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Supporting Ongoing Changes in Student Thinking

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The information presented in this evidence-based practice resource is adapted from Core Practice Set #3, Ambitious Science Teaching.

“... research indicates that, in some cases, it may be best to let students noodle around a bit, puzzle, and explore with materials before you formally present new science concepts.” –Ambitious Science Teaching


Attending to Equity

Introduce New Science Ideas

  • Use basic sentence structure expressed in active voice.
  • Use hand and body gestures that reinforce what you are saying.
  • Use your “teacher voice”, be sure you can be heard throughout the room.
  • Don’t use long “wind-ups” to begin your sentences.
  • Don’t use “asides” (distracting language added to the middle of a sentence).
  • Don’t overuse pronouns.

Student Sense Making

  • Use discussion frames.
  • Support all students with follow up questions.
  • Include everyone by making eye contact and inviting students into the conversation.

Collective Thinking

  • Summary Tables provide structure and a talk routine that ensures all students participate and know how to join in whole-class discussions.
  • Be proactive and encourage widespread participation.
  • Point out talk norms.
  • Stop signaling for “correctness”.
  • Prime groups of students to participate.
  • Use “turn and talk” judiciously.

“Lots of responses by students can give the mistaken impression that they’ve made sense of ideas, representations, or explanations; such false indicators can include using technical vocabulary, completing procedural labs, and using formulas in prescribed ways to come up with answers.” –Ambitious Science Teaching


Introducing New Science Ideas


Many powerful science ideas are abstractions that cannot be “discovered” by students; they have to be presented by teachers as tools to reason with.


  • Decide what science idea(s) kids need in order to move their thinking forward.
  • Relate the science understanding to the phenomena under study.


  • After students have been investigating phenomena through a number and variety of inquiry based strategies.
  • Continually provide input to students for the purpose of refining their evidence-based explanations.


  • Readings, diagrams, drawings, graphs, computer simulations, flow charts, maps, physical models, or mathematical formulas.
  • Provide multiple examples of the idea in different contexts, including mini lectures, videos, guest speakers, or skype with a scientist.

“There are some types of activity, scaffolded or not, that we should steer clear of. Common “cookbook” investigations, for example, are unhelpful for learning. ” –Ambitious Science Teaching


Student Sense Making


Through scaffolded talk, students learn how to participate in and construct knowledge through different scientific practices.

Frame the Activity

  • Describe how the activity will help students advance their thinking about the phenomenon.

Move Among the Tables to Support Insights or Breakthroughs

  • Listen first, press and point, follow up, include everyone, prepare for later share-out (priming), pose the leaving question

Back-Pocket Questions (BPQs)

  • Help students get started
    • What do we think was going on when …? Why?
  • Press further
    • What will your investigation tell us about ______?
    • When you say _______, what do you mean?
  • Follow up
    • Can you say more?
    • Do you all agree? Why?
    • What makes you think that?

“Presenting ideas to students is part of good teaching; you just have to decide what ideas, when, and how.” –Ambitious Science Teaching


Collective Thinking


Students gain access to reasoning with peers . They apply knowledge to complex situations and understand that one’s explanations are supposed to change over time in response to new evidence and information.

Structuring Whole-Class Conversations

Segment the discussion into three mini-conversations.

  • Determine patterns/trends- what happened in the activity?
  • What do we think caused these patterns or observations?
  • How does this help us think about our essential question or puzzling phenomenon?

Using Summary Tables/Charts

Record student language during each mini-conversation.


Additional Resources