We Marched!

Dateline: Chicago, Illinois, April 22, 2017

We marched …

As the March for Science Chicago website proclaims, we marched

To bridge the distance between science and society
• To showcase Chicago as The Science City, and
• Toward an ethical science.

We marched for a more human science. We marched because we

Support the scientific community, and want to
• Safeguard the value and funding of the scientific process.

We marched to

Celebrate the role of science in society, and to
• Encourage scientific curiosity and exploration.

We Marched!

As with many things these days, the March for Science began on social media. Inspired by the January 21st Women’s March, a group on Reddit discussed doing a similar event to support science. The conversation quickly migrated to a Facebook page that jumped from 200 followers to 300,000 in less than a week. After all, the United States had just elected a climate change denier who was threatening to dismantle the EPA, cut back on scientific research, and who almost immediately purged from government websites the taxpayer funded research data on climate change, in effect stealing our tax dollars by denying us access to the data our dollars had secured. The day before the March, the March for Science Facebook page stood at 530,482, with tens of thousands of others following the March for Science pages connected to their own cities, both in the U.S. and around the world, 609 cities from Amsterdam to Zagreb, with 10 satellite marches in Illinois alone. (You can see the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) interactive map here.) By April 23, the number following the March for Science page stood at 567,865, over a 30,000 person increase in just a day. So marching does raise awareness and helps build a movement.

The Science March already has a Wikipedia page, and one section recounts the way in which previous American leaders have embraced science.

“Several Founding Fathers of the United States had an interest in science. Benjamin Franklin was a scientist with his foundational discoveries on electricity. Like Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and George Washington were all avid students of the natural and physical world.

A number of later presidents had interests in science and promoted pro-science policies; these include Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and Barack Obama. A 2010 editorial in the scientific journal Nature warned of ‘a growing anti-science streak on the American right’ and argued that the rising trend threatened the country’s future, which ‘crucially depends on education, science and technology.’ Writing in the Scientific American, Shawn Lawrence Otto, author of The War On Science, wrote: ‘It is hard to know exactly when it became acceptable for U.S. politicians to be antiscience.’” (Wikipedia)

Ironically, for a country that has been in the vanguard of scientific research for generations, a country that has been the research and development engine of the world for over 200 years, a country that has had more Nobel prize winners than any other country by far in chemistry, physics, economic sciences, physiology and medicine, 328 all told, we have slid badly in recent years, as our political leaders have increasingly taken oppositional stands to the findings of science, particularly in the area of climate change. There is no longer any guarantee that the findings of science will guide policy.

As a side note, quite a number of those Nobel award winning scientists were immigrants to the United States, drawn here by the research opportunities afforded at our stellar universities and by our government’s support for research, immigrants from China, the UK, India, Japan, Germany, Mexico, Egypt, and Italy, to name a few. But that was before “immigrant” became a dirty word in some quarters.

“According to organizers, the march is a non-partisan movement to celebrate science and the role it plays in everyday lives. The goals of the marches and rallies were to emphasize that science upholds the common good and to call for evidence-based policy in the public’s best interest. The march’s website states that an ‘American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world.’” (Wikipedia)

And so we marched. In Chicago, we marchers had a beautiful sunny day Saturday. Over 40,000 of us streamed from Grant Park to the Museum Campus where Earth Day stands and activities were set up behind the Field Museum. We were students, and teachers, children and parents, nurses and scientists, young and old. One woman’s sign featured a picture of her as a child attending the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. And she is still fighting the good fight.

Still Marching 47 Years Later

Other signs proclaimed “Love Your Mother” over a picture of Planet Earth, and “There is no Planet B.” Some were blatantly political, playing on Donald Trump’s name and image or repurposing the Hillary Clinton slogan “I’m With Her” with an arrow to a picture of the Earth. Others focused on various reasons why science is important. It saves lives. It saves the air and water, which ultimately make our lives possible. Science people tend to be smart so many of the signs were clever and people were snapping pictures by the dozens, asking folks to hold their signs steady for immortality or Instagram. Most of the signs were handmade, and in the days leading up to the march, Facebook had photos of people gathered in families and church and community groups making those signs. So much for “paid protesters.” What was particularly heartening was to see young children, old enough to do science, proclaiming their love for it, and so many high school and college age students supporting scientific research and science-based policy. Peer review got a lot of shout-outs. “What do we want? Science! When do we want it? After peer review!” So did bees and beer, both of which depend on science, albeit in somewhat different ways.

Signs of Science

On the march, I met Alice Miller. She’s a 4th grade teacher at Sandridge Elementary in Lynwood, Illinois, which is not far from where I live. Small world. We talked about the fact that with the predominant emphasis on English and Math, very young children are not getting much time to engage in science during the primary grades, at the very age when they are bursting with curiosity about the world and are keen observers of it. What a waste! We exchanged contact information. I would love to visit her classroom. She’s a teacher who avidly seeks ways to provide her students with more opportunities in science.

But here’s my biggest takeaway from yesterday’s march, something that struck me in that sea of signs, among those thousands of marchers. In what kind of crazy upside down world, do tens of thousands of people across the planet rearrange their lives, some of them traveling a great distance to do so, because they feel they have to defend something as obviously good for humankind as science is? Think about that for a moment. It’s like thousands upon thousands of people marching to say “let’s keep motherhood a thing we humans do,” or “we support the sun.”

Little Scientists Marching for Their Future

On April 22, 2017, all across the Earth, from Amsterdam (3,000) to Zagreb (1,000), tens of thousands of  people marched. We marched because something critical to humanity’s survival is under attack. We marched to support the obvious, to defend the essential. We shouldn’t have to.

~ Penny

You can learn about Golden Apple’s STEM Institute here.

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Connected Kid Moments

As the school year winds down, with tests out of the way and spring vacation either here or arriving shortly, we can perhaps begin to catch our teaching breaths and reflect on the past school year. But, because it’s spring and the weather is nicer now and because we have a bit of a breather in this period of winding down, there are also opportunities to be explored. Many teachers take advantage of this time of year by planning special experiences for their students, activities they might not have had time for earlier in the school year, but that students will eagerly anticipate, thoroughly enjoy, and have fond memories of in years to come.

With that in mind, I want to offer you, by way of inspiration, some reflections from past participants in Golden Apple’s STEM Institute program. When we asked a group of iTEAM teachers to tell us about one instance during the past school year when their students were genuinely connected to learning science … “connected kid” moments … they shared some beautiful memories with us.

Here are some of those special “connected kid” moments:

“A special education student who glowed when we did hands-on experiments.”

“When Rayana was dying to know if water was renewable or nonrenewable.”

“I brought a beta fish to class and they began to change their attitudes about me as a teacher and themselves as care givers.”

“A special ed student who didn’t participate much in class jumped right in when we had a hands-on science project, making parachutes.”

“When a student with behavioral problems was so engaged he became silent and still as he explored! I was able to enjoy his presence and loved watching him learn.”

“A problem student who ‘shined’ when allowed to do a demonstration.”

“My kindergarten students were so excited when we did ramps and rollers last year. They were so excited to get to explore in groups and develop their own questions.”

“When kids say, ‘Can I take this home? Can I take this and work on it at home?’”

“When I taught lessons from Project Wet at the beginning of the year and the kids in the last month of the school year remembered all of the activities and what we got out of them. They retained all the water information.”

Project Wet Activities at Durkin Park Elementary

“One connected kid moment I remember is when my first group was able to make a bulb light up. They were all so excited. They wanted to share their knowledge with the rest of the groups and one of the students was able to explain the process.”

“When a student looked at me and declared, ‘I like this class. You make it hard because you don’t give us the answers. You make us think and record. I like that I feel like a scientist.’”

“When taking some of these activities from last summer and doing them with our staff in professional development and watching some of the non-science teachers faces light up with enthusiasm!! Non-science means teachers I know didn’t teach any type of science the previous years. Now they want to incorporate more science in their classrooms!”

“I love when a student or multiple students say, ‘This was the best day ever!’”

When moments like these occur, we know we’re on the right track instructionally. And aren’t momemts like these why we got into teaching in the first place … to make a positive difference in the lives and learning of children?

Please share a “connected kid” moment by leaving a comment. And why not explore using the idea of “connected kid” moments to inspire your future planning? How could you get your students to really connect? After all, spring is the season of rebirth and renewal. Happy Spring!

~ Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple’s STEM Institute here.

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Do It Yourselves NGSS Planning Guide: Resources for Building an NGSS Aligned Curriculum

In an earlier post, I reviewed an excellent free resource from the National Research Council that addressed the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards and surveyed some of the stumbling blocks to a seamless and effective transition from earlier standards and curricula to the new curricula, largely teacher developed, that the NGSS requires. The Guide to Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards was released on January 8, 2015. (It’s free here.)

But we’re two years past the publication of that still helpful guide, and there are now many additional resources available for you and your colleagues to tap as you develop your curriculum maps, units, lessons, and activities in alignment with the NGSS.

A Team of Teachers Assembled to Work on NGSS Aligned Curriculum

So where to begin?

Top Go-To Sites

First I’d like to point you in the direction of several “top go-to sites” for anyone planning NGSS aligned lessons. There are three sites that I highly recommend as starting points for your work, sites where content is vetted and reliable. NSTA, the National Science Teachers Association, has been developing NGSS aligned resources and guidelines, and Next Generation Science, the parent organization for the NGSS, has a wealth of resources for you to use free of charge, including guidelines for and examples of model course maps. You’ll find lots of helpful resources at both of the first two sites. The third, Bozeman Science, offers a series of videos, one for each of the fifty-nine NGSS standards, provides a good overview review of the science by grade level bands in short, easily digested programs, each under 15 minutes. Once you know your content topics (the disciplinary core ideas), the crosscutting concepts and the science and engineering practices you want to focus on, watching these video can help jumpstart the actually planning by serving as a content refresher and by getting everyone on the planning team on the same page. Paul Anderson, the Bozeman, Montana, high school teacher who created this series, is a hero of mine, for providing, free of charge, such a helpful and reliable resource for his fellow teachers across the country.

For Your Resource Collection:

Laura Chomiak, our Golden Apple STEM Institute Program Coordinator, recommends two additional sites your team might find helpful. They are the Teaching Channel and STEM Teaching Tools.

Laura also recommends signing up for the monthly newsletter NGSS Now, which focuses on a different standard and phenomenon each month with how to incorporate them into your own classroom. Each month they also respond to a teacher’s question about NGSS implementation. You can sign up here.

Specific Guidelines for Getting the Job Done:

Next, I’d like to suggest several useful documents from the National Science Teachers Association to help with organizing the work itself. They describe how to organize a team  in planning an NGSS curriculum and how to design units and lessons aligned with the NGSS.

Key Concepts in NGSS Planning:

There are also some key strategies that have emerged since the release of the NGSS to help organize your thinking about the standards, so that you can efficiently and effectively implement them in ways that are genuinely engaging to students. Here are three of the top concepts, which, along with using a “backward design model” focused on the NGSS Performance Expectations, can help you and your team create exemplary units.

Golden Apple STEM Institute’s “Backward Design” Lesson Plan Template


  • What is bundling? “Bundles” are groups of standards arranged together to create the endpoints for units of instruction. Bundling is just one step in a curriculum development process; many other steps are required to create instructional materials designed for the NGSS.
  • Why bundle? Bundling is a helpful step in implementing standards because it helps students see connections between concepts and can foster more efficient use of instructional time.

For a webinar and other resources, including example bundles, check here.


  • What are phenomena? “Phenomena” are things that happen in the world, things that we seek to understand. A phenomenon becomes the starting point for building the science knowledge that helps us figure it out. There is a strong recommendation, consistent with the NGSS, that teachers should start their units with phenomena, not with science content knowledge or vocabulary. Let curiosity about the phenomenon drive student learning.
  • Qualities of a good phenomenon:
    o A puzzling observable event or process that
    o Generates student interest and questions and
    o Intersects with numerous PEs (Performance Expectations) which
    o Can be explored through science and engineering practices

There are some great example phenomena that can jumpstart your planning and a helpful short (3 min.) video on phenomena based instruction.


  • What are storylines? Storylines are statements that describe the context and rationale for the Performance Expectations (PEs) in each grade band and section. “A storyline is a coherent sequence of lessons, in which each step is driven by students’ questions that arise from their interactions with phenomena. A student’s goal should always be to explain a phenomenon or solve a problem. At each step, students make progress on the classroom’s questions through science and engineering practices, to figure out a piece of a science idea. Each piece they figure out adds to the developing explanation, model, or designed solution. Each step may also generate questions that lead to the next step in the storyline. Together, what students figure out helps explain the unit’s phenomena or solve the problems they have identified. A storyline provides a coherent path toward building disciplinary core idea and crosscutting concepts, piece by piece, anchored in students’ own questions.”  (Next Generation Storylines)

Example storylines are increasingly available online and by grade level, and you can find even find a PowerPoint on the topic of storylines to use with your team. Think of every unit as telling a story … perhaps a mystery to be solved by the clever detective work of your students.

Storylining is a Team Effort. Here Jason Crean Leads a Group of Teachers in Developing an NGSS Aligned Unit on Albinism.

Bundling, phenomena, and storylines all work together in creating engaging, coherent STEM units. When done well, they comprise a seamless whole.

Finally, I want to share some of the timeline/tasks you might find helpful as you organize your planning process, along with  some of the elements that should be in place to help you develop a successful end product.

1. Identify who will be on the planning team – 3-5 teachers per band (primary, early elementary, middle/upper elementary).
2. Create a timeline for the work and be generous.
3. Devote a period of time, for the group and individual team members, to becoming familiar with the task/process and with the NGSS, identifying a target unit for each team to develop. Review some of the resources listed above individually or as a team before beginning to work on your own plans.
4. Study together one or two existing plans to become familiar with what a successful unit looks like, which elements are included by the planners. You can find these on the “top go-to” sites.
5. Begin the actually planning work by identifying 1-2 target performance expectations, then backward design the unit so that students have the learning experiences necessary to successfully accomplish the learning expectations.
6. Finalize the unit plan and teach it.
7. Evaluate and tweak the plan for the following year and to inform the next plan. What worked? What didn’t?

Todd Katz Developing a Student Activity for the Albinism Unit

Necessary Elements
Adequate time: Find time for teachers to work together. Allot enough time to do a good job on the first plan, e.g., begin work in the spring; allow some summer planning time; execute the following school year.
Passion for the work: Assemble a team that genuinely wants to do the work (get the right people on the bus). Pick teaching colleagues who are curious and who are willing to take some initiative, working with the team as well as independently outside of the designated team meetings.
Incentives and recognition: Find a way to reward the team for making the commitment. Publish the results of their work so that other teachers can benefit, and we can all learn from each other. And always have food on hand.
Patience: Be very patient with the people, yourself and your team, and the process. This will take time. It is deeply intellectual work.

It’s clear from all of these concepts and the accompanying resources that we’ve entered a brand new age in science instruction. There is no more covering the content chapter by chapter in a linear fashion as in days of old. Instead teachers are called upon to be creative in designing instructional roadmaps for their students to construct their own understanding of the world around them. And central to that new role is the importance of team work.

Happy planning!

~ Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.

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Filed under backward design, bundling, NGSS, NSTA, phenomena based teaching, phenomenon based teaching, professional development, resources, STEM lesson planning, storyline, teacher resources, Uncategorized

Will You March for Science?

On Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, 2017, scientists across the United States will do something they don’t generally like to do. They will leave their labs, their field study sites, their university classrooms and travel to Washington D. C. or to other cities across the country, including Chicago, to get political. They will be marching for science.

There is even a March for Science website … leave it to the techies among them! And this is what they say about their cause:

“The March for Science is a celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community. Recent policy changes have caused heightened worry among scientists, and the incredible and immediate outpouring of support has made clear that these concerns are also shared by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. The mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.”


If you want to get involved you can donate here, as well as find a local march near you. Actually, there are 228 sites across the United States and around the world where people will be marching, scientists and those who join them in valuing the freedom and findings of science and the importance of keeping those findings free of politicization. In Illinois, people will be marching in Chicago and in Champaign. In France, they will be marching in Lyon, Lille, Montpellier, Toulouse, and Paris. And Canada, our neighbor to the north, will have ten satellite marches in solidarity with the United States! Canadians will march in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Hamilton, Victoria, Halifax, Vancouver, Prince George, and St. John’s.

If you know Canada’s recent history of attacks on science research and evidence, you’ll understand Canadians’ fierce solidarity with scientists in the United States. With the election of Justin Trudeau to become Canada’s Prime Minister in 2015, the troubling administration of Stephen Harper (2006-2015) came to an end. Harper’s administration was infamous for issuing gag orders, muzzling scientists and preventing them from sharing their findings with the media and the public or with other scientists at conferences. Scientists had to get approval from the government before they could talk with the media, and they were assigned “minders” from the public relations department to manage those interviews. The bureaucratic red tape was onerous and media requests were often denied. Coverage of climate science, for example, dropped by 80% as a result. For an excellent NY Times op ed by Canadian scientist Wendy Palen, associate professor of biology at Simon Fraser University, please click here.

In summary, Stephen Harper is a climate change denier. His government closed research libraries and purged valuable, sometimes irreplaceable records, consigning them to the dumpster, calling that a cost-cutting measure. Harper also cut all funding “for the Experimental Lakes Area, a world-renowned research facility where scientists run experiments on pollution and environmental contaminants in more than 50 small lakes in northwestern Ontario. Other casualties included (Canada’s) northernmost Arctic monitoring station and national census.”

Sound familiar?

Scientists, who normally prefer to remain apolitical, became outraged and sprang into action when the Harper government passed legislation that eliminated or severely amended the “marquee environmental protection laws” that Canadians prized.

And then this happened:

“Fearing the continued erosion of even the most basic protections for food inspection, water quality and human health, Canadian scientists filled Ottawa’s streets in the Death of Evidence march. That theatrical mock funeral procession became something of a cultural touchstone. It was a turning point that galvanized public opinion against Prime Minister Harper’s anti-science agenda. “

Canadians Took to the Streets

Canadians Took to the Streets to Mourn the Death of Evidence

There’s something happening here, but what it is ain’t exactly clear.

But one thing is certainly clear. U.S. scientists are taking a leaf (probably maple) from the Canadian playbook and planning a massive response to the Trump administration’s gag orders, cutbacks in science research funding, scrubbing of climate science data and other science research from government websites, appointment of cabinet members who are hostile to their work, and other constraints on their research, including preventing them from sharing their findings at conferences and with the media and the public.

Scientists and their supporters will be marching on April 22, 2017, and people from around the world will be joining them in solidarity.

Protecting Science Must Be a Priority (Photos: L, Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP; R, Phil Plait)

In solidarity, Golden Apple STEM Institute will be rescheduling our spring follow-up session from April 22nd to May 6th, because we have schools that will be participating in the Chicago march and some of our teacher participants are planning to march on their own. We will be joining them. STEM Institute coach and faculty member Wayne Wittenberg  and his family will be marching in D. C. Some of us will be marching in Chicago.

But there are ways for you to march other than literally going to Washington D. C. or to downtown Chicago on Earth Day.

Every time you create opportunities for your students to understand and appreciate the work of scientists, you are marching for science.

Every time you create a unit, with lessons and activities, to help your students understand that global climate change is largely caused by human activity, and that this is not opinion, not conjecture, but settled science, you are marching for science.

Every time you create after school opportunities for students to do more science and engineering, you are marching for science.

Every time you raise your voice to tell your principal and colleagues that students need more science time, that science must not be marginalized or wait until 4th grade, you are marching for science.

Every time you help a colleague who is struggling to teach science effectively and is not quite sure how to do it, you are marching for science.

Every time you support a science organization with your membership and your participation, from NSTA to the AAAS, from NRDC to the International Crane Foundationyou are marching for science.

Every time you write to your legislators or sign a petition to protect the work of scientists from those who wish to silence them and to demand evidence-based policies, you are marching for science.

But most importantly, every time you inspire your students to develop a passion for science and aspire to become STEM professionals, or at the very least, to become informed, science-positive citizens, you are marching for science.

Will you march for science?

Please leave us a comment to let us know how.

~ Penny

You can read more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.

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Filed under AAAS, International Crane Foundation, March for Science, NRDC, NSTA, science teaching, Uncategorized, war on science

Guilty of Inadvertently Promoting A Stereotype?

I love visiting classrooms, watching teachers facilitate inquiry-based lessons, and seeing our future STEM professionals roll up their sleeves and dive in to the work of science and engineering, marshaling technology and math to be successful in conducting scientific investigations and in meeting engineering challenges. And I love looking around the classrooms that I visit, seeing photos of kids doing science, collections of science themed books, and models from their science and engineering projects. I especially love seeing our Wheel of Inquiry tool in use and the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices posted.

Occasionally, however, I see things that I hope will eventually go away, things that reinforce our cultural stereotypes about scientists. You know the prevailing one. A scientist is old, male, white. He wears a white lab coat, sports a mustache, and has wild hair and crazy eyes. The beaker places him inside, in a laboratory, not out in the field. In fact, that old white science guy is a cartoon Einstein. If he could talk, he’d undoubtedly have a German accent.


If you don’t fit any of those demographics … let’s say you are female or black or Latino or young … then “scientist” is automatically “the other,” and we seem to have a problem these days in the U.S. accepting and trusting those who are different from ourselves. At least some of us do.

These stereotypical images make me wonder if part of the distance between science and our society doesn’t spring from our general stereotypical conception of scientists as being everything we are not. I wonder if our societal aversion to and downplaying of science aren’t linked to our sense that science has no particular relevance to our own lives. And if that’s so, do these same stereotypes make it easier for those with an anti-science agenda to drive a wedge between the public and its scientists?

Humanity has been in that wedge place before. During the Middle Ages, there were three distinct and separate estates, each with its own sphere of operation, its own norms. You belonged to First Estate, the Clergy or “those who pray,” Second Estate, the Nobility or “those who fight,” or Third Estate, the Commoners or “those who work.” And never the trine shall meet, because “during the Middle Ages individuals were born into their class and change in social position was difficult.”

After the French Revolution, the system changed. The press were designated “the Fourth Estate,” with the idea that they would remain independent of the other three. There are definitely barriers between these social groups and, as one authority notes, “Although the three estates were supposed to work together for the common good, their actual history is one of constant friction and conflict.” Funny, isn’t it, how everything old is suddenly new again?

Given the obvious rift between scientists and many in our legislatures and state and federal governments, not to mention many in the general public, perhaps we should acknowledge the existence of a Fifth Estate, comprised of the very highly educated scientists, engineers, mathematicians, technology innovator, somehow separate and distinct from “ordinary” Americans.

And that’s not good.

In this age when the discoveries and results of science and technology are speeding up exponentially and the need for the expertise of their practitioners has never been as critical, e.g., global climate change, we can’t afford to foster any notion that scientists are a separate estate and subject to being in “constant friction and conflict” with everyone else.

So anything we can do to educate against those stereotypical ideas of who and what scientists are would be helpful in letting the majority see common cause with that essential minority. Anything we can do to help our young people see themselves as scientists is all to the good.

The truth is that scientists come in all shapes and sizes, genders, ethnicities, and ages. Witness Hidden Figures (2016), the story of three African American women who were instrumental in getting the U.S. into space, or as the New York Times review headline proclaims, who “Helped NASA Soar.” One line in that review is particularly compelling for me, “Katherine Goble is the central hidden figure, a mathematical prodigy played with perfect nerd charisma …” Mathematical prodigies come in all colors, both genders, and can emerge anywhere in the world. We need them to soar. And we also need to acknowledge and value their contributions.

But what if our cultural stereotypes get in the way of that emergence?

It seems to me that we should cast a critical eye around our classrooms and consider the messages we send to students through the choices we make about what to display and how to arrange things. Those decisions form a hidden curriculum that also teaches, that teaches in tandem with our lessons and our words and perhaps more powerfully because subliminally. So, let’s be thoughtful about those images, those messages.

I think our classrooms should communicate: “Anyone can be a scientist, an engineer, a mathematician, or a technology innovator. ANYONE. In writing we say, showing is better than telling. Isn’t the same true in classrooms? So what can you do to show students that STEM is for ANYONE? For EVERYONE?

Here’s how teacher Brenda Martinez at Tonti Elementary delivered that message, and it’s an image I’ve featured before in this blog.

Who is a Scientist

Brenda Martinez told me, “I do a 2 week unit on what is a scientist and print out pictures of all sorts of different scientists in their fields so that students don’t just think of someone in a lab with a lab coat. We talk about what they do and what tools they use. Then I take pictures of my students doing science so they can see that they are also scientists, and post those photos on the same poster.”

For me this collage is worth a thousand words. I love how the pictures of the children doing science are intermingled with a very diverse representation of actual scientists … in the field, in white coats or not, young, and female, and black and white, Asian and Latino. Anyone can be a scientist. Everyone is.

Now let’s help them get that message and see themselves as future STEM professionals who will help solve the many challenges humanity faces in the 21st century.

And this, gentle reader, is my 100th blog post.


You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.

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One Final Resolution for 2017

It’s still early enough in the new year for me to offer one last resolution suggestion for your STEM classroom, in addition to the excellent ones already offered by seventeen of our exemplary STEM Institute teachers in the last post.

But before I get to that resolution, I want to share a story that has been rattling around in my brain for many years.

It comes at the very end of Wind, Sand and Stars, a beautifully written book of essays by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who also wrote the beloved children’s book The Little Prince. The essays recount the author’s adventures and travels as a pilot just prior to World War II. He died in that war.

The Little Prince

The Little Prince

At the very end of the book, Saint-Exupéry tells of an experience he had while visiting the third-class carriages on a European train late one night. Third-class was where the poor rode, those without means. The seats were hard, comfortless. Saint-Exupéry describes those carriages, crowded with hundreds of Polish workers sent home from France, “ … a whole nation returning to its native poverty seemed to sprawl there in a sea of bad dreams,” and reflects, “Looking at them I said to myself that they had lost half their human quality. These people had been knocked about from one end of Europe to the other by the economic currents.” These words seem chillingly relevant today with so many torn from their homelands, living in refugee camps and hoping to build a new life safely away from conflict and privation.

Saint-Exupéry’s reflections finally settle on three of the sleeping Polish travelers:

“I sat down face to face with one couple. Between the man and the woman a child had hollowed himself out a place and fallen asleep. He turned in his slumber, and in the dim lamplight I saw his face. What an adorable face!

I bent over the smooth brow, over those mildly pouting lips, and I said to myself: This is a musician’s face. This is the child Mozart. This is a life full of beautiful promise. Little princes in legends are not different from this. Protected, sheltered, cultivated, what could not this child become?

When by mutation a new rose is born in a garden, all the gardeners rejoice. They isolate the rose, tend it, foster it. But there is no gardener for men. This little Mozart will be shaped like the rest by the common stamping machine … This little Mozart is condemned.

It is not an impulse to charity that has upset me like this. It is the human race and not that individual that is wounded here, is outraged here. I do not believe in pity.
What torments me tonight is the gardener’s point of view. What torments me is not this poverty to which after all a man can accustom himself as easily as to sloth. It is the sight, a little bit in all these men, of Mozart murdered.”

For me, that has always been one of the most powerful images in all of literature: The sight of Mozart murdered.

Children like this are all around us. They are in your classroom. They may have been born in the midst of poverty. They may have bleak prospects because of that happenstance of birth, even shorter lives. But each has promise. That same child, born to advantage, with all the supports advantage can provide, with all the second and third chances, with all the resources and life affirming experiences, could go on to, in the words of another favorite author of mine, “make new magic in a dusty world.” (Thomas Wolfe)

So here is my suggestion for a final New Year’s resolution: You be the one to see and rescue those Mozarts … for their sake and for ours. Be a gardener of human beings.

Time is one of their most precious possessions. Once a moment is gone, it’s gone forever. For their sake, use their time wisely. Make every moment they spend in your classroom count.

Make Their Time in Your Classroom Count!

Make Their Time in Your Classroom Count!

For many children, and particularly those living in poverty, education is their one chance to develop their gifts, talents, and passions. Be that teacher who respects them enough to challenge them, to demand their best, while supporting them to express it. That means do them the courtesy of planning your lessons thoughtfully, diligently; don’t waste time in transitions; find out what makes each of your students unique, and use that knowledge to hook them into learning. Don’t underestimate what they can do. Don’t baby them. Teach them the good hard stuff. Above all, don’t waste their time with activities that are time fillers, things that are easy or convenient for you to teach, rather than the real meat of learning for them. Challenge yourself as you challenge them. Go that extra mile.

Years ago, when I was a young teacher, some of us would go out after school to have a beer and talk about our day. Sometimes the subject of planning for the next day would come up, and, I’m ashamed to say, we would joke about having our students “write about the environment,” meaning have them do some decontextualized work that would keep them busy and fill the time, so that we wouldn’t have to plan anything substantive. It was a joke. I never actually did that. But, I sometimes think some of what we teachers do with students is the equivalent of just having them “write about the environment.” Maybe it’s “show a video.” Or “do a word search” or “fill out this worksheet.” It may have some value, but it’s a very modest value. And, in any case, it isn’t real and we know it. So do they.

Finally, recognize that STEM, in particular, offers tremendous future opportunities for a good life for your students, a secure future. That’s where 21st century jobs will be most abundant; at least the jobs that will pay well and provide meaningful work. When you are exciting your students about the world around them, the possibilities and challenges, the problems needing to be solved, when you are engaging them in the real stuff of science and engineering, you are opening a path for them toward that positive future.

So please be that gardener who nurtures these children and allows them to flourish, despite having emerged in poor circumstances. Like the Little Prince’s rose, your students have the capacity to blossom for you, but it will take your commitment to them for that to happen, your commitment and your resolve.

~ Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.

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Seventeen Resolutions for Teaching STEM in 2017

Earlier in the month I emailed some of the great teacher participants in the Golden Apple STEM Institute partnership schools, asking them to reflect on 2016 and share one New Year’s Resolution they have for STEM in 2017. What follows are a selection of those resolutions. Maybe they will spark some ideas about what you might want to do in your own STEM classroom in 2017.

Several teachers responded with very specific goals, often focusing on particular content areas they want to work on or, given that NGSS is still relatively new, on NGSS implementation itself.

“My new year’s resolution is that I want to continue to create new science units that align with the NGSS standards.” Keniesha Charleston, 2nd grade, Murray Elementary

Kenosha Charleston with Murray Elementary Colleague Arleta Ingram.

Keniesha Charleston (left) with Murray Elementary Colleague Arleta Ingram.

“I would like to do at least one Science and Math integrated lesson with my teaching partner a quarter that combines the skills we are teaching in Math and Science.“ Jill Ryan, 6th grade, Durkin Park Elementary

“One of my aspirations this year is to collaborate with the kindergarten teachers to enhance their unit on the study of butterflies. We will develop a unit where students will research the life cycle of a butterfly and apply that new knowledge to create a habitat that would best sustain the life of the butterfly through each stage of its life cycle.” Amanda Conway, STEM Coordinator, Pershing Elementary

“My resolution for next year is to try to come up with at least one new activity or performance assessment that will incorporate NGSS and STEM in my classroom and to keep the students engaged with inquiry and problem solving.” Mike Albro, 7th – 8th Science, Byrne Elementary

For some teachers, 2017 will offer opportunities for integrating the STEM subjects with the arts, thereby moving toward STEAM-based experiences for their students.

” For my New Year resolution, I would like to include more art projects into my curriculum, turning my STEM classroom into a STEAM classroom. As Einstein said, ’Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ I believe I can develop my students’ imaginations in a greater and more deliberate way by adding art to the projects they do in my class.” Joe Estela, Upper Grades Science, Nightingale Elementary

“My resolution for 2017 is all about my dream for an event/unit with my middle school students in February. It is called STEAMPunk (Science, Theatre, Entertainment, Arts, Music, Powerful, United, Next Generation, Kids). I developed a unit that will connect an experiment design project with a music, visual arts, or theatre piece that is created by the student to show off the new knowledge learned from the science experiment as well as new knowledge about that discipline of art. Please come if you are available on February 1, 2017, during the day of course. I am inviting everyone out to listen, watch, learn and enjoy art our middle schoolers create. This is an overwhelming feat that has taken collaboration and patience between students, art teachers, and myself. Give everything you can to a dream. Communicate it, plan it, reflect on it, and do the work in order to make sure it comes true.” Kelly Harris Preston, 8th grade Science, Brentano Elementary

Since the advent of the Next Generation Science Standards, Engineering is a new element in the science classroom, so it’s not surprising that a number of these great teachers will be focusing on incorporating more engineering activities into their instructional plans.

“For the New Year, I will focus more on engaging my students in the Engineering Design component of NGSS.” Anh Hoang, 2nd grade, Murray Language Academy

Ahn Hoanh of Murray Language Academy at the Intro to Inquiry Summer Program

Ahn Hoang of Murray Language Academy at the Intro to Inquiry Summer Program

“My STEM Resolution for 2017 is to align an engaging engineering lab for each of the Holidays that occur during the school calendar year. Combining festive themes with critical problem solving skills is a WIN-WIN! My classroom engineers ‘win’ because they think they are ‘getting out of class’ with our holiday themed project/activity. And I WIN, because I know they are being exposed to multiple engineering practices. Cara West, 6th grade, Durkin Park Elementary

Several teachers couldn’t limit themselves to just one STEM Resolution. In their lists, they reveal thoughtful, concrete plans, a blueprint for transforming their STEM classrooms in the coming year.

“I want to
• Continue to convince students they can be good in science and math by implementing interesting, rigorous, hands on STEM activities. (STEMscopes is aligned with NGSS).
• Take students to more real world workplaces to experience how STEM is integrated.
• Have students sign up for this weekly newsletter I just found called STEM Jobs.” (VERY COOL, BTW!)
Ain Muhammad, STEM Coordinator, Wentworth STEM Academy

“My New Year’s Resolutions are to

• Contact all Chicago Museums and have them support me as I create Inquiry-Based projects in my classrooms. (I did have a difficult time thinking about an inquiry-based project as I worked on the Food Chain and Food Webs. Having the support of the Museum of Science and Industry, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum will help me create an exciting curriculum for my students.)
• Increase parental involvement in and outside the classroom to promote the STEM curriculum. (I need parents to come into the classroom to provide adult supervision as students are actively engaged in their investigations. I also need them to continue fostering the children’s natural curiosity at home in the field of science and technology.)
• Start collecting my science materials for my future projects.
• Make ALL my students enjoy SCIENCE through the use of inquiry-based lessons. (I wish I had been taught Science using STEM and inquiry. It would have made a WORLD OF DIFFERENCE!!!!)” Maria Soto, 2nd grade, Washington Elementary

Teaching STEM is not always the easiest job in the world, particularly given the neglect of science education over the past decades and the compartmentalization of subjects begging to be integrated. But some teachers say with absolute determination, “Bring it on!”

“I will dedicate this new year to finding exciting and relevant ways to teach and engage my students, while always keeping an open mind to refining or restructuring what has already been taught.” Jake Pagan, 6th grade, Morrill Elementary

Morrill Elementary Sixth Grade Teacher, Jake Pagan

Jake Pagan, Morrill Elementary Sixth Grade Teacher

“For the new year, I would like to try to get my grade level team more excited about science by planning hands-on team assignments — maybe, even a grade level competition.” Stacy Gibson, 1st grade, Tonti Elementary

“This New Year I want to embrace the fact that students want to learn about things I am not supposed to teach in 3rd grade. As we immerse students into inquiry, some questions veer from my original objectives but are such high quality questions I want to find ways to support their investigations that may be ‘off topic.’ I know this requires increased flexibility but starting in January, I am up for the challenge!” Brittany Williams, 3rd grade, Brentano

Third Grade Teacher Brittany Williams, Brentano Elementary

Brittany Williams, Brentano Elementary Third Grade Teacher

In other words,

“Think STEM and Persevere!” Chanel Simpson, Drake Elementary

The final four resolutions are more global and reflect the powerful human connection between our lives and our teaching and the grit and optimism that it takes to thrive in today’s classrooms. They move outside an individual classroom, pointing to the wider world beyond and to the future.

“My STEM resolution for 2017 is to have it be the vehicle to make more students believe and know they can change the world with just their mind.” Letitia Dennis, 8th grade, Gillespie Technology Magnet School

“As I reflect on this year, I think I look forward to the growth in rich, engaging, and deep discussions my students will have in connection to STEM. I hope in this school year and in the years to come, I will be able to support and inspire my students to think, question, wonder, and hold meaningful discussions about science in ways that others may not have thought before.” Winnie Ho, STEM Coordinator, Everett Elementary

“My resolution is to emphasize how important it is to teach with a STEM focus. It not only serves as a means for approaching math and science content, but also presents the opportunity to introduce critical global challenges into the consciousness of future generations that will feel the impact at a much greater level than we do.” William Campillo, STEM Coordinator, Hernandez Math and Science Academy

“My New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to focus on what I love most, myself, my family, my friends, and of course, science! As an administrator, I am going to go back to my roots as a science teacher, coach, and coordinator to make an impact in our school. 2017 will be a GREAT YEAR!!!” Michelle Smith, Assistant Principal, Clissold Elementary

With all of this intelligence, creativity, and energy directed at improving STEM instruction just in this small sampling of classrooms, 2017 will indeed be a GREAT YEAR!!! … most especially for the students of these awesome teachers. I want to thank each of them for sharing their STEM resolutions.

And if you happen to be based in a Chicago Metro area school, why not consider exploring a partnership with Golden Apple STEM Institute as one of your resolutions for 2017?

Happy New Year!!

~ Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.

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