Teaching science no longer has to be a hit-or-miss proposition. The National Research Council of the National Academies did a tremendous amount of work as a team of educators and professional scientists, which led to the release of their efforts entitled A Framework for K-12 Science Education. This was just over a decade ago. The “Framework” was the basis for the next step – that of crafting the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which was released in 2013. Since this time, nearly all state and district-level science education standards have followed NGSS very closely, if not flat out adopting NGSS verbatim.
Among other important highlights of the “Framework”, one of the most important statements was that science concepts cannot be learned and understood with a single exposure. Basic science concepts need to be revisited time and again, not for just a period of days or weeks, but for years.
Students need to revisit fundamental science concepts as they proceed through cognitive changes that permit them to process information more formally as they grow. This, of course, refers to developing reading and mathematical skills. But equally important are students’ evolving ability to think critically and to understand abstract ideas and propositions. A concept like living things, for example, may be fully understood at a certain level by a first grader. A pet is a living thing but a soccer ball isn’t. A fourth grader may be capable of developing a list of similarities and differences between living and non-living things and producing a simple Venn diagram. Finally, by middle school and high school, students may be able to begin to appreciate the physical and biochemical underpinnings required for something to be alive and stay alive.
Thus, a spiraling curriculum is a virtual necessity for a meaningful science curriculum. In turn, this requires both an element of programmatic consistency from year to year and clear communication between educators at every grade level. A patchwork of lesson plans without a detailed, multi-year scope and sequence fails to cultivate concept mastery. LabLearner provides pedagogical consistency and a clear, concise, nine-year map of spiraling scientific concepts, skills, data analysis tools, and cognitive mastery.
LabLearner began with this premise: “A science curriculum must span many years of education, start as early as possible, and consistently build concept upon concept, year after year.” Therefore, it is no surprise that LabLearner is so closely aligned with NGSS.
Beyond Science Standards: LabLearner NGSSplus+
LabLearner did not stop with a comprehensive, multiyear curriculum that is entirely congruent with NGSS. Why, because concepts and facts, while indispensable in science education, are only a part of the story. A careful examination of the curriculum matrix/NGSS correlation graphic in this section (download a navigable PDF by clicking on the image above) reveals just how far we have taken LabLearner beyond the standards. We call these additional features NGSSplus+. The entire right-hand side of the graphic is devoted to a CELL unit by CELL unit disaggregation of the actual scientific skills students will gain at every point in the nine-year sequence (blue section). Reading down this section, one sees that various scientific skills begin early and are continually practiced year after year while at the same time introducing new, more complex skills as they become developmentally appropriate and applicable to the lab procedures in the spiraling curriculum.
Next comes the green section of the matrix, the Data Analysis section. Since each and every LabLearner Investigation (one-week module) comes with a specific set of lab experiments, you are easily able to follow along as your students gain, practice, and master an entire repertoire of data analysis capacities, from making and reading data tables to plotting dependent and independent variables, drawing best-fit lines through data points, and designing experiments that include the proper controls. While NGSS highlights the importance of both scientific skills and data analysis protocols, LabLearner systematically introduces these elements, provides repeated practice, and regularly assesses student progress in this multiyear undertaking, while consistently guiding the teacher through the entirety of the curriculum easily and seamlessly.
The final section (the orange section) is uniquely LabLearner. This is the Cognitive Tools section. LabLearner introduces 17 metacognitive tools to students beginning in KIndergarten. These tools are very specific thinking strategies including elements like summarizing, predicting, creating rules, mind movies, and thirteen others. These critical thinking strategies are used dozens and dozens of times throughout the multiyear LabLearner experience. Each week students are coached to use these powerful thinking methods to solve various kinds of problems. Repeated use of these tools, year after year, from one situation to another, during the entire span of perhaps the most critical years of cognitive development, habituates them and firmly embeds them in students’ long-term memory for future reference and application. Importantly, LabLearner Cognitive Tools are not limited to understanding and solving scientific issues and problems. LabLearner students are able to apply their cognitive tools to all academic disciplines and non-academic experiences throughout their lives.
A Spiraling Curriculum is Not a New Concept
In this section on science education and science standards, we have made it clear that spiraling the science curriculum is absolutely essential. However, curriculum spiraling is nothing new to teachers. Educators are accustomed to a spiraling curriculum in the two most fundamental academic domains, Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA), which are highlighted in the graphic below (click the graphic to enlarge).
Nonetheless, a spiraling curriculum has traditionally not happened in science education, particularly in elementary schools. Designing such a curriculum for science education requires a multiyear commitment and a considerable background in scientific knowledge and scientific thinking. Properly done, the science curriculum also needs to be formulated and supported with meaningful, frequent, concept-affirming, hands-on laboratory experiences. This is a major reason why the LabLearner system is so powerful and successful.
As all elementary and middle school teachers know, mathematics skills are tightly coupled to cognitive development. In the selection above, we made reference to developmental skills guiding the content and timing of levels of complexity of scientific concepts and principles in the science curriculum. Mathematics and language skills are among the most important indices to consider in crafting a logical and consistent spiraling curriculum for science.
The brain’s parietal lobes do not typically acquire certain basic mathematical processing skills until later in elementary school, well into the intermediate grades. Thus, LabLearner is always extremely cognisant of student mathematics skills in developing both the timing of scientific concept presentation, laboratory activities that involve numbers, and data analysis.
Given the above discussion of the importance of properly integrating mathematics into the science curriculum, it is not at all unanticipated that the LabLearner science curriculum directly addresses Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for mathematics. A clickable link to a copy of the CCSS Mathematics standards is included above for reference.
LabLearner directly addresses scores of CCSS Mathematics standards. In the graphic shown below, LabLearner CELL units are plotted against CCSS Math standards. As can be seen at a glance, the LabLearner curriculum is very nicely correlated with CCSS Mathematics. In addition, one can clearly see the increased mathematical complexity with each progressive year of the LabLearner curriculum.
In addition, LabLearner includes mathematics concepts in every weekly Investigation, down to the level of individual lesson plans and embedded assessments. Relevant mathematics homework is even available for many LabLearner CELL units.
LANGUAGE ARTS STANDARDS
LabLearner science educators have found that along with mathematics skills, the LabLearner scope and sequence opens exciting new doors and pedagogical tools for English Language Arts as well! One reason is the unique nature of the vocabulary of science.
Many of the verbs in the vocabulary of science are, in fact, actually skills. For example, words like measure, combine, equilibrate, determine, weigh, balance, and prepare are not just scientific verbs, they are skills. And as skills, they can be concretely defined and practiced hands-on. Defining what a spring scale is, is not the same as knowing how to use a spring scale any more than knowing what a bicycle is the same as knowing how to ride one. The science lab gives students the procedural skills to go along with the science vocabulary for equipment and processes.
Because of its rich descriptive vocabulary, immediate utilization and practice of new vocabulary, both reading and writing assignments, and group-level and classroom-level communication, LabLearner meets or exceeds many of the CCSS English Language Arts standards, particularly in regard to Writing Standards in Science and Reading Standards in Science (WS and RS in the graphic above, respectively).
Finally, and perhaps not surprisingly, students that are learning English as a second language tend to enjoy and do rather well in the LabLearner science laboratory. In the lab, much of the language is externalized. It’s right there. The test tube (that the student is holding) becomes warm (in her hand). The lightbulb gets brighter or dimmer depending on the number of batteries connected. “Wow, that’s cold”. The words describe things that the student directly and immediately experiences with their own senses. LabLearner, therefore, makes descriptive language come alive!