Clarity and Coherence Through Collaboration

Thank you to Ashley Hammonds, Berea Independent Schools, who co-wrote this blog with me.

This blog was originally published in “Science Connection” A Kentucky Department of Education Publication.  Thank you to Christine Duke, the editor and creator, for the opportunity to share. This publication can be accessed at the link below:

Science Connection, KDE, March 2015

Clarity & Coherence Through Collaboration

A Framework for K 12 Science Education (National Research Council ,2012) presents an evidence-based vision for science teaching and learning that is grounded in decades of research. As states look to the Framework and NGSS to guide science education, it becomes evidence that significant shifts in science teaching and learning are required to meet this new vision and provide meaningful and effective experiences for students.

One article describing these important shifts is that of Dr. Brian Reiser’s: What Professional Development Strategies are Needed for Successful Implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (2013). According to Dr. Reiser, “Central to the vision of teaching and learning articulated in the Framework and NGSS are three interrelated goals that affect how teachers need to support student learning: 1. Core Ideas: 2. Practices: 3. Coherence.” The focus of the core ideas goal is depth over breadth, while goal 2 elevates the practices (acting and thinking like a scientist) to be equally important to content. Core ideas and practices intertwine with crosscutting concepts (the thinking tools) resulting in the 3 dimensionality of the NGSS where students develop understanding of key core ideas as they engage in the practices and apply the crosscutting concepts to explain phenomena or develop solutions to problems. This emphasis on 3 Dimensional learning has, and should, receive much focus in NGSS conversations. Equally important, however, is the third goal: coherence. Dr. Reiser describes coherence as “Building explanatory ideas requires treating science learning as a coherent progression in which learners build ideas across time and between science disciplines”.

The following piece offers insight into the power and potential of the coherence through collaboration. We strongly believe in supporting students in 3D learning where each year is carefully designed to build on prior understanding. This is just one example of the collaboration that continues between two passionate teachers to support students as they continue to develop…

Behind the Scenes

Ashley– 4th Grade Teacher

In preparing my lessons related to sound waves, I spent time digging deeply into the intent of the corresponding performance expectations. I learned that these performance expectations will measure students’ ability to develop a model of waves to describe patterns in amplitudes and wavelength. So I started planning and had a brainstorm! I recalled an informative and creative session I attended at last June’s KEA Let’s Talk Conference. The presenter, Tricia Shelton, inspired me as she shared her success in integrating technology in the classroom. I began thinking about all the possibilities that could become unique learning opportunities for my students that focused on the performance expectation dimensions. I contacted Tricia and the story began. I just so happened that Tricia was currently focusing on this same content at the high school grade band. What good fortune! We began collaborating via google hangouts and dissected the standards for sound waves across the progression to ensure that we had a feel for what is expected of students as they grow their understanding of this concept as well as the other dimensions. Tricia and I worked together to develop a lesson plan integrating common components of the standards in elementary and high school that includes the use of technology.

Tricia–High School Teacher

My class was really excited to connect with the 4th graders at Berea Community Elementary School. They were eager to take on this unique task to support the students as they learned about waves. We were finishing a learning progression in which I bundled several of the physical science performance expectations. My students were using their understanding of waves to make sense of digital and analog communication. Having pre-assessed my students on this content, I found that the high school students did not have a strong foundation in the middle school performance expectations about waves and their applications in technologies for information transfer. This was not a surprise since the new KCAS Science standards have only been implemented a short time. I knew that I needed to fill in the gap with foundational experiences using models to strengthen their understanding of those skills and concepts that are associated with the middle school grades. This provided the perfect opportunity to address the basic components that were similar to those being addressed by Ashley’s students.

The Berea/Boone Collaboration

Ashley– 4th Grade Teacher

Our collaboration began by making a video of my 4th graders from Berea Community Elementary School discussing the topic “do sound waves move?” Students, armed with a dry erase marker and a small white board, shared their current understanding of sound waves as I captured their thinking on my iPhone.  Some students drew detailed diagrams, some used their body to show me how sound waves move, and others were more comfortable sharing verbally.  This activity engaged them and it was an opportunity for me to assess any misconceptions or if I needed to reteach and focus on certain aspects of sound waves.

Tricia–High School Teacher

When the Boone County High School students in Shelton’s class watched the 4th grade video, the excitement was palpable. The high school students loved connecting with their new 4th grade friends and were very interested in talking about sharing their thinking around this phenomenon. The older students were asked to view the video and provide feedback. Students suggested sending messages through Twitter and creating a student produced video that would provide guidance and clarity on some of the younger students’ misconceptions . I was excited to provide an opportunity for my students to share their learning beyond the 4 walls. I projected the 4th grade Disciplinary Core Ideas which foster conversations and an awareness about the different grade level DCIs being in sync! The students went to work making videos to support the 4th grade students about waves. They were diligent in using correct terms and and language of the NGSS.

Feedback Fuels Future Learning

Ashley– 4th Grade Teacher

My students were thrilled to watch the video made by their Boone County friends and read the comments from Tricia’s students via Twitter.  Tricia’s students sent us videos approximately a minute in length.  Their video clips included the use of jump ropes, diagrams, their voices and body language to demonstrate patterns in wavelength and amplitude. The 4th graders loved watching the videos, and became excited about creating more videos.  After watching their videos, my students broke into small groups and determine if they agreed with the evidence and reasoning provided in the video.  Some students got jump ropes and replicated some of the videos clips we watched, and others compared diagrams in the video to ones they drew in their science notebooks.  The videos coincided perfectly with what we are learning about waves.  My students were very engaged and noted how they wanted to pursue science in high school like their new friends. My 4th grade students became more invested in the content as a result of the collaboration. They applied their new knowledge of waves as they provided feedback to Tricia’s students using a review form for presentations (see  The provided questions required the students to look at evidence presented in the videos to reinforce the stated claims.  Another question asked if the presenter provided evidence with reasoning, and if their claim was clearly stated.  Going through the form as a whole class we were able to define unknown words, and make a 4th grade version of the questions. This process alone was vital in building comprehension and vocabulary skills and providing a real life example of integrating reading in science.  By using the feedback form and looking for evidence it required my students to use higher ordered thinking skills as they addressed misconceptions.

Tricia–High School Teacher

The Shelton students were motivated to engaged with an authentic audience who would provide them feedback on their video products. In order to provide feedback to the high school students on their ability to communicate evidence-based thinking, the 4th graders used a “coaching” form.  This Google form asked the reviewer to determine if the video creators addressed their audience, provided multiple pieces of evidence with reasoning in their thinking product, and used effective technique. Students in the Shelton class used the data from the “coaching forms” from their high school peers as well as from the Berea class to “Reflect into Action”.   They analyzed the feedback provided and reflected on how to improve their future evidence-based video communications. With growth mindset  dispositions, the students were mindful of the feedback as they shot new video thinking products to share with our 4th grade Berea friends as well as their connected classroom of High School students in Tennessee. ( Students constructing understanding and then sharing those evidence-based communications with the others to support the learning is a powerful snapshot of what’s possible in a 21st Century classroom immersed in the Next Generation Science Standards.

Collaboration continues as Tricia and I plan to engage our students in a new context: using patterns of light to transfer information and compare multiple solutions (NGSS 4-PS4-3).  Our classes will use a code and engineer a light apparatus to act as a telegraph. My classroom will  make observations, gather evidence from the patterns of light shared through the video and work collaboratively to decipher the code.  After successfully deciphering the code and observing the lesson being modeled by Tricia’s students, my students will then engineer a light apparatus and record a code that Tricia’s class will then need to decipher.

To master a subject is to be able to teach it, which is exactly what our students are doing. They are teaching the NGSS to their classmates and Tricia’s class. By making videos, watching others on videos, and using physical models, my students have a clearer understanding about sound waves. They also have gained knowledge about technology etiquette, and constructive criticism.

The common language and K12 coherence of the NGSS makes these collaborations possible: across states and across grade levels. We hope this story encourages you to imagine the powerful stories and opportunities for teachers collaborating and supporting each other in KCAS standards implementation.

Tricia Shelton and Ashley Hammond