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Teaching Students to Think Like Scientists: Strategies Aligned With Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards

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It is essential that students learn to examine, review, and evaluate knowledge and ideas through a process of scientific investigation and argumentation. Using these instructional methods and lesson scenarios, teachers of all disciplines will gain the tools needed to offer students a richer, lasting understanding of science, its concepts, and its place in their lives and the global community.

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Chapter 1 Empowering Students to Learn Scientific Practices

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Think for a few minutes about all of the good teachers you’ve encountered in your lifetime. What qualities led you to put them in your best-teacher category? Look for the possible reasons in table 1.1, and check each statement that describes your best teachers. (Visit go.solution-tree.com/commoncore for a reproducible version of this table.)

Table 1.1: Characteristics of Your Best Teachers

These are some of the strengths that the best teachers have. As you can see, they interact with students, plan and implement purposeful instruction that motivates students, and are patient supporters offering additional instruction on the side to ensure that every student learns. Do you have these strengths?

As elementary school teachers, we are often very good at providing excellent purposeful instruction when we are teaching our students how to read and write.

Like most of your elementary school colleagues, you probably love to teach English language arts, and because of this, you’re wonderful at sharing ideas through picturewalks, think-alouds, and guided reading groups. During these times, you teach your students to read fluently, dig deeply into a piece of literature to analyze the traits of a character, make predictions based on the clues the author gives, identify the language devices the author uses to persuade, and finally use critical thinking to evaluate, synthesize, and summarize as they compare characters and ideas across texts.

 

Chapter 2 Learning to Talk Like a Scientist

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Consider the amount of information we convey and receive through oral language—from offering simple directions to a lost driver to hearing a presidential inauguration speech. In each case, one person’s thoughts and ideas transmit to another person through the use of words pieced together into meaningful sentences and phrases. While colloquial, informal language is perfectly acceptable for casual situations, we need precise terminology and well-crafted expressions of thought to convey academic and scholarly ideas accurately and articulately. We know that we learn everyday conversational speech on the playground and at home. The acquisition of school talk, however, requires thoughtful, well-planned instruction that targets the attainment and use of academic and domain-specific language. The goal is for students to become productive participants in conversations that center on real-world issues of information and concern. This means not only speaking about events of note but also possessing the skill of actively listening so that both argument and agreement can be part of the response.

 

Chapter 3 Learning to Write Like a Scientist

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The old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” is at the heart of writing instruction, because to become an expert writer, one must be exposed to writing through the texts he or she hears, reads, talks about, and attempts to craft. According to the CCSS, “Students need to learn to use writing as a way of offering and supporting opinions, demonstrating understanding of the subjects they are studying, and conveying real and imagined experiences and events” (NGA & CCSSO, 2010a, p. 18). Instruction designed to support students as writers must remain a priority if we expect them to learn to write texts that inform, entertain, explain, and argue information.

The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, 2011b; National Assessment Governing Board [NAGB], 2012; National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2012), which measures the writing proficiencies of U.S. students, amplify this need for very intentional writing instruction. Of the 24,100 eighth graders and 28,100 twelfth graders who completed the assessment, representing both public and private schools, only 3 percent at each grade level performed at the advanced or superior level, and only 24 percent at both grade levels performed at the proficient level. These findings indicate that the majority of students in each of these grades—54 percent of eighth graders and 52 percent of twelfth graders—performed at a basic level, suggesting they have only a partial mastery of the prerequisite skills and knowledge needed to perform as proficient writers. These data send an alert to teachers in grades K–6 that greater attention must be placed on purposeful writing instruction that ensures students will leave their elementary school years knowing how to write well across the disciplines. At least 20 percent of students at both grades performed at a below-basic level, indicating that they have much less than a partial mastery of the skills and knowledge needed to share ideas and information through writing. These data further indicate that the majority of eighth and twelfth graders are not proficient at sharing their thinking through written statements that persuade, explain, and convey information.

 

Chapter 4 Learning to Read Like a Scientist

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Although the Common Core State Standards offer a framework of expectations in each area of the English language arts—language, speaking and listening, writing, and reading—these become very integrated as students engage in experiences that promote the understanding of ideas, generation of information, reflection on a hypothesis or related data, and communication about scientific topics. It is also important to note that while the standards provide a guide designed to ensure that all students attain the same bases of understanding, this will not happen without the support of very skilled teachers and the involvement of families and a wider community that places value on learning science.

As noted in chapter 1, one of the six major shifts that will occur in elementary classrooms as a result of CCSS implementation will be the increase in time students spend engaged with informational texts. In many schools, students currently spend very limited amounts of time learning and reading social studies and science texts (Dorph et al., 2007; Mathis & Boyd, 2009). The balance between fiction and informational text will shift to 50 percent and 50 percent by fourth grade, 45 percent and 55 percent by eighth grade, and 30 percent and 70 percent by twelfth grade (National Assessment Governing Board, 2008). This increase in the relative proportion of informational texts is intended to occur across all content areas and grades, with the responsibility being shared by all teachers. Since most elementary classrooms are self-contained, the responsibility for increasing the reading of informational texts will remain with the classroom teacher but involve all the content areas.

 

Chapter 5 Empowering Students to Think Like Scientists

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Purposeful instruction involves continually reviewing and revising a plan of action designed to accommodate growth in student learning. Alterations to instructional plans result from an ongoing assessment of each student’s performance as related to predetermined goals that are aligned with state and national standards. Assessments of performance are collected as teachers listen to students’ answers to questions and to their conversations with peers, read their written work, and observe multiple other forms of presentation of their thinking. While varied, students’ performances offer teachers opportunities to assess what is being learned and what additional instruction needs to occur. Insightful teachers link learning, instruction, and assessment for each student.

Interest in the assessment of science performance among students in the United States continues to be of major concern since the publication of findings from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA; National Center for Education Statistics, 2009), which compared the performance in reading, math, and science literacy of fifteen-year-old students in the United States with students of the same age from sixty-five countries. When compared with students in the thirty-four member countries that represent the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), findings indicate that U.S. students performed about average in reading, with a ranking of fourteenth; average in science, with a ranking of seventeenth; and below average in math, with a ranking of twenty-fifth. While these scores do show increases from PISA studies conducted in 2003 and 2006, the 2009 U.S. scores lagged behind other leading countries, such as South Korea, Singapore, China (Hong Kong and Shanghai), Finland, and Canada.

 

Appendix Reproducibles

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Visit go.solution-tree.com/commoncore to download the reproducibles in this book.

 

Collaborative Guidesheet

Use this collaborative guidesheet to scaffold the inquiry process of thinking, planning, and investigating.

Teaching Students to Think Like Scientists © 2014 Solution Tree Press • solution-tree.com Visit go.solution-tree.com/commoncore to download this page.

 

Personal Investigation Journal

Using pictures and words, students can note here the results of their study of a topic.

Teaching Students to Think Like Scientists © 2014 Solution Tree Press • solution-tree.com Visit go.solution-tree.com/commoncore to download this page.

 

Oral Reading Fluency

To assess a reader’s fluency when reading a specific text, invite him or her to orally read for one minute. As the student reads, note any words miscalled or skipped. Subtract this number from the total number of words read to get the oral reading rate. Use the key to determine the student’s grade level. The data will help you plan both homogeneous and heterogeneous reading groups.

 

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