Boeing's NGSS Engineering Modules for Classrooms

July 14, 2016 / by Kate Cook Whitt

The Boeing Company has teamed up with Teaching Channel to create 10 Science and Innovation curriculum modules as part of the company's 100th anniversary, which is being celebrated for the next 100 days. The modules, which were originally designed by teachers paired with Boeing engineers, have undergone multiple stages of revision designed to adapt them to better meet the goals of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

An iterative process is necessary as teachers, school leaders, and coaches work to realize the vision for science teaching and learning that the authors of the Framework for K-12 Science Education and the NGSS imagined.

The first, and perhaps most important, step in this process is for educators to better understand the shifts in teaching and learning called for in the NGSS.

This can be accomplished by:

  • Engaging in three dimensional learning as a learner
  • Examining examples of three dimensional learning in classrooms through videos or case studies
  • Participating in professional learning experiences designed to support teachers as they figure out the core components of three dimensional learning
  • Forming professional learning communities to experiment with three dimensional teaching and learning

Once teachers, school leaders, and coaches have a stronger sense of the shifts in teaching and learning called for in the NGSS, the next step is to develop, adapt, and evaluate materials to better accomplish the goals of the NGSS. Classroom materials designed to accomplish the vision for science teaching and learning articulated in the NGSS should:

  • Be centered on a puzzling phenomenon
  • Integrate the elements of three dimensional learning (Disciplinary Core Ideas, Science and Engineering Practices, and Crosscutting Concepts)
  • Be designed as coherent learning experiences that build upon one another
  • Engage students in doing the heavy lifting to figure out phenomena rather than learn about science facts

Developing new materials is a productive and effective way to engage students in three dimensional learning. Developing new materials that are high quality, however, doesn't happen instantaneously. As teachers and module designers develop high quality materials over the next several years, it may help to adapt existing materials to engage students in three dimensional learning.

Examining the revisions made to the Science and Innovation modules can help teachers learn to adapt their own materials.

Phase 1: The Engineering Challenge

The original Science and Innovation modules were designed by teams of teachers and engineers to engage students in solving engineering problems. In Soft Landing, the teachers and engineers set out to reimagine the traditional egg drop challenge. In the original module, the egg drop challenge centered on the authentic problem of protecting an astronaut during a landing. First, students designed a launch tower that included an electromagnet. Next, students developed a space capsule to protect an egg when the egg was dropped from the launch tower. Finally, students launched their eggs and reported their findings.

Phase 2: The Centrality of Phenomena, Performance Expectations, and the Three Dimensions

Although the original module engaged students in a challenging engineering design challenge, some of the core components of a module designed to accomplish the goals of the NGSS were missing. In the first revision of the module, more emphasis was placed on the centrality of phenomena (which made a significant difference) and engaging students in learning that's at the nexus of the three dimensions.

The Centrality of Phenomena: Although the original design challenge was centered on the authentic problem of protecting an astronaut during landing, the students didn't spend much time thinking about or developing questions around this authentic problem. In the first revision, a shift was made to spend the first two lessons exploring the problem of returning an astronaut to Earth.

First, to engage them in the phenomenon, students watched a short clip of a space capsule drop test. Students developed questions about what happens when a space capsule falls to Earth and how an astronaut can be protected during this fall. Student questions were organized on a KLEWS chart: K – What do we already know? L – What are we learning or figuring out? E – What is our evidence? W – What do we still wonder about? S – What science ideas help explain the phenomenon?

Next, students engaged in several science investigations to gain initial ideas about what happens when a space capsule falls to Earth. For example, students dropped a medicine ball on a force plate and examined the force plate output to try to figure out what happens when the ball is dropped. Finally, students participated in small group and whole-class discussions to try to make sense of what happens when a ball or spacecraft is dropped to Earth, and to develop initial ideas about how they could protect the astronaut (egg) from the force of impact.

Performance Expectations: The original module identified four performance expectations for engineering (MS-ETS1-1, MS-ETS1-2, MS-ETS1-3, and MS-ETS1-3). In the NGSS, however, engineering performance expectations were designed to be integrated with performance expectations from physical science, life science, and Earth and space science.

A module must be designed to help students make significant progress on the identified performance expectations. In the original module, several lessons touched on all the engineering performance expectations, but students didn't necessarily make significant progress on all four engineering performance expectations. This made it necessary to revise the performance expectations for the module. Given the focus on the collision between the space capsule and Earth, and the focus on the electrical and magnetic forces, the module was redesigned to address MS-PS2-1 and MS-PS2-3. In addition, the module was redesigned to focus specifically on MS-ETS1-4. Changing the performance expectations, however, wasn't enough. The lessons within the module needed to be redesigned to help students make significant progress on each of the identified performance expectations. For instance, on Days 1 and 2 of the second draft of the module, the students were engaged in a much more detailed exploration of the forces involved in the collisions between two objects.

Performance Expectations from the original module

Figure 1. Performance Expectations from the original module.

Performance Expectations after the first revision

Figure 2. Performance Expectations after the first revision.

Three Dimensions: Besides including a check to mark the performance expectations addressed in each lesson, the original module included checks to mark the three dimensions addressed in each lesson.

Again, to be included in the module, students must have made significant progress in any of the identified dimensions. Each dimension has specific sub-components, or elements, that must be addressed and integrated with the other dimensions. In the first revision, an effort was made to adapt the lessons to help students make significant progress on certain elements of the science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts. It's important to note, though, that significant revisions were made to the lessons themselves to better support students as they make progress on each element. For instance, several activities were built into the first revision to engage students in analyzing and interpreting data. As an example, on Days 1 and 2 of the second draft of the module, students examined force graphs to try to make sense of what happens when a ball or space capsule drops to earth.

Science and Engineering Practices from the original module

Figure 3. Science and Engineering Practices from the original module.

Science and Engineering Practices after the first revision

Figure 4. Science and Engineering Practices after the first revision.

Phase 3: Refining the Performance Expectations and Supporting Student Learning

After the first revision, a group of reviewers was trained by Achieve to use the EQuIP Rubric to evaluate the modules. The EQuIP Rubric was designed to help teachers and module designers gather feedback to create modules and lessons that more closely align to the vision of science teaching and learning articulated in the NGSS. Feedback from the EQuIP review was used to revise the modules a third time. In the second revision, an emphasis was placed on better meeting the performance expectations and supporting student learning.

Performance Expectations (Again!): In the EQuIP review of Soft Landing, it became apparent that students were not making significant progress on MS-PS2-3. Even though students developed an electromagnet, students were not asking questions about data, nor were they determining factors that affected the strength of the electromagnet. To better meet these goals, the reviewer suggested that students should test how to change the strength of their electromagnets so that the magnets could hold up the designed space capsule. In the third revision, Day 3 of the second revision was redesigned to engage students in collecting data about the strength of their electromagnet by experimenting with factors that strengthen the electromagnet, and redesigning their drop tower to include the strongest electromagnet possible.

Supporting Student Learning: In the EQuIP review, it also became apparent that more opportunities to support student learning were needed. In the second revision, specific strategies for meeting the needs of all learners and formatively assessing all learners were included. For instance, a rubric for whole group discussions was added as an Appendix.

Phase 4: Continually Revising and Refining

The current draft of Soft Landing represents a significant effort to adapt existing materials to better meet the vision for science teaching and learning articulated in the NGSS. As teachers, however, we understand the value of continual reflection and revision. We invite you to continually revise and refine all the Science and Innovation modules so that, together, we can support students in figuring out core science ideas by making sense of puzzling phenomena.

Download copies of the three revisions of Soft Landing and the EQuIP review:

Soft Landing Phase 1

Soft Landing Phase 2

Soft Landing Phase 3

EQuIP Review

Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, Science, STEM, NGSS, Engineering

Kate Cook Whitt

Written by Kate Cook Whitt

Kate Cook Whitt is a professor of education at Thomas College in Waterville, Maine. Kate is also a national facilitator and researcher with the Next Generation Science Exemplar professional learning system (NGSX). Previously, Kate taught high school biology and facilitated professional development on project based learning. Connect with Kate on Twitter: @KateCookWhitt

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