Do you recall how you learned science? You may not recall much if anything from science in your elementary years. Perhaps you recall a bit from your secondary years, but it’s unlikely the learning stuck. Your science class may have looked something like the following. You likely read a lesson or section of a textbook with some recall questions to answer. You probably took a couple quizzes each chapter or unit and periodically took a cumulative chapter or unit test that tested your ability to memorize rather than synthesize. And if you were lucky enough, you may have done a couple experiments each month. You may not have even connected what you were doing to what you were reading and learning. Thankfully, those days of learning science are in the past. And even our elementary classrooms are teaching science in a way that enriches student understanding.
Today’s students may not have a traditional textbook and instead embrace a logbook. Modern assessments test more for critical-thinking skills and synthesis of information rather than recall, and students can show what they know through doing science. There is still a reading element, with students reading true trade books and articles. Students perform scientific investigations to promote deeper understanding of the scientific ideas being explored and undergo memorable experiences. With students doing more science and making stronger connections to what they’re learning, they will be able to take the learning with them into college and their careers.
What does today’s science classroom look like?
You likely have started getting a clearer picture of what today’s science classroom looks like. Students are more frequently doing science, digging deep. And as students do science, many of the investigations are not step by step; instead, students are planning and conducting the investigations, one of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). This is especially true as students engage in Science Challenges and Engineering Challenges.
Why was a shift in science instruction made?
When new science standards were being considered, one of the primary thoughts was that we likely went too wide and not too deep in the past. To ensure rich understanding and true knowledge building, it was realized that we should go less wide but deeper. Rather than go a mile wide and an inch deep, students now are going an inch wide but a mile deep. The idea is depth, not breadth.
You’ll find that your students are covering many of the same topics that you did in school through the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs). These were the primary focus back in the day, but it’s no longer solely about what the students are learning. It’s also about how they’re learning it (what they’re doing) and why they’re learning it with connections being made to what they’re learning across topics. Students now do so much more than memorize, with science not being solely about facts and figures. It’s about students truly doing science and being scientists, collecting their own data and collaborating with their peers. Because students are doing science, the level of engagement is higher, which also leads to better retention and knowledge building.
Students don’t learn life science, earth and space science, and physical science (domains of science) in isolation. Instead, science is taught in a much more integrated fashion. An example of this comes from Level 2, available as open educational resource (OER) PDFs. In Level 2 Module 2, students study Earth changes with the essential question, “How can the island of Surtsey change shape over time?” Students explore both life science and physical science in the module along with applying engineering design.
Beyond the DCIs—what topics are being explored—and the SEPs—what students do to make sense of what they’re learning—crosscutting concepts (CCs or CCCs) help students make connections across all the domains of science. Not only will students make connections across science domains but also to other content areas like reading, math, fine art, social studies, and more.
We know that the standards can be a lot to take in, so here’s an analogy to help it stick. Think of a microscope. The microscope itself represents the SEPs—the things students engage in and the tools they use to make sense of phenomena. The CCs are the different microscope lenses—they help change the scale of the material being studied and act like a filter to make sense of phenomena in different ways. And finally, the DCIs are the content on the slides that are under the microscope’s focus—the things that the students are trying to learn more about.
How can you support your budding scientist make sense of the world around them?
We know that with the way students are taught science now that they won’t want the learning to stop at school. PhD Science® offers much in the way of family supports, including Family Tip Sheets and additional At Home Activities.
Submit the Form to Print
Great Minds PBC is a public benefit corporation and a subsidiary of Great Minds, a nonprofit organization. A group of education leaders founded Great Minds® in 2007 to advocate for a more content-rich, comprehensive education for all children. In pursuit of that mission, Great Minds brings together teachers and scholars to create exemplary instructional materials that provide joyful rigor to learning, spark and reward curiosity, and impart knowledge with equal parts delight.