New science practices include the old scientific method (in more flexible terms). Additionally, you’ll find some new processes. Let’s take a look at the eight practices. In addition, we’ll explore some ways to teach them.
Ms. Sneed and Mr. Grow Take a Walk Down Memory Lane
Our favorite fourth grade teacher once again sat at the side table with her mentee. “It’s been over a year since we decided to move away from the scientific method,” Ms. Sneed said.
Mr. Grow smiled, “What a journey it’s been! I barely remember those old days. Now it seems that the eight science practices are a part of my everyday life.”
“Actually, they are a part of your everyday life.” Ms. Sneed smiled. “Let’s start by reviewing the practices.” She read from a document on her laptop screen:
- Asking testable questions
- Developing and using models
- Planning and carrying out investigations
- Analyzing and interpreting data
- Using mathematics and computational thinking
- Constructing explanations and designing solutions
- Engaging in argument from evidence
- Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
“Today, we’ll take a look back at some of the ways we used these practices. Additionally, we’ll think of some ways we might use them in the future.”
Science Practice 1: Asking Questions
“The first of eight science practices,” Ms. Sneed began, “is asking questions.”
“Ah, yes. I remember. We used the gummy bear lab to explore this.”
“Right. We learned that a question must compare one variable. Furthermore, kids should be able to make predictions and observations.”
“Oh yeah,” Mr. Grow chimed in, “and the ability to measure is even better.”
As he spoke, he looked back in his plan book. “To prepare our kids for this, we had them discriminate between testable and non-testable questions.”
Science Practice 2: Developing and Using Models
“Second,” Ms. Sneed continued, “we worked on developing and using models.”
“Actually, of all science practices, this one veers farthest from the old scientific method,” said Mr. Grow. “When we discussed this in depth, I could see its value.
“Remember?” he asked. “First we discussed analogies. For example, you can compare an apple to the Earth. Second, diagrams like food chains and webs help kids understand concepts. Then we moved on to data models, as well as three-dimensional models. As a matter of fact, I used the solar system models in my classroom.”
Science Practice 3: Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
“The third of the eight science practices,” said Ms. Sneed, “involves investigations.”
“AKA the scientific method,” Mr. Grow added.
“Sort of. Let’s say a more flexible scientific method. Sure, kids use a fair test. In other words they compare and control all but one variable. Furthermore, they measure and replicate.”
“In my opinion, the static electricity experiment provided a great example,” said Mr. Grow. “While kids controlled all other variables, they used different gloves to charge a balloon. In my class, the kids loved this.”
Science Practice 4: Analyzing and Interpreting Data
“Next up,” said Ms. Sneed, “data. Since I’m a math geek, this is my favorite of all the science practices.”
“Once again,” Mr. Grow replied, “you found a great way to emphasize it. When kids explored conservation of mass, they did a ton of measurement. In other words, kids took a quantitative approach. Then they could compute, compare, use tables, and create graphs.”
At that, Ms. Sneed smiled. “Yeah, I love that experiment.”
Science Practice 5: Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
“After data, we talked about using mathematics and computational thinking. In my mind, this works with another of the science practices, data. Actually, both ask kids to measure, compute, and graph. I suppose the biggest difference is that this practice also discusses comparison and patterns. Furthermore, it mentions measuring multiple properties.”
“Yes, I remember discussing this,” said Mr. Grow. “First, you talked about measuring the circumference, mass, and volume of a rock. Additionally, you suggested measuring the area a rock takes up by placing a piece of graph paper beneath it. In my class, we tried this. What a great way to practice!”
“In addition to that, we discussed using tables to find patterns.”
“Oh yeah, the day and night tables. Another great way to address this practice.”
Science Practice 6: Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
“Sixth,” said Ms. Sneed, “kids construct explanations. However, it involved more than just explaining. Instead, kids observed, changed one variable, and gathered evidence. Finally, they described the phenomenon and supported it with evidence.”
“Hey, that also overlaps with other science practices,” Mr. Grow inserted. “For example, once again we hear about changing one variable.”
Ms. Sneed smiled, “I guess they really want us to do that! If you remember, we used a set of speed and energy activities to find out more about explanations.”
Science Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence
“In the next science practice, kids engage in argument. Initially, I didn’t see a lot of difference between this and constructing an explanation. Once again, kids compared and gathered evidence.”
“So what was the difference?” Mr. Grow asked.
“Well, if you think back, we used our gravity activities as an example of this. As we worked through them, we realized that arguing involved constant refinement of ideas. As a matter of fact, kids must judge and critique pretty much everything in science. Furthermore, they must interact – and argue – with others. Finally, they need to write arguments. In other words, make a claim and support it with evidence.”
Science Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
“In the last of the science practices, kid obtain, evaluate, and communicate information.”
“Research, right?” said Mr. Grow.
“Mainly. But as we dug in, we realized that this practice also required comparing and thinking critically. The NGSS urged teachers to provide more rigorous reading, thinking, and writing activities.”
“Now I remember. As an example, we discussed the reading and writing activity on electricity and the environment.”
“Correct,” Ms. Sneed said. “In that activity, kids read about seven different ways electricity can be generated. Then they analyzed and compared them. Finally, our students had to decide which form was best for the environment.”
Looking at the Standards
Ms. Sneed sat back in her chair. Then she sighed. “So, let’s talk about the future. How will you pull more science practices into your teaching.”
“Honestly,” Mr. Grow replied, “I’ve learned to look at my grade-level standards. When I look at the verbs at the beginning of each standard, I’m directed toward a specific process.”
As he spoke, he pulled out the fifth grade NGSS standards. “For example, let’s use these matter standards to illustrate what I mean.
- Develop a model to describe that matter is made of particles too small to be seen. Obviously, here we use the second practice to create models.
- Measure and graph quantifies to provide evidence that regardless of the type of change that occurs when heating, cooling, or mixing substances, the total weight of matter is conserved. Without a doubt, the students will use mathematics. Of course, they’ll also analyze and interpret data.
- Make observations and measurements to identify materials based on their properties. Although this could address several practices, in the end, kids will construct explanations.
- Conduct an investigation to determine whether the mixing of two substances results in new substances. And there it is! They want kids to plan and carry out a scientific investigation.
“Not only have they provided science practices, they’ve integrated them into the standards!”
Ms. Sneed’s eyes lit up. “You are absolutely correct. And may I say you’ve come a long way. In a short time, you’ve come to understand science practices and how they fit into the standards.”
“And how they fit into my classroom.” Mr. Grow winked. “Thank you. Not only are you a great teacher, you’re a great mentor too. Over time, you have helped me become a better educator. And that makes me enjoy teaching!”