Planning For Engagement with Important Science IDeas

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This first stage of MBI focuses on doing the intellectually rigorous work of unpacking standards, developing an anchoring phenomenon and driving question, and identifying the important science ideas students will need to build a scientific explanation of the phenomenon. In addition, we plan "with the end in mind" by constructing a draft model and target explanation to use as learning targets throughout the unit.

As you explore the different sections below, examples are provided from two different units: Lyme disease (high school) and The Colorado Plateau (middle school). You can use the arrows to move between the two examples.


This is completed by reviewing the Framework for K-12 Science Education to identify the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI), DCI Progressions, and Performance Expectations that will make up the student learning targets of the unit. 

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STEP 1. Identifying Disciplinary Core Ideas

Based on the science area focus above, identify the appropriate disciplinary core idea(s) (DCI) [include both DCI (e.g., MS-LS2) and applicable sub-DCIs (e.g., MS-LS2A)]. The followings are examples:

STEP 2. Identify Disciplinary Core Idea Progression

Identify the DCI grade band progressions for each of your DCIs. These will serve as resources for helping you draw on past student learning to connect to current learning and help you understand how this will be useful for students in future learning. In other words, what does the progression say about your DCI(s) in the grade bands just before and after your grade band? The followings are examples (slid for another example)

STEP 3. Summarizing the disciplinary core idea(s)

Summarize the disciplinary core idea(s). Using the available resources, write a brief summary in your own words that describes why this is a/these are core idea(s) in science, along with the individual pieces of the core idea(s) that are most important for students to understand. The followings are examples (slide for another example):

STEP 4. Identify the relevant performance expectations

Identify the relevant performance expectations that you are working toward. The followings are examples (slide for another example):

Part B. Equity Approaches

Like other NGSS-designed units, the MBI unit design already centers Equity Approaches #1-2, either in the design of the unit (i.e., Approach #1) or as part of the educative ‘Considerations for Teaching for Equity and Social Justice’ boxes included throughout the template (i.e., Approach #2). In addition, we have also included educative ‘Considerations for Teaching for Equity and Social Justice’ boxes with information for possible ways you can center Approach #3. Equity Approach #4 requires more intentional focus if connecting science learning to social justice movements is a specific approach chosen as an aim for your unit. 

Note: We believe that engaging in different equity approaches at different times is essential for supporting students in navigating the current educational system and society. In connection to Approach #4, we believe that students and society will benefit if we can identify at least one or two units throughout the year where Approach #4 can be elevated as a central aim of instructional units, so that students see science as part of social justice movements that support their dreaming of and involvement in creating more just and thriving futures. 

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If Approach #4 is chosen as an aim of the unit, it entails examining a social event that is intricately connected to an oppressive or exclusionary historical and contemporary social system or practice. The purpose is to analyze, question, and ultimately transform this system or practice.

Describe a specific social event that can serve as the central focus of the unit (in addition to the complex anchoring phenomenon below). Elaborate on how this event is deeply intertwined with the aforementioned oppressive or exclusionary social system or practice. Highlight the historical and ongoing implications of this entanglement, emphasizing the need to critically examine, challenge, and bring about positive change to this system or practice. (Write ‘N/A’ if you are not choosing Approach #4). The following is an example:


The anchoring phenomenon will serve as the real-world event that students work to explain as the purpose for engaging in the unit.

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STEP 1. Describe a scientifically rich, complex phenomena

Use the following guidelines, describe a scientifically rich, complex phenomena that will require students to use multiple science ideas that are central to the DCI(s) to explain in approximately one paragraph. The followings are examples (slide for another example; Resources for learning about phenomena as well as example anchoring phenomena.) 

NOTE: As you're identifying the anchoring phenomenon, consider what role social justice and equity might play in engaging students around this phenomenon.

STEP 2. List resources

List resources (websites, articles, books, etc.) that help you (i.e., the teacher) better understand the anchoring phenomenon. The followings are examples (slide for another example):

STEP 3. Develop a driving question

Develop a driving question to frame the anchoring phenomenon for the students. The followings are examples:


The target written explanation serves as a resource for identifying which science ideas are important for explaining the phenomenon. After identifying the important science ideas, you can consider when and how these ideas are introduced and explored across the unit. 

Provide a target written explanation of the phenomenon. This should be written at the appropriate grade level. (Note: the explanation should identify how science ideas are coordinated to explain the occurrence or event that happened in the world). The followings are examples (slide for another example).

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This is completed to ensure a vision for what a student model might include, as one possibility, among many, is considered ahead of implementation of the unit. This can also help with the development of a modeling template and/or conventions that students might consider that are specific to the anchoring phenomenon for the unit.  

Construct an example final model that you would expect your students to develop over the course of the unit. Be sure to include the system boundaries, components of the system, connections between those components, the “unseen” mechanisms at work, labels, and text boxes. Be sure to consider the alignment between your target explanation (above) and your final model. The followings are examples (slide for another example):

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Using the final model and target explanation above, identify the science ideas that are essential for explaining the phenomenon. After identifying the science ideas, identify at least one science task for each science idea as a resource that can be used during Stage #3.

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STEP 1. Identify science ideas

From your target explanation and example final model, identify the science ideas within the explanation that are central to students explaining the phenomenon. The followings are examples (slide for another example):

STEP 2. Provide an activity for each science idea

For each science idea identified above, choose one task, reading, video, simulation, or investigation that will help students understand this important idea and begin to see its usefulness in explaining the anchoring phenomenon. Do this for each science idea below. The followings are examples (slide for another example):