Science for All Students: A Teacher’s Perspective

Like many classrooms around the country, my diverse fourth-grade classroom consisted of regular education students, special education students, English learners, gifted students, students receiving free and reduced-cost lunches, and students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The science and engineering practice of developing and using models affords all students access to science learning.

As one of the writers of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and member of the NGSS Diversity and Equity Team, I became familiar with the research on effective teaching strategies described in NGSS Appendix D. I learned that the effective teaching strategies leverage support of science learning for specific demographic groups. But how could I incorporate all the strategies in my unit and lesson plans for my diverse classroom? Since some strategies overlapped across demographic groups and some students overlapped across demographic groups, I focused on those overlapping strategies (noted in italics in the lesson description below):

  • Promote place-based learning in a community context;
  • Use authentic, relevant activities;
  • Use language to do science, as NGSS practices are language intensive;
  • Provide multiple modes of representation, including both linguistic (i.e., oral and written language) and non-linguistic modes (e.g., drawings, graphs, tables, symbols, equations); and
  • Leverage students’ funds of knowledge from their cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

I incorporated effective strategies to promote my students’ engagement and support their learning as I wrote the lesson sequence to meet the fourth-grade NGSS performance expectation:

4-PS4-2. Develop a model to describe that light reflecting from objects and entering the eye allows objects to be seen.

The Framework for K–12 Science Education states that developing and using models is central to the work of a scientist or engineer. Scientists develop models to communicate their ideas and use models to explain and predict phenomena. In traditional science instruction, students are presented with a finished model without understanding what it means to arrive at that model scientifically. When using instruction based on the NGSS, as students develop a model, they can make their thinking visible. My fourth-grade students visualized the phenomenon and made sense of the idea that light reflects off the object, enters the eye, and thereby causes the object to be seen.

The lesson sequence began with a question: How do we see an object? Working with their group, students received a lidded box that had an eyehole and a flap. For the investigation, students (1) looked inside the box and recorded observations; (2) opened the flap, looked inside the box, and recorded observations; and (3) shined a flashlight into the opened flap, looked inside the box, and recorded observations. With each observation, students were prompted to answer the question how does your observation help you understand how you can see the object? (The group discussion with each observation is language intensive.)

Students Make Observations With Light Box

Each group discussed their ideas, then developed an initial model that represented their consensus on their ideas. (Using multiple modes of representation, an English learner develops a model to communicate science ideas.)


Initial Model

Students did not reach consensus and had several questions about how they could see an object. I handed out mirrors and black paper. Students investigated and made more observations. As I circulated among groups, I prompted their thinking about the path of the light in the investigation. (The investigation provides ample opportunities for language use while doing science.)

A key part of modeling is that students, like scientists, revise their models to fit with new evidence. The continued investigation and the description of the path of the light was an outgrowth of authentic questions that my students generated. They revised their models to include their new understanding.

Revised Model

What was the change from the initial model to the revised model? In the initial model, the arrow direction was from the eye to light box. In the revised model, arrow direction showed the light entering the eye. The initial model conveyed a common student perception that seeing something comes from the eye, like an eyebeam.

In the NGSS classroom, as students continue to investigate, they make additions and changes to their model. They are able to link new knowledge with prior knowledge. A teacher might ask these questions: What are your group’s ideas? Do you agree with those ideas? What do we investigate next?

The science and engineering practice of developing and using models is important. First, this practice is an important, authentic scientific enterprise. Second, this practice provides affordances for diverse students toward understanding new ideas and expressing those ideas using multiple modes of representation. My experience affirmed that all of my students were highly engaged when developing and revising their models to make sense of the phenomenon that was compelling to them.

Note: The lightbox investigation task is based on a similar task in Investigating and Questioning our World through Science and Technology (IQWST) curriculum units.

Rita Januszyk

Rita Januszyk ( is a retired elementary teacher from Hinsdale, Illinois. She was a K–5 classroom teacher and gifted push-in teacher and coordinator. Januszyk worked on many teams during the development of the Next Generation Science Standards, including the writing team, NGSS Diversity and Equity team, NGSS Evidence Statements team, and NGSS Classroom Sample Tasks team. She also served on the Illinois State Board of Education Model Science Resource Project. Januszyk is one of the editors and contributors of the book NGSS for All Students, published by NSTA (2016). Currently, she is working with New York University and Stanford University as a science writer for grade 5 NGSS-aligned units, and is providing professional development workshops and presentations to help implement the NGSS.

This article was featured in the November issue of Next Gen Navigator, a monthly e-newsletter from NSTA delivering information, insights, resources, and professional learning opportunities for science educators by science educators on the Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional instruction. Click here to access other articles from the November issue on assessing three-dimensional learning. Click here to sign up to receive the Navigator every month.

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