This year our district is test driving our brand new NGSS Biology and Chemistry courses. (Physics was last year) And WOW, has a lot happened in just one month. I'm not gonna lie, it has been exciting to watch this shift take place.
I LOVE the new courses, but they take work. The curriculum that the teachers designed is full of hands-on, minds-on performance tasks with engaging phenomena. However, it is up to the classroom teacher to create the sequence of learning that leads to the performance tasks and facilitate the learning experience in a way that allows students to explain a phenomena. (see image below) This is quite different for many reasons (some listed below).
- Traditionally, educators have front loaded information to students, then the students practiced what they just learned. (sit-and-get) Now, students are trying explain a phenomena through learning experiences. (discover-and-explain)
- Traditionally, the class textbook set the pace and flow for learning. For those who don't know, many textbooks come with worksheets, activities, PowerPoints and test banks for teachers to use. Bold curriculum like our new courses, requires that learning be quite intentional through hand picked activities based off specific learning objectives for each unit of study. In other words, not everything in Chapter 3.
- Traditionally, student learning was assessed through a summative test and that learning was usually about content. Now, students are assessed on what they know and can DO, hence the performance task.
I have been amazed at the willingness of my colleagues to approach NGSS with such a huge growth mindset. Sure, there is some frustration. Yes, there are some things that are not perfectly smooth. But these wrinkles in the fabric of learning will get ironed out and these new courses will be beyond robust.
Professional learning community teams (PLC) are working diligently to wrap their minds around the curriculum and create meaningful learning experiences. Teachers are trying out new the ACTIVITY FIRST approach (Activity Before Concept, Concept Before Vocabulary), instead of front loading with content. Many of them are choosing to seriously rethink grading and how to assess students through the lens of three dimensional learning. It is an EXCITING time in science!!!!
BIGGEST NEEDS THUS FAR:
- Time. Innovation takes time.
- Practice. Pedagogical shifts take practice.
- Examples. Many teachers want to "see" what this looks like in the classroom.
Some of the phrases I have heard from teachers:
- "I feel like a first year teacher again."
- "Letting them (students) figure out the information without just giving it to them first is hard."
- "If they design a bad experiment, how will I know if they learned the right thing?"
- "That lesson was incredible."
- "The students LOVED the activity. It was a hit."
- "What are other teachers doing?"
- "It went well. Just need to change a few things for next year."
- "The students are really engaged."
Some of the phrases I have heard from students include:
- "Oh, this makes me think."
- "This is cool."
- "Wow. Check this out."
This a move in the right direction for science education and I feel so lucky to get to witness this change firsthand. I look forward to continually supporting my coworkers as we blaze the trail for science AWESOMENESS!
My biggest takeaway after the first month? Change takes time, willingness and patience. Every teacher is at a different place on this change cycle, and that is perfectly okay. But not a single one of my coworkers is at stage 1 or 2. WIN!!!!!! My coworkers ROCK!