Science and Engineering Practices

In the following sections, we first explain the synergy between each science and engineering practice and the five MDPs. We then provide multiple examples, options, and variations of activities and instructional strategies that are aligned with each MDP and the focal practice in order to be as comprehensive and specific as possible. However, this does not mean that teachers must use all of these strategies to enact the MDPs when promoting each 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, using the blank space provided at the end of each section for notes, reflections, and new ideas.

Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Belonging Supports for Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

When students obtain, evaluate, and communicate information, they may do so through a variety of media, formats, and levels of complexity. As a result, different students will encounter challenges with different aspects of obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information. Instructional strategies that support students’ feelings of belonging cultivate a safe space for students to work through those challenges and ask for and receive assistance from their peers and teachers. Strategies that support belonging also encourage students to develop a sense of being part of a community of scientists and engineers, which is especially important for students who may not have a well-developed science identity or who may feel alienated from science [see Motivation as a Tool for Equity]. As students begin to feel a greater sense of belonging within their science classroom community and within science and engineering communities, they may feel more inclined to engage in obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information as a practice.

Strategies

Support identification within science and engineering by inviting students to be independent scientists and engineers. For example, encourage students to obtain information from local sources (museums, newspapers, etc.) and record what they learned in a journal. In class they can evaluate and communicate this information with other students.
Build peer support by having students co-present information they obtained and evaluated. Partner or group students that have similar interests and together the group can obtain, evaluate, and communicate information that is interesting to them.
For student presentations, have group members and the audience take on different roles/responsibilities so that everyone contributes something to the learning community. For example, within groups one student can have a role for each part of the scientific practice (obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information) for the group. Students in the audience can use language modeled by the teacher to provide feedback on students’ communication of the information and ask the group how the information builds understanding of a phenomenon or leads to the optimization of a design solution.
Encourage students to engage in informal styles of communication and interactions with one another or as a whole class, such as using everyday language or home languages to express scientific ideas. Help students then connect their everyday language to academic language to communicate their understanding of a phenomenon or proposed design solutions.
Many strategies from equitable teaching frameworks (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy) address ways to recognize and incorporate diverse communication practices into the classroom.
Establish and consistently enforce classroom norms around respectful listening, building on others’ ideas, and distinguishing between evidence-based information and unsubstantiated claims.
Guide students to become critical yet respectful consumers of information by having students work in groups to unpack science or engineering text together. Students can practice productive communication skills by critiquing text before critiquing each other (e.g., What are the big ideas? When is the author reporting data/observations versus making inferences? What arguments are being made, and is there enough evidence to support them?).
Support the intersection of confidence and belonging by organizing role play (e.g., productive modeling of how/where to obtain, how to evaluate, and how to communicate information).

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.

Strategies

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
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.
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.

A learning orientation is important to help students actively process and think critically about the information they are obtaining, evaluating, and communicating in service of figuring out phenomena or solving design problems. Students with an ego orientation or who are concerned about confirming negative ability stereotypes can be prone to using shallow learning strategies to “just get by” and avoid looking incompetent, especially when they lack confidence in their skills [see Motivation as a Tool for Equity]. Enacting this practice effectively should be less about the rote regurgitation of information that lends itself to shallow engagement and more about using higher-order thinking to obtain, evaluate, and communicate information. Supporting students’ learning orientation is important to ensure that students engage in information-seeking and communication for the purpose of sense-making and developing competence, rather than for task completion, points, or trying to look smart or avoid looking less capable than other students.

Strategies

Use anonymous pieces of student work as models to show different ways of communicating scientific information. Identify choices that students made in orally, verbally, or visually communicating scientific information.
Teach and encourage the use of active reading strategies when evaluating information to communicate that comprehending scientific texts is a difficult task that can be accomplished through effective strategy use.
Consider having students work in groups to understand and evaluate the content presented in readings and then communicate the content to classmates (e.g., through a jigsaw). This places the emphasis on working together to gain a thorough understanding of the text, rather than certain students being the fastest readers, or in the “best/highest” reading group.
Have students share work (written work, oral presentations) with each other so that they can see that there are multiple ways of obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information (consider using a gallery walk or other share out-structure). Provide sentence stems, descriptive rubrics, and other structures to support students giving each other constructive feedback to improve the work (e.g., claims being made without substantial evidence, observations are presented but the implications tied to the observations are unclear/not discussed, inferences are made in lieu of data) rather than merely praising or dismissing it as “good” or “bad.” At the end, ask students to reflect on what they’ve learned/how their own understanding of a phenomenon or design problem has changed/what new questions they have after observing others’ work.

Information can be obtained, evaluated, and communicated in multiple ways. It is important to support students’ autonomy throughout these processes to be sure that students feel a sense of agency and ownership over their science and engineering learning and the ways in which they obtain, evaluate, and communicate science and engineering information to others. Autonomy in this practice also entails asking students to rationalize their choices and think deeply about how their choices are related to deepening their understanding of phenomena or solving design problems. Autonomy is essential to the process of evaluating evidence and being able to present information as scientifically sound or as an “optimal” design in engineering.

Strategies

Provide students with examples of scientific information being miscommunicated, misinterpreted, or misused so that they understand the rationale behind learning to be careful and critical consumers and presenters of scientific information.
Once students have learned a variety of strategies for reading comprehension, give them a choice in which ones they will use. If students are working in groups, prompt them to compare and contrast the information they each obtained from the text and share which strategies they used. This could help draw students’ attention to how their choice and application of different strategies influenced the information they pulled from the text and could inform future strategy selection.
Allow students to choose a modality for communicating information (e.g., through graphs, visuals, diagrams, models, in writing, orally through presentations, a “talk show” interview panel, etc.) and demonstrate to the whole class or encourage students to share their different approaches to communicate value for students’ self-direction in these tasks. Identify choices that students made in orally or visually communicating scientific information. Ask students to provide a rationale for why the modality they chose helps them communicate information.
Encourage students to gather and review additional evidence (e.g., conduct independent research) to better understand the central phenomenon or problem in a learning activity. This will help engage students as self-directed learners while also communicating that their active information-seeking supports science and engineering learning.

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.