The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) offer an opportunity to build academic rigor in ELA and math. Schools tend to address content by subject, with separate programs and texts for each subject. The brain thrives on making connections. “To learn new knowledge, a person must build on information that is already stored in the brain” (Erica Cerino). If students make connections to prior knowledge and to knowledge gained across subject areas, they will solidify learning at deeper levels.
The NGSS include a set of Crosscutting Concepts that focus on important learning that transcends the disciplines. For example, patterns are an important part of understanding science in the world around you. They are also an integral part of understanding ELA and math. Consider these related primary standards:
Another key concept is that of cause-and-effect relationships. Here are some examples from grades 3-5 ELA and math standards:
And another is stability and change, with examples from middle school:
You can leverage the convergence of these standards in your instruction, pointing out the crosscutting themes in all of the subjects students are studying. Ask students questions about each subject area based on these concepts. To get started, use this planning sheet (if you are not an IDEportal subscriber, just click demo at the bottom of the screen) to review the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts and consider the connections to your ELA and math standards.
Make learning more meaningful; connect ELA and math to science; and change the world!
When you first learn to design a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, you are faced with the paradigm shift of launching each unit of study with an authentic, open-ended, real-world problem to solve. You start by thinking through the problems students could solve at the end of a five-week unit if they learned everything. Designing the problem-based task statement is just the beginning.
Imagine the task as the gift box that excites students to delve into all of the rich and diverse opportunities to learn. Your next step, therefore, is to fill the unit by building a collection of learning opportunities. My latest video discusses this metaphor in more detail.
Learning opportunities include whole-class lessons, small-group lessons, teacher facilitation, and learning activities. Much of the learning in a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom takes place through learning activities, rather than teacher dissemination of knowledge through lessons. Unlike activities to practice learning, learning activities should be narrowly focused on a skill or concept, include step-by-step direct instruction, and provide the student with some level of feedback. When designing learning activities, consider the following:
- What is the grade level standard to be met?
- All students must meet this standard.
- What prerequisites would be needed?
- Some students may need help in mastering prerequisites first, but they cannot stop there; they must achieve the grade level standard.
- What learning activities can you find or design that provide concept exploration or direct instruction in skills, including a variety of learning modalities, related to the standard?
- Differentiation should include not only cognitive differences, but learning style differences.
- What supports/scaffolding could you put in place for students, such as partner work, how-to sheet or video, peer expert board, help board, and teacher facilitation?
- Once involved in an activity, how can you ensure students will meet with success?
Rigor means ensuring that all students are learning at high levels of understanding and application of at least the grade-level standards. With LATIC students taking greater responsibility for their learning, teachers are freed up to engage more powerfully through facilitation toward greater rigor. Make your gift to your students complete with powerful opportunities to learn. Change the world!
For too long, executive function has been a term used primarily among special education professionals to discuss deficits, ignored by mainstream educators as the path to achievement for all.
Simply put, academic rigor refers to academic engagement that focuses on higher-order thinking and application. It is a door-opener for students!
If students can thrive in academic rigor, they can nail those standardized tests, tackle most problems and challenges that come their way, and follow any of a vast number of career paths. Building academic rigor should be the goal of every school, every teacher. Executive function may be the missing link to increased student achievement.
How many of the following skills would you say are required for students to perform at rigorous levels?
- Shifting focus from one event to another
- Changing perspective
- Seeing multiple sides of a situation
- Being open to other people’s points of view
- Being creative
- Catching and correcting errors
- Thinking about multiple concepts simultaneously
- Storing and manipulating visual and verbal information
- Identifying same and different
- Remembering details
- Following multiple steps
- Persisting in a task
- Organizing actions and thoughts
- Considering future consequences in light of current action
These are the skills of executive function, controlled by the brain’s prefrontal cortex.
The good news is, the more you use these skills, the stronger they become. You can build executive function in students by engaging them in these skills.
If you are running a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, you can explore ways to build executive function through the various structures inherent in the model. If not, you can still use this list to brainstorm how you can engage students in using the skills listed in the third column. This assessment sheet can be used by teachers to assess students or by students to self assess.
For more information, read chapter 6 of It’s Not What You Teach But How: 7 Insights For Making the CCSS Work for You, published by Routledge.