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Support students’ confidence through instruction that includes clear expectations; challenging work that is calibrated to the knowledge, skills, and abilities of students; and informational and encouraging feedback

Confidence NGSS Connections

NGSS Connections

In this section, we first explain the synergy between this MDP and the eight science and engineering practices, then provide examples, options, and variations of activities and instructional strategies that are aligned with this MDP for each science and engineering practice. However, this does not mean that teachers must use all of these strategies to enact this MDP when promoting the science and engineering practice, nor that these strategies are the only way to do so. We encourage teachers to use their professional discretion to select what will work best for them and their classrooms, and to modify and innovate on these strategies.
Practice 1: Asking Questions and Defining Problems

Asking questions and defining problems drives science and engineering. If students do not feel confident that they can ask questions and define problems successfully, they are less likely to put effort into these tasks that are key to engaging meaningfully in authentic scientific inquiry and engineering design. In order to be able to successfully implement activities aimed at answering questions and finding design solutions, it is important to build students’ confidence by providing clear directions, explaining the phenomenon or design scenario, and providing supports to help students ask questions and define problems that are calibrated to their current level of understanding and skill. Providing informational feedback supports students in further developing their skill at asking questions and defining problems.


Validate students’ use of everyday language to express their scientific questions and conceptual understanding. Revoice student comments to help connect their everyday language to scientific language.
Model scientific language that students can use when asking questions and defining problems.
Give students time to practice asking questions/sharing questions/categorizing questions to help students gain confidence in asking questions the way scientists do: to try to extend their understanding and explore further (e.g., “what if we changed a variable?”). Giving students sentence starters for questions or elaboration can help them feel more confident practicing these new types of questions.
  • One way to introduce these questions is to have students practice by asking questions about a phenomenon or design problem that is familiar to them
Use a Driving Question Board: Have students write down what they are curious about regarding a phenomenon or what interests them, and then use their questions and curiosities to generate driving questions that can be investigated over time. Underneath each big driving question, post student sub-questions and wonderments. Accept all initial sub-questions and wonderments to go on the board sending the message that all students’ sub-questions and curiosities are valid. Upon reviewing the sub-questions placed on the board, provide warm and encouraging feedback to improve students’ sub-questions to make them more scientific as needed. A whole-class discussion then leads to some of the sub-questions being merged, re-categorized, or deleted.
Ensure that students receive informational feedback on their scientific questions to help them improve their question-asking over time.

Models are a reflection of a scientist’s or engineer’s current understanding of a system. Students will have varying levels of understanding throughout a learning sequence in which they develop and generate a representation of a target phenomenon or design problem, use and describe its relationships and interactions, and evaluate and determine its limitations and explanations. Throughout this process it is imperative to support students’ confidence in developing, using, and evaluating a model as they move from potentially naive understanding to more sophisticated understanding of a system. Students may also lack prior experience engaging in scientific or engineering modeling practices, as they may not have encountered this in previous science classes. Science and engineering teachers, therefore, have an important role to play in supporting the confidence of students in learning this particular practice.


Scaffold students’ understanding of models by demonstrating the use of a student-generated model or existing model to answer scientific questions.
Provide opportunities for students to practice using models, with scaffolding when appropriate, before using a model in a “final” task or assignment (e.g., have students use a model of temperature, particle motion, and phase change to make predictions about water solidifying in a freezer before a summative task that asks students to use their model to predict what will happen when solid steel is heated to above its melting point)
Work together (i.e., teacher and students) to develop a consensus model for why and how the phenomenon occurs.
When asking students to use or evaluate a model to answer scientific questions, provide (and assign or let students choose from) multiple existing models of varying complexity to provide all students with a challenging but achievable task.
Be explicit about the qualities of a good scientific model (e.g., the system should be clearly defined, the components of the system represented, and the relationships and interactions between components represented). For a given modeling task, be explicit that the purpose of the model is to aid in the development of questions and explanations, to make predictions, or to communicate ideas to others.
Provide clear expectations about how modeling can accomplish learning goals (e.g., a model can explain why there has been an increase in weather-related hazards over time).
Set norms for encouraging and informational feedback and provide students with sentence stems to develop students’ ability to identify limitations and provide feedback to their peers on their models without undermining their peers’ confidence in this practice.
Provide extension activities in which students can further develop, revise, use, and evaluate models to explain abstract phenomena or to design solutions to problems. These extension activities provide opportunities for students to feel challenged.
Scaffold students’ early attempts at developing models so that they receive informational feedback on interim steps of the model. The interim steps should be calibrated to be sufficiently challenging and include space for students to exercise autonomy in constructing their model. This will help students not feel overwhelmed at being tasked to develop a full model all at once and will build their confidence along the way.
Have students collaborate in small groups on evaluating an initial model. The peer support can help students feel more comfortable and confident in making critiques or determining the quality of a model.
When asking students to develop, use, and evaluate a model, have students provide examples of strategies and products that were successful for them in previous modeling experiences.

Students may have little experience with planning, carrying out, and evaluating investigations and with the specialized equipment needed to investigate particular phenomena or test design solutions. Investigations also contain many steps and therefore many places where students may encounter challenges. Supporting students’ confidence as they engage in these activities will be crucial for them to feel comfortable proceeding from planning to completing an investigation. At the same time, the complexity and safety risks of some investigations could make teachers prone to over-scaffold, which could reduce students’ confidence by diluting the level of challenge and communicating feelings of distrust. It is therefore important for teachers to balance adequate supports with sufficient challenge in order for students to build confidence in this practice.


When using new tools or equipment, provide time for students to practice using the equipment in a low stakes activity before the actual investigation. During the investigation, praise students’ effective use of the equipment as one form of informational feedback to build their confidence about being able to use equipment to carry out more complex investigations.
When possible, provide and assign (or let students choose) different levels of complexity/difficulty/scaffolding in investigations to plan, carry out, or evaluate so that students are working at the right level of challenge for them (e.g., at a low level of challenge students can be provided with guidelines for what and how many materials to use in their investigations and at a high level of challenge students need to determine this based on the guiding question for the lesson).
Provide a rubric for an investigation that includes the many aspects of the investigation (e.g., procedure, data table, data collection, measurement, teamwork, etc.). The rubric can serve as a guidepost for students as they carry out their work of figuring out phenomena or designing solutions to problems. Use the rubric to provide informational feedback to students as they progress through the investigation. Provide opportunities for students to improve in each of these areas and point out the ways in which their skills are developing.
At the end of an investigation, ask students to reflect on what knowledge/skills they gained from that investigation, lessons learned for future investigations, and new investigations they would like to do after completing this one. Refer back to these reflections when starting the next investigation to help students see how they are developing competence in this practice and feel more confident in approaching the new investigation.
Post and make clear the objectives of an investigation and how the investigation will help students explain phenomena or develop design solutions to problems so that students can best plan or evaluate the investigation.
Structure groups with meaningful roles and protocols for collaborating to help students feel more confident in contributing to the investigation. Students could be allowed to choose and/or rotate through roles so that they can work at an appropriately challenging level for them.
For students who are new to planning investigations (or when the complexity needed to plan an investigation is sufficiently high), chunk the planning of the investigation for students (e.g., create mini-goals that are grade-level appropriate, including
  1. identifying multiple variables, such as independent and dependent variables and controls;
  2. selecting tools needed for data collection;
  3. determining how measurements will be taken and logged; and,
  4. deciding how many data points are sufficient for supporting a claim; provide time for students to reflect on the process and their progress on achieving each mini-goal) so they can focus on one part at a time and provide informational feedback on how their plans are aligning with the objective for the investigation. As students gain competence in planning parts of an investigation, give them larger chunks at a time to plan.
Provide supports for planning investigations that can be used throughout the year and expanded as students learn new skills as they make sense of phenomena or solve design problems. For example, when using a new measurement tool (e.g., graduated cylinder), provide (or have students create) a guide for how and when to use the tool. As more new tools are used, add to this resource. As tools are reused, point students to this resource to remind them about how and when to use the tool.
Throughout the planning of an investigation, pause the class and use set protocols (e.g., consultancy protocol) to provide structure for groups to share out about their plans in progress and pose questions to the class about any challenges they are having. Allow time for other groups to make suggestions to solve those challenges, using appropriate sentence stems or talk moves for giving feedback. Point out something positive in each group’s evolving plans and encourage groups to learn from each other to improve their own plans.
If asking students to create their own procedure when planning an investigation, provide a model procedure for a similar investigation and invite students to identify features of the model procedure that they can emulate in writing their own procedures. Point out the effective adoption of these features as a part of informational feedback on the procedures and specify how the features help students to engage in sense-making of phenomena and problem solving.
Have students write and post their predictions on sticky notes, or write out predictions on the board or chart paper so that all students’ predictions are recognized.

There is likely a wide variety of math ability levels in a single science class. Differences in skill may require different levels of scaffolding in order to develop confidence for all students. Some students may have little experience with data or may have limited confidence in successfully being able to tabulate, graph, or perform statistical analysis on data. Students may also be uncomfortable presenting the results of the analysis and interpretation to their peers. Supporting students’ confidence as they engage in these activities will be crucial for them to feel comfortable working with data.


Use prompts like “what do you notice?”, “what do you observe?”, or “what questions do you have?” to give students an accessible entry point into data analysis and an early experience of success in working with data to figure out phenomena or solve design problems.
Explicitly name the skills and strategies needed to interpret data and graphs and provide opportunities to practice these skills, so that students view data interpretation as something they can learn to master with practice.
Provide self-questioning stems or thinking guides that help students to systematically interpret and analyze different kinds of data independently. Thinking guides can also help students evaluate the analysis and interpretation of data.
Give students practice identifying trends and interpreting a common set of data rooted in understanding a phenomenon or solving a problem so that they can receive informational feedback before they do the same tasks with their own data.
Cater analysis to students’ current abilities – e.g., if students struggle with graphing data, give them examples (sample created by the teacher for the particular task, examples of past student work) or options for how to represent their data (bar, line, or pie chart).
Provide scaffolds such as thinking guides and checklists for common data analysis tasks that prompt students to consider which type of data analysis is most appropriate to help them figure out a phenomenon or solve a design problem. For example:
  • Guidelines for graphing: a checklist for the parts of a graph, thinking guides for students to determine a good scale for the data they are graphing or the type of graph that will be most useful for their purpose
  • Guidelines for data tabulation: checklists for how to set up a frequency table, how to set up a table for the different variables in an experiment, etc.
  • Guidelines for summarizing data: different summary statistics (e.g., mean, median, mode) and what information they provide scientists and engineers

Students may have little experience using mathematics and computational thinking to represent, model, and analyze variables and their relationships to make sense of phenomena or solve design problems. Students’ mathematical and computational thinking proficiency and, more importantly, their confidence in those abilities may vary widely. Ample examples, models, and opportunities for success are crucial to support students who may enter science class with lower confidence in these areas and for those students whose skills can be developed further. Informational feedback will help all students understand when they are progressing and, if they are not, what they can work on to improve.


Provide supports and scaffolds for students while they are doing mathematics or computational thinking, and gradually release or give students the option to choose whether to continue using these supports as their skills develop. Possible examples include:
  • Guidelines for graphing: the parts of a graph; how to determine a good scale for the data they are graphing; what type of graph will be most useful for their purpose
  • Spreadsheets for algorithms:
    • Functions in Excel or Google Sheets (e.g., calculating the mean or sum of several numbers; looking up numbers or text in a data set)
    • Examples can help demonstrate to students what an algorithm is
  • Process charts for algorithms:
    • Common logical structures (e.g., if, then, else; for loop; while loop)
    • Examples of simple algorithms that can be used as building blocks or jumping off points
Provide students with ample opportunities to test algorithms or simulations they are actively working on and receive informational feedback on them.
To help students practice identifying, articulating, and representing relationships, start simple. For example, use relationships that are quite familiar to students (e.g., around everyday phenomena that students encounter in their daily lives) and that students can bring many approaches to articulating those relationships.
Present common algorithms using a variety of displays and representations to develop student fluency with a variety of visual and graphical representations of common concepts. Provide frequent practice with a variety of computational thinking skills such as logic, patterns, and generalization as students make sense of a phenomenon or solve a problem.

Constructing an explanation requires students to use several skills at once to articulate a claim, select and present supporting evidence and science knowledge, and support the claim using logical reasoning. Some students may be less familiar or comfortable with the norms and practices of constructing explanations. Each student will have a different skill level and comfort level in each of the skills and practices needed to construct an explanation and in being able to use those skills in concert to create an explanation. Providing clear description and expectations of an explanation task and supporting, encouraging, and giving informational feedback to students as they develop these skills helps students to improve in constructing explanations without becoming overly frustrated or thinking they cannot do it. When properly structured and scaffolded, constructing explanations can build students’ confidence by reaffirming and building on what they already know. Similarly, designing solutions requires the iterative application of several skills to arrive at a design solution and benefits from the support, encouragement, and feedback promoted by this design principle.


When choosing questions for students to answer in an explanation, choose questions that will have students get at the “how” or “why” of a phenomenon. Write an ideal version of the explanation and reflect on whether students have the skills and knowledge to construct this explanation successfully. For students who might need support, design scaffolds that target areas of difficulty.
Provide consistent tools or scaffolds to support the development of students’ explanation skills (e.g., a graphic organizer or thinking guide that students can use to construct and evaluate claim, evidence, and reasoning statements across units). As students develop skills, these scaffolds should reduce over time.
  • Some scaffolding examples:
    • Here is my claim [... we believe that X is caused by ... or we believe that Y has a role in how Z happens ...]
    • If this claim or explanation is true, then when I look at this data, I would expect to see [this particular result or this outcome]
    • The reason I’d expect to see this is because I collected data from a situation that is really close to the real thing we are studying, and if we had these outcomes, it would mean that [state a brief causal chain of events—this chain has to be consistent with known science ideas/facts]
    • We did see the data pattern we expected. We believe this supports our claim
    • If our claim was not true, then I’d expect to see [a different set of patterns in the data or a particular outcome]. But we didn’t see that outcome, so this reasoning also supports our claim
    • There may be other explanations for the data, such as ______ or ______, but this does not seem likely because __________
Structure activities so as to provide a safe environment for students to share explanations and receive feedback. For example, have students share preliminary explanations in small groups and come to consensus on a group explanation that is shared with the whole class, to minimize the risk that an unsure student feels singled out for an underdeveloped explanation.

Explicitly teach the qualities of a successful explanation[ ] and how to improve preliminary explanations (e.g., determine whether and describe why the claim, evidence, and/or reasoning are/are not appropriate or valid), then use those same qualities to provide encouraging and informational feedback when students are sharing their own explanations.

Give example explanations to students during instruction and encourage students to identify the characteristics of an explanation that they have been taught and to give feedback on how to improve the example explanations.
Have students design their own solutions and ask their peers to test these solutions. Ask students to give each other informational and encouraging feedback on their solutions verbally or in writing.
As a whole class activity, review a variety of design features and engage in a discussion to select from among these features to optimize the design of a solution to a problem (e.g., if designing a replica of a car to “jump” a gap in a roadway, discuss how the car’s material, weight, shape, etc. could be optimized to carry out this action).

Some students may lack confidence to engage in argumentation, especially if they feel unsure of their own science and engineering understanding. Teachers can combat this lack of confidence by helping students understand the goals and expectations of argumentation and in supporting students throughout the process of developing and making an argument with guidance and informational feedback. Showing students that strategies can help them compose effective arguments can also help build their confidence in this practice. Finally, careful attention to the specificity of the informational feedback students receive when competing arguments are considered and evaluated is critical to supporting students’ confidence in argumentation.


Set norms where students have guidelines to follow for engaging in argumentation – e.g., each student has a chance to speak, must offer at least one piece of evidence for their claim, models, investigation methods, and data analyses. Provide opportunities for students to illustrate their understanding in a variety of ways as they make sense of phenomena or solve design problems.
Give students opportunities to revise their original arguments as they gain scientific knowledge. Provide informational feedback on the revision that identifies the growth in their understanding to help students gain confidence in their explanations, models, investigation methods, and data analyses.
Structure group activities with various meaningful roles that students can choose from and that target different elements of effective argumentation in order to decrease the burden and complexity of the task for each student. For example, during a debate, one student might be in charge of external research, another might identify existing evidence from class investigations, another might review the scientific principles that can be used as reasoning, while another might consider potential counterarguments and counterevidence.
Scaffold new and/or complex tasks to support students’ engagement in argumentation:
  • Create tools to support common tasks (e.g., graphic organizers for Claim-Evidence-Reasoning) and make them consistently available to students. This can help make challenging tasks more accessible
  • Use board space or anchor charts to ensure that the central question is clear and to record and sort points of agreement and disagreement as the students move toward reconciliation in their argument
  • Provide options for level of challenge so students can select the level that suits them. For example, allow students to decide whether or not they need a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning graphic organizer later in the school year
Work with English Language Arts colleagues to develop aligned vocabulary and strategies for teaching students argumentation. The consistency and encouragement from multiple teachers will help students gain confidence in this practice.
Use individual and private progress charts to track students’ key skills and competencies (e.g., Claim-Evidence-Reasoning writing, supporting claims with evidence, reconciling ideas with their peers) over time so that students can see growth in their argumentation about explanations, models, investigation methods, and data analyses over time. These charts can be used in individual conferences with students, to help students set personally challenging but attainable goals, and to help teachers create work that is appropriately challenging for the student.

Reading comprehension and synthesis can be difficult for many students, and they may lack confidence as readers. In particular, scientific readings, especially NGSS-based readings, can be difficult, quite long, and formatted differently than traditional textbooks (e.g., main ideas may not be in bold face or in pull-out boxes). Understanding and evaluating the information in these readings may require a different process from what students are used to. Providing students with multiple strategies for identifying big ideas, main points, and potential flaws in reasoning, as well as annotating text effectively for future communication is important for students’ confidence as they try to understand these challenging texts. Students may also feel uncertain that they can effectively communicate new information about phenomena or design problems when they lack confidence in their own scientific understanding.


Have students share strategies they used that were successful for obtaining, evaluating, and communicating scientific information. Give students a chance to ask other students about their process for each so that they can learn from peers.
Provide multiple opportunities for students to practice presenting information, starting with one-on-one practice presentations to a peer or the teacher, then presenting in small groups, and finally presenting in front of the whole class. Normalize the practice of communicating information as something that scientists and engineers regularly do in their professions.
Use multiple modes (e.g., read-alouds as well as silent reading, reading in a group versus individually), chunk longer texts, and promote re-reading with different focal areas for each repetition to model strategies that students can use to become more effective readers.
Model annotation with a think-aloud so that students hear your explanation for what you chose to highlight or make note of (e.g., how you found the main point, jotting down prior knowledge that connects to something in the reading), and how you evaluate the text. When asking students to annotate, verify with them that they understand why they are annotating, as being asked to annotate without a purpose or explanation can undermine students’ confidence that they can do it.
Model appropriate methods for obtaining information. Give students clear guidance on what kind of sources they should be looking for when obtaining scientific information and how reputable sources could provide them with more valid information to make sense of a phenomenon or develop design solutions to problems.
Provide sufficient wait time for students to read, interpret, annotate, and evaluate scientific text. Be explicit that you are providing this time because reading is challenging, so that students who need more time feel more confident that they are not “behind.”
When discussing readings, consistently prompt students to identify evidence from the reading to support their sense-making of phenomena or problem solving ideas and provide informational feedback when they do.
Work with English Language Arts colleagues to develop aligned vocabulary and strategies for teaching reading. The consistency and encouragement from multiple teachers will help students’ confidence in this skill.
Model appropriate methods for communicating information. Give students strategies for how they might disseminate information (e.g., in writing, using equations, through visual displays, through oral presentations, through discussions).
  • Set norms where students have guidelines to follow for engaging in discussion – e.g., each student has a chance to speak, must offer at least one piece of evidence for their conclusions about scientific and technical texts. Provide opportunities for students to communicate their understanding in a variety of ways