CSTA Classroom Science

Practical Tools to Begin Implementing the NGSS in a First Grade Classroom

By Crystal Howe, Nicole Hawke, and William Straits: 

Across the state, during the summer of 2016, hundreds of teachers of NGSS “Early Implementers” schools participated in professional development institutes designed to help teachers better understand NGSS and science pedagogy. During a week-long summer institute, we worked with 1st grade teachers to explore sound and light waves, while highlighting practical tools to help implement NGSS in classrooms. These tools included a KLEWS chart (Hershberger & Zembal-Saul, 2015) to focus science learning, a field trip structured to create opportunities for students to share their science thinking, and the Engineering Design Cycle from Appendix I of NGSS.

KLEWS Chart 
KLEWS is a graphic organizer that documents five steps in students learning: what students Know initially, what students Learn during investigations and what Evidence supports that learning, what students still Wonder after an investigation, and which Scientific principles/vocabulary explain the phenomena investigated. The KLEWS chart is a great way to take the well-known idea of KWL and expand it to show the importance of students’ evidence and the scientific principles students interact with.  While the KLEW chart has been around since 2006, it was recently updated to include the letter S.  While this addition may seem minimal, it is really at the heart of purpose behind the using the KLEWS chart, having students create scientific claims using the Claims, Evidence, and Reasoning Framework.

Our KLEWS chart focused on the question: What is sound? Through multiple Explore/Explain cycles the teachers were able to build learning, evidence, wonderings, and scientific principles from basic ideas they collected during investigations, such as vibrations cause sound, to the more difficult ones such as how sound waves move through different types of mediums. Even more useful, our teachers were able to use the Learning, Evidence, and Scientific principles of the KLEWS chart to construct strong scientific explanations at the end of the learning series, getting a hands-on experience of what it may look like for their first grade students.

We found the KLEWS chart to be a great scaffold to help elementary teachers in particular build in natural places throughout the investigation sequences, to encourage students to begin to build explanations. The hope at the elementary level is that we begin to repeatedly provide students with opportunities to document their learning as it progresses, taking away the fear of not knowing the “right” answer, and instead thinking of the evidence they have to support their learning.

Structured Field Trip
Many teachers take their students on field trips. Often these trips take place as a culminating event that rewards students for their work in the classroom and provides an opportunity for students to experience science phenomena related to their studies. However, all too often these trips are disconnected from classroom learning. We provided our 1stgrade teachers with a field trip structured to help them see that a field trip can actually be a part of the explore and explain section of a learning sequence, not just an extension.

Our teachers had the opportunity to visit the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego. Prior to this visit, as the “teachers” we took the time to visit the museum. During this planning we found that while multiple exhibits were obviously linked to the ideas of sound and light waves, certain exhibits lent themselves to the first grade context better than others. We made deliberate choices about where and what we wanted the participants to think about at while visiting. Through this planning, we designed a field-trip guide that facilitated a more meaningful use of their time than free exploration.

While teachers explored the museum, they were given a field trip guide with guiding questions that prompted them to investigate how specific museum exhibits showcased sound or light waves. In addition to these written directions, we instructors positioned ourselves at specific exhibits and provided additional challenges to teachers. This allowed us to push our learners’ thinking, help them to connect to classroom learning, and provide individualized and focused instruction during the field trip.

Additionally, pairs of teachers were assigned specific museum exhibits and expected to create a model to help them explain how the exhibit worked for the rest of us when we returned to class. This meant that teachers had to apply the learning they had been doing all week in class while they “played” in the museum.

When we came back to class, our teachers were excited to share their models of the sound and light exhibits. They were ready to show their thinking and use modeling to explain how sound and light work. Even more important, by getting the chance to see sound and light in a world outside of the classroom, our teachers were ready to ask each other questions and were confident in trying to explain themselves – we became more focused on learning and less on the “right” answer. This is the best of what we want to do in science classrooms with students, urging our students to stretch themselves and come up with new ideas based on the understanding they already have of the natural world.

Engineering Design Cycle 
We decided to use the 1st grade Performance Expectation 1-PS4-4: Use tools and materials to design and build a device that uses light or sound to solve the problem of communicating over a distance, as a culminating activity for our institute. While we don’t usually teach explicitly to the performance expectations, this P.E. allowed teachers to demonstrate their new science understandings developed during the institute and served as a great opportunity for teachers to applying their new science understandings while experiencing the engineering design process.

Figure 1[/caption] 

We defined the problem telling teachers they need to communicate over a long distance and need to design and build a device to make it happen. We supplied a great many different materials, including paper towel tubes, white paper, water bottles, plastic cups, string, yarn, fishing line, tape, boxes, flashlights, colored paper, and assorted art supplies. However we were concerned that all of our teachers would decide to build the standard cup and string device that many teachers could’ve built before the institute and that would fail to achieve the full potential of this engineering activity. So, prior to setting teachers loose on their engineering task, we helped conquer the desire to go to the most straightforward design by introducing our teachers to NGSS Appendix I: Engineering Design. (The engineering design cycles clarify what it means for students to engage in engineering at each grade band. Each cycle describes an iterative, three-step cycle that requires students to Define the problem, Develop Solutions, and then evaluate and revise solutions in order to Optimize their effectiveness. See Figure 1.)

With the focus now on solving a problem instead of just building a device, and with teachers wanting to show all they had learned about sound and light during the week, the designs were varied, interesting, and far more creative than cups and strings. After the first design and building period we asked each group to test their devices. There were varying levels of greatness to each of these, but everyone felt validated for their effort. Each was a solution to the problem of long-distance communication and a showcase of the teachers’ learning from the week. The opportunity to then update their devices based on the positives and negatives of both their testing and the other devices which had been built, led to even stronger final projects. Teachers culminated use of the device by playing “the telephone game” around a gymnasium without actually talking to one another.

Throughout our first summer institute, our 1st grade early implementers experienced NGSS-based science lessons and learned much about science pedagogy and physical science content. We hope that they were able to translate much of this to their classroom practice and that they are as excited as we are for year two with Earth and Space Science and more great science pedagogy and NGSS explorations!

Hershberger, K. &  Zembal-Saul, C. (2015). KLEWS to explanation-building in science. Science and Children, 52(6), 66-71.
Figure 1: Appendix I: Engineering Design in the NGSS

Crystal Howe is a TK-12 Science/Math Resource Teacher in the San Diego Unified School District, and can be contacted at chowe@sandi.net

Nicole Hawke is a  1st Grade Teacher for the Coachella Valley Unified School District, and her e-mail is nicole.hawke@cvusd.us

William Straits is a  Professor of Science Education at the California State University Long Beach. His e-mail address is w.straits@csulb.edu



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