Science and CCSS? We’re Speaking the Same Language Here!
“The Common Core State Standards are just for math and English teachers, not for science teachers.”
“This is just another version of reading/writing/math across the curriculum.”
“These new Common Core standards are going to force science teachers to teach math and English in science class instead of science.”
Ah, yes. Common Core State Standards. For some folks, CCSS may as well stand for “Can’t Come up with the Same Synonym.” We’re hearing a lot of confusion about what it covers and who it’s for. And that extends to the sciences. I don’t purport to be an expert on the CCSS, but I’ve taken time to understand them and consider how they will affect me as a science teacher. The verdict: I believe the CCSS science skills the exact same skills that good science teachers have taught for years and will continue to teach.
For example, many of the math skills in the CCSS that overlap with science include working with data – specifically gathering, interpreting, and representing data. These are critical science skills, not just add-ons to our science standards. What the CCSS will provide is some common language for math and science teachers as well as some common skills to really emphasize and mutually support.
In English language arts, the CCSS emphasize the claim, evidence, and reasoning model. Both the reading standards and the writing standards address this structure. In my humble opinion, the claim, evidence, and reasoning model serves as the basis for a strong scientific argument.
In reading, students are expected to analyze writing to identify the author’s claim, the quality of the evidence provided to support that claim, and the strength of the reasoning given to link the evidence to the claim. I see my students using these very same skills to dig into primary source science texts or to examine the process that scientists went through when they made important scientific discoveries. Even better, my students can use this process to evaluate each other’s writing!
Let’s look at writing, which the CCSS also require students to consider claim, evidence, and reasoning. Students must learn to write an argument that includes a clear claim, support the claim with sufficient and appropriate evidence, and link the evidence to the claim with logical reasoning. These activities are at the core of what scientists do when preparing their findings for peer review and eventual publication.
To link all of these connections together, I see the CCSS aligning with inquiry-based science instruction. In an inquiry-based classroom, students are asked to generate questions, design experiments, or investigations to answer their questions, gather evidence, analyze data, and make conclusions based on their evidence. That’s not just good science teaching, that IS science!
The shift that many teachers will need to make is towards actively teaching the skills of data analysis and representation (Math CCSS), writing strong conclusions (ELA Writing CCSS), and teaching students to evaluate the quality of their peers’ conclusions (ELA Reading CCSS).
Here is a sampling of Success at the Core videos that support each stage of this inquiry process:
In Conducting Investigations, you see how Al Gonzalez has prepared his students to investigate a phenomenon and gather data and observations.
The video Scaffolding a Lesson demonstrates how to lead students through the process of gathering accurate and relevant data while also scaffolding vocabulary and content knowledge.
In Analyzing Data, Chris Blea teaches her students how to really dig into data and make sense of it so that they can use it to draw thoughtful conclusions. This video really supports both the Math and ELA CCSS in science.
In Facilitating Academic Discourse, Steven English models how you can use good student discussions to further scientific knowledge and understanding. Students can also use this type of discourse to discuss conclusions from an investigation.
The video, Peer Conferencing, introduces a model that teachers could use to facilitate the process of students reading each other’s conclusions and evaluating the clarity of their peer’s claims, the quality of evidence offered, and the logic of the reasoning.
Finally, the video Using Rubrics demonstrates how teachers can evaluate a student’s learning with a rubric. Such rubrics could be used to assess to the quality of a science student’s claim, evidence, and reasoning.
Despite the unfounded suggestions that CCSS has nothing to do with science, I’d argue just the opposite. Thoughtful science educators will see huge overlaps – and tremendous opportunities to improve classroom outcomes. What’s your take?