Sunday, May 29, 2016

NGSS is child's play

Join any teacher conversation group and you will inevitably hear one or more of the following:
"Kids these days are so lazy!"
"They can't get off their phones!"
"Kids today can't THINK!"

There are people on both sides of this argument, saying kids these days are or are not lazy. There has been a bit more research about the critical thinking component; I like this article from The Huffington Post which mentions quite a bit of that research. There is a well documented connection between the ability to argue and true understanding of the material. Being able to think about a situation from more than one perspective allows students to argue effectively and respectfully. 

That's probably why one of the new Next Generation Science Standards Science & Engineering Practices is "Engaging in Argument from Evidence." The 9-12 portion includes:
  • Compare and evaluate competing arguments or design solutions in light of currently accepted explanations, new evidence, limitations (e.g., trade-offs), constraints, and ethical issues.
  • Evaluate the claims, evidence, and/or reasoning behind currently accepted explanations or solutions to determine the merits of arguments.
  • Respectfully provide and/or receive critiques on scientific arguments by probing reasoning and evidence and challenging ideas and conclusions, responding thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, and determining what additional information is required to resolve contradictions.
  • Construct, use, and/or present an oral and written argument or counter-arguments based on data and evidence.
  • Make and defend a claim based on evidence about the natural world or the effectiveness of a design solution that reflects scientific knowledge, and student-generated evidence.
  • Evaluate competing design solutions to a real-world problem based on scientific ideas and principles, empirical evidence, and logical arguments regarding relevant factors (e.g. economic, societal, environmental, ethical considerations).
If you look at that list in its entirety you might, (okay, you will) get overwhelmed. But don't be! Try looking at just one or two at a time and they are much more attainable. For instance, my 5 year old completed most of "Construct, use, and/or present an oral and written argument or counter-arguments based on data and evidence" the other day. And that's not bragging, allow me to explain:

My kids love magnets and have this mixed set of sticks with small neodymium magnets and ball bearings. In typical kid fashion whichever piece my 5 year old daughter had my 2 year old son wanted and vice versa. He was usually color oriented; my daughter was more focused on particular pieces of their mixed set. I finally asked her why and she said, "These yellow ones are stronger than those." I asked her how she knew and she said "It just feels stronger." 

Sometimes I can't help that I'm a teacher, and we set up an experiment. I had her collect all the different kinds of magnetic sticks she could find (green, red and yellow below) and a ball bearing. We drew two lines on a pieces of scratch paper and put the ball bearing on one. We started with one magnet on the second line and I had her slowly move it towards the ball bearing on the other. At some point the magnet got close enough to attract the loose ball bearing. We marked that position and repeated it for all the different kinds of magnetic sticks. There was one trial during which the ball bearing moved (which is also when it got wet) and she said, "Mom, that doesn't count, it moved." *so proud*

In the end we got this simple set of data that showed how the magnetic force varied with each different type of magnetic stick. I was surprised that the results were fairly consistent. I asked her "Which magnet was strongest?" and she answered "The red one, because it pulled the ball more, from farther, the others had to get closer, so they aren't as strong. I thought it was the yellow but its not."

So she constructed an argument for the phenomenon she was seeing based on the data we collected. She accepted a result different from her initial opinion based on her experiment. You might even count her description to me as a presentation of her argument! Not bad considering it all stemmed from a sibling squabble. 

How does this apply to your classroom? Focus on what your students know based on what they have done. Ask them to explain what they are seeing, have students discuss their findings with each other. 

Bottom line, "kids today" can think and critically think with your help.

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