Children and adults make deep connections to learning when they can create a narrative out of the learning.  According to M. Carolyn Clark and Marsha Rossiter(1) “Stories are powerful precisely because they engage learners at a deeply human level. Stories draw us into an experience at more than a cognitive level; they engage our spirit, our imagination, our heart, and this engagement is complex and holistic.”   When students are the storytellers, they become the teachers and not the receivers of the information.  When they become the storytellers, they link their knowledge to their own experiences and to a larger collection of personal experiences that they have in order to make sense of the facts in the stories that they are telling.  This is why narrative-centered learning environments are so important. One thing a teacher can do to increase the opportunity for this deep learning in his or her classroom is to create a narrative-centered learning environment that exploits this learning-style phenomenon.  At first glance, one might confuse these desired story-centered activities with the traditional problem-solving or problem-based learning (PBL) activities. While the old problem-based learning (PBL) is student-centered, it does not engage the student in narrative learning.  Typically, PBL activities are planned by a problem being given to the students to address some learning issue whereby they attempt to find answers to the problem.  With the PBL, students need to learn something new in order to solve the problem.  With the desired story-centered activities, students have most, if not all, of the knowledge and use this knowledge to solve a story.  With story-centered learning, students are engaged in a story and not told what to learn. Let’s look at an example:   PBL problem: A cat can jump higher than a dog.  Why? With the PBL activity method, the students typically will be lead through a series of lessons, each with more and more specific details until the solution to the problem is found.  Along the way students are expected to learn much of the content that helps them answer the question on their own. With the desired story-centered activity method, you find a video online and show it in class of a cat and dog chasing each other around in a home setting.  The cat jumps up and down off furniture taunting the dog.  After the video is shown, you engage the class in a discussion.  The direction of the discussion could be that the cat is faster than the dog, jumps higher than the dog, or is quicker than the dog.  There actually could be many more observations and hypotheses generated by the students. All of the ideas generated are then ultimately related to the physiological difference between dogs and cats. (As the teacher you can and should guide the direction of the discussion if it begins to go somewhere that you feel is afield of the direction of your mapped-out lesson plan.) The story-centered activity does a number of things.  1) It empowers the students to enter into discourse about what they see in the video, 2) it allows them to generate the question to investigate based on their interest, and 3) it engages them in a way that the traditional PBL activity does not. The store-centered activity allows them to make observations and generate their own hypotheses based on their observations.   Mastering story-centered activities in the classroom takes practice on the part of the teacher. You may have a student that thinks he or she knows the answer to the question being posed and will tell you and the class that solution.  For example, if the student says: “The reason cats can jump higher than dogs is because cats have a different skeletal system which allows them to jump higher.’” Your rhetorical response should be, “Why?”  The student may counter with, “Because of evolution they are made differently.” Your response should be, “Why?”  Each time you ask the question "Why", the student has to dig deeper into what he or she already knows about cats and dogs, make new connections, and more importantly, challenge these connections in his or her own mind by proceeding to ask himself or herself "Why?" and ultimately generate a hypothesis.  Students will certainly need to refine what they know about physiological concepts and this is when you tell the class that you have a laboratory activity that may help them.  You tell the students that you have the following supplies available and you allow them the opportunity to design their own investigation.  As such, the laboratory activities progress from the traditional method of step-by-step instructions to meaningful inquiry-based activities whereby the students have opportunities to design their own laboratory procedures.  All of this is done under teacher guidance and direction.  Students continue to learn new concepts but the learning of the new concepts is not the primary goal of the activity.  The primary goal for the activity is for them to create a story of how cats are different than dogs. As a teacher, you should challenge their stories often and lead them so that they evaluate and re-evaluate their initial stories and write and re-write their stories so that their final stories are deep and meaningful.  This style of learning is perfect for the differentiated classroom because each student’s story will have a different level of depth.  You want your students to be unsatisfied with their first answer which they use to describe the phenomenon.  According to Bradford W. Mott,, it is the teachers job to use a phenomenon to spark a question or create a problem that students then work on by refining their stories over and over again. The NGS Standards provide a perfect blueprint for teaching and integrating STEM education in your classroom.  It also provides a perfect opportunity for you to use narrative learning within your classroom.  The challenges in using the NGS standards are in how you are going to transform your curriculum to teach the standards.  Even a quick read of the standards will probably leave you wondering how you are going to teach the new standards since the textbooks you may use are not formatted to teach the standards.  Many teachers are in school districts that are attempting to “align” their existing curricula to fit into the new NGS standards. This is very much analogous to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole!  The best way for teachers to approach the new standards is to recognize that the NGS standards provide you with the opportunity to teach science in a new integrated manner which is the way that science really works.  123 STEM offers the teacher and district complete curricula and consulting services to implement STEM and NGSS now! All of 123 STEM activities approach teaching science in an integrated manner by allowing students to engage in the exploration of “big” science ideas by leading them through the narrative learning experience that engages them in deep and meaningful learning. 123 STEM provides you with all of the disposable supplies needed for each NGS standard you teach, and 123 STEM takes the fear out of transforming your classroom into a next generation science classroom.  For the administrator, 123 STEM provides you with the opportunity for providing meaningful workshops and consulting services that will help your faculty transform their teaching style across the curriculum.  

Walter Glogowski, M.S., M.Ed, NBCT

(1) Clark, M. Carolyn. "Narrative Learning in Adulthood." New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. 119th ed. Vol. 2008. N.Y.: Wiley Periodicals, 2008. 61-70. Print.

(2) Lester, James C., Hiller A. Spires, John L. Nietfeld, James Minogue, Bradford W. Mott, and Eleni V. Lobene. "Designing Game-based Learning Environments for Elementary Science Education: A Narrative-centered Learning Perspective." Information Sciences 264 (2014): 4-18. Print.


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