Can there be too much hands-on in a science classroom? NGSS means more hands-on, right? As I looked back over my past two years of NGSS implementation, I realized that I might have been guilty of something that the National Academies reported on in Science Teachers' Learning when they said that science education in the US is full of activities but fails to achieve deeper learning. Oops! Have I accidentally short changed my students by having them do too many activities?
One of our "NGSS people" in Kentucky, Nikkol Bauer, reminds us that NGSS means students should be doing what scientists do, and a lot of what scientist do is think/reason over data. We can miss this if we're not careful; if we focus only on the NGSS's emphasis on increased hands-on science.
To combat this, I'm working, as I plan this year, to continue the hands-on activities, but to also make sure that students understand what they are building toward. I don't think it's going to require a lot of additional time or planning, but it is going to require being deliberate--taking the time to allow students to assimilate the results of any lab activities into their existing mental models. If I do this right, each activity will build towards conceptual understanding and the ability to figure out a phenomenon.
I've been using a template from Brian Reiser to develop my thinking. Here's my preliminary thinking for a middle school chemical reactions unit. While it doesn't show the day to day or the activities that it will encompass, it does show the progression of conceptual development for students.
As you plan for the upcoming year, what strategies are you using to make sure students are building deep understanding of science as they experience hands-on activities?