The NGSS framework (NRC 2013) brings us three-dimensional teaching through disciplinary core ideas (DCI), crosscutting concepts (CCC), and science and engineering practices (SEP). State-level adoption of NGSS (versions of NGSS) often focuses on DCIs, but CCCs and SEPs are needed to give students the robust learning experiences promised by the NGSS.
CCCs and SEPs set a high bar for active student engagement. SEPs are all about students engaging in the work of scientists and engineers. CCCs are all about students understanding and applying a short list of concepts to all kinds of contexts in the world around them. Students should be asking the questions and designing the investigations. Students should be applying the concept that systems across the natural and human-made world are groups of related parts that make up a whole and can carry out functions its individual parts cannot. Built around the disciplinary core ideas, these learner-centric approaches to science education reflect three-dimensional teaching. These practices and conceptual connections are intended for students to engage, grapple, poke, prod, explore, and apply to their experiences in the world around them. Three-dimensional teaching has the potential to situate learners in the role of explorer, discoverer, and solver. These empowering experiences will hold students in good stead as they face complex 21st-century challenges.
The progression of CCCs and SEPs is rooted in child development. NSTA has organized vertical progression charts of NGSS indicators for each CCC and SEP. These invaluable resources are available on the NSTA NGSS Hub (see Online Resources). CCCs and SEPs require introduction, practice, and application. Look at your own science curriculum to see when students are first tasked with “engaging in argument from evidence.” For this SEP, students will need to be taught developmentally appropriate ways to collect and use evidence to support their claims and how to critically and constructively engage in scientific argumentation. Where in the curriculum are students first given the opportunity to identify the limitations of a model? What is the arc of their learning for planning their own investigations? In which lessons are students exploring the relationship between structure and function in different contexts throughout the year? Like content learning in the DCIs, SEPs and CCCs need thoughtful scaffolding and careful sequencing as they are integrated into instruction.
You can map these progressions in your own curricular resources by first ensuring lessons are tagged with SEPs and CCCs. Use the NSTA NGSS Hub progression charts for support. Be aware that some curricular resources pre-dating NGSS have been retrofitted with SEP and CCC labels without the substantive changes needed to authentically integrate them into the learning experiences; use a critical eye when reviewing lessons “aligned” with CCCs and SEPs. Next, look at your curricular sequence and mark the lessons where each SEP and CCC is introduced; these are lessons where students will need introductions to the practices and concepts. Then look for representation of each SEP and CCC throughout the year of lessons. You might find that some SEPs and/or CCCs are more emphasized than others—discrepancies you can address over time.
Three-dimensional teaching means deep learning for students. Keep students at the center and build your repertoire of developmentally appropriate instruction in the CCCs and SEPs over time. Just being aware of them is a good starting place!
Wonder Farm is a beautifully crafted app from WGBH’s First8Studios. Tech Talk reviewed Nico and Nor’s Coconut Star back in March 2019 (Pacheco-Guffrey 2019), another gem from First8Studios. In this adventure, learners plant seeds, make experimental decisions about growing conditions, and then run experiments to see the results. This app is a big favorite with littles (and adults!).
Wonder Farm is crafted for little hands and big minds. From the size and shape of the in-app manipulatives to the multimodal interactives and the bar graph for quantifying experimental design decisions, child development was at the forefront of this app’s design. As is the case with simulation apps, a great feature of Wonder Farm is that children can go back again and again to try out all kinds of different combinations to optimize plant growth. In addition to the Wonder Farm app, First8Studios has an accompanying Plant Journal app and a fantastic Early Science Teacher’s Guide (see Resources). Though the description states that Wonder Farm is designed for preschool, this app has layers of complexity and multiple variables that work well for young scientists well into middle elementary grades.
Integrating apps into the learning process is a fantastic way to enhance students’ learning experiences. For young children in particular, simulation apps are valuable because they give children the opportunity to revisit experiences to help them build their understandings of processes, variables, and concepts. Wonder Farm could certainly be used on its own; however, I will always advocate for hands-on learning with authentic resources. For this reason, I suggest using Wonder Farm while growing a garden with children in school. The garden does not need to be fancy. Get a package of dry beans, soak the beans overnight in water, pop them into cups with soil, add water and sunlight, and you’ll have yourself a mini garden before you know it. As always, give students a few minutes to interact with the app before you settle into the lesson.
One of the best parts about Wonder Farm is that it gives children the opportunity to engage in a science practice they rarely get to do in school: plan out their own investigations. This app serves as a terrific entry point in your curriculum for children to learn how to plan and carry out their own investigations. Whether working in small groups with devices 2:1 or whole-group around an interactive whiteboard (connected to an iPad), develop students’ investigation skills by providing them with a baggie of print-outs of the variable disks (sunlight, water, and animals) from the app. You can make these easily by snapping an iPad screenshot and emailing it to yourself for cropping and printing from a desktop/laptop. Make them large for easy manipulation and laminate for durability. Whether paired in independent small groups or within whole-group, give each pair a baggie of the variable disks. Students can design their own experiments by ordering the sunlight, water, and animal disks before them, sharing their thinking about why they chose their variables and their reasons for ordering. Then, run the experiment on the app. You’ll be listening for students to build upon successful and unsuccessful outcomes from previous trials as they justify their experiments and work through different combinations of variables. Bring in the crosscutting concept of “cause and effect” here, giving students language and framework to discuss the impact of their experimental choices on the outcomes of plant growth. Nor, the sassy narrator, will make them giggle no matter the outcome.
The app allows students to trial many combinations as they investigate the impact of the app’s variables on plant growth. The time will come, however, to make sense of the data and establish takeaways. Create a developmentally appropriate datasheet that supports young learners regardless of their English language status. For each student pair, provide a datasheet with space for multiple trials, matching the datasheet layout to the app interface as much as possible. Provide the three variable options (sunlight, water, and animals) in a vertical stack in place of the six blank disks in the app. Include a numbered blank bar graph stack for each trial as well. As they design their investigations, students can circle the choices they and their peers make for the six disk spots in each trial and then shade in their bar graphs showing the resulting plant growth for each trial. Now students will have a record of their investigations to support their ability to analyze and interpret their investigation data. This is a great opportunity for students to explore and identify the crosscutting concept of “patterns” in their data.
|Tech Overview: Wonder Farm
Get out! No really— get outside…and bring your mobile device. The incredible Seek App is going to change the way you do outdoors. Seek comes to us from the same partnership of California Academy of Sciences and National Geographic that brought us iNaturalist. The apps from these powerhouses empower people of all ages to go out and learn about the world around them. With both Seek and iNaturalist users can turn their mobile device cameras on any organisms and get access to unbelievable scientific identification power. Seek is the student version of this terrific technology.
Unlike iNaturalist, Seek is designed to maximize cyber safety for young learners. Seek allows users to keep track of their finds on a single device and enables app use without requirements for logging in or posting photographic observation data to the public iNaturalist database. Seek also gives students access to the iNaturalist citizen science data sets, which helps to contextualize their finds temporally and geographically.
In addition to school use, Seek is a great app to share with families for home use. Be sure to also share the link to the well-crafted User Guide to help families get the most out of the app. Though curricular resources are not available directly from Seek, the masterminds behind the app do have offerings. National Geographic provides curricular strategies for using Seek on their “Bioblitz” site. California Academy of Sciences, in partnership with the National History Museum of Los Angeles, offers their new initiative “City Nature Challenge” that shares great ways to use Seek with students (see Online Resources).
As we see in NGSS performance expectations 5-PS3-1 Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food was once energy from the Sun and 5-LS2-1 Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers and the environment, fifth graders are often tasked with developing and using models to learn about ecosystems. With food web and trophic-level models, students track matter and energy through an ecosystem. Use Seek with your students to give them an unforgettable place-based learning experience that can increase both interest and access to ecosystem concepts while reducing the abstract nature of these models.
After preliminary exploration of ecosystem models, take students outside with mobile devices to photograph and identify all kinds of wild organisms from the local environment with Seek. Avoid landscaped garden beds. Later, have students research the relationships between their identified wild organisms to build their own place-based ecosystem models in Google Slides, using the photos of organisms they identified in their local environment using the Seek app. Though students can use internet images to fill in gaps of harder to find organisms (e.g., Great Horned Owls), you can increase the challenge by limiting their models to only organisms they identified in the field.
A great built-in Seek app feature ideal for this SEP is the “Challenges” with specific “Missions.” The Challenges are a great resource for launching your students into the process of collecting their own evidence to support their scientific claims. The “Scavenger Challenge” asks students to identify decomposers in their area and determine what they are consuming. The Healthy Ecosystems Challenge tasks students with finding specific organisms that are indicators of ecological health to determine the health of their local ecosystem. There are many Challenges available. Go forth and Seek—the world awaits!
If your field site is beyond the reach of school wireless, fear not. Have students take photos of their findings with the school’s devices and import them into the Seek app for identification back in the classroom. Be sure to review poisonous organisms with students prior to this field work. Use a school cloud-based drive (e.g., Google drive) to pool field photos for modeling. Check out the Seek App User Guide; it’s worth your time ●.
|Tech Overview: Seek
City Nature Challenge
National Geographic’s Bioblitz projects
NSTA’s NGSS Hub for SEP
NSTA’s NGSS Hub for CCC
WGBH First8Studios Early Science Teacher’s Guide
WGBH First8Studios Plants Journal
WGBH First8Studios Wonder Farm App
Heather Pacheco-Guffrey (HPACHECOGUFFREY@bridgew.edu) is an associate professor and researcher of science / engineering methods and technology applications in STEM for elementary and early childhood teachers at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.
City Nature Challengehttps://citynaturechallenge.org/education-toolkit/
National Geographic’s Bioblitz projects https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/bioblitz/
NSTA’s NGSS Hub for SEP https://ngss.nsta.org/PracticesFull.aspx
NSTA’s NGSS Hub for CCC https://ngss.nsta.org/CrosscuttingConceptsFull.aspx
WGBH First8Studios Early Science Teacher’s Guide https://first8studios.org/nicoandnor/guide/
WGBH First8Studios Plants Journal https://first8studios.org/nicoandnor/plantsjournal.html
WGBH First8Studios Wonder Farm App https://first8studios.org/nicoandnor/wonderfarm.html
National Research Council (NRC). 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.