An action plan consists of a strategy and tactics. Together these provide the directions for achieving a goal. For any goal, you will have one strategy and many tactics. While a strategy is a broad overview of how you will achieve your goal, tactics are the specific actions (activities and tasks) you will take to execute the strategy.
To devise an action plan for achieving the goal of science education, you’ll need a strategy that describes how you will do it. To come up with your strategy, simply ask yourself: “How will I work to achieve the goal of science education with students?”
In my role as a learning experience designer, my answer is: “I will design learning experiences for students.” Depending on your role, you may have more or less responsibility for designing student learning experiences. Many educators facilitate learning experiences using curriculum and/or instructional materials designed by others and some educators have roles that include a combination of learning design and facilitation.
Your answer to the question (and consequently your strategy and tactics) will depend on your specific role in science education. But although there are different action plans for achieving it, the goal remains the same and is the focus at all times.
My basic strategy is to design learning experiences. But I’d like to make it a bit more specific. I’ll do this by answering two follow-up questions:
- What should students gain from their learning experiences at each stage of their science education?
- How should I engage students in learning experiences?
Part one of the Framework articulates the goal for K-12 science education, which is the end result we want to achieve with all students by the end of the 12th grade.
Part two proceeds “backward” from that overarching goal and outlines what students are expected to know and be able to do at specific stages of their science education.
Part three directs how these ideas are to be integrated into any new science standards. Thus, the framework provided the guidelines for the development of the new science education standards that later came to be known as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
In the NGSS, the knowledge and practices of the sciences and engineering that all students should learn — written as performance expectations — are organized by grade level for kindergarten through grade five, and as grade banded expectations at the middle school (6–8) and high school (9–12) levels.
The goal of science education articulates what students should “gain” from their learning experiences overall. Since the NGSS were the result of working backward from this goal, I can continue working backwards from the grade banded expectations of NGSS to design learning experiences that progressively move student understanding and skill acquisition closer and closer to achieving it.
Because it was the result of working backward from the goal of science education, the NGSS provides the answer to the question: “What should students gain from their learning experiences at each stage of their science education?”
Now that I have an answer to the first question, I’ll move on to the second question: “How should I engage students in learning experiences?”
It’s no use turning to the NGSS for help with answering this second question, because the NGSS is a set of standards, which are expectations for what all students should know and be able to do —it is not curriculum, and does not dictate how the standards are taught. Curriculum and instructional choices are left to states, districts, schools, and teachers. So, while the NGSS tells me “what” students should know and be able to do, I’m stuck with the task of figuring out “how” to get students to know and do it. Thanks for nothing, NGSS. Just kidding!
So now what? I still need to answer the question: “How should I engage students in learning experiences?”
In Robinson’s Weblog #002: The One About Relevance Part One: Don’t Break Your Arm Patting Yourself on the Back, I wrote about how, when I was teaching college chemistry courses, I started making every lesson relevant to my students by connecting the chemistry content to life beyond the classroom. This made my students so much more interested in learning that many of them actually started looking forward to coming to chemistry class.
I was definitely onto something. But although my students were more interested in the chemistry content, they weren’t motivated to learn it. So I shouldn’t have been “breaking my arm patting myself on the back” because I was not using the relevance of real-world topics to its full potential.
That was before I stumbled upon the integrative STEM approach. Integrative STEM emphasizes the connections among the STEM areas and their application. Through intentionally integrating mathematics and technology/engineering education with science education, it empowers educators to go beyond teaching isolated science facts to helping students connect their developing scientific knowledge to the world around them.
In the integrative STEM approach, the application to the science content is simultaneous, not after the fact. So instead of students sitting through a boring lesson, and then applying what they learned; this approach engages students in a relevant occurrence or problem at the beginning of the learning module and uses it to frame their learning experiences. Now that’s a good way to motivate students to learn!
By using problem-, and project-based tasks that reflect real-world situations, the integrative STEM approach provides both interest and motivation for learning; thereby using the relevance of real-world topics to their full potential. Using the integrative STEM approach, I can go beyond getting students to recognize the relevance of science to their own lives to using relevance to actually motivate them to learn.
Because of this, integrative STEM is my answer to the question: “How should I engage students in learning experiences?” Therefore, my overall strategy for achieving the goal of science education is to use the NGSS to design integrative STEM learning experiences for students.
Having an overall strategy for achieving a goal gives you the clarity and focus you need for the next step in devising your action plan: choosing tactics. Tactical decision-making takes the strategy and sets forth the specific actions (activities and tasks) you will take to execute it.
I’ll explore this in my next weblog entry. Stay tuned!