Implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; NGSS Lead States, 2013) 3D learning that is well aligned with the performance expectations has been challenging for many science teachers. Furthermore, studies on curriculum materials for NGSS have rarely provided templates or guidelines that are straightforward for teachers to use in their science classes. This project aimed to provide professional development opportunities to middle school teachers (Grades 5–8) through a workshop designed to facilitate the integration of NASA’s educational resources into science lessons aligned with the NGSS 3D learning framework. The workshop included a conceptual model (i.e., 3D Into 5E), lesson templates, and sample lessons. Specifically, the project activities were designed to improve the participating teachers’ space-science content knowledge and instructional strategies, thereby enabling them to capture their students’ interest and channel it toward related STEM careers. Although the BSCS 5E Instructional Model (Bybee et al., 2006) is not a new concept, this project has demonstrated its efficacy as a template for effectively integrating the three dimensions of NGSS with related phenomena in science teaching. This project has not only demonstrated the effectiveness of the 5E model as a tool for promoting a deeper understanding of scientific concepts but also innovatively incorporated hands-on space-science activities to enhance its impact. By engaging teachers in these activities, the project improved their ability to modify instructional materials using the 3D Into 5E template, ultimately leading to a more engaging and impactful learning experience for their students. The study’s results showed that participating teachers experienced significant improvements in their space-science content knowledge and teaching confidence, indicating the effectiveness of this innovative approach. The teachers also reported high levels of student engagement and enjoyment during space-science activities, indicating the potential of this approach to enhance student-centered learning and improve the quality of science instruction delivered to students. Overall, this project’s innovative approach has the potential to transform science education by providing teachers with practical tools and strategies to engage students in science and promote a deeper understanding of space-science concepts.
K–12 students today have access to an incredible number of educational resources, including NASA’s offerings, that can be especially valuable in learning about space sciences and developing an interest in STEM careers (Buxner et al., 2017; Knezek & Christensen, 2020; Sheerin, 2019). However, many teachers encounter difficulty in aligning these resources with the performance expectations of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; NGSS Lead States, 2013) for their space-science lessons, resulting in a lack of confidence and comfort in their teaching methodologies. This is due to several challenges, including a lack of familiarity with the standards, limited availability of high-quality educational resources, and difficulties in integrating hands-on activities. To address this issue, this project provided middle school teachers (Grades 5–8) with a conceptual model (i.e., 3D Into 5E), lesson templates, and sample lessons that illustrate how to incorporate NASA’s educational resources into science lessons that are well aligned with NGSS 3D learning. With the 3D Into 5E model, the teachers effectively integrated NGSS’s (NGSS Lead States, 2013) three dimensions into the five phases of the BSCS 5E Instructional Model (Bybee et al., 2006). Although the 5E model is not a new concept, this study demonstrated its effectiveness as a tool for incorporating NASA educational resources into the NGSS 3D learning model, ultimately leading to a more engaging and impactful learning experience for their students. The study’s results showed that participating teachers demonstrated a significant improvement in their space-science content knowledge and teaching confidence. The teachers also reported high levels of student engagement and enjoyment during space-science activities, indicating the potential of the 3D Into 5E model to improve the quality of science instruction delivered to students. This project’s approach has the potential to improve science education by providing teachers with practical tools and strategies to engage students in science and facilitate a better understanding of concepts related to space sciences.
Brief Overview of NASA Education Resources
NASA operates ten major facilities across the United States, including the Armstrong Flight Research Center, the Glenn Research Center, the Goddard Space Flight Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Johnson Space Center. Each NASA center offers engaging and informative materials, including lesson plans, games, and activities to help students explore STEM concepts. Together, they form a diverse and interconnected network of resources that support NASA’s scientific and technological endeavors. Recently, NASA has compiled a comprehensive list of all its resources and STEM-related activities for educators and students on the A–Z List of NASA Websites for Educators (https://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/Alpha_index.html). The NASA STEM Engagement homepage is a recommended starting point for K–12 teachers seeking classroom resources. This website provides resources for students categorized by grade level, including STEM activities, games, lesson materials, and engineering projects in categories such as “Build It!,” “Play It!,” “Explore It!,” “Read It!,” and “Watch It!” The website also offers teaching materials for STEM topics, information on opportunities for educators, and resources for elementary, middle, and high school educators.
Conceptual Framework: 3D Into 5E
NGSS Three-Dimensional Learning and Inquiry-Based Learning
The Framework for K–12 Science Education (National Research Council [NRC], 2012) and the NGSS (NGSS Lead States, 2013) emphasize Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs), Crosscutting Concepts (CCs), and Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) as three interconnected dimensions of scientific learning, which we refer to here as the 3D framework. The Framework for K–12 Science Education (NRC, 2012) describes how the three dimensions work together to support student making sense of phenomena through experiences in which students “actively engage in scientific and engineering practices and apply crosscutting concepts to deepen their understanding of the core ideas in these fields” (pp. 8–9). This approach is known as three-dimensional or 3D learning (NRC, 2012; NGSS Lead States, 2013). In this project, we particularly focused on the use of CCs when teachers practiced integrating NASA’s materials into the 5E model. The reason for this is that NASA’s resources, such as satellite imagery, space probes, and astronaut experiences, provide rich examples of these crosscutting concepts in action. For example, the use of satellite images can illustrate patterns in weather systems or the movement of tectonic plates, and the study of astronaut experiences can demonstrate the effects of space travel on the human body and the role of systems and system models in space exploration. Studies also showed that CCs can better engage students in generating scientific questions, building a model and explanation, and making sense of a phenomenon by prompting students to use key elements they may otherwise ignore (Anderson et al., 2019; Bybee, 2013; Fick, 2018). Furthermore, CCs can provide teachers with consistent language to guide students in making sense of phenomena. For example, consistent labeling of patterns and cause-and-effect not only aids students in developing their initial ideas for investigation but also helps them continuously extend those ideas to new phenomena by connecting them to coherent mechanisms, thereby effectively improving their understanding of the phenomena (Anderson et al., 2019; Fick, 2018). Teachers can prompt students to make sense of phenomena by asking about the system being investigated, patterns as evidence for the causes of a phenomenon, or energy added to a system (Anderson et al., 2019; Fick, 2018; Science SCASS States, 2018).
The BSCS 5E Instructional Model, developed by Bybee et al. (2006), has been widely recognized as an effective approach to inquiry-based instruction in science education. The 5E model provides a versatile framework that can engage students in exploring a wide range of scientific concepts and phenomena through empirical investigation, enabling them to explain and understand the underlying principles and relationships (Banchi & Bell, 2008; Burnham, 2019; Sotáková et al., 2020). The 5E model (Bybee et al., 2006) consists of five instructional phases that follow a logical sequence: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. Bybee (2013) argued that the 5E model can serve as an understandable and manageable application of an integrated instructional sequence even for the three dimensions of the NGSS. The 5E model provides a coherent and structured approach that can help teachers design instructional sequences that engage students in SEPs to make sense of phenomena for targeted DCIs (Bybee, 2013, 2014). Overall, the 5E model is a powerful tool for teachers to guide students through the process of exploring phenomena, constructing explanations, and applying their knowledge to new contexts while aligning with NGSS’s three dimensions of scientific learning.
Conceptual Framework: 3D Into 5E
Making sense of phenomena often requires engaging students in hands-on experiences with appropriate science or engineering practices through well-designed integrated instructional sequences (Anderson et al., 2019; Bybee, 2013; Klahr et al., 2007). However, it has been a challenge for teachers to engage students in hands-on experiences to assist their understanding of space-science concepts such as moon phases, the reason for the seasons, or the scale of the solar system (Chakour et al., 2019; Petcovic et al., 2018; Wysession, 2022; Yoon & Peate, 2015). This is due to several reasons, primarily a lack of teachers’ knowledge in (a) using associated hands-on learning materials, (b) understanding space-science concepts, and (c) applying appropriate instructional strategies, such as modeling earth and space-science phenomena (Chakour et al., 2019; Gilbert & Ireton, 2003; Petcovic et al., 2018; Wysession, 2022; Yoon & Peate, 2015). Moreover, many elementary and middle school teachers have difficulty incorporating the new pedagogical approach (i.e., 3D learning) suggested by NGSS (Petcovic et al., 2018; Wysession, 2022). To overcome these challenges, teachers must be provided with instructional materials integrated into well-designed instructional sequences that support students in making sense of natural phenomena (Lee et al., 2018). For instance, NASA education resources can be integrated into the NGSS 3D learning or 5E model, providing opportunities for students to “engage in scientific and engineering practices and apply crosscutting concepts to deepen their understanding of the core ideas in these fields” (NRC, 2012, pp. 8–9; see also NGSS Lead States, 2013). This integration can assist teachers in designing units of science lessons that target specific DCIs and engage students in SEPs to make sense of phenomena, ultimately enhancing their students’ understanding of space-science concepts (Bybee, 2013; NGSS Lead States, 2013).
Thus, we proposed a framework with a concept map that can help teachers to integrate the three NGSS dimensions into lessons structured using the 5E template (Figure 1). This concept map illustrates how the components of different types of phenomena, SEPs, CCs, and DCIs fit into the 5E phases. This framework has been developed in response to the challenges faced by teachers in incorporating the new pedagogical approach, 3D learning, suggested by the NGSS. As shown in Figure 2, the phases of the 5E model provide spaces in which teachers can translate NGSS’s performance expectations into sequences of investigations and laboratory experiences integrated with the three NGSS dimensions (Anderson et al., 2019; Bybee, 2013; Bybee et al., 2006).
Additionally, this framework highlights the importance of aligning the NGSS performance expectations with the 5E phases, providing teachers with a systematic approach to designing instruction that effectively engages students in science practices and processes. Although it does not directly involve NASA resources, it facilitates effective utilization of these resources by situating them within a comprehensive sequence of lessons and investigations. Stand-alone lessons based on NASA resources can be challenging to integrate into a cohesive science curriculum. The 5E Into 3D framework provides teachers with a structured strategy for effectively incorporating NASA resources into well-organized and coherent science instruction. Using the 3D Into 5E lesson template and sample lessons, we assisted the teachers in seeing where NASA’s materials and activities fit into one of the 5E phases (Figure 2). The project staff and coaches developed four sample lessons using the 3D Into 5E framework and engaged the participating teachers in them during the summer workshop (Table 1). Figure 2 is a model lesson that illustrates how space-science phenomena can be the center of the lesson with an anchoring question, guiding questions, and investigative questions leading to specific NGSS SEPs and CCs that match the selected NASA lesson materials or activities.
Table 1 describes the outlines of the sample lessons presented to the participating teachers. All the sample lessons have the same components (i.e., phenomena, NASA resources, SEPs, CCs, and DCIs) integrated into the same format (i.e., 5E model) using the lesson template.
Making Sense of Phenomena Through 3D Into 5E
Phenomena refer to observable events occurring in the natural world that can be explained or predicted using scientific knowledge (Achieve et al., 2016). Teachers can use multiple phenomena related to the same science concepts (i.e., DCIs) to engage students in scientific investigations to make sense of the phenomena (Deverel-Rico & Heredia, 2018). These phenomena can be used in different phases of an integrated unit, such as anchoring phenomena in the Engage phase, investigative phenomena in the Explore phase, and everyday phenomena in the Extend or Evaluate phases (Achieve et al., 2016; Anderson et al., 2019; Bybee, 2013). For example, in the “How Does an Airplane Fly?” sample lesson, the first two hands-on activities shown in Figure 3 (a and b) served as anchoring phenomena in the Engage phase. These phenomena proved intriguing because the pieces of paper behaved unexpectedly when exposed to air, as depicted in Figure 3. Students then collaborated in small groups to identify patterns in their observations of the anchoring phenomena and shared their ideas with the class. Next, Figure 3c was used as an investigative phenomenon in the Explore phase. Based on their observations of the anchoring phenomena, students were required to formulate a hypothesis regarding the expected behavior of water in the cup when air is blown through Straw 1 over Straw 2 (not into Straw 2), providing a rationale for their reasoning. In the Elaborate phase, students were tasked with explaining the functionality of the perfume dispenser as an everyday phenomenon (see Figure 3d).