As a former elementary science specialist, I am familiar with the elementary teacher’s skill set. They excel at managing a classroom, are very organized, and love a great mentor text—a text that is an example of good writing. However, many don’t feel confident enough when teaching science to consider themselves science experts. Helping elementary teachers begin to become comfortable with the NGSS and similar three-dimensional standards and able to search for resources to support them consumed my days and nights as a science supervisor in a new district.
To fully understand what teachers experienced in the past, I trudged my way through the “science sheds,” as they were so fondly dubbed. I likened what I found to an episode of Hoarders Buried Alive, with a dash of the science kits from years past. The shed contained good stuff, but teachers either didn’t know how to use it, or were so overwhelmed with the vast teacher’s edition that they could just barely teach the allotted 40 minutes a week of science.
I didn’t want to give teachers another science kit with materials that would sit for years untouched and unused. I especially didn’t want to give them anything without ensuring they have a true understanding of the science content and the NGSS’s three dimensions. To begin to make the approach to NGSS elementary teacher–friendly, I introduced them to a resource guaranteed to be in their comfort zone:the Picture-Perfect Science book series published by NSTA Press.
I worked my way through each lesson in the series and arranged them by topic, disciplinary core idea, and grade level using the NGSS Correlation document from the Picture Perfect website, which was a great resource. The lessons contain many features to help teachers begin to make the instructional shift to NGSS. They are written in a 5E format—Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate— based on the BSCS 5E instructional model (Bybee 1997). This progression provides a great introduction for teachers.
The lessons also give teachers a brief content overview that is not overwhelming and complicated, so teachers can become comfortable with the subject. Guided questions are also included to help students think about the topic in a way that a simple hands-on experiment alone may not. The guided questions also highlight the Crosscutting Concepts, enabling students to think about the topic in a different way.
In addition, each lesson includes at least two trade books that are used to either engage students in the topic or elaborate on the topic. The trade books include stories that allow elementary teachers to do what they are comfortable with: teaching using trade books. What I also appreciated about the lessons was the simple planned activities that teachers facilitate as a part of the Explore section. Each activity is relevant and easy to follow, and best of all, includes the Science and Engineering Practices. The beginning of each lesson highlights the objectives (see the sample page of Roller Coasters).
The lesson objectives on the page under Content Standard A: Scientific Inquiry correlate well with the Science and Engineering Practices outlined in NGSS.
Having determined that the series offers a teacher-friendly approach I decided to purchase each volume of Picture Perfect Science and the accompanying trade books. I created the matrix below for the K–3 teachers in my district to help them organize lessons and prevent the overlap of teaching the lessons in each grade level. We also used built-in PD time to review the lessons and discuss the correlations to NGSS. After that, we added them to our shared pacing calendar and collection of shared lessons that continues to grow as we progress through our first year of implementation.
When introducing Picture Perfect to my staff, I gave them one lesson to try at each grade level. I invited myself into classrooms and modeled for teachers how to read, stop, ask questions, and not answer them. The Explore section of the lessons was key: Teachers observed students thinking about science concepts and sharing their ideas. Within a few weeks, teachers felt comfortable implementing the lessons themselves and told me how much they appreciated them. They would say, “I really like the 5E model; I think I will use it for all my science lessons” or “My class loved Sheep in a Jeep!”
My next search will be for nonfiction texts to enhance students’ knowledge…Stay tuned!
Kristen Crawford has worked in the science education field for more than 20 years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in marine biology from Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island; a master’s of art in teaching with a concentration in elementary science education from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey; and a master’s of science in educational administration from the University of Scranton in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Crawford has played leadership roles in science education, serving as a K–6 science specialist in New Jersey’s River Edge School District and as a math and science supervisor there. She participated in focus groups for the New Jersey Department of Education’s Science Division during the state’s adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards. Crawford has taught in the NASA Endeavor STEM certificate program for seven years and has provided professional development for the Kean University Math Science Partnership program. She currently writes curriculum, provides professional development, and serves as K–12 science supervisor in New Jersey’s School District of the Chathams.
This article was featured in the February 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 sign up to receive the Navigator every month.
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