Scale, proportion, and quantity in NGSS

In Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), scale, proportion, and quantity play an important role as one of the Crosscutting Concepts we consider when thinking about ecosystems, chemical reactions, particles, space, and so much more! According to NGSS Hub,

“…it is critical to recognize what is relevant at different size, time, and energy scales, and to recognize proportional relationships between different quantities as scales of change.”

From K-2, when learners discuss the sizes of objects and events in relation to one another (bigger and smaller, faster and slower), to High School, when learners use orders of magnitude to understand and describe differences between models at different scales, this idea that different things are relevant at different scales is crucial to the way we engage in meaning-making about our world! But what about after High School?

edTPA preparation and small/large group discussions

Many (MANY) years after high school and the GRS cohort is thinking about edTPA preparation in many of our classes. (edTPA, by the way, is an assessment used to “emphasize, measure, and support the skills and knowledge” needed for teaching. I think it’s an incredible tool that has been developed for authentic and accurate assessment and is great for preparing teachers. But also, Figure 1, below, accurately and professionally describes my feelings about edTPA at this point in time.)

Figure 1. How I feel about edTPA.

In all seriousness, though, the preparation we’re doing in our classes has made thinking about edTPA a lot more manageable and the tips and tricks we’ve been discussing are going to make a huge difference in how we prepare! In our “topics” class, we’ve been practicing recording video of small groups of students and talking about the challenges of recording video and audio of small groups while other things are happening in the classroom (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Small group edTPA prep featuring Kristi, Ellen, and Alyssa!

In seminar, we discussed the importance of recording video of us working with small groups of students (deepening student learning through prompting students, listening, pressing, etc.) as well as video of large group discussions. Both are encouraged for edTPA.

In Theory and Practice of Teaching and Learning Science, we’re engaging in these small group and large group experiences ourselves—jumping between small group meaning-making and presenting our thoughts to large groups. In those large groups, we discuss, explore, and build new understandings. Last week, we met with practicing teachers and, in small groups, constructed activity summary tables, which outlined the ways in which learning activities in our classes linked to overarching unit concepts and goals (Figure 3). Then we shared those tables with the rest of our class to pass ideas around, build upon those ideas, and come to conclusions about ambitious science teaching.

Figure 3. Madeleine, Lisa, and Ms. Eng’s activity summary table from last week!

But what is the deal with all of this small and large group stuff? Why does the edTPA make a big deal out of it? Why are we thinking in this way in our classes? And why do we want learners in general engaging with science material in these different ways?

Short answer: because that’s what real science is like.

Long answer: Magnusson, Palinscar, and Templin (2004) discuss the ways in which learning science through inquiry reflect real science practice and argue that inquiry-based science is also necessarily cultural and community-based. The authors argue that real science takes place in the context of different communities and that the way those communities function give each a different purpose and different outcomes.

“At the workbench, multiple perspectives are fostered and nurtured to create the space for discover, and innovative and creative thinking may be key to recognizing and constructing the results that are ultimately chosen for formal presentation.” (Magnusson, Palincsar, & Templin 2004, p. 135)

In our classes, that’s working in small groups on activity summary tables; with our students, that’s the small group discussions we’re organizing for the purpose of fostering student meaning-making. (Aha! So that’s why the edTPA wants video of us working with small groups of students.)

“Publication of the results represents the point of transition from the workbench community to the professional community arena.” (Magnusson, Palincsar, & Templin 2004, p. 135)

The transition from the workbench community to the professional community arena is where learners solidify their understandings, practice scientific communication, and contribute in significant ways to their communities. It gives meaning to inquiry and reflects real science practice.

In this way, learning is also different at different scales, just like the scientific phenomena science learners discuss through the lens of scale, proportion, and quantity. The different communities we join, support, and build are relevant to us and to others in different ways that depend on the scales of those communities. When we think of community-based learning moving forward, in addition to thinking about things that we’re used to thinking about (culturally-sustaining pedagogy, socially-constructed knowledge, etc.), I would argue that we also need to consider what the different types of communities we are a part of mean for learning. After all, according to NGSS hub,

“…it is critical to recognize what is relevant at different size, time, and energy scales, and to recognize proportional relationships between different quantities as scales of change.”