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April 19, 2021

A Snippet about NGSS Storylines

I am the type of person who likes to read the end of books… especially mysteries. I love to know what’s going to happen, and I then find great joy in reading the book and following along as the story unfolds. I used to think this was odd, but recently, I found myself wondering if this was simply a part of human nature? It’s impatience, curiosity, wonder, and it all comes before knowing the story. Now, I ask myself, what impact could I have in my classroom if I could create the same sensation? What if students couldn’t wait to learn how something happened? Enter Next Generation Science Standard (NGSS) storylines.

What is a “Storyline”?

A storyline is a set of intentional lessons centered around an anchoring phenomenon driven by student questions and investigations. Here’s a breakdown:

  1. Allow students to choose the direction of their investigations. While giving up control of the specific order may seem daunting and impossible to plan, you’re not actually giving up control.
  2. Bundle standards in a way that helps students to learn and make sense of information. One will quickly notice that a storyline is similar to the anticipatory sets of the past.
  3. Select intriguing phenomenon, student questions require mastery of the content objectives to fully understand. Storylines allow students ownership of their sense-making.
  4. Position students to generate questions to immediately connect to the phenomena and identify its relevance to their lives. Once they interact with the phenomenon, the teacher can support and aid in direction of what science and engineering practices are appropriate. If modeling is appropriate, students may make individual models, develop a consensus model for current understandings, and/or develop questions to lead future investigations.
  5. Group questions by similarities, lead by students with teacher support. This step helps students stay on the right track. As the students conduct investigations, the teacher provides tools and elicits information from students that have them demonstrate mastery of performance expectations through supporting materials.
  6. Conduct formative assessments of the facets of student learning.

Why do I need storylines?

As Margaret O’Sullivan recently shared in her podcast, NGSNavigators, storylines are a tool not the rule. She’s right so, why bother? Teaching NGSS concepts in isolation takes time and, in isolation, it is easy to slip back into direct instruction/lecture.  Storylines provide a flow similar to how students interact with the natural world, providing overlapping disciplinary core ideas (DCIs) from multiple scientific disciplines to sense make. One anticipated challenge is the change in instruction feels different; and, students, parents, teachers and administrators are sure to question whether or not students are “getting it”. While there are many ways to measure student’s “getting it”, the NGSS focus on the shifts in learning and instruction. Recent research by Harvard’s Louis Deslauriers and colleagues suggests that, while some might not feel like this pedagogical shift to active learning is effective, students are in reality, learning more than ever before.

How do I write a storyline  / Where can I find “storylines”?

The first step is making sure you are selecting relevant anchoring phenomena that students connect to and find interesting. Next, a starting point is to look at the work being done by three groups: the Next Gen StorylinesNGSX, and the new comprehensive and free curricular resources being created by OpenSciEd. Ready to tackle writing on your own? Check out the tools provided by Paul Anderson’s the Wonder of Science site or dig deep into Achieve’s website for exemplar models that have received the NGSS Design Badge.

I read the end of the books and it drives my husband nuts, but we both love a good story. After all, the story isn’t really about the ending, it’s all about the process of getting there. How are you supporting students in the creation of their story of understanding science in your classroom?


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