Is Your Science Content Inspiring Student Learning?

“No One Cares About Your Content, Cathy”

I figured I’d give Karen a break. ???? Sorry, all you Cathys. But seriously, let’s chat about content… and the reality that oftentimes, our students don’t care. Why should they? I’m eggin’ ya on here – there’s obvi LOTS of reasons they should care!

Here’s the point though: they really don’t always see those reasons. And MAKING them see those reasons (in a very non-forceful and illuminating and discovery-based way, of course ????) is going to be SUPER important as we move into an unpredictable 2020 school year this fall.

So what does that mean for us?

In this replay of a video training I held inside the NGSS for Middle and High School Science Teachers group, I challenged you to

– rethink the content in your NGSS classrooms (quick review!)

– consider a “trick” for building student buy-in (hint: it’s not really a trick)

– break down how to make it work for YOUR students



1. More than facts and details.

Science is more than facts and details, but for the longest time, we’ve been teaching it that way. We have been focusing on facts and details devoid of real world context, and for that reason, our students just don’t care. The facts and details are important evidence, but should not be the sole focus of instruction. 

For example, we’re not spending all our time making students memorize all the organelles (which they’re going to forget anyway). Instead, we’re focusing on understanding a few ways organelles work together – as related to whatever phenomenon we are investigating – so our students can understand the bigger idea: how these parts of the cell work to keep the cell alive!


2. Choosing your phenomenon.

When planning instruction, choosing a phenomenon that’s going to initially engage your students is the key to getting initial buy-in — it’s has to spark curiosity. But more than that, your students have to connect to it. It has to be relevant to their lives, their experiences, their emotions. You have to dig into that lizard brain of theirs and get their attention.

With that in mind, your content also needs to be framed in an authentic and real world way.  Like with the phenomenon, you’re considering the content as much as you can as it connects to their lives and communities.

Keep in mind, there is no “one size fits all” phenomena. What connects to and works for one group of students might not work for another. You need to take into account your students, their interests, their backgrounds, their cultures. When you can do this, you’re going to end up choosing a much better phenomenon than if you just take one from the textbook. 


3. Building from student questions.

How else can you maintain interest and ownership? Build your storylines on student questions.


4. Emphasize the human element.

Science doesn’t live in a bubble, and neither do we. Science is a human endeavor, so we need to start presenting it as such.  It’s not dry facts and figures. There’s ethics involved, there’s bias, there’s creativity, there’s opportunities for equity and amazing things — and opportunities for harm and destruction. 

So what values or lenses are we bringing to the table? How can we frame our content to connect to the real world issues that scientists work to understand and solve? These focuses take science beyond a factual, sanitized endeavor  (BOOOORING). They emphasize that human element.  They connect to emotions.  They get buy-in.

Our values are there in the phenomena we choose to bring into the classroom, so take some time to consider yours.  And then, take some time to consider how you can better incorporate your students’ values, experiences, interests, and cultures into your science investigations.

  • Are we focusing on social or environmental justice? How is that going to impact the phenomena we are choosing?
  • Do we value our students leaving our classroom as PROBLEM-SOLVERS? Taking science knowledge and APPLYING it?
  • Do we value community connections? Are we bringing our students focus to the LOCAL community – local issues, local environment? Could this help our students connect better to the science content?
  • What about cultural connections? Career paths?
  • Do we want to focus on environmentalism, nature, or connecting with the outdoors?

I don’t know.

The reality is – the choice is up to you.

So put away the “from the box” curriculum and focus in on your students needs to take the first steps toward making science content matter.