Core Talk: NSTA 2015 and the EQuIP Rubric

It was a beautiful few days in the Windy City as the Core Talk Team attended the 2015 National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Conference.  This Core Talk reporter has a lot to share about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), but Joe Krajcik and Emily Miller, (who are, incidentally, both authors and experts in the NGSS) hosted a session that resonated with the Core Talk Team in particular.  Their session, The EQuIP Rubric: Evaluating Middle School Resources for NGSS, addressed challenges that teachers face in determining whether or not their lessons and units align to NGSS.  Joe and Emily argued that teachers should make sure to first develop a deep understanding of the shifts inherent in the NGSS, be able to tell the difference between phenomena and activities, and can identify coherence in your units before using the EQuIP Rubric.

EQuIP (Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products) is an initiative designed to help educators identify high-quality materials aligned to NGSS.  EQuIP developed a rubric that allows educators to evaluate instructional material efficacy within the context of the STEM/NGSS classroom.  The Rubric allows teachers to take existing units and evaluate how their unit can better-incorporate key shifts in NGSS-aligned curriculum, especially when incorporating the NGSS “Three Dimensions” into curriculum.  Firstly, it helps to review the NGSS shifts…

Shifts in the NGSS

Joe and Emily began the session by reiterating the shifts that NGSS presents within science standards and education:

-          A focus on explaining phenomena or designing solutions to problems….not simply understanding content

-          Three dimensions that work together to help students make sense of phenomena (or problems where they are designing solutions)

-          Focus on coherence: the ideas in the NGSS build across time in a systematic fashion

-          Science is for all students

-          Engineering is built in as both standalone expectations as well as embedded throughout

After familiarizing themselves with the shifts, Joe and Emily advised that teachers study the three dimensions (3Ds) of the NGSS: the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs), Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs), and Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) before digging in to instructional materials with the Rubric.

The 3Ds are significant because they drive and focus instruction.  Joe and Emily spotlighted the first column of the rubric, which explicitly indicates that quality instructional materials  “work together to support students…to make sense of phenomena and/or to design solutions to problems.

Phenomena vs. Activities in the Rubric

The term “phenomena” has cropped up quite frequently in conjunction with NGSS, and while it may initially seem like another word for “activity”, don’t be fooled!  Phenomena are puzzling situations where students must answer “how” and “why” real-life events occurs.  One example of a solid phenomenon question that students can investigate is “Why does a plunger stick to the table?”   This is a question that is rich enough to span multiple lessons, and fairly contextualized as the actual phenomenon is narrowed down to a specific event and set of conditions.  Finally, phenomena are student-centric in the sense that students do most of the legwork and thinking rather than following a provided thought-process. Activities are more passive, not requiring students to delve deeply into the “how” and the “why”, and are usually one-offs, not taking more than a class period or two.  The Rubric encourages teachers to select materials based on a phenomena-rich classroom.

Coherence

Finally, the last area our presenters asked teachers to emphasize when using the rubrics was coherence. Coherence with in the NGSS means that lessons and units are expected to link to previous lessons and units, allowing students to draw upon prior knowledge to explain phenomena.

As educators go through units to evaluate their alignment to NGSS, it is important to consider the question: do the lessons fit together sequentially as they target a set of performance expectations?

So, before we sign off and explore more of what NSTA has to offer, here are two specific questions provided by Emily and Joe you can use to guide the evaluation of your unit and lesson plans, specifically in relation to the three dimensions:

-          Is the element of the practice/cross-cutting concept/core idea explicitly stated and/or cited?

-          Do the materials clearly point out how the students use the element of the practice/cross-cutting concept/core idea to make sense of phenomena or design solutions?

More NSTA reporting to come and as always…

…stay classy, Standards Enthusiasts!

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