Planning Meaning-Making Experiences In NGSS Lessons

Planning Meaning-Making Experiences In Your NGSS Lesson

Planning Meaning Making Experiences in NGSSOne of the most challenging parts of a three dimensional storyline is the meaning-making.  It can be hard to plan for, and it can be hard to implement. Why? For one, it puts both students and teachers in unfamiliar roles.

In our traditional system, the teachers held the knowledge and essentially passed it on to students. Meaning-making didn’t truly happen in classrooms at all (except for the handful of students who naturally “picked it up”). So most teachers teaching today never experienced meaning-making for themselves in a K-12 classroom, let alone learned to teach in a way that put that responsibility on students.

And with that in mind, we need to recognize that meaning-making is a responsibility! It requires our students to step up. It requires our teachers to step down. 😳 It’s hard to give up that control!

Before I go on, are you wondering — what is meaning-making?  I’ve heard it referred to as “sense-making” and “figuring-it-out.” It’s basically the process of guiding students to their a-ha moment.  That’s what makes it so difficult.

Finally, there’s so much give and take to it.  Some aspects of sense-making can be planned ahead, while some of it just happens in the moment. It requires both forethought and flexibility — and in that sense, it can be demanding of teachers just as much as students.

So yah, meaning-making is hard, period. It’s hard for teachers, and it’s hard for students. It’s just hard. 

That said — even though it can be difficult, it is so important this step occurs. Otherwise, you run the risk of your explorations becoming just “fun activities” instead of true learning opportunities. As John Dewey said, “We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.”

So because this step is so important, I wanted to highlight it here and offer a few thoughts that might help you engage your students in the process.


A Few Tips For Planning Meaning-Making (The Explain Phase) In Your Next NGSS Lesson

1. Map your students’ journey to understanding

What observations do your students need to make? What do they need to notice? How will they need to connect ideas? Craft some questions and prompts to help your students get there. Order them so students are guided to their a-ha moment, step by step.


2. Start during the exploration

Craft a worksheet or graphic organizer that structures the exploration enough that students can document their thinking throughout the activity.  While we aren’t looking for a step-by-single-step set of instructions (no cookie cutter labs here!), students will benefit from a framework to process what they observe and discover during the learning activities.  Don’t wait until after the activity to start meaning-making.


3. Remember that meaning-making is a discussion…

… and start with your students’ ideas.  While I don’t quite limit myself to the 5E Model anymore, I still tend to think about my students’ learning journeys using the phases of the 5E Model. In this framework, meaning-making falls into the explain phase.

But (and here’s an all-too-common misconception) that doesn’t mean the teacher explains. Nope. Students are explaining their ideas, drawing the conclusions, and coming to consensus about science ideas.

So begin your discussion with student observations and ideas and build from those thoughts to reach your science concepts. Do your best to limit yourself to questions and the occasional observation and allow the students to do the explaining.


Want To Learn More?

Making-Meaning: Science Thinking, Talk, and Remote Learning

How To Teach Vocabulary In An NGSS Classroom: Interactions In Ecosystems

Questioning To Support Discovery Through Exploration

3 Myths About The 5E Model

Quick Guide: The 5E Model