Essential Learning Event 3

Students construct models and causal explanations of phenomenon using evidence and reasoning.

Once students have gathered evidence through observation and investigation, students begin to develop a model and construct initial explanations. During this stage, students capitalize on various texts, media, and discussions to obtain scientific ideas and concepts to help explain the phenomena, as well as discover additional evidence that might be used in their own evidence-based explanation. Students use models they have developed to explain ideas based on evidence, and form explanations for how and why phenomena occur using disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts.

Foregrounded Practices for ELE3

SEP2: Developing and using models

SEP6: Constructing explanations and designing solutions

SEP8: Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Student Use Continuum for ELE3

Foregrounded SEP Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
SEP2: Developing and using models Students do not create models. Students create models. Students’ models focus on describing natural phenomena rather than predicting or explaining the natural world. Students do not evaluate the merits and limitations of the model. Students create models focused on predicting or explaining the naturals world. Students do not evaluate the merits and limitations of the model. Students create models focused on predicting or explaining the natural world. Students do evaluate the merits and limitations of the model.
SEP6: Constructing explanations and designing solutions Students do not create scientific models. Students attempt to create scientific explanations but students’ explanations are descriptive instead of explaining how or why a phenomenon occurs. Students do not use appropriate evidence to support their explanations. Students construct explanations that focus on explaining how or why a phenomenon occurs. Students do not use appropriate evidence to support their explanations. Students construct explanations that focus on explaining how or why a phenomenon occurs and use appropriate evidence to support their explanations.
SEP8: Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information Students do not read text for scientific information. Students read text to obtain scientific information, but do not evaluate this information. Students also do not compare or combine information from multiple texts considering the strengths of the information and sources. Students read and evaluate text to obtain scientific information. Students do not  compare or combine information from multiple texts considering the strengths of the information and sources. Students read and evaluate text to obtain scientific information. Students compare and combine information from multiple texts considering the strengths of the information and sources.

Sample Student Actions for ELE3

Develop and Use a Model (SEP2)

  • Students describe the system that is being modeled.
  • Students make decisions about the type of model they will create (e.g, a  diagram, illustration, physical creation, or computer animation) to represent a phenomenon or system.
  • Students define and clearly label all of the essential variables or factors (components) within the system being modeled.
  • Students describe unobservable mechanisms (if applicable) identified in a model.
  • Students describe the relationships among the variables or components of a model. (SEP6)
  • Students evaluate, when appropriate, the boundaries and limitations of the model.
  • Students compare models to identify common features and differences.
  • Students use a model to represent amounts, relationships, relative scales (bigger, smaller), and/or patterns in the natural and designed world.
  • Students explain a science concept using a model as a representation of a phenomena or system under study.  (SEP6)
  • Students use a model as the basis of an explanation or to make predictions about how the phenomena or system will behave in specified circumstances. (SEP6)
  • Students use a model to discuss cause & effect or structure & function relationships or interactions between variables or components of a system.
  • Students use a model to discuss the stability or instability of system components and how they change over a period of time.

Construct an Explanation (SEP6)

  • Students make an assertion or conclusion (claim) that answers the question or questions about the phenomena under study.
  • Students identify relevant data that supports their claim from their own work and the work of peers. (SEP4)
  • Students synthesize relevant evidence from multiple sources (including their own experiments, entries in a science notebook, computer simulations, websites, textbooks, journals, and class notes). (SEP8)
  • Students describe the reasoning that connects the evidence to phenomena, tying in scientific ideas, theories, or models. (SEP8)
  • Students describe scientific principles that help to connect the evidence to the claim using correct science vocabulary. (SEP8)
  • Students use a developed model to make connections between claims, evidence, and reasoning that explain how and why the observed phenomena occur. (SEP8)
  • Students use appropriate scientific vocabulary to make an explanation.
  • Students synthesize the evidence logically and make explicit connections to known scientific theories or models. (SEP8)

Obtain and Evaluate Information (SEP8)

  • Students gather, read, and synthesize information from multiple grade-level appropriate sources.
  • Students read scientific texts to determine central ideas and to obtain scientific and/or technical information.
  • Students assess the credibility, reliability, and validity of a source of information, comparing and contrasting the information from various sources. (SEP7)
  • Students identify possible bias in a source of information. (SEP7)
  • Students describe how a claim in a source of information is supported or not supported by evidence. (SEP7)
  • Students analyze information to determine its meaning and relevance to phenomena.
  • Students obtain information from listening to others (e.g., other students, media, and teacher).
  • Students compare, coordinate, and present information in various modes (e.g., graphs, diagrams, photographs, text, mathematical, verbal).
  • Students evaluate data, claims, and/or conclusions in scientific and technical texts in light of competing information or accounts. (SEP7)
  • Students formally and informally communicate scientific and/or technical information in writing and/or through oral presentations.

Teacher Use Continuum for ELE3

Foregrounded SEP Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
SEP2: Developing and using models Teacher does not provide opportunities for students to create models. Teacher provides opportunities for students to create models. Students’ models focus on describing natural phenomenon rather than predicting or explaining the natural world. Students do not evaluate the merits and limitations of the model. Teacher provides opportunities for students to create models focused on predicting or explaining the natural world. Students do not evaluate the merits and limitations of the model. Teacher provides opportunities for students to create models focused on predicting or explaining the natural world. Students do evaluate the merits and limitations of the model.
SEP6: Constructing explanations and designing solutions Teacher does not provide opportunities for students to create scientific explanations. Teacher provides opportunities for students to create scientific explanations but students’ explanations are descriptive instead of explaining how or why a phenomenon occurs. Students do not use appropriate evidence to support their explanations. Teacher provides opportunities for students to construct explanations that focus on explaining how or why a phenomenon occurs. Students do not use appropriate evidence to support their explanations. Teacher provides opportunities for students to construct explanations that focus on explaining how or why a phenomenon occurs and use appropriate evidence to support their explanations.
SEP8: Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information Teacher does not provide opportunities for students to read text for scientific information. Teacher provides opportunities for students to obtain scientific information, but do not evaluate this information. Students also do not compare or combine information from multiple texts considering the strengths of the information and sources. Teacher provides opportunities for students to read and evaluate text to obtain scientific information. Students do not compare or combine information from multiple texts considering the strengths of the information and sources. Teacher provides opportunities for students to read and evaluate text to obtain scientific information. Students compare and combine information from multiple texts considering the strengths of the information and sources.

Note: The levels reflect increasingly sophisticated engagement in the practices and are not grade-level specific. Appendix F in the NGSS provides significantly more detail for each practice that should be integrated as both students and teachers develop greater fluency with each practice.

Sample Teacher Actions and Instructional Strategies for ELE3

Develop and Use a Model (SEP2)

  • Facilitate a discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of the different models. Emphasize for students that all models have benefits and drawbacks.
  • Ask students to comment on what they see as working well about a model and what they would modify or change based upon specific evidence.
  • Give each student an individual whiteboard to draw their models on. This makes it easy to revise their model as they hear compelling arguments for changing it.
  • Develop a language of modeling with your class. Students will adopt conventions that work to solve certain problems, for instance showing a zoomed-in view of something microscopic or arrows to represent forces.
  • Ask students to find ways to show the causal patterns or interactions in their diagrams. Help them develop a class vocabulary for illustrating and discussing the causal patterns.
  • Invite students to draw models to show how two ideas are connected, for instance, how higher and lower pressure accounts for windows being pushed out during a hurricane and for liquid moving up a straw.
  • As often as possible, have all students share their models with the class. It removes the social burden of deciding to share. Arrange the desks in a circle and go around sharing, discussing, and critiquing.
  • Use models as a point of discussion. Ask students to comment on what they see as working well about a model and what they would modify or change based upon specific evidence.
  • Invite the co-construction of models as often as possible. Work towards models that "make sense" to the class.
  • Encourage students to generate "rival models"—different ways of explaining the same event—as often as possible. This encourages flexible thinking and resists over-investing in one model. However, if they already have a firm idea in mind, they need to grapple with it.
  • Don't hold back on the "scientifically accepted" model, but don't present it as "the right answer" either. It is best when a student presents some version or part of it and you can work towards it together as a class. Critique it as you would any other model.
  • Encourage students to view their learning as trading up for better and better models, not as "getting the right answer." Science works this way and learning does, too!
  • View learning as an evolution of understanding through different models and assess students' progress on that path, not whether they parrot back "the right answer."
  • Have students work in groups to create models that include observable and non-observable components. Be explicit that models offer explanatory accounts – they show how or why a phenomenon occurs.1
  • Show students an example of a scientific model and a non-example, such as a labeled diagram. Have students compare and contrast the two. Highlight for students that the scientific model shows how a phenomenon occurs, while the labeled diagram does not.1
  • Provide opportunities for students to make decisions about the type of model they will create, such as a picture, a physical creation, or a computer animation. Emphasize that there is no one “right” way to create a model, but that models should show how or why the phenomenon under study occurs.1
  • Provide graphic organizers to support students in planning their models. Sections of the graphic organizer might include “key ideas” and room to sketch the model. At the end of the graphic organizer provide a checklist so that students can be sure their proposed model shows how or why the phenomenon occurs and is not only descriptive.1

Construct an Explanation (SEP6)

  • Prepare a scoring rubric for the explanation under consideration.
  • Model an appropriate scientific explanation.
  • Discuss key features of explanations in science: explanatory account, science ideas and evidence. An explanatory account describes how or why a phenomenon occurs. Science ideas are key concepts or principles students apply to make sense of a specific phenomenon (e.g. example). Evidence is scientific data such as measurements and observations.
  • Create a poster with the key features for a scientific explanation, such as that it shown how or why something occurs.
  • Provide examples of strong and weak examples (e.g. describes a phenomenon instead of explaining it). Critique the examples as a class.
  • Provide students with scaffolds such as sentence starters, questions or graphic organizers that highlight the key features. For example, a graphic organizer could include three sections labeled: 1) Your explanation – the how or why?, 2) Big science ideas that support your explanation, 3) Evidence that supports your explanation.
  • Ask students to highlight the key features of an explanation (explanatory account, science ideas and evidence) in their own or a peer’s writing.

Obtain and Evaluate Information (SEP8)

  • Have students read a text in small groups that contains evidence and science ideas (DCIs in NGSS) about a specific topic. Ask students to underline the evidence and put a star next to the science ideas.
  • Provide students with two or more texts on the same topic. Ask students to compare and contrast the texts, focusing on how well the authors defend their claim. Have students decide which is the most persuasive text. Tell students they will need to explain why they think that text is most persuasive.
  • Do a jigsaw activity with multiple texts. Put students into groups and give each group a different text on a related topic. When students have completed reading the text, mix up the groups so one person who has read each text is in each group. Ask students to briefly summarize their text to their group.
  • Develop a checklist of questions can ask as they evaluate texts. For example, Does the text have a clear claim? Does the text use scientific evidence to support the claim? Does the text have enough scientific evidence to support the claim?
  • Watch two short videos (or listen to two podcasts) about a similar topic. Ask students to compare and contrast the different perspectives on the same topic (e.g. genetically modified food).
  • Briefly share information with students and have them process ideas in an interactive way.
  • Ensure students can describe science ideas and key vocabulary using their own words and by drawing on personal experiences.

Questions to Promote the Use of the SEP and CCC in ELE3

Develop and Use a Model (SEP2)

  • What is the purpose of this model?
  • What is the model trying to represent?
  • What are some ways this model works well or fits well?
  • What are some ways this model does not work well or fit well?
  • Is there anything about what the model is representing that is really complex?
  • Does the model help you simplify and think about what is happening?
  • Does the model help you “zoom in” or “zoom out” to think about what is happening? (CCC Scale, Proportion and Quantity)
  • Does the model help you slow down or speed up what is happening so you can think about what is happening? (CCC Scale, Proportion, and Quantity)
  • Does the model allow you to imagine what is hidden so you can think about what is happening?
  • How does the process of modeling help you simplify and think about what was happening?
  • As you were thinking about the phenomenon, did you feel like you were starting to have a good idea of what was happening, but then suddenly you were thinking about too many things at once? How does your model help you simplify your thinking? (CCC Systems and System Models)
  • When you were watching phenomenon, were there moments when you thought you understood what was happening, but as the situation changed you weren’t as sure?
  • Were there moments when you thought you understood what was happening, so you tested your ideas with your model to see if you were right? How can we model how this system changes? (CCC Stability and Change)
  • How can we model how this structure works? (CCC Structure and Function)
  • How can we model the flow of energy ? How can you model the cycling of matter? (CCC Matter and Energy: Flows, Cycles, and Conservation)
  • How can you model this system? Can we model how this system functions? (CCC System and System Models)
  • How can you make a model that helps you understand nature at this scale? (CCC Scale, Proportion, and Quantity)
  • What model will explain this cause and effect relationship? (CCC Cause and Effect)
  • How can I model this pattern? Can I make a model to explain this pattern? (CCC Patterns)

Construct an Explanation (SEP6)

  • How can you explain this pattern? How can this pattern support your explanation? (CCC Patterns)
  • What explains how the cause leads to the effect? What does this cause and effect relationship help to explain? (CCC Cause and Effect)
  • How can you explain how nature works at this scale? Can you explain how what happens at this scale affects nature at other scales? (CCC Scale and Proportion)
  • How can you explain the function of this system? (CCC System and System Models)
  • How can you explain how energy affects this system? How can you explain how matter changes in this system? (CCC Matter and Energy: Flows, Cycles, and Conservation)
  • How can you explain how the structure is related to the function? (CCC Structure and Function)
  • How can you explain why this system changes or remains stable? (CCC Stability and Change)

Obtain and Evaluate Information (SEP8)

  • What is already known about this pattern? How can I best communicate about this pattern? (CCC Patterns)
  • What is already known about this cause and effect relationship? How can I best communicate about this cause and effect relationship? (CCC Cause and Effect)
  • What is already known about nature at this scale? How can I best communicate about this scale? (CCC Scale and Proportion)
  • What is already known about this system? How can I best communicate what I know about this system? (CCC System and System Models)
  • What is already known about energy and matter in this system? How can I best communicate about energy and matter in this system? (CCC Matter and Energy: Flows, Cycles, and Conservation)
  • What is already known about the relationship between structure and function in this system? How can I best communicate about this relationship between structure and function? (CCC Structure and Function)
  • What is already known about stability and change in this system? How can I best communicate what I've learned about stability and change in this system? (CCC Stability and Change)

Assessment Task Formats for ELE3

Potential Task Formats: Developing and Using Models (SEP2)

1

Present two models to students, then

  • Ask them to compare the models to identify both common and unique model components, relationships, and mechanisms.

2

Present students with an illustration or drawing of a scientific process or system, then

  • Ask students to label the components, interactions, and mechanisms in the model, and
  • Write a description of what is shown in the drawing.

3

Present students with a model of an observable scientific process or system and some evidence about how the system behaves that does not fit the model, then

  • Ask students to revise the model to better fit available evidence.

4

Present students with a textual description of an observable scientific phenomenon, then

  • Ask students to draw and label the model components, interactions among components, and mechanisms in the model, and
  • Ask students to write an explanation for the phenomenon, using the model as supporting evidence.

5

Present students with a textual description of an observable scientific phenomenon, then

  • Ask students to draw a model that helps explain how this phenomenon occurs by applying their understanding of a disciplinary core idea, and
  • Write a prediction about something that might happen in the future that could be explained by the model.

6

Present students with two different models for the same observable phenomenon, then

  • Ask students to compare the two models with respect to their accuracy, and
  • Apply what they know about a disciplinary core idea to justify their answer.

7

Present students with two different models for the same observable phenomenon, then

  • Ask students to develop a test to determine which model better fits available evidence.

8

Provide students with a digital modeling tool that is intended to represent a system or process in which the mechanisms are not visible to the naked eye, then

  • Ask students to use the modeling tool to identify and describe model components, interactions, and mechanisms.

Potential Task Formats: Constructing Explanations (SEP6)

Note: A set of task formats for designing solutions is available at http://researchandpractice.org/NGSSTaskFormats

Relevant definition:

  • “Scientific explanations are accounts that link scientific theory with specific observations or phenomena… Very often the theory is first represented by a specific model for the situation in question, and then a model-based explanation is developed.” (NRC Framework, 2012).

1

Describe a phenomenon to students along with relevant evidence (which can come from a media source), then

  • Ask students to write an evidence-based account of what causes the phenomena.

2

Describe a phenomenon to students along with some related qualitative or quantitative data/observations, then

  • Ask students produce an explanation about the mechanism for the phenomena using their interpretation of the data as evidence.

3

Describe a phenomenon to students and present qualitative or quantitative data for independent and dependent variables, then

  • Ask students to produce a causal account that explains how the independent variables relate to the dependent variables.

4

Describe a phenomenon to students along with a related set of evidence and an explanation that includes multiple scientific principles, then

  • Ask students to say which pieces of evidences support particular components of the explanation.

5

Present students with a model or representation of an observable scientific process or system, then

  • Ask students to write a causal explanation for a relevant phenomenon using the model as supporting evidence.

6

Describe a phenomenon and present students with a causal explanation of it, then

  • Ask students to identify gaps or weaknesses in how it scientifically explains the phenomenon based on their level of scientific understanding.

7

Describe a phenomenon and present students with a range of evidence obtained from a variety of sources (empirical investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review), then

  • Ask students to articulate (construct) a causal explanation for the phenomena, and
  • Describe how the evidence relates to the mechanisms or principles they have included.

Potential Task Formats: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information (SEP8)

Relevant definitions:

  • A “scientific text” is any form of scientific communication including but not limited to prose, graphs, videos, posters, symbols, and mathematics.

1

Present students with a set of grade-appropriate texts related to a scientific phenomenon, then

  • Ask students to synthesize the information from across the texts, and/or
  • Ask students to compare and contrast information across the texts to determine which are most relevant to explaining the phenomenon.

2

Present students with a set of grade-appropriate texts related to a scientific phenomenon, then

  • Ask students to construct an explanation of the phenomenon and/or ask questions about the phenomenon based on combined information from relevant texts.

3

Present students with textual description a scientific phenomenon or of an investigation of a scientific phenomenon, then

  • Ask students use multiple forms of scientific texts to communicate about the phenomenon to a given audience or an audience of their choosing.

4

Present students with a set of grade-appropriate scientific literature and/or media reports related to a scientific phenomenon, then

  • For each text, ask students to analyze and write about the validity and reliability of the information in the text (e.g., data, hypotheses, conclusions).