Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Putting New Life in an Old Lesson: How We Modified a Lab Activity to Align with the Next Generation Science Standards

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Putting New Life in an Old Lesson: How We Modified a Lab Activity to Align with the Next Generation Science Standards

Article excerpt

There I was, standing in the middle of my lab room while students were quietly toiling away at their stations. It was my third year of teaching, and I was at the top of my game. I knew it all, able to answer any question asked by a parent, student, teacher, or even an administrator. I was a great teacher! After all, my kids were quietly working in the lab--painstakingly following my every instruction without a word of discussion. But as my chest swelled with pride, I had an "aha" moment of concern.

I realized why my students were so silent. They weren't learning a thing, other than how to mindlessly follow directions. Mine was more of an assembly line than a science classroom. Today, three years later, my students have become more inquisitive as I take us deeper into the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013).

A new way of teaching science

The NGSS were developed by teachers, scientists, and leaders in science and science education from around the country and are endorsed by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), a partner in the development of the NGSS. The hardest part of incorporating them into your classroom is simply getting started. Making sense of the NGSS can be difficult at first, but with practice and a few pointers, you'll find these standards immensely helpful. Extensive resources for navigating the NGSS, including readers' guides and archived web seminars, can be found at a special NSTA website (see "On the web"). This article should help, too, offering an example of how to modify a lab to align with the NGSS.

It was during a lab exploring the laws of thermodynamics that I realized that my students weren't performing an inquiry but only following directions. They were told to use our Styrofoam cup calorimeter sets to collect data that would allow them to calculate the transfer of thermal energy of a system after a heated piece of metal had been put into cool water. When they finished collecting data, the students were instructed to solve for the heat energy using Q = mC[DELTA]T (heat equals mass X specific heat capacity X temperature change). Nearly every student came up with a reasonable answer but was tight lipped when it was time for follow-up discussion. They had completed the task without comprehending the "what" and "why" of the science content and processes.

To address this embarrassing classroom situation, it was time to start implementing the NGSS with its various performance expectations, scientific and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts.

Performance expectations

The first step to understanding the NGSS is to look at how the standards are organized. Consider, for example, HS-PS3: Energy. Within it are several performance expectations, including HS-PS3-4, which proposes that students who demonstrate understanding can "Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that the transfer of thermal energy when two components of different temperatures are combined within a closed system results in a more uniform energy distribution among the components in the system (second law of thermodynamics)" (Figure 1). My original investigation did an excellent job of demonstrating the second law of thermodynamics (the entropy of an isolated system never decreases), but that's all it did. By creating a performance expectation (PE) that explicitly uses the verbs "plan and conduct," the NGSS have transferred the action from the teacher to the student, while also connecting this PE to an essential scientific and engineering practice: Planning and Carrying Out Investigations. After exploring these standards, it was clear that my curriculum and lesson plans needed an overhaul.

Overhauling the curriculum

I teamed up with a science professor at a local college to transition my curriculum to incorporate an interactive and student-centered approach. Previously, my classroom activities and teaching revolved around lesson plans and units of study, which mostly followed book chapters. …

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