My third-grade class created models of plant and animal cells with various items that they found around the house. Many of the kids did a great job, and their projects were very colorful. I brought samples to my Professional Learning Community (PLC). As we discussed the students’ work, I could not understand why my colleagues thought the work was not rigorous enough.
The essence of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is increasing the rigor of student work, in part through performance expectations that deepen student thinking. Models are no longer considered 2-D or 3-D representations for identification, but as representations with a purpose. The performance expectation at the upper-elementary level is for students to not only identify a model’s parts or demonstrate its functions, but also to apply their content knowledge by predicting limitations or the results of manipulations. If your students created plant and animal cells missing an organelle of their choice, would they be able to predict how the missing organelle affects the entire cell? The students would demonstrate their ability to identify parts of the cell and their understanding of the organelle’s functions and importance to the cell as a whole.
Models can bring a concept to life by using analogies with them. What if your students created an analogy for each organelle to help describe its function? For example, “The cell membrane is like a sandwich bag, and cytoplasm is like gelatin.” Students could collaboratively discuss their analogies to determine how to construct a model with items that best represent the organelles’ functions.
NSTA provides many resources to help us understand the progression of thinking that students are expected to demonstrate as we facilitate their comprehension and help them understand how they are learning in a progressive manner. Developing and Using Models from the NGSS@NSTA Hub could be particularly useful here.