Chapter 1: Big Science Ideas

To prevent students experiencing science class as a "series of unrelated lessons" we help them to organize everything around big science Ideas. These help students see how the smaller learning goals fit together.

planning for engagement

This requires the following 3 steps:

  1. Identifying the big ideas - this ensures important science concepts stay the focus of instruction
  2. Selecting the anchoring event and essential questions - this motivates students and gives purpose to learning activities
  3. Sequencing learning activities - in a way that matches learning experiences to key ideas and supports cumulative learning

identifying big ideas

Begin by looking at the POL and identify the ones that relate to the topic you will teach. Next, if you have a textbook, flip through it looking for important ideas (usually written in bold). Select these ideas and put them down on sticky notes or cue-cards but, to avoid the lesson being too heavy for your students try not to choose more than 5 of these ideas.

While trying to identify the ideas with the most "explaining power" you may discover one of two things:

  1. the idea with the most explaining power is spread across multiple sticky notes (such that you can combine them to make a single powerful idea)
  2. the idea with the most explaining power is not on the sticky notes (so you may need to add that one idea that brings it all together)

This link shows you how to use the "card sort" activity to sort out the big science ideas (best done as a team).


selecting an anchoring event and essential questions

The term anchoring event is reminiscent of the anchor as suggested in the Jasper Series Framework but is to be understood as "any complex phenomenon for which students can develop models and explanations over the course of the unit". Find examples of anchoring events here.

Anchoring events are not topics or themes

Topics and themes tend to make it harder for students to see how everything is connected. The teacher may be able to see how all the lessons and ideas connect in, say, a unit on "ecosystems" or "building a sustainable future" but students are often left guessing how the facts connect. On the other hand, an anchoring event allows them to return to the essential questions as they try to make sense of the big science ideas.

How can the singer shatter the glass with her voice alone?