April 12, 2017

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Bringing the Science Practice Alive

April 14, 2017

Now that the science practice are embedded into every one of the Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS] as well as other state science standards, teachers and science specialists are responsible for changing the nature and patterns of classroom instruction to accommodate this new approach.

 

On the face of it, this might seem simple enough, since most science teachers already require students to ask questions, review evidence, construct explanations and so on. But reviewing and analyzing (and remembering) evidence, conclusions or hypotheses in other people's work is very different from focusing the same skills on ones own hypotheses and data. Being accountable for planning, collecting, analyzing and presenting first hand data is by far the best way to develop the intellectual habits and skills encompassed by these eight "practices".

 

But it is important that the practices not be divorced from each other nor that the suggested matches between practices and content be regarded as sacred or mandatory. The pairings seem arbitrary and awkward in many cases and it was not necessary for every single standard to be assigned a science practice. Some information really is better presented purely as fact! All that matters is that students are called upon to use each of these practices many times and in many different contexts over their K-12 years. Teachers should use their own judgment about which practices to emphasize during any particular content unit. And even better would be for whole departments to coordinate the revisiting of these experiences across the domains and grades.

 

In the end, students' adoption and internalization of these practices depends on their finding it more rewarding (intrinsically and extrinsically) to use them than not to do so. This is not likely to happen while assessments continue to be based primarily on the analysis of second hand textural or visual information. And though it might be a while before the high stakes tests to catch up with the intent of the standards, there is no reason that teachers should not create unique rigorous and authentic classroom assessments right away: assessment tasks, that call upon students to do original experimental work and to justify their conclusions based on their own (first hand) methodology and evidence – i.e. to do science as a living enterprise, rather than simply to learn it as a compilation of information and procedures.

 

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