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Relevance

Provide opportunities for learning science that students find personally meaningful, interesting, and/or culturally relevant

Relevance 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. Instructional strategies aligned with the Relevance MDP can help teachers identify phenomena and design tasks for students to ask questions about and define problems that are aligned with student interest and values. Strategies can also help students to see the value in a phenomenon or design problem they might not otherwise value and/or to realize that their current understanding cannot adequately explain the how and why of a phenomenon or design problem. Students will be more engaged when they find relevance connections that relate to their everyday lives, to their future educational or career aspirations, or that allow them to more fully explain an intriguing phenomenon in the questions they are answering and in the problems they are defining. This engagement helps to sustain student interest as they engage in other practices to answer questions and find problem solutions. Students will also engage more in asking each other questions when they see the phenomenon or design problem as relevant.

Strategies

Invite students to bring scientific questions to class based on their experiences and observations outside the classroom, such as by using a Self-Documentation Worksheet.
Learn about and adopt strategies from equitable teaching frameworks (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy) to help facilitate students’ ability to ask scientific questions and define problems that are relevant to them and their communities.
Model the types of scientific questions students can ask. This may encourage freedom of thought to exercise ideas of their own, and draw on things which are personally relevant to them.
Encourage students to ask personally meaningful questions while engaging with the scientific or engineering content:
  • With phenomena, design problems, and/or materials that may be unfamiliar to students, provide time for students to explore them so that they can become familiar with them and be prepared to ask personally meaningful questions about them
  • For more familiar phenomena and design problems, provide time for students to generate scientific questions or define problems that are of specific interest to them; recognize all initial questions or problems, offer feedback to improve questions to be more scientific or problems to relate to engineering design, and have the class work to discuss one or a few of them (similar to a Driving Question Board). In some instances students may think they understand a familiar phenomenon or know how to solve a design problem. Validate students’ existing knowledge while asking probing questions to push students to think more deeply about the phenomenon or design problem to help them realize that there is need for further investigation to truly understand the phenomenon or solve the problem
  • Use a Driving Question Board: encourage students to ask scientific questions inherently interesting to them. At the end of the unit, address questions that students still want answered
Based on the units of instruction, incorporate current or local examples of science phenomena so that students can generate scientific questions centered on issues relevant to the community.

Developing and using models requires students to grasp the key features of the phenomenon or design problem under investigation, a potentially challenging task for students. When students see relevance in the models they are developing and using, they are more likely to put effort into the task. Seeing that models are useful for making sense of a phenomenon or solving a design problem that relates to their everyday interests and/or experiences gives students a compelling reason to engage in future model making. This motivation can be especially important for students who identify with communities that have been marginalized or disenfranchised in science, as it empowers them to use scientific modeling as a tool for understanding phenomena or solving problems related to issues they care about [see Motivation as a Tool for Equity].

Strategies

When asking students to design or use a model, provide students with materials or scenarios with which they are familiar.
When introducing, developing, using, and evaluating models, identify why each practice is important and how the skills they are learning traverse disciplines/career fields (e.g., models developed to predict the weather can also be used to inform the models used to create computer-generated weather in movies).
When students are developing and using models, use local narratives and stories to aid students in making sense of how the model pertains to both history and the current world/local community.
Many strategies from equitable teaching frameworks (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy) address ways to learn more about the local community and their needs, and to connect science learning to those needs
Ask students to apply a model that they made to phenomena from their prior experiences, day-to-day life, or community; or to evaluate the model’s ability to explain those phenomena.
Relate the phenomenon being investigated, or the problem being solved, to the local context and encourage students to incorporate these local features into their model development to help them with their sense-making of the larger phenomenon or design problem (e.g., if the phenomenon is “why does the grass change color throughout the year,” students can use their neighborhoods or the schoolyard in their initial models and collect data in those locations, which may lead to model revisions).
Create activities that allow students to make connections about how the stages of developing, using, and evaluating models can apply to their larger communities or families to figure out phenomena or solve community-based problems.

Planning and carrying out investigations requires students to organize themselves and then use knowledge and skills to make sense of phenomena or solve design problems. When students see relevance in the investigations they are planning and carrying out, they are more likely to put effort into designing and organizing their plan, enacting it, and persisting through the completion of the investigation. Seeing that investigations are useful to and doable by students gives students more reasons to engage in future investigations. This motivation can be especially important for students who identify with communities that have been marginalized or disenfranchised in science, as it empowers them to plan and carry out investigations related to issues they care about [see Motivation as a Tool for Equity].

Strategies

Take students to (alternatively, show video footage of) places where the phenomenon or problem of interest can be explored in the real world. Make clear the applicability this phenomenon or problem has to different people and life experiences.
At the conclusion of an investigation, ask students to reflect on how what they learned during the investigation is relevant to their lives and what they would like to learn next about the same phenomenon or problem (or a related phenomenon or problem).
Share stories of challenge and success from diverse science and engineering professionals that led to advancements for society.
Many strategies from equitable teaching frameworks (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy) address ways to learn more about the local community and their needs, and to connect science learning to those needs
When possible, frame investigations as contributing to meeting the needs and desires of students and their communities.
When investigations are not conducted in direct response to students’ interests or community needs, identify how skills from the investigation can be transferred to other situations to help students make connections between classwork and their lives outside of school.
Carry out investigations with materials students are familiar with, and explore phenomena or solve design problems from their daily life and/or home culture, when possible. A resource like the Self-Documentation worksheet can help students make these connections.

Some students may have lower confidence in their ability to tabulate, graph, or perform statistical analyses on data or may even think they are not a “math person.” Framing data analysis within a phenomenon or design problem that is of interest to students may help motivate them to work hard on the mathematics needed for data analysis. Connecting the practice of analyzing and interpreting data to the work of scientists and engineers may help encourage students to see the value of math as a tool to make sense of the world. Encouraging students to connect data analysis and interpretation to a broad range of situations that relate to their lives and home communities can make them more invested in the practice as something that can be leveraged to figure out phenomena or solve problems that feel relevant and important to them [see Motivation as a Tool for Equity].

Strategies

Share (or invite students to share) personal or historical stories of when data analysis and interpretation led to great advancements (e.g., Rosalind Franklin, Watson, and Crick and DNA double helix; Katherine Johnson’s calculations for NASA; Grace Hopper’s computer coding protocols).
Choose situations that students are familiar with and/or refer to the work of diverse scientists and engineers for data analysis and interpretation activities (e.g., population density as a variable related to microbiology that can affect the exponential spread of an infectious disease, such as during a pandemic).
Connect data visualization examples to the work that scientists and engineers do (e.g., “These are some cool ways that scientists communicate their findings”) through varied forms of data representation (e.g., bar graphs, Venn diagrams, models, flow charts, maps) in lessons across units.
Use real world datasets from organizations like NOAA, NASA, or others that share data and visualizations publicly.
Many strategies from equitable teaching frameworks (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy) address ways to learn more about the local community and their needs, and to connect science and engineering learning to those needs.
Talk with students about the goals of the data analysis (e.g., what questions are being asked of the data to make sense of a phenomenon or solve a design problem?) to make clear that analysis steps need to be relevant to the group-specified goal.
Find and regularly incorporate data representations that are relevant to students’ interests and/or daily lives (e.g., analysis of food nutritional content that shows a variety of snack foods that students enjoy).
Engage students in discussions and explorations that emphasize that data analysis and interpretation is an authentic science and engineering practice.

Mathematics and computational thinking are an integral part of science and engineering. Framing the use of mathematics and application of computational thinking within a phenomenon or design problem that is of interest to students may help motivate them to work hard on tasks involving these skills. Encouraging students to connect mathematics and computational thinking to a broad range of situations that relate to their lives and home communities can make them more invested in the practice as something that can be leveraged to figure out phenomena or solve problems that feel relevant and important to them [see Motivation as a Tool for Equity]. Many students may be unfamiliar with or lack confidence in using mathematics to represent and relate physical variables and to make predictions, and in using computational thinking. Connecting the practice of using mathematics and computational thinking to the work of scientists and engineers in understanding phenomena or solving problems of interest may help encourage students to engage in this type of work despite their unfamiliarity or lack of confidence.

Strategies

Utilize software like Excel or Google Sheets to facilitate calculations while tapping into contemporary ways of life. By teaching students how to use technology, these activities may become more relevant: in a world filled with computers, using a spreadsheet feels more useful in life than doing, for example, long division.
  • Relate software programs to the work that contemporary scientists and engineers do (i.e., they log their data and share results in their teams through digital platforms)
  • Introduce the connection between software programs used in class and other programs used for coding (and the cool things coders do!)
Provide examples of the benefits of mathematics and computational thinking as it relates to understanding science phenomena and solving engineering problems in daily life that otherwise might seem very complicated. For example, the gears on a student’s bicycle may jam as the student tries to downshift while climbing a hill. The student could use decomposition in order to understand how the complex system of a moving bicycle works by breaking down the system into parts (e.g., pedals, chains, chain rings, brakes, etc.).
Many strategies from equitable teaching frameworks (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy) address ways to learn more about the local community and their needs, and to connect science and engineering learning to those needs.
Provide diverse examples of STEM professionals and peers successfully using mathematics and computational thinking in an area of interest to students.
Provide examples of mathematics and computational thinking within phenomena and design problems that students find interesting, or invite students to identify the ways in which they already use mathematics and computational thinking in their daily lives, possibly without recognizing it as such. For example, if students are interested in a particular sport, encourage them to think about how patterns in probabilities and statistics might be used to inform scoring approaches and game strategy.
Provide scaffolding with referents that are familiar to students in order to support mathematics and computational thinking in terms to which they can most easily relate.

Constructing explanations and designing solutions rely upon students' abilities to make claims and use evidence and reasoning to make sense of phenomena or solve real world problems. It is important for students to formulate explanations and develop solutions related to specific contexts or communities. When classroom lessons and investigations center on interesting and community-related problems or phenomena, students understand that designing solutions to problems and constructing explanations for the causes of phenomena are relevant to their lives. Students are more likely to be cognitively engaged in designing a solution or constructing an explanation for something which has a relevant personal connection (e.g., it is important, interesting, or familiar to them). This motivation can be especially important for students who identify with communities that have been marginalized or disenfranchised in science, as it empowers them to use the science and engineering practice as a tool for understanding phenomena or solving problems related to issues they care about [see Motivation as a Tool for Equity].

Strategies

Many strategies from equitable teaching frameworks (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy) address ways to learn more about the local community and their needs, and to connect science and engineering learning to those needs.
When sharing and evaluating explanations, press students about the consistency of their explanations with other science ideas they’ve previously learned or phenomena they’ve previously investigated. This will help students make connections between the explanation and prior science learning. Sample prompts include:
  • How does this help us answer our overarching question: _____________?
  • How does this connect to the big ideas we have been learning about in science?
  • How can we use our science knowledge to help explain _______________?
  • How can we use our model to support or refute these explanations?
To show the value of explanations, design activities that explain answers to questions from the Driving Question Board (DQB). For example, select questions from the DQB that get at the “how” or “why” of a phenomenon and pose them to the class, letting different groups of students choose one to answer collaboratively by writing an explanation that uses evidence from class activities, readings, and what they have figured out thus far.
Incorporate locally-relevant phenomena in science instruction that connects to students’ everyday lives (e.g., plan investigations around chemical reactions that students can relate to, such as food burning in the kitchen). Ask students to construct explanations based on evidence from their observations. Later, have students share out and evaluate the validity and appropriateness of their explanations. Assist students in making connections between their explanations and local phenomena.
Ask students to share with one another how their explanations and design solutions have implications for their communities or everyday lives – e.g., ask “How does this explanation help us understand the world we navigate every day?”
Ask students what types of phenomena they would like to explore, or problems they would like to solve and then use that information to create opportunities for students to construct explanations about those phenomena or design solutions to those problems.

Argumentation will be most successful in the classroom if students see the relevance of what they are arguing to their own lives. Supports for relevance help teachers to frame arguments within students’ interests, show students the value in a topic they might not otherwise value, and encourage students to connect and apply argumentation skills to understanding phenomena and designing solutions to problems that affect their lives. These relevance connections can be especially important for students who identify with communities that have been marginalized or disenfranchised in science, as it empowers them to apply scientific argumentation to issues that matter to them and their communities [see Motivation as a Tool for Equity]. Additionally, students may already engage in argumentation without consistently using evidence. Seeing that using evidence is an integral part of argumentation for scientists and engineers to achieve key goals (e.g., to find the most thoughtful designs, appropriate analytic techniques, reasonable interpretations, and best solutions to new problems) may encourage students to use evidence more consistently in their arguments.

Strategies

Many strategies from equitable teaching frameworks (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy) address ways to learn more about the local community and their needs, and to connect science and engineering learning to those needs, including recognizing and incorporating the knowledge and needs of students and the community as valid components of an argument.
Select phenomena and design problems that allow students to engage in argumentation over local science and engineering issues that affect their daily lives. For example, there may be flooding in their neighborhood due to recent rains, and students can develop solutions for how to minimize its impact. Students can present and support arguments for which solutions are optimal and which are less practical. Then, students can evaluate their peers’ claims and evidence/reasons before they reconcile their ideas.
Ask students to think about and share lived experiences of their own (or on those they’ve wondered about) that relate to the connections they are making with current argumentation tasks. This provides opportunity for explanation, elaboration, and opens the floor to contrasting perspectives (supports cultural relevance and development of argumentation skills).
Share examples of scientific arguments from the past that have resulted in an understanding of the natural world that impacts everyday lives (e.g., the germ theory of disease vs. miasma theory).

Science and engineering text and other media can make demands on students that other types of text and media do not (e.g., more technical language, complex figures to interpret, etc.). Supports for relevance help teachers embed obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information within students’ interests and help students see the value in a topic they might not otherwise value. Students will likely be more cognitively engaged in obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information about a phenomenon or design problem that has a clearly relevant personal connection (e.g., it is important, interesting, or familiar to them). These relevance connections can be especially important for students who identify with communities that have been marginalized or disenfranchised in science, as it empowers them to seek out, evaluate, and communicate scientific information about issues that matter to them and their communities [see Motivation as a Tool for Equity].

Strategies

Ask students what types of phenomena/problems they might like to explore/what they wonder about. Then ask:
  1. Where would they learn about the phenomenon/problem?
  2. How would they evaluate credibility of the information obtained?
  3. Who would they partner with in the community to research the phenomenon or explore solutions, and where/how would they communicate their findings/solutions?
Encourage students to consider multiple types of sources for obtaining information besides text-based and electronic sources. For example, students could identify people in the school or local community with knowledge or experience relevant to the phenomenon/problem and then interview those people.
Ask students to reflect on how obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information is present in their everyday life outside of the classroom. Encourage students to think outside of science and how they can use these skills more broadly (i.e., current events at local and national levels).
When evaluating information, encourage students to articulate and judge how the information serves or speaks to their community.
When initially introducing skills associated with evaluating information, provide students with information on phenomena/problems with which they are already familiar. This will give them a chance to see how to engage with this skill in a personally meaningful way.
Many strategies from equitable teaching frameworks (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy) address ways to learn more about the local community and their needs, and to connect science and engineering learning to those needs.
Have students bring in an article from a current event related to the phenomenon being investigated or the problem being solved; they can discuss whether the article provides additional evidence to help them make sense of the phenomenon/problem, whether there is some evidence but that it is weak (i.e., there are sources of error/flaws), or whether there is no relevant evidence to explain the phenomenon/solve the problem.
Using community text-based news sources (newspaper or internet articles) related to the phenomenon or design problem, students could construct ways to communicate this information through diagrams, graphics, or other visuals.
Have students communicate the same information for a variety of audiences that are relevant to students and/or the phenomenon/problem, not just one assignment for the current science teacher. For example, students could practice communicating scientific information to each other, their families, members of their communities, other teachers or administrators within the school, and/or professional scientists and engineers.