Phenomenal Science Core Principles
The Phenomenal Science Units are founded on research-backed beliefs about the process by which students construct their understanding of science. These beliefs and values underlie our instruction and curriculum development in the form of Core Principles. Here are the PS Core Principles in summary:
The following theories form the research support base for Phenomenal Science Core Principles and Key Instructional Strategies. Thus everything we do in Phenomenal Science is founded on these.
Social Learning Theory - Starting with Vygotsky’s research, this theory supports the idea that students learn within a community. The community includes peers, teachers, other adults, and home and family life as well. Discourse, talk moves, and whole-class processing strategies become critical learning strategies as a result. See the Social Learning Theory Blog for more information.
Inquiry Instructional Model - As an outgrowth of Constructivist Learning and Social Learning Theory, Dewey’s Inquiry Based Learning in the form of Guided Inquiry becomes the backbone of Phenomenal Science units. Each instructional Cycle follows a modified “Five E Approach” as proposed by Bybee. This model helps us ensure that investigations happen prior to asking students to develop concepts and that student concepts have begun forming before we introduce vocabulary or expert voice. See the Inquiry Blog for more information.
Unpacking the Standards
The Phenomenal Science Units were developed with a backwards design approach as described by Wiggins and McTighe. This means that the first step to understanding what must happen in a unit is to truly understand what is in the Michigan Science Standards / Next Generation Science Standards bundled in that unit. You can see the bundles of the standards in the Pacing and Alignment Guide (go to the Units page). The following resources and information are helpful in understanding the three dimensions of the standards and how they work together.
Some further helpful resources are:
In the blog Connecting Anchoring Phenomena with the Nature of Science and Engineering, the author has a good description of how you could use the same phenomenon to tackle both an engineering problem and a science question.
Appendix I of f the NGSS explains more about the inclusion of Engineering in the standards. It gives these progressions across Elementary grades:
In the units, there should be at least one engineering problem tackled in most units. Usually this will occur after the the phenomenon has been explored with scientific questions toward the end of an IC or even the end of the unit.
Three dimensional Assessments
The second step of backwards designing units is to develop an assessment. This give the unit its "target," and ensures that it stays aligned to the standards. Because of the three-dimensional nature of the standards, most of the unit assessments are three dimensional Performance Assessment Tasks, and some are Item Clusters. You can investigate your unit's assessments in the Evidence of Learning Section (orange charts).Three-Dimensional Science Performance Assessments process which was co-developed with MDE's M-STEP and Item Cluster development process.
How do we translate Checkbrics to points? How do we assign grades for report cards? This could be a challenge for teachers, and we’ve found that sometimes teachers who are first trying out PS really struggle with this. Here is a resource from ASCD that gives some more background on using Performance Assessments which might help.
Several units incorporate pre-assessments. Formative Assessment Probes such as these and Science Formative Assessment are good resources for pre-assessment, but there are many other ways as well. Also, this section from Tools and Traits for Highly Effective Science Teaching called “Before and During the Science Lesson: Using Science Probes to Get at Student Thinking” (p. 41-44) can be a good resource.
In the Phenomenal Science Units we've embedded assessment in several places, since the learning, teaching, feedback cycle is continuous. There are also several different types of assessment. The summative assessments for the unit are typically performance assessment tasks like those linked above and can be found in the Evidence of Learning section as well as at the end of the instructional cycles. Other assessment opportunities are highlighted in the Learning Plan Overview as well as in each lesson.
Formative Assessment is critical to teaching science using sense-making strategies. Formative assessment is a “process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of intended instructional outcomes” (CCSSO, 2008, p. 3) As Furtak points out, “formative assessment is something that teachers and students can do together, every day, to monitor student learning and provide timely feedback (Shepard 2000; Trauth-Nare and Buck 2011).” (Furtak & Heredia, 2016)) This makes formative assessment and invaluable tool for teachers engaging students in making sense of science phenomena. The text box details some specific differences that come with three-dimensional formative assessments.
Using the process outlined by Furtak, et al, helps teachers make the best use of the formative assessment process.
It is important that the formative assessment used be both rigorous and responsive. Formative assessments help us answer three questions: Where are we going? Where are we now? How do we get there? Teaching science for understanding through sense-making is not a linear process, but formative assessments help us get there. (Gotwals, 2017). [Diagram from Furtak, 2017]
Where are we going is answered in the PE’s, unit goals, and learning performance statements. Using a tool like the one shown below (from Furtak, 2017) can also help teachers take students current ideas, thinking and experiences into account when considering the formative assessment goal and tool to use.
How do we elicit student understanding? There are three main methods to gather evidence of student understanding: Discourse, Written work, Student Self assessment. (Gotwals, 2017). Choosing a rich task, especially during the Pre Assessment portion of the instructional cycles can be a very productive method for understanding student thinking. Rich tasks are ones that will show what naive conceptions and explanations students are currently holding as well as give the teacher some potential leverage points about which to focus upcoming discourse and investigations. In this way, teachers can allow students to use student-generated evidence to build models, explanations and arguments toward more scientifically accepted explanations of phenomena.
The most challenging portion of formative assessment process is determining what can be learned from the results. Two main purposes for the formative assessment is to provide feedback to students and determine our next steps in instruction.
Another key challenge for teachers is determining what to be graded. Considering that the key purpose of formative assessment is to give feedback to teacher for planning and students for growth, they should be graded sparingly. Both students and teachers need to have trust in the process and be free and confident to share their thinking about their science ideas. (Gotwals, 2017. DeLeon & Allen, 2015)
Using evidence is the hardest piece of the puzzle. (Gotwals, 2017) According to Gotwals the main question teachers need to ask themselves with formative assessment data / evidence: What can you productively do with that idea? Some possibilities include, adding ideas to a Class Question Board or Competing Hypotheses Board; gather evidence as a class to support or refute the idea; use the idea to scaffold small group discourse or as questions in whole class discourse. Another great option for showing student growth and learning is to keep track of student models that change over time - can have a checklist for the model and pieces that you want to see in it. (Gotwals, 2017). Furtak recommends the following tools as helpful as teachers analyze student formative assessment data
Finally as can be seen from Research Brief: The Informal Formative Assessment Cycle as a Model for Teacher Practice formative assessment can help science teachers attend to equity in the following ways:
So, with all this background, how do we use formative assessment within Phenomenal Science? There are several areas within the units to look for possible formative assessment tasks. First, in the Learning Plan Overview charts, the right-most column is dedicated to highlighting some of the formative assessment opportunities within each instructional cycle. All of the items in that column would be ones that could provide feedback to teachers and students about student understanding. Secondly, throughout the units there are embedded opportunities for Student Discourse and for Written Work. Discourse happens both in small groups and pairs and in whole class settings. Written work comes especially in the form of notebook entries, models, initial explanations and CER’s. Some instructional activities combine the two especially well such as, Summary Tables, Class Question Boards, Consensus Models or Explanations, and Investigations.
For further ideas about formative assessments:
Science concepts are developed through multiple iterations
Why Use Investigations?
Do students need to do investigations? Developmentally, elementary students are still in an area of “concrete” thinking. As teachers it is our task to help them translate some of their ideas from concrete to more abstract thinking - developing some conceptual understanding of the world around them. It is very difficult to engage students with more abstract concepts if they don’t have concrete, hands-on experiences to which they can “hook” the new ideas. By starting with concrete experiences, we meet them where they are currently thinking and reasoning and can take them further in their thinking. From the concrete experiences we are building from a solid foundation of experience.
We also know that students benefit from multiple modalities of learning. Investigations and hands-on activities allow for students to learn in all 4 modalities at once: visually, auditorily, kinesthetically, and socially. This allows for a whole lot of neurons firing in the brain - building pathways and connections and strengthening them all at once.
Finally, investigations mirror the way science works in the real world. This allows students to build a deep understanding of the Science and Engineering Practices and to become masters at learning through engaging in them. It also allows them to “see” themselves as scientists or at the very least, scientific learners. It also makes real the process of collecting first hand evidence and using it to develop understanding and make shared meaning. There is no other better process than beginning with an investigation to develop that understanding. This first hand evidence is also the best (only?) way to really get students to shift their thinking from stubborn naive conceptions. When confronting this evidence in light of misconceptions, cognitive disequilibrium ensues, and students are forced to reconcile the two ideas and build meaning.
How Do We Use Investigations With Students?
Taking on investigations with your students can be very daunting. However, it doesn’t have to be! The first thing to know is that there isn’t a set right way to “do” investigations. The main goal is to have students gather data (evidence) that will allow them to build understanding of a phenomenon.
When first starting investigations with your students you may want to follow a more “gradual release” sort of model. So, to start with you might do several investigations together as a whole class. In later cycles, you might do parts of the investigation whole-class and allow groups to conduct parts together. Eventually, student groups and possibly even individuals will be empowered to conduct their own investigations from start to finish. Of course, this will also vary by grade-level and will need to be adjusted according to the amounts of materials you have available. Ideally, we work to have students engaging with the Science and Engineering Practices to conduct their own investigations as often as possible.
Here is a general process to follow in guiding your students to do investigations:
Withing Phenomenal Science Units you will find at least one hands-on investigation included in every instructional cycle. The Phenomenal Science project strives to keep materials simple for busy teachers. As a result, in planning materials we followed the GEICO Rule: “15 minutes or less” from items in a typical classroom or perhaps household with only the occasional trip to local store.