Chemistry SAR Update - July 2018

Hard to believe that the end of July is almost here. I just reread my post from June and realize that I have not made as much progress as I would have liked. I consider myself lucky to be able to be home with my children and without a doubt we have been busy. This is not the venue to relate all of the driving that I have done in the past 5 weeks, but I have put serious miles on my minivan.

However, today is a rare day where nothing is scheduled until the afternoon. Although my list of “must accomplish today” grows as I write this, I have a moment to reflect on what I have been able to achieve.

My first goal was to read Teaching Science is Phenomenal by Brett Moulding and Rodger Bybee. I read it twice which is unheard of considering the number of practitioner books I want to read and my overall attention span (non- existent). This is the second book released by Moulding and Bybee. Their first book was A Vision and Plan for Science Teaching and Learning in collaboration with Nicole Paulson. I also loved this book as well and for the first time could begin to actually see “three-dimensional learning” as a process. I consider A Vision and Plan for Science Teaching and Learning my introduction to grasping teaching in 3D and Teaching Science is Phenomenal as how to put it into practice.

One might ask, why do I recommend getting this book? How will it help me? There are tons of practitioner books available so what makes this book special? And why not just dive into collecting different resources from Facebook groups like NGSS Educator or the NGSS chemistry group? Wouldn’t that be a better use of my time?

I agree that it is easy to troll Facebook NGSS groups and see what people are doing and offering to share. Someone posts a resource and suddenly a thread with thirty people has popped up saying, “here’s my email! Please share!” or “Can you add that to the group google drive?” or my favorite “following”.

The reality of the situation is that if you are alone and do not have people to collaborate with at your school, you should (not have to or must – that seems too forceful) try to learn the basics of what makes a lesson three dimensional and how to put together a sequence of lessons that make sense in the context of a group of analogous phenomena. There is theory behind the practice here and understanding the theory is important.

See? I have put one of my paradigm shifts in writing. As a chemistry teacher, I am annoyingly  entrenched in the idea of “units”. Atomic structure, periodic table, chemical bonding, etc… I am honestly trying to make a fundamental shift out of this mind frame. I have to get over the idea of learning chemistry concepts in isolation. Instead, I should focus on having them learn such concepts in context of a real-world situation. Now I know those of you out there might say, “Isn’t that the part C section of the Chemistry Regents Exam?” Yes, those questions are written from the perspective of a real-world setting. Yet should we wait until the summative exam in June to make that connection?

So back to Teaching Science is Phenomenal. How did this book change my perspective from “units” to “analogous phenomena”?

I think this quote on page 33 sums up my thoughts:

Science phenomena are interesting and, when used in classroom instruction, engage students in making sense of their world, now and in the future. Science instruction is not about teaching students “the core ideas,” it is about providing students with the skills and knowledge to use core ideas over time to make sense of the phenomena they encounter beyond the classroom.

It also helps that on page 106 and 107 a template unit plan is given using the 5E model integrating the GRC (gather, research, communicate) sequence. That was key. Suddenly I could “see” that the engage stage was using the Question Formulation Technique (QFT – Right Question Institute) and the Explore phase could be different activities that use certain science and engineering practices that I have already in my tool kit. Details are also given about integrating the GRC sequence into the explain, elaborate and evaluate stages.

An example unit follow immediately after the template that show the integrated 5E-GRC instructional sequence in detail. My favorite part was seeing the Explore phase repeated again and again which makes sense to me. The other aspect that I thought was extremely helpful were the student performances associated with each lesson were color coded to identify the SEPs and CCCs. Given, I have seen color coded student performances before in other NGSS PD experiences but not in the context of a full 5E sequence. Personally, I need such examples. I am improving on identifying SEPs in student performance statements but seeing the performance with the integration of the cross-cutting concepts still needs a lot of work.

I need structure and examples. I need consistency of how I am going to make this monumental shift. This is why I am embracing this process with my general chemistry class; a class that will include some of the most difficult students in my school. Yet maybe, just maybe if I can convince them that learning about why fireworks produce different colors and relate that to color flame candles on a birthday cake and flame tests in a chemistry lab, then they will learn something that will stick.

To learn more about the 5E/GRC integration model, check out the website:


To learn more about the book Teaching Science is Phenomenal, check out this website: