Three-Dimensional Learning: Sensemaking Through Modeling and Discourse

Relevance to Science Teacher Education
Although inquiry has been a fundamental approach to science education for years, recent reforms documents like A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; NGSS Lead States, 2013) have further articulated what inquiry means for classrooms through the inclusion of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs; NRC, 2012). With this articulation comes an emphasis on sensemaking through three-dimensional learning. Students engage in the three dimensions – Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs), Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs), and Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs) – to make sense of phenomena encountered in the natural world. This emphasis on three-dimensional learning requires a shift from students “learning about” phenomena to students “figuring out” phenomena (Schwarz, Passmore, & Reiser, 2017). Thus, teachers, and specifically elementary teachers who do not feel equally prepared to teach science as they do other subjects (Trygstad, Smith, Banilower, & Nelson, 2013), will need support in order to implement NGSS-aligned curricula in which students are “figuring out” phenomena in their classrooms.
During the proposed workshop, we will focus on one particular practice, Developing and Using Models, due to its utility in helping learners make sense of the phenomenon presented in our workshop activity. Modeling is embedded in scientific practice and while it’s inclusion as a SEP in the NGSS places an emphasis on the practice as an integral part of science, it rarely appears in school science and more specifically, in elementary science (Zangori & Forbes, 2016). When modeling is present in the classroom, it is often incorporated for illustrative or communicative purposes, rather than for sensemaking (Schwarz et al., 2009). As a result, experiences that promote modeling for sensemaking have the potential to support teacher educators and teachers as they work to incorporate modeling in classrooms in ways that more closely align with the vision of the Framework and NGSS.
Discourse is yet another integral part of science learning. The Framework outlines four strands of proficiency as it relates to science learning: …(4) participating productively in scientific practices and discourse (NRC, 2012). They purport that over time, students “develop more sophisticated uses of scientific talk…[and] come to see themselves as members of a scientific community” (NRC, 2012, p. 252). The three-dimensions described in the Framework were developed to specify what students need to learn and practice in order to reach proficiency in those four strands (NRC, 2012). That is, three-dimensional learning experiences are intended to support student participation in scientific practices and discourse. As a result, our current work also supports teacher educators and teachers in understanding how to cultivate discourse practices for sensemaking in the science classroom.

Our Work/Expertise of Presenters
The Institute for Inquiry (IFI) at the Exploratorium in San Francisco has been working with elementary educators for over 40 years to support inquiry-based learning in classrooms. IFI has worked with more than 7,000 lead teachers and professional developers from districts, universities, and museums from over 1,000 districts and projects in 50 states and 17 countries. With the adoption of the NGSS, IFI has most recently begun working with the state of California to support implementation of the NGSS in classrooms. Through this work, our team works with county officers, district leaders, and lead teachers by providing in-person and on-line workshops that demonstrate how they might support their teachers in effectively implementing the NGSS in their classrooms.

Learning Objectives
The learning objectives of the workshop are for participants to: (1) further develop their understanding of three-dimensional learning, and more specifically sensemaking through modeling and discourse; and (2) provide a list of resources and invite participants to engage in conversations around elements of NGSS-aligned instruction. We will know that participants met those objectives through discussions embedded throughout the workshop. Discussion questions might include, “How are your models helping you make sense of the phenomena?”; “How can you use your model to communicate your ideas to others around you?”; and “How can the Institute for Inquiry continue to support your ideas around three-dimensional learning?”

Content of Proposed Workshop
During the workshop, participants will engage in a three-dimensional Dissolving Lifesavers activity. While dissolving Lifesavers in water (or dissolving other substances in water) might be a popular activity in elementary classrooms, reform efforts’ emphasis on three-dimensional learning necessitate an inclusion of additional elements. The following is an explanation of how the activity will unfold, as well as discussion topics embedded before, during, and after the activity related to NGSS-aligned instruction and the work of the Institute for Inquiry.
Before Dissolving Lifesavers (~10 mins.)
(1) We will begin with introductions of all participants and the IFI staff.
(2) Our team will describe how we’ve engaged in work around NGSS, and what we would like to accomplish in the workshop. This includes specific mention of the objectives for the two-hour workshop. We will also provide several questions/prompts designed to help participants begin thinking about topics included in our discussion at the end of the workshop (e.g. sensemaking in this content and other contexts they have experienced).
Dissolving Lifesavers (~1 hr. 30 mins.)
(3) Our team will explain that participants will be acting as learners as they engage in the Dissolving Lifesaver activity. Participants will be asked to record the color of a Lifesaver and then put it in his/her mouth and record the time it takes to fully dissolve.
(4) While the Lifesavers are dissolving, we will review the shift in the Framework and NGSS from “learning about” to “figuring out”, and the three dimensions that work together to support students’ as they explain phenomena and solve problems. Our team will also share our ‘Inquiry Structure for 3D Learning’, which highlights the SEPs integrated throughout the learning experience, as well as provide a context for the Lifesaver activity by way of a storyline.
(5) Once all Lifesavers are dissolved, we will begin the three-dimensional investigation by orienting participants within our ‘Inquiry Structure for 3D Learning’ – participants are currently engaged in the ‘Inquiry Starter’ which provides opportunities for learners to explore phenomena, make observations and raise or engage with questions related to content goals. We will ask participants how long it took for their Lifesaver to dissolve. Participants will notice that times varied, at which point we will encourage them to think about what could cause such difference in dissolving times? In their small groups, participants will choose one of four variables to investigate.
(6) We will briefly share the ‘Inquiry Structure for 3D Learning’ again to show that we are beginning a, ‘Focused Investigation’, during which learners plan or engage with plans and carry out investigations based on questions. During this time, we will also note that other practices are incorporated throughout the ‘Focused Investigation’ as well. Participants will then begin their investigations.
(7) Following their investigations, we will work towards ‘Developing Understanding’ as a group by sharing the results of their investigations and engaging in a science talk. During this time, we will use the crosscutting concept, Cause and Effect, to help figure out what is going on. A brief reading titled, A Particle Model for Dissolving Sugar, will be provided to introduce participants to a conceptual model that could be used to explain their results and make predictions. Participants will talk in their small groups about how the reading relates to their investigation. Groups will then make a model by drawing annotated pictures to explain why their variable made one Lifesaver dissolve faster in one cup than another.
(8) Each group will share their models, providing a synthesis of all four variables. At this time, participants will be asked to use their experiences and their models to predict what would happen in a new scenario – one in which Lifesavers are dropped into two cups of water, one filled with water and another filled with sugar dissolved in it.
After Dissolving Lifesavers (~20 mins.)
(9) Following the investigation, we will discuss as a group the three-dimensions present in the activity:
• SEP: Developing and Using Models + others
• DCI: Matter of any type can be subdivided into particles that are too small to see
• CCC: Cause and Effect: Mechanism and Explanation
(10) At this time, participants will be asked to reflect on this activity, as well as other experiences they have had with NGSS-aligned instruction and sensemaking and discuss their thoughts as a group. We hope this discussion will be a productive time to share what we notice across these activities, what challenges we face, and how we overcome these challenges.
(11) The last part of the workshop will be spent discussing how participants might bring this experience to their own context and how we can continue to support their work.

Availability Post Workshop
Throughout the workshop participants will have the opportunity to experience a three-dimensional activity reflective of the NGSS and engage in discussions about NGSS-aligned instruction. However, we also hope that participants recognize the Institute for Inquiry as a valuable community and resource. A list of resources will be shared with all interested, as well as an invitation to continue conversations around sensemaking and three-dimensional learning in the future. More specifically, links to a variety of resources (e.g. videos demonstrating discourse in the classroom, facilitators guides for three-dimensional learning experiences, handouts from activity) and a description of each of the resources will be provided in the form of a handout and available electronically. We would also be interested in participant feedback on how best to support them following the workshop and how to continue to learn from one another (examples might include a Google Drive, Zoom conversations, etc.).

We believe this workshop will demonstrate the utility of modeling and discourse for sensemaking through a three-dimensional learning experience, as well as open up discussions about ways in which three-dimensional learning can be integrated into elementary classrooms. Elementary teachers often feel underprepared to teach science, and might be unfamiliar with recent reform efforts. Professional development opportunities in which teachers engage with NGSS-aligned activities offer a means of supporting teachers as they begin thinking about shifting their science instruction to “learning about” to “figuring out” phenomena encountered in the natural world.

Relevance to ASTE Membership
We are excited about the potential opportunity to have discussions around critical pieces of NGSS-aligned instruction, science talk, and how we can continue to support elementary teacher educators and teachers across the nation. While we recognize that not all states have adopted the NGSS, we believe this will be of interest to all ASTE members that are interested in NGSS-aligned instruction, science practices such as modeling, and ways to support sensemaking and discourse in the classroom. In addition, we believe our proposed workshop will be relevant to those engaged in work with professional development, and science educators looking to incorporate three-dimensional learning in their teaching contexts.