CSTA Classroom Science

Literacy and NGSS in the K-2 Classroom

By Michelle Baker

When will I teach science? I don’t have enough time in the day to teach science! One more thing added to a teacher’s (already full) plate.

Instead of when the question is how?
How can I teach science with my curriculum, materials, and resources?

Since becoming an Early Implementer of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), this is the shift my thinking took as we began to plan and implement science in our classrooms. Instead of following the curriculum in order, I began looking for ways to start with the NGSS standards, Cross-cutting concepts (CCC’s), Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI’s) and Science and Engineering Practices (SEP’s). If I could start with NGSS as my foundation, English Language Arts (ELA), Math, and English Language Development (ELD) all fell into place. It seems like an easy way to make the shift, I have the standards, curriculum, and ideas, but implementation was a whole other story!

By starting with the NGSS document, there are ELA and Math standards from Common Core that are already there for teachers to build connections with. More specifics are at https://ngss.nsta.org/making-connections-common-core.aspx. However, there are always more standards or other standards that can be pulled in, depending on the lesson's objectives.

Start small!
As Early Implementers, we were so overwhelmed by the scope of NGSS and what it meant for us as teachers and for our learners. Our first year, we started with Physical Science. By the end of the first year, we had two, 5E (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate) lesson plans and ideas that could make a 4-6 week long unit. Now we had a foundation, that we could begin building from.
Within the 5E lesson plan, the Explain section usually includes a reading selection. If we were lucky, we found something from our ELA curriculum; otherwise, we had to go looking for something that fit our lesson. My advice is to look online, free resources are everywhere! Some resources will work, some will not be quite what you are looking for, or you could just use a couple of pages that make sense for that lesson. Most K-2 students will not be able to sit through a whole non-fiction book in one sitting, so pick a few pages that work for that specific lesson. Trade books, fiction, and non-fiction reading selections are a great way to bring science into your ELA block. By using the science content and the reading material, you can build a writing activity. Students can discuss with their groups, they can organize their ideas, and complete a graphic organizer. Using the resources we found, we already were integrating ELA. 

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Once the reading was done, students now have an experience (Explore from 5E), and now the information (Explain from 5E) which they make sense of in their science notebooks. Student notebooks are another way ELA and ELD become part of the science lesson. Using models, labels, colors, and arrows, students document their learning. As the facilitator, I spend a lot of time walking around and questioning my students thinking and their representations in their notebooks, ELD! Students also have the chance to talk with groups and partners, and share their learning with the class, ELD! 

Here is the best part, this lesson can be used again next year! NGSS is not going away anytime soon. Each year we build a new 5E lesson plan, after 2-3 years you can have enough science to use throughout the year. What's even better, now that you know how to extend and assess, you have more teaching and learning opportunities.

Connecting Students to the Learning
As K-2 teachers we teach the students to make real-world connections, so when they look at the world around them, they will begin to see the connections for themselves. Connections create long-term learning and retention for students. When I take my students out to measure their shadows and then we come in to read a picture book, My Shadow, by Robert Louis Stevenson, they immediately want to go back outside to jump and climb with their own shadows! This activity then leads to students going home and sharing their new learning with their family. Students are able to explain to their family members how they need a light source to create a shadow. 

Integration provides more than one way for students to access the content. In the K-2 classroom, a teacher has multiple levels of abilities. Students who struggle with reading and writing, are able to get their thinking in a science notebook, in the form of a model. Now the teacher can ask questions and get a better sense of the student’s understanding of the content. A science notebook is a tool that is specific to each student, each student makes sense of the content differently. Students who struggle with reading and writing, are able to demonstrate their understanding without the stress of having to write out sentences, but by drawing models.

Our goal as educators should be to teach the subjects through integration, rather than in isolation. This way our students are able to view the world as a series of connections and begin to make those connections of their own.

Michelle Baker is a 1st Grade Teacher at Morongo Unified School District, a former Palm Springs Unified teacher leader in the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative, and a member of CSTA. Her email is mcbaker626@gmail.com


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