A Comparison Between the NGSS and Teacher Perceptions about Using Models to Teach about Climate and Weather

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Monday, 3 February 2014: 12:00 AM
Room C109 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Morgan Brown Yarker, Yarker Consulting, Cedar Rapids, IA; and C. O. Stanier, C. Forbes, and S. Park

The Next Generation Science Standards have been updated from the previous version of the standards with some much needed emphasis on topics in climate and weather. In particular, the standards have focused on K-12 students learning about science models, which is extremely important for when the topic of climate change and weather forecasting is discussed. Although science models were mentioned as an important concept for students to learn in the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996), the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) puts much more emphasis on the importance of teaching about science models (NRC, 2012). The NGSS framework is divided into three dimensions, which are Scientific and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas. Science models are mentioned in both the Scientific and Engineering Practices and the Crosscutting Concepts, which suggests that a deep understanding of science models is necessary for understanding science.

In the Scientific and Engineering Practices dimension, it is suggested that students be able to develop and use science models. This is because scientists develop and use science models as a practice of doing science. The NGSS suggest that models should not just be used as a tool to explain concepts to students; rather students should actively take part in designing and building their own models and use those models to either explain a concept, but more importantly to make predictions- since that is how scientists use models in practice.

In the Crosscutting Concepts dimension, it is suggested that students understand systems and system models. Crosscutting concepts are ideas that should be applied across all science concepts; therefore they should be used to tie together the Disciplinary Core Ideas dimension of the NGSS not just across disciplines, but across age groups as well. Understanding science concepts involves understanding that specific science concepts leads to further understanding about a more complex system. For example, understanding the transition between phases of water (i.e., evaporation, condensation, melting, freezing, etc.) is a small part of a more complex system of the water cycle, which is also a small part of an even more complicated process of what causes weather. Scientists use models to represent these systems, which can grow increasingly complex as more knowledge is obtained. Similarly, students should develop and use system models across disciplines and age groups in a way that is similar to how scientists use them in practice; which is to make predictions about unanswered questions.

Based on the newly released NGSS, it is clear that students are expected to come to understand science models as a part of learning science. This means students must develop their own models and use them to make predictions about unanswered questions, and students should be doing so in every discipline and at every grade level. This is a particularly useful strategy for teachers to utilize when they are teaching about climate change.

If accepted, this presentation will report the results from a study that qualitatively looked at three teacher's perspectives on using models in the classroom while teaching units about weather and/or climate. According to the NGSS, as stated above, it is important that teachers not just use models to explain science concepts to students, but also have students use models to make predictions about the natural world; the same way that climate scientists use models. Research indicates that students who learn about science content using an approach that aligns more authentically with the way real science inquiry is done have a better understanding of the content, better understanding of the nature of science, improved critical thinking skills, and improved problem solving skills.

Preliminary results indicate that the teachers in this study view models as an effective way to explain a concept to their students, but none of them mention or discuss the predictive power of models. Although models are a useful way to explain a complex phenomenon concisely, arguably the most important role science models play in scientific inquiry is their ability to allow scientists to make prediction, especially in climate and weather. Since all three teachers overlooked the predictive power of models, it indicates that that they do not have a firm understanding of the role science models play in making scientific predictions.

The teachers also only describe models as being physical objects, such as those generally used in science classrooms. Based on the NGSS, teachers should come to understand that all models (both simple and complex) share the same characteristics, so that they can be aware of how both complex and simple models are useful in scientific discovery. If the teachers do not understand this concept, it is unlikely their students will learn it either.

In conclusion, there is discrepancy between what the NGSS indicate students should be learning about modeling and what teachers are prepared to teach, particularly when it comes to climate and weather topics. In order to better prepare teachers to meet the demands required of them in the NGSS, they need to be better educated on models, what they are, what they do, and how scientists use them to do research. This is particularly important for atmospheric scientists, because models play such a large role in our field, which is constantly under scrutiny from the public. By preparing teachers to teach K-12 students about the role models play in climate research and weather forecasting, we can build a more knowledgeable society that is better prepared to make informed decisions on how to deal with issues in our changing climate.