Practicing Grade-Level Science

March 19, 2024

Teachers committed to providing grade-level, engaging, affirming, and meaningful GLEAM™  instruction must understand what “grade-level” proficiency looks like. In this blog post, we continue to explore how teachers can plan for GLEAM instruction, particularly grade-level instruction, using the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). The SEPs are one of the three Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) dimensions — Disciplinary Core Ideas, Crosscutting Concepts, and Science and Engineering Practices. The practices articulate how scientists and engineers investigate the natural world and design solutions.

The SEPs recognize that all scientists — professional and students alike:

  1. Ask questions for science and define problems for engineering
  2. Develop and use models
  3. Plan and carry out investigations
  4. Analyze and interpret data
  5. Use mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Construct explanations for science and design solutions for engineering
  7. Engage in argument from evidence
  8. Obtain, evaluate, and communicate information

While the practices stay the same, students’ ability to employ each one should grow increasingly sophisticated over time. The SEPs help educators know what student practice should look like at each grade level.

Let’s visit two classrooms where students employ one of the SEPs — “Engage in Argument from Evidence.” 

  • In Ms. Carter’s kindergarten classroom, students sort cards with pieces of potential evidence to support the claim that plants can change the environment to meet their needs (K-ESS2-2). They read each card and then decide whether it does or does not support the claim.
  • In Mr. Phelps’ seventh-grade classroom, each student makes a claim that gravitational interactions are attractive and depend on the masses of the interacting objects (MS-PS2-4). Next, students review each other’s work in pairs to determine whether or not the evidence supports the claim. 

In both classrooms, students are developing arguments and analyzing evidence. However, working toward proficiency in this practice requires a nuanced understanding of students’ development over time. Each teacher needs to ensure they put grade-level appropriate tasks in front of students.

Let’s pause here and look at how the practice above develops over time, as outlined in Appendix F of the NGSS:

Kindergarten-Grade 2: Laying the Foundation

In the early grades, students compare ideas and representations of the natural and designed worlds. They identify arguments supported by evidence, analyze the relevance of evidence, and construct arguments with claims and evidence during questioning and discussion.

Grades 3-5: Transition to Critiquing and Comparing

As students progress through elementary school, the emphasis shifts from mere construction to a more robust defense of their ideas. Students engage in more sophisticated skills such as using evidence to critique, compare, and refine explanations and solutions. They also use data and models as evidence to support their claims and begin to evaluate claims about cause and effect.

Middle School: Establishing Convincing Arguments

During the middle school years, students construct, analyze, refute, and/or present a convincing argument. They go beyond analyzing evidence in an individual argument and compare the strength and interpretation of the evidence in two arguments. At this level, students challenge and refine models as well as develop written argumentation skills.

High School: Established and Novel Argumentation

By the time students reach Grade 12, students are active contributors to scientific knowledge, not just passive learners. They enhance their arguments with current research or historical contexts. They now consider trade-offs, constraints, diverse perspectives, and ethical issues and evaluate currently accepted explanations to determine the validity of the underlying evidence and reasoning.


So how can educators be sure their teaching aligns with the expectations of the standards? One good way is to consider the following SEP steps when preparing for each unit during the year. 

  • Determine which of the SEPs will be highlighted in the unit and find this 
    SEP in Appendix F.
  • Read the student actions specifically listed in the descriptions for the grade level.
  • Analyze the unit by finding tasks in the lessons that engage students to do these actions.  (Be on the lookout for places where the lessons ask students to do actions from earlier grade levels. Ensure these are only steps to greater sophistication and enhance if needed.)
  • When planning and executing lessons, teachers need to reflect and hold themselves accountable for staying true to the grade-level expectations by continually returning to the language of the standard.

Returning to our two teachers, we consult Appendix F to see where their students fall in the grade-level continuum for argumentation. We recognize that the kindergarten teacher’s lesson was spot on: students are deciding whether or not the evidence supports their claim. The middle schoolers, however, were given a task below grade-level expectations. They need to go beyond deciding “support or not.” They need instruction and practice on how to compare the strength and interpretation of evidence and critique more than one argument. 

While we focused here on argumentation, it’s important to remember that students are developing each of the SEPs in parallel. Students construct arguments while “obtaining and communicating information” and “analyzing and interpreting data” to include in their arguments. The practices work in concert with one another. Teachers must be knowledgeable about the expectations of each SEP at each grade-level. Doing so will ensure they can consistently provide tasks, instruction, and ongoing feedback that builds students’ scientific abilities over time.

Ready to bring GLEAM science instruction to life?

UnboundEd strives to support educators in providing grade-level, engaging, affirming, and meaningful (GLEAM™) science instruction. This type of instruction gives students access to rich and authentic opportunities to do and learn science.  Looking for more information on GLEAM science instruction? Check out some of our previous posts. In our last post, we highlighted the value of the Evidence Statements in defining what proficiency in grade-level science looks like.  

Are you a science educator or school leader looking to increase student engagement and success with science? Join us at Standards Institute™ or a Summit, and please share this blog with other science educators in your orbit!