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Teaching for Conceptual Understanding in Science
Dick and I would like to engage in an informal book chat with those of you who have our new NSTA book (we call it our opus!), Teaching for Conceptual Understanding in Science. http://www.nsta.org/store/product_detail.aspx?id=10.2505/9781938946103 Even if you don't have the book, let's use this thread to have professional discussions about what it means to teach for conceptual understanding. This is a topic that Dick and I are passionate about and undergirds my work in formative assessment and the Uncovering Student Ideas in science series. Hope you will join me in furthering our own learning about conceptual change and conceptual understanding. You don't need the book to be part of the discussion, but I will refer to parts of it and use some of the discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Hope you will join me.
Starter question: What do you think it means to teach for conceptual understanding and what are the implications for NGSS or other state standards?
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Joyce and Carol both describe the challenges of teaching for conceptual understanding. We know the research supports this but habits of practice get in our way. Teaching for conceptual understanding is research-rich, but practice-poor. One of the reasons Dick and I wrote the book, Teaching for Conceptual Understanding in Science, is to help make that bridge between research and practice. One of the questions we posed at the end of Chapter 1 is:
1) The term "habits of practice" describes teaching practices that have become so routine that we don't bother to question them. Can you think of a habit of practice that interferes with teaching for conceptual understanding? What can you or others do to change that habit of practice?
What are your thoughts about "habits of practice"? How would you answer the above question based on your classroom experience and/or your work with teachers?
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[color=#575655][size=2][font="Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Roboto, Arial, sans-serif]I teach both 6th and 7th grade, so I make sure that students continue to practice the same skills from 6th to 7th grade. For example, we utilize the same explanation/argument tool in both grades, so they can advance in their writing by 7th grade. [/font][/size][/color]
[color=#575655][size=2][font="Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Roboto, Arial, sans-serif]I also think about high school. [/font][/size][/color]
[color=#575655][size=2][font="Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Roboto, Arial, sans-serif]So for example, my microscope lessons are based on a 9th grade LE "letter e" lab. My geology unit heavily incorporates the Earth Science Reference Table. This year, the 9th grade teacher said my former students have stronger writing and science skills than students coming in from other schools. She said especially with microscope, it's clear that it was a review for my students, rather than learning for the first time.[/font][/size][/color]
[color=#575655][size=2][font="Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Roboto, Arial, sans-serif]I would like to eventually work closer with the 8th grade science teacher so we can really map out a way for our curricula to build on each other, but I know that he uses the same explanation tools. [/font][/size][/color]
[color=#575655][size=2][font="Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Roboto, Arial, sans-serif]Another nice thing is that I teach the same classes as the math teacher, so we make sure that we are using some of the same language in our classes.[/font][/size][/color]
[color=#575655][size=2][font="Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Roboto, Arial, sans-serif]Implications for NGSS are of course that in order to advance, you need to have that conceptual understanding in the lower grades. My state (NY) recently adopted a version of the NGSS. I've been attending PDs about NGSS, and its a huge shift from anything we are familiar with. I had to correct some teachers who said it's basically what we already have, only with skills included rather than separate. I had to relearn Energy! Huge conceptual shifts in both content and in how it affects our teaching practice. [/font][/size][/color]
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Thank you for posting this. I am currently completing my Bachelor's in Elementary Education and I too have wondered this. I am instructed to assess students prior to teaching them and for me it usually takes a few days to develop questions to assess with, assess, interpret the assessment, develop a plan based on that assessment, and then teach the lesson with my new understanding of their knowledge. However, I have been wondering if this method is practical in classrooms today considering it is so time consuming for me. I think the method is useful and should be done, but under what conditions?
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Hi, I will be a new teacher so I am not sure if this will be what you are looking for but I feel looking for conceptual understanding is letting the students explore the science on their own and have them come to the conclusion with self discovery.
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What a great question! When I think back to my time as a classroom teacher (high school chemistry and physical science), I now realize I was overly focused on 'covering it all'. I was well-intentioned, but had an overfilled syllabus (ie. list of topics). Too often, it meant I was sacrificing what I now know as a depth of understanding to ensure breadth of coverage (getting those facts down in their notebooks).
What teaching for conceptual understanding means to me is giving students the opportunity to explore their ideas about a particular phenomenon, connecting it to their existing framework of knowledge, and if there are mismatches, giving them time to figure out what no longer fits, and what they need to do to reconcile that.
This has implications for "the standards", since it becomes important to consider ways students will be able to demonstrate their understanding of concepts, and there's a need to pare down - identify what are the fundamental concepts we want all students to understand?
I'd be curious to hear from other educators - those who are practitioners in the classroom, or those who work with teachers on this conceptual shift in teaching and learning: What does 'teaching for conceptual' understanding mean to you? Are you seeing it impacting "the standards"?
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Joyce, Page and all,
I have been thinking about NGSS and conceptual change. The three NGSS dimensions being taught simultaneously is an excellent change. The other changes of less performance expectations, progression of learning, and direct connections to the core mathematics and language arts standards are wonderful steps forward.
Having teachers change their practice to include all the the components of NGSS is only the starting point, this does not imply that students will be engaged in conceptual understanding in science. I have recently been doing several multi-class and day long observations that were both in the classroom and field day experiences. The teachers had consciously, included many of the practices of NGSS, but in several of the situations, there was no change in how the students engaged in learning and understanding. I work with teachers in many districts and have been deciding what kinds of ongoing professional development will impact science learning and sense making for all children.
I look forward to the ongoing conversation and perspectives as other people join this blog.
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Hello! I am currently a college student studying education, and I found your post so intriguing. In both high school, and now college, I feel as though I have had many teachers who cram so much into a semester. I understand that they have a lot to cover. However, making sure everything is "touched" has a cost. That cost is a lack of deep understanding. To me, "teaching for conceptual" understanding means going beyond that surface level knowledge. Brushing through topics has no long-term effect. As a student and a future educator, I would rather cover a smaller amount of topics and get deep into those topics. It's hard to become passionate about a topic when you don't have time to develop that passion.
I also think that, many times, people don't believe you can do this and still meet standards. That is such a misunderstanding. Standards are way easier to meet than people think. If you are only ever utilizing one standard at a time, you are doing it wring. SO many standards can be met at once, and I think that is such a beautiful thing! Standards don't have to be a hindrance, like some think. Instead, standards can enhance that deeper understanding of the concepts.
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I just returned from the National Science Education Leadership (NSELA) Summer Institute where I presented 2 break out sessions on Building Teachers' Capacity to Link Instruction, Assessment, and Learning to Support Conceptual Understanding. We had some great discussions from the new book, especially the VDR argumentation example on pages 162-165. VDR stands for Vote-Discuss-Revote (4 different rounds- individual, pair, small group, whole group) and is a great example of "teaching with your mouth shut" to show the power of letting students do the talking to support conceptual change. Great to see a lot of interest in conceptual change and teaching for conceptual understanding!
Love your books!
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Currently, I am entering my 4th year of teaching 7th and 8th grade science. I’ve always felt that the traditional lecture format my department employs is not the most effective way to reach my students. I’ve added numerous lab activities in an attempt to promote deeper understanding. However, it wasn’t until I stumbled across this thread and read about conceptual understanding that I felt like this is the method that I should have been using all along. The shift to NGSS blends perfectly with this style of instruction and learning. I agree with Joyce in regards to covering the curriculum. We tend to sacrifice depth of learning in favor of squeezing everything in before the next round of state testing begins.
I have read and reviewed many of the resources provided in your book “Teaching for Conceptual Understanding in Science.” I felt the different instructional strategies listed in chapter 8 were extremely beneficial. I’m left with a few lingering questions though. Based on what I’ve read, teachers need to administer some sort of probe or pre-assessment to gauge students’ misconceptions or prior knowledge before planning instruction. Are these probes supposed to take the entire class period? If not, then how do you plan the day based on information you are gathering in a 15-20 minute time span? Using the conceptual thinking model how are teachers providing instruction for concepts that are completely unfamiliar to students?
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Welcome to the profession and to middle school. I taught 7th and 8th graders for over 25 years, and I loved working with that age group.
I am only addressing this part of your questioning: Are these probes supposed to take the entire class period? If not, then how do you plan the day based on information you are gathering in a 15-20 minute time span?
As I have use the probes, they were purposefully administered because I wanted to inform my instruction on a particular set of potential misconceptions or I wanted to check for understanding on a concept my students had already been investigating. The immediate feedback helped me to see where to go next and took about 10 minutes to administer. If my students didn't have a particular misconception, I continued on with the planned lesson. If my students were still needing additional time to explore a phenomenon, then I prepared another activity or investigation to provide additional learning experiences.
I, too, love Page Keeley's FACTs, Probes, and books on conceptual understanding. Page, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!
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A quick answer to your question is that FA assessment and the probes can be a quick way to uncover students' ideas that are then used to inform instruction. However to describe the formative process in making effective data-informed instructional decisions involves a lot more than I can reasonably provide in an online message. Have you read the intro chapters in the Uncovering Student Ideas series? NSTA Press provides a free download of all the Intro chapters and a probe for each book. Those chapters are quite useful in understanding the full cycle of formative assessment throughout the learning process. Also the chapters that precede the formative assessment classroom techniques (FACTs) in the 2 Science Formative Assessment books may also help you. A lot of the schools and districts my colleagues and I work with use these for book studies to build teachers' capacity to use formative assessment effectively in science.By recognizing the importance of teaching for conceptual understanding, you are well on your way to making a difference in your teaching and your students' learning.
This is a great discussion! And, yes, use the free downloads to determine if a book is specific to what we are needing.
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I love your idea of conceptual teaching. I remember when I went to college, I had to learn how to learn. I try to bring this to the classroom. One good way I have found is to include math. As a middle school teacher, I am often told to teach "just the basics." For example, when I taught specific heat last semester, the students were basically only expected to know a definition. Instead, we did labs and math so they sould SEE the concept of specific heat. They ended up doing very well on the district-wide exam at the end of the semester.
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I am a part of the TRC in region 9. We are doing a book study over yo9ur book Teaching for Conceptual Understanding in Science. It has been very enlightening. I always considered myself to be a very good teacher. This book has helped uncover areas where I can be a better teacher. Thank you for writing the book and taking time to invest in future teachers and students.
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I found this very interesting and useful. Thank you.
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We used the book for our PLC - Middle School Science in New York in the spring. Teachers found the ideas very useful and opened possibilities for some of them, trying and implementing new strategies and forms of formative assessment. The main focus was to explore the Conceptual Change Instructional Model. The plan this year is for teachers coming to the PLC for the first time to read and explore during the year in both in-person and online sessions, and those who were in the PLC last year will deepen in the discussion of their topics of interest.
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Thank you for sharing this article. I found its interesting.
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This is super awesome thanks for your insight
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Are there anymore articles on this topic?
Yae Ji Kim
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Dick and I are pleased to see our book used in PLC's and book study groups! If you are planning to go to NSTA in Los Angeles, consider coming to our session on Teaching for Conceptual Understanding in Science: Building a Bridge Between Student Ideas and Scientific Knowledge. Hope to see you there!
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