Add Some “WAM” to Your NGSS Models!
Explaining Visual Representations in Writing
Explaining Visual Representations in Writing
Amy Booth and Michelle Peace
Students are spread out in groups across the classroom, gathered around whiteboards, Expo markers in hand. Lively conversations about how to explain represent water moving up a tube echo throughout the room. Your students are developing a model. Yah, your instruction hits Science and Engineering Practice #2. Your classroom is so NGSS. But hold up...you’re not going to let students stop there. It’s time to take modeling to the next level-- It’s time to “WAM”.
Writing About Models, affectionately dubbed WAM, allows students to describe in words what their model visually explain about science phenomena. Students can write about their own model or what they see in other models. Models and their written explanations challenge students to communicate thinking multiple ways. By explaining a model, students summarize and synthesize what they visually explain, deepening their understanding of a phenomenon.
Creating models is a fundamental component of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), as students in all grade levels are expected to frequently construct models to predict or explain phenomena through diagrams, 3-D objects, mathematical representations, analogies or computer simulations. As teachers shift to this deeper and richer view of science, they will be challenged to construct learning experiences for students to model and grapple with how to assess those models. Teachers also need to consider when and how to have students explain their model in writing.
Origins of WAM
The inspiration for writing about models was born from shared office space, which is the homebase for seven district instructional coaches. Although we are typically out at school sites working with teachers and students, creativity and collaboration flourish when four English teachers, two science teachers and one social science teacher share a space roughly the size of a classroom. The science coaches verbalized a need for a writing tool to accompany all of the student generated modeling now featured in our science curriculum. This need was particularly high for digital badge based assessments in Competency X at Del Lago Academy. The Literacy coaches from English and social science ran with the idea. Writing About Models (WAM) was conceived, refined and shared with district science teachers to implement in the 2017-18 school year.
How to WAM
Students need to tailor their writing to the task, audience and purpose of the assignment. An explanation of a model is different than other writings in science or an essay a student might write in another class. Not every model will require a written explanation, but when the model is accompanied by a written explanation, consider this criteria:
- Main Idea - What does the model predict or explain? Clearly identify this to begin the summary.
- Descriptions - Concisely describe the components (steps, series, pieces. parts) in the model. Explain why they are important to the model and any relationships between the steps. Make sure your descriptions follow the same order has the model.
- Concluding statement - State the model’s significance or connection to other concepts including any real world applications.
- Writing Conventions - Write in complete sentences using precise academic language. Use transitional phrases (first, then, finally) when appropriate.
Rubrics help students identify the expectations of the writing task and grow their skills with peer and teacher feedback. Consider adding a writing category to your rubric for assessing the model like this sample:
Writing About Models
Main idea of model is clearly stated. Descriptions are detailed and complete. Concluding thoughts explain the model and/or its significance.
Writing is clear and well-organized with appropriate transitions. No grammar or spelling errors.
Main idea of the model is clear. Descriptions may be incomplete. Concluding statement somewhat communicates model significance. Writing is mostly clear, transitions contribute to flow or ideas. Few errors.
Main idea is somewhat unclear. Descriptions are incomplete. Concluding statement may be inaccurate. Writing is not well organized, no transitional phrases. Grammar and spelling errors detract from clarity.
Main idea is unclear. Descriptions are inaccurate or incomplete. Concluding statement is missing or inaccurate. Grammar and spelling errors detract from clarity.
Don’t Forget to WAM
The demands of NGSS are new and exciting, and perhaps a little overwhelming. As you plan for students to analyze and create models, don’t forget to WAM. Make sure students can describe and explain their model in writing. It will improve their communication skills and deepen their understanding of science.
Amy Booth and Michelle Peace are Instructional Coaches for Literacy in the Escondido Union High School District. They are inspired by NGSS, and enjoy collaborating with district science teachers to strengthen student communication skills.
Amy Booth: firstname.lastname@example.org @1AmyBooth
Michelle Peace: email@example.com @1peacemichelle