I had the honor of teaching a series of lessons to a class of students at a STEM school. One of the major points of the Next Generation Standards’ authors is that the practice of scientists is not a lock-step, linear method like the “scientific method” that has traditionally been taught in classrooms. Instead scientists engage in an iterative practice that includes repeating particular steps – like asking questions or seeking out what is already known or evaluating data – at multiple points during an inquiry. The authors of the Next Gen Science Standards have actually dropped the term “scientific method” and adopted the term “practices” in an attempt to highlight the difference between new and old standards.
So what are the implications for our classroom instruction? Ideally, students have extensive opportunities to engage in scientific inquiry that provides real-life experiences for students as “scientists” and students as “engineers.” While this should be a priority for curriculum development and implementation, an additional access point for learning about the practice of scientists and engineers is reading about the work of these professionals. So in a series of five lessons, I tried this out with a group of fifth graders…I think this could be done at the 3rd-8th grade level.
Here are some of the steps I took to prepare and to teach:
- Choose a focus of scientists’/engineers’ practice for reading and thinking. For these lessons, I chose the concept “investigate.” I wanted students to really understand the many dimensions of investigation, to move beyond the idea many of them shared in a pre-assessment that “scientists study things.” I wrote a kid-friendly definition. As we progressed through the lessons, we added to the definition/explanation of this word. I’ve blogged about how carefully crafted definitions help students articulate why a piece of information from the text is evidence.
- Put together a text set of books about the work of scientists and engineers. For this particular class, I chose Scientists in the Field series texts and the teacher and I went to two libraries to collect titles. I also like Sandra Markle’s “Case of the Vanishing…” series. Most of these students (5th grade) were reading at or above grade level. If your students are striving readers, don’t let this stop you. There are books out there like Bearport’s America’s Animal Comeback series which detail the work of scientists. Another option is to find on-line sources – maybe articles about the work of scientists.
- Choose an anchor text. I chose The Tarantula Scientist by Sy Montgomery – an engaging text I could read aloud from and also select short excerpts from for close reading.
- Book-talk some of the books in the text set to help students engage and then choose a book they’d like to read. With this group, we stood in a big circle and did a book pass. They would look at a book for 30 seconds and then pass it to their left until we’d done this several times. Then they chose books they wanted to commit to reading over several lessons.
- During a series of 40-50 minute lessons, incorporate a focused lesson, time for students to read, and time for students to respond. The mini-lessons included reading aloud from the anchor text, engaging in close reading of an excerpt, putting student responses on the document camera to view and discuss, sharing responses I wrote to the anchor text as a model for the students. During some lessons, the focus lesson was short (five minutes) and students were given the majority of the time to read, read, read (with me coaching during conferences) and to write in response to a prompt like, “How does your scientists/engineer engage in investigation? What is evidence in the text that reveals this?” During other lessons the focused lesson took most of the time – like engaging in a close reading of an excerpt from The Tarantula Scientist (Montgomery, 2007). I projected the excerpt and the students had a copy of the excerpt. The prompt for close reading was “How does the author reveal that Sam, the arachnologist, engages in investigation?”
- Assess students’ responses as a way to determine teaching objectives for the next focused lesson. Okay…I’m going to write more on this in the next entry.
Hope this helps.