How do I know what is effective?

While trying to implement and experiment with the NGSS this year I have a nagging questions at the end of each unit.  “Was this lesson effective?” “What worked and what needs to change?”

Formative assessments and summartive assessments are good tools to use and the data is very helpful when matching it against the standards.  But my concern goes deeper.  What do my students really know and can do? Will they be able to apply this in other units? What impact will this have on their high school experience?

i started looking at the NGSS, the practices. recent trainings, and my PLN on Google and Twitter. I noticed a practice that I needed to use more to improve student learning and understanding.  These were modeling and asking questions.  We had just finished an assessment on the age of the earth and evidence that supports this.  Students results were mixed and I decided to use both practices to assess student understanding.  Students created a mini lesson (model) that they presented. Part of the rubric involved the students answering questions to show thieir understanding. This was eye opening. While a student could put together a nice lesson it was their ability to  answer questions about their subject that should thier understanding.

In most cases students who scored well on the written assessment also scored well on the questioning part of their lesson.  While thieir were some exceptions this reflective piece helped me to make a change in my assessment of my students.  They will have written assessments, some type of modeling or solution to a problem and questioning. The questioning can be assessed in written form, one to one conversation or a video.

What are the students doing?

What are the students doing?

As we embark on this fantastic journey of creating and molding the course of science for generations to come we need to pause for a moment and ask this question?

What are the students doing?

I mention this because if you look at the 3 Dimensional Learning ( SEP, DCI, CC) a lot of the language is what the students are doing.  Here are a few examples from

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

Develop models to describe the atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.

Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred. 


Gather and make sense of information to describe that synthetic materials come from natural resources and impact society.


Develop a model that predicts and describes changes in particle motion, temperature, and state of a pure substance when thermal energy is added or removed.

Develop and use a model to describe how the total number of atoms does not change in a chemical reaction and thus mass is conserved.

Undertake a design project to construct, test, and modify a device that either releases or absorbs thermal energy by chemical processes

The focus is on what the students is doing.  So when creating a lesson, unit or an assessment we need to keep asking ourselves. What is the student doing?  Students learn by doing an experiencing science.  It is not memorizing or quick recall.  They learn by creating their own understandings and working through the process of science.  This means making mistakes, starting over and doing the work.

Know your resources

Wherever you are in the process of implementing the NGSS you need to seek out the resources that will make the process easier.  Some of the available resources are NSTA, NGSSchat on twitter, NGSS chat on Voxer, NGSS Peer Learning Network on Google or any other sources you may find on the internet.  These are all great options but there is another resource that we need to tap into that is right in our own building.

In your building you have a host of resources you can use if you take the risk and step outside of your classroom.  If you are fortunate to have a building coach this would be a great place to start.  They may not have a science background but they are a great resource for best practices.  Many of them have researched or have attended trainings on implementation of the new standards.  They can give us ideas of how to create a lesson or unit that follows the 3D format of the NGSS.  Your coach can also be a great source of feedback of what worked and what needs to be adjusted the next time you present a lesson.  Your curriculum coach has been exposed to multiple resources through trainings, and reading the most up to date articles in education.  They have the benefit of observing multiple classrooms and sharing what they have observed.  The added benefit is that there is a network of coaches who are willing to share what they have learned and what is working in their building with other coaches.  I have just skimmed the surface with coaches but I hope you see how important they are.

Another resource in you building is your Special Ed teachers.  They are a great resource for best practices and how to differentiate in your classroom.  Having another educator in the classroom is resource you cannot ignore. They are another set of eyes, hands and data resource that will help improve student learning.  Seek their feedback so you can find out what works and doesn’t work.  They share a passion for making the best education for all students.  They have great ideas and input that is valuable to you and your students.

Resources outside your classroom are the other science teachers in the building.  They are a fellow educator who wants the best for the students and want to become the best teacher they can be.  We cannot go on this journey alone and every resource is important.  The other teachers in your building can help hold you accountable, encourage you and help you when you reflect on your teaching.  Seeking this resource requires us to go outside our classroom and taking the risk of asking for help and sharing our resources with others.

A final resource in your building is your students.  They can give you so much in helping you along on your journey of implementing the NGSS. A student’s first resource is how they performed on an assessment.  This information is a valuable tool in finding out what worked and what did not work.  Another source of information is the feedback that they can give you. Most students want a good classroom experience and they will share with you their opinion on what worked and did not work.  We need to take a chance and ask for their input.  This can be done anonymously.  Some simple questions such as what worked, what was difficult, what could you do differently next time can give you a lot of good data to use.  This input along with your own reflection is a valuable tool you can use to improve your classroom instruction.  Your students are important to the success of implementing the NGSS.  They are ones who will be affected by it and will benefit from it the most.

Overall we need to take the chance to seek resources inside and outside our classroom.  We cannot do this alone.  Together we have more resources, tools and strategies that will help develop a new generation of critical thinkers and innovators.

Failure is always an option

Let me start this blog post with a quote from Mythbusters Adam Savage in an interview from The Atlantic:

‘Failure is always an option’ came up as a joke in season two, when we were screwing something up over and over again, but it’s an awesome way to think about the scientific method. We tend to think about science as a series of facts and absolutes that we need to study in order to understand stuff; a scientist saying, “I want to prove this thing,” and then coming up with an experiment to prove it. Nothing could be further from the truth on both counts. The scientist simply says, “I wonder if?” and then builds a methodology to test whether his theory is correct, or even to figure out what his theory might be. So to think that an experiment could “fail” is ludicrous. Every experiment tells you something, even if it’s just don’t do that experiment the same way again.’

I know that many of us have enjoyed along with our students the explosions and experiments that are a staple of the Mythbustes franchise.  Recently they have expanded to a tour and YouTube.  My oldest son sent me the article that prompted me to write this blog post.

I think our students need to know that it is OK to fail.  I am not saying fail their classes and repeat a grade.  I am talking about failing when it comes to experimentation and discovery in our science classrooms.  Our tech hungry public is fed so much information with the internet these days that students are losing opportunities to figure things out for themselves. I am still learning this myself.  I sometimes catch myself stepping in when a student struggles and not allowing them to falter and learn at their own pace. When I do this I am not giving them every opportunity to learn.

What I should be doing is giving my students an environment where they know that mistakes will happen and give them opportunities to learn from their failures and make adjustments.  This can occur with assessments, projects, and labs.  Under these conditions students will have an opportunity to learn at their own pace.  This will change the layout of my classroom, how I teach and how I continue to improve my craft as an educator.  Students will have a better understanding of the content because they will own it.  They will become better problem solvers and critically consumers of the evidence that they encounter. To make sure the content is covered I will fill in the gaps and make sure they have the solid foundation that they need to succeed.

I know there will be success and failures during this process.  I will learn from both and press on because I am an educator and I want the best for my students.

NGSS and Differentiation

Some of you may be diving into the NGSS and are already implementing the practices and standards into your classroom. Others are reading, talking to colleagues and thinking how you can start to implement the practices and standards into your curriculum. There are some who are waiting until the summer to work on their units. A few are hoping that they can learn from those brave souls who have ventured out already or wait for the textbook.


I do not know where you are on this adventure but I want to discuss as teacher leaders how we can be a guide for the science teachers in your building, district and globally.


I believe we need to look at this as differentiation. This is something we are familiar with. We assess our students on a daily basis to gauge where they are in your unit. You make adjustments and assess where your students are again until they are ready to move on. This process can be transferred to helping each other on this journey.


I would first recommend focusing on the eight practices of the NGSS.  Past experience with other curriculums has shown that the practices are what drives the curriculum.  You may already cover the curriculum but will make changes on how it is presented and how your students experience it.


Next I would recommend assessing what your colleagues already know and what they need.  This can involve an email, survey or discussions at meetings or in the hallways.  Find some common threads and offer to provide this information in science meetings, one on one or in a small group setting. Realize that you will have different levels of understanding in your meetings and that everyone is learning at their own pace.  It is important to remember that the NGSS is a shift in how science is presented.  The old ways of sit and get, lots of worksheets and and canned experiments are gone and this will be difficult for some.


The resources for this are varied.  There are forums on twitter, voxer, google+, YouTube and resources offered through NSTA. Another source may be your school district or local universities. You may find other teachers in your district who are knowledgeable and are willing to share their resources. The universities see how the new standards help them and are beginning to offer trainings and resources to teachers. Searching will require some homework on your part but you will gain wisdom and understanding through the process.


The pace and the outcome will depend on your teachers and how they learn. It is important to celebrate success and work through and failures.  This is new for all of us.  It is a learning process that will take 3-5 years for everyone to become proficient. It is important to share both the success and failures. It not an us and them mentality.  This is for the students they all néed to succeed to be competitive in the future.

The NGSS 8 practices and the scientific method

I was thinking how much the NGSS eight practices and the scientific method are related.  Thinking this way helps me to keep things simple in trying to understand something new or something complex.  Hopefully this will help you as well.


Observe-You notice the changes in the science curriculum and all this talk about NGSS.  You observe other teachers in you building and District talking about the Science and Engineering Practices, grade banding, performance expectations, cross cutting concepts, Disciplinary Core Ideas. You could become overwhelmed.  Take a deep breath and remember you are a scientist and there are steps and processes that can help us through this.


Define a Problem– Practice 1 of the New Standards is Asking Questions and Defining Problems

You begin to realize that you need to start learning more about these new practices and developing new units or adapting your current units to work within the framework of the new science standards and practices.


Form a Question– Practice 1 of the New Standards is Asking Questions and Defining Problems. How am I going to begin this process? What are my resources? What is my background knowledge?  What do I hope to accomplish?  What is my time frame?  What do I consider success in the classroom?


Research-Begin researching uses Practice 1 Asking questions and a Defining Problems. Research could include periodicals (Science Scope), the web (NSTA, blogs), social media (google+, twitter) and PLC’s in your building or district.


Hypothesis– When you develop a Hypothesis you are engaging in Practice 3 Planning and Carrying out investigations. What outcomes do you expect?  What background knowledge do you have to predict an outcome?  


Materials-Practice 3 Planning and Carrying out Investigations. What resources will you need? What steps will you take to complete this experiment?  Have others (colleagues) completed a similar experiment?  If so could you repeat the experiment?


Procedures-Practice 3 Planning and Carrying out investigations. How do you plan to carry the investigation out?  How will you collect data?  


Test your hypothesis Practice 2 develop and use models. The model could be your lesson plans, units and activities your are using in class.  You could also use Understanding By Design (backward design).  This is for a future post.


Collect Data– Practice 4 Analyzing and Interpreting Data and Practise 5 Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking. Practice 8 Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information. As you collect your data (summative and formative assessments, student feedback and evaluations) you begin to look for trends and evidence to support or dispute your hypothesis.  

Communicate Results
Practice 2 Develop and Use Models. Practice 6 Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions. Practice 7 Engaging in Arguments from Evidence. Practice 8 Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information. In communicating your results you will use evidence from your findings to create models.  This could be a mathematical model (charts, graphs).  You will construct explanations as to why the results turned out as they did.  You may begin to reflect and design solutions for future units.  After you evaluate your results you may communicate the results with your colleagues. Seek feedback and share your success and failures during the process. This process may include the productive discussions with yourself and other science teachers on what worked and did not work based on the evidence you have collected.

Educator who sees himself as a work in progress. A life long learner who wants to share my experiences and learn from others success and failures.