for reading across texts piloted and approved by our teachers.  At the recent Instructional Shifts workshop, leaders from the Great Books Foundation shared two approaches, using an anchor text such as a poem about immigration to unearth key themes of immigration and spur inquiry across several types of texts, and an overlapping venn diagram approach, where two or more similar complex texts are intentionally paired and analyzed.

CaptureAt the aforementioned Critical Thinking workshop, Jo Hoglund at Solorio shared an approach to planning with multiple texts from Sara Wessling, former National Teacher of the Year (and teaching channel luminary).    Here, Sara shares an approach for unit planning using “Fulcrum, Texture, and Context” texts (see p. 23-28).  Patrice Turk initially shared Sara’s work with their team and strongly recommends her video series on Teaching Channel.

LDCFinally, the Literacy Design Collaborative came out with a version 2.0 of their CCSS-aligned planning Template Task collection.  You can use their Their Mad Libs-style templates to design your own prompts for researching and reading across texts.  The templates are also great for designing  inquiry-based performance assessments (should you be inspired and want to develop one yourself!).

Achieving the Core through the Power of Connections

To achieve the CCSS, it will take a coordinated, concerted effort by our entire network.  All of us are smarter than any one of us.  We will be working in the coming weeks to create structures for sharing ideas across schools.  How have you experienced the power of connecting across texts, schools or initiatives?  Respond in the comments section below!

Argument Writing–Where Do We Stand?

Ironically, it’s a recent morning where no students were present that has me so excited about where we’re heading with argument writing across the network.

I literally found myself running between the two rooms where teachers were discussing and scoring the “Was the War with Mexico Justified?” and “Asoka: Enlightened Leader or Ruthless Conqueror?” DBQ essays for fear of missing out on all the great buzz.

Seriously, check out this photo of Jess Hansen, Jessica Cippichio, Katie Hallberg, and Laura Bean leading one of the sessions.  Who knew that a calibration session could be so much fun?


And so informative, especially the debriefing discussion at the end of the morning.  Across both groups some interesting trends surfaced in 3 important areas. Read more