Next Generation Storylines Advance Science Teaching

Next Generation Storylines Advance Science Teaching

science“The first time that I began teaching with Storylines I remember being amazed by how much my students had actually learned. And I don't mean learned as in passed the test. I mean truly learned something that would stay with them for the rest of their lives,” said science teacher Aimee Park of Lisle Junior High School.

The SESP Next Generation Science Storylines Project is developing innovative units to provide teachers with curriculum materials as they adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Across the country, classrooms geared to NGSS reflect a new vision of science teaching.

“Teachers can support students in science and engineering practices to build and use science ideas to explain real phenomena and solve problems,” commented SESP professor Brian Reiser of the Storylines approach. “Students’ questions arising from their interactions with phenomena drive each step along the way.”

Reiser helped to create the Framework for K-12 Science that guided design of the NGSS and is working with states around the country on professional development for science teachers. The Storylines design team of learning scientists and teacher leaders led by Reiser includes Michael Novak, Tara McGill and Dan Voss (MS16).

The Storyline difference
“When you step into a classroom where a Storyline approach is being implemented, you find a different purpose behind what students are engaged in doing,” said Novak, an award-winning middle school science teacher. “You will find that students are both involved in co-constructing the question the class is working on every day and involved in articulating how the activity that they engaged in helped them to make progress on that question.” 

Storylines developed and piloted by teachers from around the country, in collaboration with researchers in the Storylines group, are starting to be posted on the website. Sample units include “Why Is Our Corn Changing?” for second grade and “Why Do Some Things Get Colder (or Hotter) When They React?” for high school. The site also provides tools and resources to help teachers adopt the Storyline instructional materials design approach.

“We hope to show ways in which students can be engaged by the content through some real-world phenomenon. This can happen even with a complex topic like thermochemistry — it just requires that teachers and designers take a chance to think like a student,” noted Voss, a high school chemistry and physics teacher.

Teachers respond to Storylines
Teachers are finding students becoming more engaged as young scientists. "Teaching with Storylines starts with a compelling phenomenon that is engaging to students," said Patty Whitehouse, who teaches in Chicago. "Because the students are the ones asking the questions, they remain engaged as they figure out the answers to their questions. It’s what scientists do: ask questions about something in the world, and work together to figure it out."

Keetra Tipton, a middle school science teacher at Park View School in Morton Grove who piloted Storylines this year, said, "My favorite part of using a storyline is that the big ideas that need to be gotten to by the end of each lesson are clearly defined. Throughout the entire lesson I have those in mind, or am reminding myself of them, which then allows me to highlight when students' ideas start to build one of them. This way, by the end of the period and eventually the lesson, we've constructed the big ideas together." 

“The Storylines project is showing both an approach to developing coherent, NGSS-aligned curricula and the actual products of that approach,” Park explained. “As I have dug deeper and deeper into NGSS, the process of storylining has enabled me to have a tool to create three-dimensional lessons in which students are engaged with phenomena. These lessons are aligned to create coherence. And by unpacking them, we have a great sense of coherence across the K-12 grade band.”

“I have often thought that if I had learned science this way, I would have learned so much more and it would have been so much easier!” Park noted. “Each day when my students bring in phenomena that are related to what we're learning that they want to understand, I feel as though I may have inspired a student an engineer or scientist.”

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 5/7/21