Theme of the month

Theme of the Month

Join us each month as we focus on a topic of interest to STEM Teacher Leaders with a webinar panel, open discussion, resources and blog post. 

Discussion: Rebooting the Science Classroom: Sensemaking and Phenomena-driven Instruction

In this facilitated discussion, we will explore lessons learned after a tumultuous year as a result of the pandemic. We invite your participation! (This discussion is now closed.)


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Kevin Gaylor

Building Capacity for Sensemaking

The idea of sensemaking has come under my radar a science instructional leader.  While trying to introduce teachers to the idea of phenomenon-based teaching and learning, I am finding that the idea of sensemaking is somewhat novel in the area where I serve.  I find that teachers do not fully understand that the instruction and related activities should land students in a place where they are able to make sense of phenomena they observe.  I see topics being taught in isolation all in an effort to get through the curriculum to ensure that all standards and performance objective have been covered because these will be on "the test."  How then do we get teachers to the point where they are no longer just teaching for coverage, but teaching for conceptual understanding that will enable students to explain how things work in their environments?

Mon, 08/09/2021 - 11:51 PM
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Michael Fumagalli

What a fantastic question,…

What a fantastic question, Kevin! You are spot on in your observations of topics being taught in isolation. This is a very common, traditional approach to science teaching and learning. You also make an astute observation about the idea of "coverage", or breadth over depth. This question surfaces in most PD sessions focused on NGSS implementation. 

Personally, I think the most important thing to moving thinking from coverage to a focus on conceptual understanding is an honest examination of our tactics and strategies from a student-perspective. It requires us to look at our classroom and honestly ask 2 questions : "What do we desire for our students?" and "How meaningful is this experience for students?" Filling out worksheets, following procedural instructions on a lab, making flash cards, and doing vocabulary exercises are not meaningful experiences for students. Students may participate in them out of compliance, but they are nowhere near meaningful. If you asked a student, "Do filling out worksheets, following instructions and practicing vocabulary get you excited to come to class every day?", I'm willing to bet most would answer "no". Covering material does nothing but check a box, for the teacher (not the student). We are well aware that traditional teaching and learning strategies which serve the purpose of covering material are not very engaging for students. We know this. Yet, for some reason, it is difficult to relinquish past practice and be innovative with something new. If we are honest with ourselves about that, it's the first step in shifting thinking about our instructional priorities. Even well-intended attempts at "hands on" learning experiences (ex. dissection) often end up being more about following instructions, performing tasks because the teacher told you to, and regurgitating that information on an assessment. Covering material is the instructor's way of saying "I did my part! The rest of the onus is on the kids!" 

Instead, what we desire is for teachers to build a learning community in their classroom where observation and an examination of phenomena lead to sensemaking. This is what is best for kids. This is because student questions are rooted deeply in the observation of the phenomenon. Because it creates a seat for each learner at the table, students are now vested in a collaborative effort to make sense of something they don't understand. That is genuine and an authentic way to teach students how to be learners. This results in a deeper, more robust understanding of concepts and a higher rate of transfer. Additionally, colleges and career are not looking for students to be able to regurgitate information. They desire students to be thinkers and problem-solvers. This results in us teaching them to do so with rich learning experiences that meaningfully impact their learning trajectory. Higher ed professors and our colleagues at The College Board would agree. I was thankful to join a group of very well-accomplished professionals in learning sciences and other content-specific fields to ask them how 3-dimensional learning and the demands of the NGSS prepare students for college and career. If you'd like to view that recorded webinar, visit and scroll down to the first video. It is there for you. 

Have a wonderful school year! 

Tue, 08/10/2021 - 12:20 PM
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Jason Crean

Thanks to all who participated in our webinar!

We really appreciate the participation in our webinar last week and love the continued chatter around the presentation content.  We know it can be difficult to gather so many pieces and bring them together in the science classroom which is why we referred to storylines several times during our discussion.  Storylines are a great way to get a feel for how we can lead student sense-making around phenomena and build coherence across a unit of study.  Check out the resource list provided and please post any questions you may have here on the Discussion board as we all have been involved in this work for some time.

Tue, 08/10/2021 - 3:04 PM
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Kristin Rademaker

I would also like to add...…


If you are looking for something and do not find it on the resource list, please just ask. There are many more wonderful resources out there, but we also did not want to overload you. 

Thank you again for having us.

Thu, 08/12/2021 - 2:47 PM