NGSS with Paul Anderson

Last weekend I was fortunate to attend a 2-day NGSS workshop with Paul Anderson at International School Manila. The weekend was packed with rich sessions that covered the fundamentals of the NGSS and Three-Dimensional Instruction (Science & Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas and Crosscutting Concepts).

The Three Dimensions of Science Learning:

The workshop kicked off with Paul’s famous Wonder Tube activity in which he modelled how to apply scientific phenomena and questioning techniques to engage students in constructing an inquiry. The first stage of the activity is a rapid brainstorm of as many different student questions about the Wonder Tube as possible – without the teacher providing any answers – that seeks to involve all students and flesh out the most useful or important questions from which to drive further inquiry.  Students’ questions can be recorded in the form of a “wonder wall” for later reference. Once students have narrowed their list of questions to a shortlist (group or individual), they should begin to visualise their growing understanding of the phenomenon in the form of labeled sketches (models). By making their thinking visible, students can unpack their knowledge and capture it to guide the teachers next steps. All of this resonates with me as an educator and designer because it’s a very close fit with the design process.

We then repeated this sequence, working in table groups to explore the phenomenon of the drinking bird – this time working in the shoes of the student by designing our own experiments. My group was keen to look at the relationship between the bird’s dipping and ambient temperature, so we gathered data on the different patterns of the bird dipping in different temperatures around the school and presented our findings as a large poster.

It was at this time that Paul revealed to us that our initial brainstorm of questions was largely focused on the structure and function of the dipping bird. He had kept a tally of the group’s questions relative to the various crosscutting concepts as an illustration of how the CCCs can be used to explicitly guide student questioning – essentially how to think and question like a scientist. This practical application of the CCCs was definitely a breakthrough moment for me!

Later on the first day we formed Grade level groups and identified NGSS standards from which to build a unit of inquiry. I worked with the ISM Grade 3 team to create a draft of an anchor chart to guide students through a unit on biological systems.

The focus of day two of the workshop was unit design. Paul directed us to his excellent (as yet unfinished) website The Wonder of Science, the goal of which is to clearly illustrate Three Dimensional Instruction and the NGSS standards. Additionally, the site captures examples from the many teacher workshops Paul leads all over the world. It’s worth noting that Paul openly acknowledges aspects of NGSS and his understanding/direction that has changed and improved over time – a refreshingly transparent approach.

Working with the ISM Grade 2 team, we applied the 3D Planning Protocol to the development of the Matter & Materials unit. The protocol is a framework that allows teams oversight of the ways in which practices, crosscutting concepts and ideas can effectively address the standards. The protocol works a bit like this:

  1. Teams brainstorm as many different phenomena as possible that could link to the standards, then review them based on criteria: does the phenomenon address the standard; could it be done effectively, and; does it have “wow” factor? This should leave several phenomena from which to build learning engagements.
  2. The team then creates numerous performance expectations that apply a broad range of different practices, crosscutting concepts and ideas that address the standards, linking to the different phenomena. Performance expectations could occur in part of a lesson or an entire lesson. From here, teachers can plan out the specific stimuli, prompts etc required for students to complete each performance expectation.
  3. Now, the teams use storyboarding to map out the pacing of the different performance expectations throughout the unit.
  4. The unit is hopefully now ready to be piloted – with an expectation of further refinement and improvement over time.

I was pleased with how our Matter & Materials unit came together, we decided to begin with the phenomenon of slime, working over the course of a few weeks towards a STEAM “desert island” boatbuilding challenge where students analysed various materials for their suitability in overcoming the design problem.

After an immensely productive workshop I now feel better equipped to work with teams in the ES to develop and co-teach various Science and Social Studies units using the Three Dimensional Instruction framework. There is still a huge amount for me to learn but I definitely feel like I’m on the right path. Thanks to Paul for his expertise and resources and the Office of Learning for getting me there!


A word from Paul:

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