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Teaching Common Core Thinking Skills in Science Class [LESSON]

Over the past several months, I've been working to figure out how to best integrate the Common Core State Standards into my sixth grade science classroom.  Given the literacy-heavy nature of the Common Core, integrating the new standards into science classes can be pretty darn intimidating for most of us non-language-arts folks.

A book that I've embraced, though, has made the process easier and more approachable

Titled How to Teach Thinking Skills Within the Common Core, it argues that all teachers can make contributions to student mastery of the Common Core by systematically introducing students to the kinds of thinking skills that are scattered throughout the new curriculum.  Look closely at any of the standards and you'll see that students are asked to analyze, synthesize, compare and contrast, and evaluate time and again -- and analyzing, synthesizing, comparing and contrasting and evaluating can happen in every single class, every single day. 

So what I've started to do is develop lessons that give students to practice these skills on a regular basis in my science class. Here are two examples:

Determining the Best Way to Build a Pizza Box Oven

As a part of our required science curriculum, students have to learn about the Law of Conservation of Energy -- or the notion that energy is never created or destroyed, it just changes forms.  To demonstrate this concept in action, we made pizza box ovens to cook S'mores right before Thanksgiving.  My primary goal was to help students recognize that light energy can be converted into heat energy.

To jack the Common Core value of this lesson, I borrowed a strategy from How to Teach Thinking Skills Within the Common Core and taught my students a systematic process for making a determination.  You can see the handout I used for the lesson here.  You can see student responses to the handout here and here.

Evaluating Pizza Box Ovens

When our pizza box ovens were complete, we took some time to evaluate the effectiveness of our design.  Not only is this a good practice that science teachers often use in their classrooms, it is a thinking skill that students are expected to master as a part of the Common Core -- and it is a thinking skill outlined in How to Teach Thinking Skills Within the Common Core.  

You can see the handout that I used to guide the students through a more formal set of steps for evaluating here.  You can see student responses to the handout here and here.

What I like the best about the strategies outlined in How to Teach Thinking Skills Within the Common Core is that I'm already teaching these kinds of skills in the science classroom.  Determining and evaluating have always played a role in the work that I do with kids.  If a first step towards integrating the Common Core into my science classroom is as easy as working to show my students a more formalized process to tackle these skills, then I'm in.


Semi-snarky Author's Note: In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that How To Teach Thinking Skills in the Common Core is a Solution Tree title and I am a Solution Tree author.  Could be a conflict of interest, right?  Maybe I'm just recommending the book because I want to push profits into the corporate maw?

They didn't make me write this post, though.   Nobody makes me do anything -- except for my 4 year old daughter and sometimes my wife.

If you reckon that I'm biased, then don't use the free lessons I've just given you!


Related Radical Reads:

What Role Should Standards Play in Your Teaching? [SLIDE]

Teaching Nonfiction Reading Skills in the Science Classroom [LESSON]

1 Comment

Marsha Ratzel commented on January 20, 2014 at 8:55am:


Love this pizza box challenge.

So I want to ask you a question....why don't you take it to the next level by taking what they know and building an engineering challenge from this first experience.  I think you've set yourself up perfectly by the de-brief you made.  They could easily create a set of criteria and constraints from what they learned in the first piece.

Then they could alter their designs and make another pizza box....building on what they know and maybe some stuff you could learn about solar ovens (emphasizing efficiency, I guess????).  Then do the activity all over again, this time working on the idea of optimization within those constraints and criteria.  I think you could get a double whammy on your literacy skills because they will have to have higher level conversation about which constraint/criteria is MORE valuable or LESS valuable.  Right there they have to justify with reasoning...and that should ramp them up.

I think this is a crackerjack activity as is.  I just wanted to offer this suggestion on how you might extend it a bit and get even more thinking out of it.

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