FOSSconnect Larry: Staying the Course

Larry Malone | September 28, 2017

I've heard it a time or two: We've been doing FOSS for six years—been there, done that! There's a rumor going around that FOSS is old and out of date. Now with NGSS looming, isn't it time to try something new and different?

I'm here to tell you that none of these statements represents clear thinking. First of all, if you have been doing FOSS for a generation (one cycle of K–5 education) you have probably felt the rhythm of the program and developed some basic technical and strategic moves. Imagine, if you were on a journey of developing a musical career, it might take six years to develop facility with the mechanics of your instrument. Consider, for a moment, Yo-Yo Ma. Do you think that, after six years, he pondered, "Now that I have got the basics of managing this cello, OK, done that, maybe it's time to turn my attention to another instrument...perhaps a banjo or an electric guitar?" No, he concentrated on the expression of music he was now able to execute. He focused on his musical phrasing and nuance of presentation. Yo-Yo Ma, clearly a man with a growth mindset, stuck with his cello adopting a personal dedication to continual improvement.

The same is true of your FOSS practice; you can always improve your FOSS instructional practice. It takes a few years to hone your basic moves to an intuitive edge. You don't want to put down your FOSS at this point in your science teaching development, effectively squandering your investment of time and intellectual energy.

The rumor that FOSS is out of date is incorrect. True, FOSS has been around for a quarter of a century, but during that time it has been reinvented several times to stay abreast of the ever-changing science education currents. This has been possible because the founders and key staff of the FOSS project have stayed with the program and maintained a continuous growth mindset through its many iterations. The fact that the FOSS Next Generation Edition reflects significant similarity to the legacy editions of the program stems from the fact that national standards (NGSS) have finally caught up with the core philosophy and principles (now called three-dimensional teaching and learning) that have guided the FOSS project since its introduction in the 1990s. Out of date? I don't think so!

Now is the time to channel your inner Yo-Yo. You've put in your time learning to handle the instrument, now it's time to make the music. NGSS places emphasis on three dimensions of teaching and learning science. The primary dimension is the disciplinary core ideas (DCIs) of science. This is what we for years called content. The FOSS science background discussion for the teacher associated with each investigation has been updated to reflect the latest understanding of modern scientific principles to ensure an NGSS-ready representation of current science and engineering. Dimension 2 is the science and engineering practices (SEPs). This is new, at least in a descriptive sense. The SEPs are a coherent description of the teaching/learning strategy we for years called inquiry science. The third dimension, the crosscutting concepts (CCs), is the conceptual connective tissue that integrates all science knowledge into a unified understanding of all things natural and human created. In a nutshell, the DCIs are the science content we expect students to learn, and, refreshingly, the SEPs are the intellectual rules of engagement for how to teach and learn the DCIs, and the CCs bind everything together to create a coherent understanding of the natural world—scientific literacy. Incorporating the SEPs and CCs seamlessly into your practice will be this generation's big challenge. Teaching with a sensitive, textured approach to science learning will require a particular attention to the learning culture in your classroom. Teachers will develop skill for guidance without being overly directive. Teachers will have to become learning-space engineers; this will involve developing a community where students assume a new level of responsibility for both their own learning and the learning of their classmates. Sound like magic? Yes and no; performance at the pinnacle of excellence has the aura of magic (think Yo-Yo), but in fact they are simply first-rate human performance.

The FOSS Next Generation Edition is a new program adapted to thrive in the NGSS environment. The ancestral FOSS DNA is clearly apparent, but the new program sports a new research-based assessment program, fresh digital resources, new informational text materials, and a robust menu of teacher resources to inform instructional practice. FOSS Next Generation Edition ventures into the outdoor environment, and seamlessly integrates a bounty of language arts enhancements. And you will find strategies and instructional moves to embrace equity and diversity. So, stay with your FOSS, strive for mastery, and advance forward confidently in the NGSS era.