NGSS 3 -Dimensional Learning: Hands-on Minds-on Science

“The more hands on the experience, the more excited students will be about the learning.  The more minds-on the experience, the deeper the understanding will become.”

How do we design experiences for students that are both hands-on and minds-on?  The Next Generation Science Standards provides us with a beautiful vision for science education for all students obtained by engaging in the Science and Engineering practices and applying Cross-cutting Concepts to gain an understanding of Disciplinary Core Ideas.  This 3- Dimensional Learning (the blending of the three dimensions of Disciplinary Core Ideas, Science and Engineering Practices, and Crosscutting Concepts driving both the instructional progression and the assessment) is the most significant way that the NGSS differs from prior standards and is thus a challenge for many teachers.  In the NGSS, the 3 -Dimensional Learning in the classroom leads to proficiency demonstrated in the Performance Expectations. This blog uses a learning progression around Performance Expectations LS1-2 and LS1-3 as a context for sharing thinking around how NGSS 3- Dimensional Learning can provide students with hands-on minds-on experiences that lead to engagement and understanding.

Urinary PEs

This summer, I transitioned from focusing on understanding the Next Generation Science Standards to focusing on understanding how to translate the NGSS into student learning within my classroom.  I developed a unit, Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology: Systems, Subsystems, and Balance: Conceptualizing a Single System, to serve as the foundation for my course and the start of our NGSS road together.  I designed the learning progression around this core principles:

  • All NGSS aligned instruction must have students working to explain a phenomenon or solve a problem.

 Joe Tweet

  • Understanding develops as learners make new connections between their prior knowledge and the new experience. Understanding is built over time with each new experience.  This evolution is ongoing and flexible.

Making the unit’s center an evidence-based explanation of a phenomenon and student’s building/revising understanding of the science needed to communicate this explanation over time is key to designing a unit storyline that exemplifies 3-dimension learning while providing coherence between learning experiences. The progressions of these learning experiences involved a deliberate planned iteration of:

Exploration- learner actively constructing understanding

Reflection- making internal connection as well as external sharing of the experience through discussion and feedback

Extension– transferring understanding to a new context/ cements the experience and leads to deep understanding of the core ideas

The Exploration is Hands-on. The Reflection is minds-on. The Extension gives students the opportunity to transfer knowledge gained from these stages to a new context leading to deep understanding.

Over the next month, I will share a blog reflection around how each of the critical elements listed above were integrated into my unit plan. My hope is that by making my thinking public and sharing my unit, I can receive feedback from the Science education community so I can grow in my capacity to design NGSS experiences for my students.  I also hope that my reflections may support others on their NGSS journey and contribute to the collective conversation and effort to shift science education to prepare our students for career, college and life.

The framework and NGSS can provide us with a beautiful vision.  It is the work of classroom teachers and those that support classroom learning that makes the vision come to fruition.  Teachers sharing classroom stories and practical applications of the standards are the impetus that leads to improved science practice for all.

Please support my growth by providing feedback on my unit and my blog reflections and consider sharing your classroom stories, instructional and assessment designs, and reflections around the NGSS with me and the NGSS PLN so you can move our learning and thinking.

Thank you