CSTA Classroom Science

Engaging Your Students with the NGSS This Summer

By David Sloan

Many of us will use this summer to engage with the NGSS so we can bring new experiences and examples into our classrooms in the fall.  We are always looking for those examples, but the opportunity to travel to different places and experience new ecosystems is especially great during the summer.  We come back to the new school year invigorated with new ideas to bring into our science instruction, only to find that our students have lost some ground during that same break. 

I would like our students to engage with their environment and to think about science all summer long, just like we do as science teachers.  To do that, we need to plant some seeds in their minds during the last week or two of the school year.  Consider having the students engage in a Next Generation Science Standards scavenger hunt.

The fruit of summer. Photo of Kyler Sloan by David Sloan.[/caption] 

The initial step is to have the students identify several things that they plan to do this summer.  Many of them will go places that they don’t go during the school year such as the beach, the local river (which might be more of a creek this year), the mountains, an amusement park, or to visit with family.  Others may stay very close to home, but they will still engage in behaviors that are unique to summer.  This could be as simple as swinging on the swings at a local park, or escaping summer’s heat by experiencing the cooling relief of a shade tree and enjoying the fresh fruit of summer time in California.

Once your students have identified several things that they plan to do this summer, the NGSS scavenger hunt is ready to begin.  Have them explore the NGSS across the grade levels and find the connections between the standards and those activities that they are planning to do this summer.  The Science and Engineering Practices, the Disciplinary Core Ideas, and the Crosscutting Concepts found in the NGSS are all about and connected to the world in which we live.  From the waves at the beach to the rounded rocks in the river to the motions and forces of a roller coaster or swing to the genetic traits they share with their cousins to the weather outside to the fruit they are eating, these are all excellent examples of science.  Since these are their examples of science in their own lives, the examples are even more meaningful and powerful.

After the summertime activities and the NGSS standards have been identified, have your students do a written explanation of how they are connected to each other.  When they report out to the class, everyone will have had the figurative seeds planted about a wide variety of activities that they might engage in, and how they are great examples of science.  As they engage in those activities during the summer, there is a decent chance that the scientific concepts will also come to mind.

Summer at the beach. Photo of Marin Headlands by David Sloan.[/caption] 

The final step in the process would occur in the fall.  That is when the subsequent teachers would ask the students about the science they engaged with during the summer.  It is a great way for that teacher to get to know their new students, and to get a sense of their prior knowledge as they all start the new school year together.

We work hard during the school year to bring science to life in our classrooms.  If we can get the students to a place where they can continue to see science in their summer activities, they will continue to make those connections and see science come to life all summer long.  Instead of losing ground during the summer, maybe we can hold steady or even see some growth.  Those seeds that we planted in the last weeks of school can germinate and the topics, the understanding, and the new questions can bloom.

Just imagine what it could be like if our students returned from summer invigorated about all of the science they saw and experienced during their time out of the classroom.  We experience that invigoration because we live the science and see it in everything we do.  Our students can learn to do the very same thing by seeing the science in the cherished summer activities of youth.  Wouldn’t it be great if instead of the first week of school’s assignment being about “What you did this summer,” it evolved into being about “What science did you experience this summer?”

David Sloan is a professor of education at Brandman University and the Region 1 Interim Director for CSTA, sloan@brandman.edu



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