S3 E11: Balancing Science Writing & Exploration with NGSS

October 27, 2020

On this episode, Nicole and Erin answer a question from listener Paige. Paige asks “how do you recommend allowing students to explore and just do science, but also write down important information?” Nicole and Erin explain how to balance science writing and exploration in your NGSS aligned class.

Balance writing and exploration by writing while exploring.

Document exploration.

When students are engaged in an exploration activity, they should also be writing things down. So, it’s important to create a space for students to write down observations, ideas and questions. Erin suggests using an interactive notebook to track observations.

To improve the quality of their document, Nicole suggest providing students with some type of scaffolding. For example, give students a graphic organizer to use to record their observations. Or, provide students with guiding questions about the exploration activity.

Science writing must be taught by science teachers.

Writing in science is it’s on unique genre. And, it’s best taught by science educators. For example, argumentation in science is a specific type of persuasive writing. English teachers likely won’t have the science knowledge to teach this skill.

Don’t worry. You don’t have to focus on grammar, syntax or other non-science pieces of their writing. Focus on the meaning of their writing and makes notes if the student point is unclear.

Writing is a way to make meaning in an NGSS aligned science classroom.

Writing can be a tool to evaluate student learning. But also, writing is a tool that helps students to make meaning. For example, writing helps students clarify what they do and don’t understand. If they have trouble writing a clear answer, that often reveal a lack of understanding of the content.

Exit tickets are a low-risk form of writing.

Exit tickets can help to check for student understanding. Some exit tickets use prompts that students might answer in written form. Because these are short assessments, this is a low risk activity that allows students to write in a less formal setting.

Is note taking a helpful form of writing in an NGSS class?

It vital that students have a place to track their notes and ideas. However, traditional note taking is a passive practice. The teacher does the thinking for the students ahead of time and provides the notes. As a result, there isn’t much student ownership or choice in the way that notes are traditionally taken.

Allow students to write down facts in context.

It is very rare that facts need to be presented by themselves in an NGSS classroom. Students should be discovering facts in the context of a phenomenon.

For example, students shouldn’t just be told what an invasive species is. They should be allowed to observe the effects of an invasive species on a population. This should be related to the phenomenon that students are investigating.

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