Learning to Read the Earth and Sky: Explorations Supporting the NGSS

With so many states adopting the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), or writing their own standards that incorporate the NGSS, it is important for teachers to have sample NGSS aligned lessons either to use or to serve as a template for creating NGSS lessons.  Previously science teachers were interested in getting our students to design and carry our experiments that conformed to THE Scientific Method.  However, all scientists do not necessarily follow the scientific method, and this is but one way to collect data for a larger picture.  The NGSS emphasize argument from evidence.  Inquiry-based experiments provide evidence for a larger concept.  So does library research.  So do scientific models.  In an NGSS unit, a student might perform several inquiry-based experiments, do library research, create a model, and combine all results into a scientific argument supporting their conclusion.  This is thinking like a real scientist.

In Learning to Read the Earth and Sky the authors emphasize “science as something to figure out, not just something to know.”  One of their principles is to break a large concept into smaller chunks that can be studied in the classroom.  For example, one can experiment with buoyancy, air pressure, and condensation in the classroom.  The results of these experiments can be used in creating a model of a larger system, such as thunderstorms.  This kind of modeling is likely a new skill for both students and teachers.  The activities are structured to assist the teacher in this new venture by providing “Example Interactions, Summary Checklist for Teacher as Practitioner of Science, and opportunities for Teacher Reflection.”  We, as teachers, know that practice makes perfect.  Reflecting on what went well and what you would change next time assists the teacher in continually improving one’s teaching.

As with any new endeavor, there is a learning curve.  This is not a book that allows a teacher to select an activity and do it that day.  I think a greater benefit would be for a group of earth science teachers to use in a study group for future planning.  What teachers will find very helpful are the appendices.  Appendix A lists the middle school and high school NGSS Performance Expectations in Earth and Space Sciences paired with the Relevant Activities, Anecdotes, and Other Content in the book by chapter.  Appendix B pairs the Activities and Anecdotes with the Three Dimensions and Performance Expectations of the NGSS by chapter.  This is a curriculum committee’s greatest treasure!!

The best part of this book is getting students to engage with their world.  Doing science has always been better that being told about science or reading about science.  This text encourages students to try out a design, and teachers not to be too quick with answers for student questions.  Discovering a concept will help the students remember it longer!  Teachers are encouraged to debrief a class with, “What have we learned so far?”

Safety notes are interspersed throughout each activity.  In Chapter 3 there is a discussion for the teacher titled, “How Much Guidance, How Much Freedom.”  Graphing is reviewed, modeling is introduced, and other challenging concepts such as difficulties in identifying evidence are discussed.  This book seems to contain everything a teacher might need to successfully teach an NGSS aligned earth science class.

The one issue I do not find addressed is the 5-E Learning Model, but a teacher could easily utilize this model with these lessons.  A good summary of this model can be found here

Finally, as summarized on the back cover, this book “offers inspiration for reaching beyond prepared curricula, engaging in discovery along with your students, and using your lessons to support the NGSS.

This book may be found on the NSTA web site, (Don’t forget your member discount!),   or on Amazon.  It would be great for a school’s professional library (tell your librarian!), your personal library, or a professional development collection (tell your department chair!).

Colson, Russ, and Mary Colson. Learning to Read the Earth and Sky: Explorations Supporting the NGSS, Grades 6-12.

NSTA Press, National Science Teachers Association, 2017.  ISBN:  978-1-941316-23-8