Academic journal article Science Scope

Using Rubrics to Integrate Crosscutting Concepts

Academic journal article Science Scope

Using Rubrics to Integrate Crosscutting Concepts

Article excerpt

Planning happens on a variety of scales, from the scope and sequence of the science curriculum within the whole school, to the daily lesson plans that occur within any one classroom. Grounded in the idea that learning is a developmental process in which students change and modify their mental models of the world, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) outline learning progressions, which provide explicit guidance for planning at a larger scale (NGSS Lead States 2013). Teachers, however, face many decisions about how to develop assessments and lessons that help students meet the goals stipulated by the NGSS. In this article, we explain the development of a rubric that may serve as a bridge between the learning outcomes associated with specific crosscutting concepts (CCCs) and unit and lesson planning in a variety of scientific disciplines.

Backward design

Most new teachers have fallen into the trap of planning an activity without identifying the desired outcome (Allen and Tanner 2007). Backward design is a research-based framework that rescues teachers from this trap by prompting them to focus assessments on big picture ideas and transferable skills (Wiggins and McTighe 2005). The three steps to implementing backward design are (1) Identify desired learning outcomes, (2) Determine adequate evidence for learning, and (3) Plan instruction that will facilitate outcomes.

The NGSS performance expectations outline complex learning outcomes that can influence the process of backward design. CCCs were designed to unify and standardize scientific core ideas that act as a connective structure across scientific and engineering disciplines. If students are exposed to CCCs in every K-12 science class, they should be able to apply them within different disciplines and understand how the concepts are related to each other (Duschl 2012).

Because we were not in the habit of explicitly incorporating the CCCs into our plans and teaching, we set out to develop a tool that would facilitate this process. We initially focused on integrating a single CCC, Energy and Matter, into unit and lesson planning in different scientific disciplines. We chose to start with Energy and Matter because it is specific, and we thought it might be one of the easiest to connect to disciplinary concepts in different courses. In the process, we realized that the CCC Systems and System Models frequently needed to be applied at the same time. Ultimately, an integrated approach allows students to use understandings of energy and matter conservation to predict the restrictions and possibilities of a system (NGSS Lead States 2013).

Rubrics for assessment and planning

Rubrics can be a helpful tool for communicating expectations and providing structured feedback to students, and they can also be valuable for backward planning because they articulate end goals. We aimed to develop a rubric to help us incorporate CCCs into unit and lesson plans to align them more with the NGSS. Our hope was that this rubric could facilitate coordination and incorporation of CCCs into planning in a way that helped students make connections between subjects and allowed them to apply this knowledge more effectively in novel contexts.

The Energy and Matter and Systems crosscutting concepts rubric

We designed a generic rubric to help develop an understanding of what constituted "quality" work over time to make the learning progressions for the CCCs Energy and Matter and Systems more explicit for the middle school level (Figure 1). By using Bloom's Taxonomy to scaffold the ways students might use their understanding of these CCCs, we hoped to provide a structure that would help teachers assess their students' abilities and guide their planning. If teachers across scientific disciplines are able to use the same rubric, we expect that students will be able to apply CCCs more effectively in novel settings.

The rubric outlines potential stages of a student's conceptual understanding about energy, matter, systems, and system models. …

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