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March 19, 2021

3 Great Reads for Science Teachers

It’s that time of year again…the time where we reflect on the past and set goals for the year ahead. As I reflect on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and what’s had the most positive impact on science teacher practice and student learning over the last few years, three readings immediately come to mind.

Check them out, along with corresponding New Year’s resolutions, below.

New Year’s Resolution 1: Engage students in modeling how and why phenomena occur.

When you hear the word “model” you might immediately think of the small scale 3-dimensional replicas of buildings used by architects or the typical animal cell model your teacher had you make when you were a student. According to NGSS, in science the term “model” refers to a simplified representation of a system that is used predict or explain how and why phenomena occur. Using this definition, the 3D cell “model” or a drawing of the rock cycle found in so many textbooks are NOT scientific models in and of themselves. They are simply representations.

Memorizing the steps in a cycle or the parts of a system are not the end goal in an NGSS classroom. According to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), scientific models may include: diagrams, physical replicas, mathematical representations, analogies, and computer simulations (see NGSS Appendix F).

But, again, keep in mind that they must be used to predict or explain phenomena. The following reading focuses on one specific type of modeling that is particularly helpful for supporting and deepening student learning: “explanatory models.” Explanatory models are a combination of pictorial representations and written explanations that describe how and why a particular phenomenon occurs. Here are two examples (click to enlarge).

Great read #1: Models and Modeling: An Introduction (Mark Windschitl & Jessica Thompson, University of Washington)

New Year’s Resolution #2: Teach students how to construct scientific explanations using the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning-Rebuttal (CERR) framework.

There is a science to writing that must be explicitly taught to students. First and foremost, students need to be able to name and identify the 4 key components of scientific explanations:

Claim: A statement or conclusion that answers the question asked or the problem posed.

Evidence: Scientific data that supports the claim. The data needs to be appropriate and sufficient to support the claim.

Reasoning: A justification that connects the evidence to the claim.  It shows why data counts as evidence (data, without interpretation, is meaningless) by using appropriate and sufficient scientific principles.

Rebuttal: Recognizes and describes alternative explanations, and provides counter evidence and reasoning for why the alternative explanation is not appropriate.


The reading below walks you through 5 strategies teachers can use to support students in writing scientific explanations:

  1. Make the framework explicit.
  2. Model and critique explanations.
  3. Provide a rationale for creating explanations.
  4. Connect to everyday explanations.
  5. Assess and provide feedback to students.

New Year’s Resolution 3: Provide students with opportunities to critique example work (including models and explanations), name the criteria for quality work, and provide feedback grounded in these criteria.

Helping students revise and improve their work can be a frustrating process, but one that can empower them for success in all subject areas, not just science. Peer review is critical to the scientific enterprise and it should be a staple of the science classroom too.

Students need examples of each type of work they are expected to produce as they can’t do what they’ve never seen. Students must have an understanding what quality work looks like in order to be able to evaluate their own work against that standard. Rubrics are helpful tools, but insufficient on their own for conveying expectations.

The following reading provides tips for how to select appropriate sample work (including both strong and weak examples) and walks you through various lesson protocols for engaging students in critique and feedback. Save yourself tons of grading time and the frustration of looking at sub-par work with the strategies outlined in this reading!

Great Read #3: Models, Critique, and Descriptive Feedback (Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound, Inc.)

Here’s a video of a group critique lesson in action (not in the context of science, but easily transferable to explanatory models or written science explanations).

A Group Critique Lesson from EL Education on Vimeo.


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