NGSS Lesson Study: Both Teachers and Students Make Thinking Visible
By Kate Gallagher
In the fall of 2013, our CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative team was eager to get to work. We had our first Teaching Learning Collaborative (TLC) lesson study where we considered what an exiting 3rd grader should know about the sun, moon, and stars and created our conceptual flow on sticky notes. As part of the process, we added the Crosscutting Concept of Patterns and the Science and Engineering Practice of Constructing Explanations to bring the three-dimensions of learning to the previous earth science standard. The process reminded me of a documentation panel I helped create during a summer arts institute, focused on making our learning visible. In the process of building a conceptual flow, we try to make our thinking visible. We collaborate to both learn how we think as well as to enrich our science content knowledge. Our thinking in designing the conceptual flow is based on our own prior knowledge, and this is what creates the unique “flow” for the science concepts when we meet to plan twice a year.
My lesson study team of TK-5 science prep teachers, planning a 2nd-grade life science lesson about the needs of seeds. (Photo by Kate Gallagher[/caption]
Through vulnerability, we grow
The TLC lesson study is powerful because it parallels the learning process our students go through. To collaborate, we needed to visually organize what we knew so that we could add new information in a meaningful way, just as we ask our students to share their prior knowledge before they explore phenomena. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) focus on teaching students to think like scientists and engineers, and as teachers we go through the same process of claims, evidence, discussion, and questioning from the moment we put down the first sticky note, through drafting our 5E lesson, and teaching and debriefing the lesson.
When my team taught that first 5E lesson about the phases of the moon in a 3rd-grade classroom, we began by asking students to describe, in writing, what they already knew about the moon’s changing appearance. One student asked, “Why do you care what we think?” It was obvious to him that the teachers were the ones who actually KNEW stuff. Why didn’t we just tell him what we wanted him to know? Often students don’t feel confident that they know anything, and I will admit that I had the same feeling at the start of building our conceptual flow and the many I have since built. Sometimes I’ve had to force myself to write down what I think I know and overcome the fear of looking foolish. I remind myself that we are all learning together, and we all have different starting points, depending on the science content. In the TLC lesson study and in the classroom, we are there to support each other as we learn. As we move forward on our NGSS journey, both students and teachers need to give themselves permission to be vulnerable, it’s the only way to grow.
Opportunities for sense-making lead to greater understanding
In another TLC Lesson Study, my team focused on how magnets interact with each other (3-PS2-3, PS2.B). After building our conceptual flow, our team created a 5E lesson based on the question, “How do magnets interact?” The focus of the Explore section of the lesson was to use a doughnut magnet’s ability to attract or repel a bar magnet as the investigative phenomenon. The goal was to have students understand that opposite poles attract and like poles repel. We had one student demonstrate the interactions between two bar magnets and narrate what she was doing for the other students, using terms she already knew (stick together, push apart). The student was actively making sense of what was happening and describing it in her own words. While she spoke, a teacher made a chart to illustrate what she described. She showed this chart later to the whole class and used the words of the student to introduce the terms attract and repel. Then all the students went to bar magnets stationed around the room, tested their doughnut magnets, and labeled which side was the North Pole. To do this they needed to share a doughnut magnet with a partner, talk to each other using their new vocabulary (north pole, south pole, attract, repel), and take turns with the bar magnets. They needed to talk with their table group after they had labeled their magnets to check the accuracy of their understanding by comparing their results with the other partners at their table.
It turns out, teachers use a similar sense-making approach when we debrief and review student work after the lesson. We’re asking ourselves, “Did we achieve what we hoped for? Does the student work show understanding of the content? Do we need to change anything to make the content more accessible to students?” To be able to do this we need to trust each other enough to openly share ideas. We need to honestly and collaboratively share our perspectives, so we can add to our own conceptual frameworks. We need to celebrate our insights and listen to our questions. In a lesson, we are guiding students toward the same kinds of interactions and growth. This focus on how the students are learning gives the lesson new depth, so that if something unexpected happens, like a doughnut magnet breaking in half, students are more likely to ask, “Where are the poles now?” and we are more likely to provide the time to find an answer to that question. With the NGSS, both students and teachers engage in sense-making to reach a depth of understanding.
Teamwork leads to learning
After two years as a lesson study participant, I took on the leadership role of facilitating a lesson study team of four other TK-5 science prep teachers. This allowed me the opportunity to see the TLC from a different angle. Since the fall of 2015, our team has designed and taught six 5E lessons in earth, physical and life science, at every elementary grade level except kindergarten. Watching the teachers teaching a lesson collaboratively, where each of the teachers teaches one part of the lesson, reminds me that the focus is on the aspects of the lesson, not the teacher. As one of is teaching, others are noticing student interactions and taking notes. As we monitor student learning, we are aware of our own learning, too.
When I helped create our first conceptual flow, I wondered how planning one lesson in such detail would help me in the fast-paced lesson implementation of my everyday teaching life. I didn’t realize then how much the TLC lesson study would not just improve my understanding of the NGSS, but change my expectations for students and give me a different perspective on my role in the classroom. The practice of lesson study now influences and enriches every lesson I teach, because it encourages me to make my thinking visible and share it with other teachers and with my students. It reminds me that we are all learners, trying to understand why we think the way we do and make connections to new information. I have had many valuable experiences as an NGSS early implementer and my TLC lesson study teams have helped me bring those experiences into my classroom.
Kate Gallagher is a TK-5 science teacher at RISE Community School, a Teacher Leader in the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative for Oakland Unified School District, and a member of CSTA.