Pressing for evidence-based explanations
Planning for engagement with important science ideas
Supporting on-going changes in thinking
Eliciting students’ ideas

The vision of Ambitious Science Teaching

The ambitious teacher is someone who “works with students’ ideas” over time. What would you experience in classrooms where ambitious teaching was the focus? You would see and hear:

  • Teachers anchoring their instruction in complex and puzzling natural events
  • Students engaging in multiple rounds of creating and revising scientific models, explanations and evidence-based arguments
  • Teachers using a variety of discourse strategies with students to get them to think deeply and to respond to each other’s thinking
  • Students prompting each other to engage in sense-making talk during investigations and other activities
  • Students’ ideas being represented publicly and worked on by the class
  • Teachers using specialized tools and routines to support students who are not willing or able to participate without help
  • Students speaking up about what information or experiences they need to move their thinking forward

Ambitious teaching is supported by four sets of core practices that work together throughout every unit of study. These practices start with designing units of instruction (Planning for engagement with important science ideas); they then focus on making visible what students currently know about the science being taught (Eliciting students’ ideas); they help the teacher guide sense-making talk around investigations and other kinds of lab activities or readings (Supporting on-going changes in thinking); and finally they help the teacher scaffold students’ efforts to put everything together near the end of a unit (Pressing for evidence-based explanations).

Throughout this website we use the term “practices” because, as in other professions like medicine, law, engineering, and architecture, there are principled ways of doing the work that can be identified, learned, and continually improved over time.The idea of ambitious teaching is now being used to support the development of a common vision so that teaching and learning can improve. We’re not there yet, this is just the beginning of that journey. Below we share more specifics about each practice and provide video examples of each.

There is a lot on this website to explore. We have recommended Pathways for navigating these resources that are a specialized if you are a teacher, a teacher group, a teacher educator, or a PD provider.

Ambitious Teaching—An overview

In this video we illustrate what Ambitious Teaching looks like in classrooms ranging from high school to kindergarten. The practices were developed through collaborations between teachers and researchers, and they are continually evolving as we learn more about how they work with young learners. There are several themes that you’ll see in all examples, such as a focus on puzzling and complex phenomena, opportunities to make sense through talk, making thinking visible, attending to who is participating, using various forms of scaffolding and tools, and much more. See Pathways page for exploring our resources.

Planning for engagement with important science ideas

Here we show the first of our core sets of practices. These are planning practices for designing a unit of instruction. Important ideas in science are about the relationships between a natural phenomenon and a causal explanation that helps us understand why something in the world unfolds the way it does (phenomena are events or processes— things that happen). Studying events or process rather than “things” or abstract ideas intrigues students. This video shows how teachers sort through their curriculum as well as the standards, in order to select which ideas to focus on during a unit. They then select a phenomenon to anchor their units of instruction and develop a rich causal explanation for that event or process. Finally, they use this explanation to sequence a set of learning experiences for students. See our Pathways page for exploring more resources on this set of practices.

Eliciting students’ ideas

If our main objective as a science teacher is to change students’ thinking over time, then we need to know what our students understand about the target science ideas in the first place. This set of practices—eliciting students’ ideas—is used at the beginning of a unit of instruction. This practice is designed to 1) reveal the range of resources that students use to reason about a set of science ideas (working theories, everyday experiences, language), 2) activate their prior knowledge about the topic, and 3) help you to adapt upcoming instruction, based on how students reason about the anchoring event. See Pathways page for exploring our resources.

Supporting on-going changes in student thinking

Throughout any unit of instruction, students are frequently engaged in different types of activity. For example, students might do hands-on work with materials, use computer simulations, conduct observations of phenomena, design experiments, or collect and analyze different types of data. Research on learning shows that it is the types of sense making talk, orchestrated by the teacher, that prompts productive puzzlement, reasoning, and learning by students.The purpose of this set of practices is to help students develop new ideas to use in revising explanations and models for the anchoring phenomena. See Pathways page for exploring our resources.

Pressing students for evidence-based explanations

This final set of practices will help students construct a final, evidence-based explanatory model for an anchoring event.
The goals of this practice are:
1) Engage all students in authentic disciplinary discourse around using evidence to support explanations.
2) Hold students accountable for using multiple sources of information to construct final explanatory models for the anchoring event (this accountability of course must be supported by scaffolding and guidance from you).
3) Support students in using evidence to support different aspects of their explanatory models.

See Pathways page for exploring our resources.


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