Adherence to Coherence!

This is the third blog in a series on the 5 Innovations of NGSS.  Read the others here.

Science education of the past was a passing down of the discoveries made by the great minds of centuries gone by.  A student of science was to learn the intricacies of theories and attribute them to the scientists that brought them to our understanding.  Technical vocabulary, formulas, and minute details were to be memorized and regurgitated as the only path to success in the classroom.  At the same time this ensured that science was out of reach for many learners.  Sadly, in some classrooms,  educators still view this as rigor and a necessary part of the pathway to college and advanced degrees in science.  Young minds are curious about how things work.  Often our educational systems extinguish that excitement; leaving many to consider that “science is not their thing.”

Thankfully our understanding of how students learn, tells us that this outdated mode of instruction fails to work with the curiosity of the students.  The Next Generation Science Standards have shifted the focus from the learning mountains of scientific facts to concentrating on a limited number of core ideas.  This opens up opportunity for students to develop deeper conceptual understanding.  Units should unfold like a story that students are engaged in. As Brian Reiser, Professor of Learning Sciences at Northwestern, indicates, coherence is not about what makes sense to us the educators; it is about what makes sense to the students. They themselves should have the opportunity to pose questions and explore the answers. However, this coherence needs to extend beyond one lesson. It should be coherent over the course of a year and from one year to the next. This means that the design of curriculum and learning experiences needs to progress with intentional, attention to coherence. 

So how do we adhere to the idea that science education should be coherent for all learners?  From a bigger perspective districts need to provide teachers with adequate time for professional development, and ample instructional time to allow coherent storylines to unfold. Educators need to take the time to invest in their own professional learning.  Understanding the innovations of the NGSS is the first step to engaging students in more impactful ways.  Within the classroom we must carefully consider the learning progressions that will allow students to gradually fill in all of the pieces of a puzzle.  Along the way we must recognize and support all students in their individual journey to developing conceptual understanding.  Students engaged in coherent science instruction often forget the notion that it “wasn’t their thing,” and look forward to the next fun and fulfilling adventure.


Coming up next: Education Without Silos!

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