Yes, You Can Have Cheap, Plentiful, High-Quality Science Tasks

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My back-of -the-napkin calculation shows Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-aligned, phenomena-driven, science tasks cost $20,000 to develop when teachers, struggling to understand the three-dimensional nature of the NGSS and how to implement the standards in classrooms, are asked to brainstorm phenomena and questions. Do you want to create a science task for a fraction of the current $20,000 price tag? My explanation for how Planful Learning and Assessment is trying to do that takes a few more words than are in my typical blog. But bear with me, the answer is worth the time.

The planful combination of three ingredients are needed to create a science task for less than $20,000: a) learning sciences research findings, b) Principled Design for Efficacy, and c) automated website search software. Let me explain each ingredient and how they combine to provide learners and teachers thousands of cost-accessible, NGSS and learning progression-aligned phenomena and guiding questions.

Learning Sciences Findings

Why are learning sciences findings critical to create a science task for less than $20,000? The NGSS were closely informed by research on learning science and engineering is no secret. By connecting the standards to the corresponding learning sciences research, either explicitly organized around or loosely corresponding to a disciplinary core idea, scientific and engineering practice, or crosscutting concept, we can “unpack” the findings to identify two kinds of information critical to supporting task development:

`1) The learning progressions describing the knowledge and skills for the standards we are trying to assess and how those knowledge and skills become more sophisticated with learning; and,

2)The kinds of phenomena and questions researchers have used to elicit the knowledge and skills.

Take, for example, the DCI of ESS2: Earth’s Systems which includes the sub-ideas of “The roles of water in Earth’s surface processes,” “Earth materials and systems,” “Plate tectonics and large-scale system interactions,” “Weather and climate,” and “Biogeology.” The most influential publications I have used to unpack the learning sciences findings related to ESS2: Earth’s Systems are the following:

Covitt, B. A., Gunckel, K. L., Caplan, B., & Syswerda, S. (2017). Teachers’ use of learning progression-based formative assessment in water instruction.

Covitt, B. A., & Gunckel, K. L. (2012). Using a water systems learning progression to design and test formative assessments and tools for reasoning.

Gunckel, K. L., Covitt, B. A., Salinas, I., & Anderson, C. W. (2012). A learning progression for water in socio-ecological systems.

Gunckel, K. L., Covitt, B. A., & Salinas, I. (2018). Learning progressions as tools for supporting teacher content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge about water in environmental systems.

Pan, Y. T., & Liu, S. C. (2018). Students’ understanding of a groundwater system and attitudes towards groundwater use and conservation.

Sadler, T. D., Nguyen, H., & Lankford, D. (2017). Water systems understandings: a framework for designing instruction and considering what learners know about water.

Principled Design for Efficacy

We have the learning sciences findings, why do we need Principled Design for Efficacy? We need the standardized, reusable templates in Principled Design for Efficacy to capture the important features of questions and phenomena to scale content to hundreds or thousands of potential, standards-aligned phenomena and corresponding guiding questions. These templates include two critical interacting components for each NGSS standard:

Knowledge and Skills Description

This is a relatively fine-grained description of the knowledge and skills used in thinking about a standard and how those knowledge and skills become more sophisticated with learning. This may be represented as a learning progression. For example, the learning progression I finally adopted for sub-ideas included under ESS2: Earth’s Systems, shown below, combined research from Covitt and Gunckel (2012) and Gunckel, et. al., (2012) with the research of Sadler, Nguyen, and Lankford (2017).

The learning progression for ESS2: Earth’s Systems.

Content Features

This describes the attributes or qualities of content that have been identified as effectively eliciting, or helping to elicit, the targeted knowledge and skills. For our purposes, templates are divided into stimuli and context.

Stimuli

The role of stimuli, for example questions, challenges, or items, is to prompt students’ use of the targeted knowledge and skills within a context such as a phenomenon or simulation. Planful Learning and Assessment offers two kinds of stimuli templates. The first kind are general descriptions of the features which should be included in the question or item to elicit a response using the knowledge and skills at a given learning progression level or discriminate between two levels.

The second kind is a form for an open-ended question with missing text to be completed using content from the phenomenon. An example of the second kind is a question template intended to prompt students’ use of knowledge of locations and pathways and understanding of mechanisms for movement or constraint:

After (an event or process depositing water) you notice (a change in the water at a location). After (some period of time), you notice (a change in the amount of water at the location).  Where did the water (go or come from)? What made that happen?

Context

Context in assessment serve as a lens through which students interpret the stimuli. This setting supports students in making meaning of the stimuli and help guide students into using the intended knowledge and skills. For NGSS, phenomena provide the context within which students use the three dimensions together to make sense of and explain complex phenomena or find solutions to challenging real-world problems. For example, the content features I identified for phenomena supporting students use of the ESS2: Earth’s Systems learning progression knowledge and skills are captured in the template below.

The content features for phenomena supporting students use of the ESS2: Earth's Systems learning progression knowledge and skills.

The description of context features I identified for phenomena is somewhat vague. How do the content features, captured in templates, contribute to providing learners and teachers thousands of cost-accessible, NGSS and learning progression-aligned phenomena and guiding questions? Key to achieving that goal is the use of automated website searches to identify standards-aligned websites, YouTube videos, and other sources of potential phenomena. Planful Learning and Assessment is currently working to complete the MVP of the automated website search software. We hope to be able to demo the software in mid-June. 

I hope my answer to the question of how to create a science task for a fraction of the current $20,000 price tag was worth your time.  If you want to learn more, contact me or join me the National Conference on Student Assessment 2021 session titled “Item Specifications and Task Models—Who’s Doing What? Why?onTuesday June 22 11:00-12:30 PM ET.

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