Category Archives: NGSS

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

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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Performance Expectations: The Key to Your NGSS Planning

Earlier this month, President Obama spoke to students at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C. It was a broad and encouraging talk, lauding the school for its 100% graduation rate, praising teachers for their dedication to their students’ learning, encouraging the students to go on to college, and recounting his administration’s accomplishments in education.

But it was also a cautionary tale. The President warned his student audience, “We live in a global economy. And when you graduate, you’re no longer going to be competing just with somebody here in D.C. for a great job. You’re competing with somebody on the other side of the world, in China or in India, because jobs can go wherever they want because of the Internet and because of technology. And the best jobs are going to go to the people who are the best educated — whether in India or China, or anywhere in the world.”

We once led the world in education, the President told them, but unfortunately other countries have caught up to us.

“It used to be that a high school job might be enough because you could go into a factory or even go into an office and just do some repetitive work, and if you were willing to work hard you could make a decent living. But the problem is repetitive work now is done by machines. And that’s just going to be more and more true. So in order for you to succeed in the marketplace, you’ve got to be able to think creatively; you’ve got to be able to work with a team; you’ve got to be able to work with a machine and figure out how to make it tailored for the specific requirements of your business and your job. All those things require some more sophisticated thinking than just sitting there and just doing the same thing over and over again. And that’s why you’ve got to have more than just a high school education.

In a nutshell, the President was encouraging the Banneker students to be creative, to learn how to work with a team, and to solve engineering problems, all things that require sophisticated thinking, all things that the Next Generation Science Standards promote and expect.

But the NGSS can be a daunting document, and many teachers are unpacking it on their own.

Where to begin?

I’d like to suggest that you begin with the Performance Expectations for your grade level band and the particular Disciplinary Core Strand of Life Science, Earth and Space Science, Physical Science, or Engineering, whichever your unit of instruction will focus on. A Performance Expectation, as defined by NGSS, is nothing other than “a set of expectations for what students should be able to do by the end of instruction (years or grade-bands). So, the performance expectations set the learning goals for students, but do not describe how students get there.” There are anywhere from two to five performance expectations for each grade level/disciplinary core idea band. Getting students there is the creative part of your work as an instructional designer, i.e. teacher. And, incidentally, this is exactly the approach that Finnish teachers take in their own planning. It requires essentially using a backward design process (you can find an example at the bottom of the page) originating in the goals, or performance expectations, those things we hope students will know and be able to do.

So let’s access those Disciplinary Core Strands here:


A Good Starting Point for Your NGSS Aligned Units

When you click on the Disciplinary Core Strand and grade level your unit will focus on, you are taken directly to the performance expectations for that grade and strand and find, not only the performance expectations, but suggestions for how to understand it … the different forms a model can take, for example … and vetted suggestions for how you can get your students to successfully achieve those performance expectations through hands-on inquiry-based activities.

Easy to access and free to use guide to Performance Expectations from NGSS.

Easy to access and free to use guide to Performance Expectations from NSTA.

Far too often, the textbooks teachers are working with are outdated and are not NGSS aligned. They contain way too much content for any given year. NGSS emphasizes the principle that “less is more,” so you have to significantly streamline to keep to the spirit of the NGSS. As one teacher I spoke with recently noted, “The textbook is no longer the curriculum.” Further, in most of these texts there is no story line threading the Science and Engineering Practices, the Crosscutting Concepts, and the Disciplinary Core Ideas into a comprehensive and engaging whole. So we have to cut ourselves free from those traditional but outdated maps, reserving them to supplement our own planning, and more independently chart a course for our students through these new waters.

And then, if you find that throughway, you get to see these beautiful results of your work in the rapt faces of your young scientists.

Ms. Soto's 2nd Grade Students Planned and Conducted an Investigation

Ms. Soto’s 2nd Grade Students Planned and Conducted an Investigation

This blog post is dedicated to two passionate and wonderful teachers with whom I’ve recently had the pleasure and privilege to work, Lisa Vaughn, 5th grade teacher at Pershing Elementary in Chicago, and Maria Soto, 2nd grade teacher at George Washington Elementary, also in Chicago. Thank you both for your inspriration.


You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here. We are currently seeking partner schools in the Chicagoland area for our 2017 cohort.

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A New Tool for Teachers and Principals from STEM Institute

If you are looking for clear evidence that a classroom, including your own, is on its way to becoming inquiry-based, NGSS aligned, and just plain supportive of students developing their science and engineering skills, ask yourself these questions

  • Are the students seen as scientists and engineers by themselves and by adults?
Sending a Clear Message That Students are Engineers

Sending a Clear Message That Students are Engineers (Kozminski Elementary Community Academy, Chicago)

  • Are the students gathering, organizing, and analyzing data and in other ways experiencing the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (SEP)?
NGSS Science and Engineering Practices — Are Students Using Them?

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices — Are Students Doing These Things?

  • Is the science instruction inquiry-based and hands-on rather than textbook based? (You know, the old memorize the vocabulary, read the book out loud, and answer the questions at the end of the chapter?) How often are students engaged in hands-on, minds-on work? (This should be frequent, not once or twice a month.)
  • Are the students keeping science journals/notebooks, recording their observations, doing scientific drawings or designing solutions to engineering challenges, and reflecting on their observations and experiences, and is this a consistent practice? (For example, “Three months into the school year, when I look at their science notebooks, do I see pages and pages of recorded experiences of the children doing science rather than simply content notes, vocabulary, or pasted in worksheets?”)
  • Are the students using the Wheel of Inquiry to develop investigable questions? Are they asking, “How does ________ effect ________?”
Student Developed Wheels of Inquiry (Steven Taylor, Crowne Community Academy, Chicago)

Student Developed Wheels of Inquiry (Stephen Taylor, Crowne Community Academy, Chicago)

  • Are there photos in the classroom of students doing science? Are students’ scientific drawings posted? Are their engineering solutions on display? In other words, is there a visible documentary record that these are valued activities and engaging to students and that the students are doing hands-on, inquiry-based science/engineering on a regular basis?
At Tonti Elementary in Chicago, Photos of Students Doing Science are Nested Among those of Adult Scientists, Answering the Question "Who is a Scientist?

At Tonti Elementary in Chicago, Photos of Students Doing Science are Nested Among those of Adult Scientists, Answering the Question “Who Is A Scientist?”

  • Is the science/STEM question-driven? Is there a central question being explored through the activity? (This might be called the framing question, essential question, or focus question.) Are there more high-order questions (Bloom’s Taxonomy) being asked? Are students asking high-order questions too? Is there appropriate wait time so that all students have the opportunity to reflect and respond? Is the classroom management conducive to the questioning process and to students conducting scientific investigations or responding to engineering challenges?
  • Are the lessons based on the 5 E approach? Are they Engaging the students in an intriguing observation or question, giving the students ample time to Explore the materials up front before proceeding to have them conduct an investigation and Explain what they observe? Are students given opportunities to Extend their investigation (possibly by using the Wheel of Inquiry and reflecting in their science notebooks) and Evaluate their results and understanding?
  • Are the students excited when they hear they are going to be doing an investigation? Do they know what to do and immediately spring into action? Do they clearly understand the process and procedures because they are doing science and engineering on a frequent, preferably daily, basis? How much ownership do you see students taking for their own learning? Are students framing questions? Are students suggesting other possible investigations? Can students discuss their learning or communicate their understanding in a variety of ways?
Tonti Children

Tonti Elementary Students Learn about the Properties of Water by Building Pencil Rafts … Hands On and Engaged!

  • Was the lesson or unit constructed using backward design? Is there evidence of a clear instructional goal, an assessment, and something to hook the interest of students … rather than simply an activity? Are the NGSS and CCSS clearly identified and tied to the lesson or activity in a meaningful way and with multiple standards addressed? Are the subjects integrated in such a way that more science and engineering can be done because language arts and math support them and vice versa?
  • Are students generally working in groups with clearly defined roles for each student in the group? Is it clear that the students know what to do, the protocols and procedures, when it’s time to conduct an investigation or meet an engineering challenge? Are materials managed in a timely and efficient way?

Using an inquiry-based, constructivist approach takes time because it’s a new way of teaching for many teachers. Seeing four or five of these success indicators in a classroom is a good sign. With enough time and encouragement, teachers are likely to build out their repertoire of inquiry-based activities and lessons into entire units of study and to increase student ownership of learning. Getting to that point is a multi-year process even for highly talented, committed, and experienced teachers. So be prepared to give it time and patience. Working with colleagues as a team to develop a lesson or unit can help speed the process along. To assist you along the way, our Partners in Inquiry website includes many activities from our summer institutes and school year follow-up sessions that teachers are free to use, activities that are already aligned with the above principles.

To make it even easier to gauge whether or not the principles STEM Institute promotes are present in a classroom, we’ve developed an infographic that can serve as a reminder of the things we think you should see.

Our New Info Graphic Reminder of What to Look For

Our New Infographic Reminder of What to Look for in a Great STEM Classroom

I hope it proves useful to you. I’d love to hear from you if you do use it or have suggestions to make it better.

Have a great start to your new school year!


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

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Filed under 5 E Model, children as engineers, children as scientists, Crowne Community Academy, inquiry science, Kozminski Elementary, NGSS, professional development, resources, science teaching, STEM education, teacher resources, Tonti Elementary School, Uncategorized

Crosscutting Concepts

Here is a list:

Patterns: Observed patterns of forms and events guide organization and classification, and they prompt questions about relationships and the factors that influence them.
Cause and effect: Mechanism and explanation. Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted. A major activity of science is investigating and explaining causal relationships and the mechanisms by which they are mediated. Such mechanisms can then be tested across given contexts and used to predict and explain events in new contexts.
Scale, proportion, and quantity: In considering phenomena, it is critical to recognize what is relevant at different measures of size, time, and energy and to recognize how changes in scale, proportion, or quantity affect a system’s structure or performance.
Systems and system models: Defining the system under study—specifying its boundaries and making explicit a model of that system—provides tools for understanding and testing ideas that are applicable throughout science and engineering.
Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation. Tracking fluxes of energy and matter into, out of, and within systems helps one understand the systems’ possibilities and limitations.
Structure and function: The way in which an object or living thing is shaped and its substructure determine many of its properties and functions.
Stability and change: For natural and built systems alike, conditions of stability and determinants of rates of change or evolution of a system are critical elements of study.

Structure and Function

Structure and Function

By now, you are likely familiar with this domain of the Next Generation Science Standards, the seven Crosscutting Concepts, ideas that bridge all the science content areas, from amoebae to supernovae.

Here is another list:

The Family Is All There Is
by Pattiann Rogers

“Think of those old, enduring connections 
found in all flesh–the channeling 
wires and threads, vacuoles, granules, plasma and pods, purple veins, ascending 
boles and coral sapwood (sugar-
and light-filled), those common ligaments, filaments, fibers and canals.

Seminal to all kin also is the open 
mouth–in heart urchin and octopus belly, in catfish, moonfish, forest lily, and rugosa rose, in thirsty magpie, wailing cat cub, barker, yodeler, yawning coati.

And there is a pervasive clasping 
common to the clan–the hard nails
 of lichen and ivy sucker 
on the church wall, the bean tendril 
and the taproot, the bolted coupling 
of crane flies, the hold of the shearwater
 on its morning squid, guanine 
to cytosine, adenine to thymine,
 fingers around fingers, the grip
 of the voice on presence, the grasp 
of the self on place.

Remember the same hair on pygmy
 dormouse and yellow-necked caterpillar, 
covering red baboon, thistle seed 
and willow herb? Remember the similar
snorts of warthog, walrus, male moose
 and sumo wrestler? Remember the familiar 
whinny and shimmer found in river birches, bay mares and bullfrog tadpoles, in children playing at shoulder tag on a summer lawn?

The family–weavers, reachers, winders 
and connivers, pumpers, runners, air and bubble riders, rock-sitters, wave-gliders, wire-wobblers, soothers, flagellators—all
 brothers, sisters, all there is.

Name something else.”

Lichen and Moss

“the hard nails of lichen” and moss

If you are not familiar with the poetry of Pattiann Rogers, you’re in for a treat. Here is a poet who has beautifully captured the notion of Crosscutting Concepts; they run throughout “The Family Is All There Is.” The patterns of “open mouth” and “clasping.” The structure and function of “the channeling wires and threads.” The system of kinship among all living things … “the family is all there is.

Arguably the theme of this poem is “all things are connected.” And isn’t that, in essence, the great understanding that the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts lead us to? Don’t they guide and promote our ability to see those connections, those commonalities? And doesn’t Pattiann Rogers do the same in that poem, in the grand tradition of the Metaphysical Poets.

So, in case you haven’t crossed her path before, let me briefly introduce her to you and then to what I think is one of the major implications of her work for educators and specifically for those of us in STEM education.

A brief biography: Pattiann Rogers was born in 1940 in Joplin, Missouri. Her mother was a schoolteacher. Pattiann went to the University of Missouri where she met her future husband, John Robert Rogers, in French class. She completed her degree in English literature, and the couple married in 1960. While John completed his PhD in Physics, Pattiann worked as a kindergarten teacher. She and her husband had two sons, John and Arthur, and by the birth of their second son were living in Houston, where her husband did geophysical research for Texaco while pursuing postgraduate training in geology at the University of Houston. Meanwhile, Rogers devoted herself, during their early years, to raising the couple’s two sons, eventually enrolling in a graduate program in creative writing at the University of Houston and earning her MA in 1981, the same year she published her first book of poems, The Expectations of Light, which received an award from the Texas Institute of Letters and prompted critic Peter Stitt to comment on her “sophisticated incorporation of modern scientific thinking into poetry.”

Rogers’s eldest son John earned a PhD in physics at MIT and is now celebrated as one of the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana’s “star professors” and one of the leading material scientists in the world. In fall 2016, he will be leaving the U of I to become the Louis Simpson and Kimberly Querrey Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Medicine in the Simpson Querrey Institute for BioNanotechnology, Northwestern’s newly endowed center for biointegrated electronics. He and his research team have developed a wireless antibiotic implant that dissolves after a patient’s treatment is complete. In 2013 the group developed a tattoo-like sensor that can measure brain waves, heartbeats, and the contraction of skeletal muscles.
That was a mouthful.

But I wanted to include it to suggest the way in which the arts and sciences can marry, can feed each other (read inspire), and basically operate as one family within the human intellect. Far from being the two separate cultures C. P. Snow described in 1959, they are, ideally and quite appropriately, helpmeets. Snow believed that Britain, his country, had privileged the humanities over the scientific and engineering education he felt necessary to manage the modern scientific world. We certainly don’t do that in today’s United States. In fact, we don’t seem to privilege either the Arts or the Sciences, if the time spent on those disciplines in our schools and if what is tested, i.e., valued, are any indication. But perhaps, united, both science and art stand a better chance.

Let’s take an excerpt from another of Pattiann Rogers’s poems, “How the Body in Motion Affects the Mind.”

“We are bound by the theorem of sockets and joints,
Totally united with contraction and release.
The idea of truth cannot be separated
From the action of the hand releasing
The stone at the precise apogee of the arm’s motion
Or from the spine’s flexibility easing
Through a wooden fence. The notion
Of the vast will not ignore the arm swinging
In motion from the shoulder or the fingers
Clasped together in alternation.

And when the infant, for the first time,
Turns his body over completely, think
What an enormous revelation in the brain
Must be forced, at that moment, to right itself.”

I can’t help but notice in this poem what we’ve come to call scientific thinking, the Wheel of Inquiry. When you reflect on the NGSS, specifically the eight Scientific and Engineering Practices, the observation, the awakened curiosity, the questioning, the developing of models, all come into play in the work of this poet and arguably that of artists everywhere. Artists too are observers, problem solvers, investigators of discrepant events, and communicators of what they learn from their explorations of the world.

It’s easy to see why Rogers “is known for verse that both embraces the natural world and unfolds the complexities of science.” Roald Hoffmann, Nobel laureate in chemistry said, “I’ve never seen nature observed as closely, nor transfigured by human language, as in Pattiann Rogers’ poetry.” If you want to further explore the work of Pattiann Rogers, a good place to start is to dive into Song of the World Becoming: New and Collected Poems 1891-2001(2001). Her poems are an education in ecology, astronomy, biology, and in the vocabulary of science and scientific observation. I also highly recommend her reflections on her writing in The Dream of the Marsh Hen: Writing as Reciprocal Creation (1999). Both books are seedbeds from which teachers can generate arts based and science connected activities for their students, by activating students’ curiosity and imagination. And to delve into the works of other poets who have taken science and math as their own fertile field, have a look at Verse and Universe: Poems about Science and Mathematics (1998). Pattiann Rogers is included in this anthology, and so is chemist Roald Hoffmann.

Image: J Brew via Flickr

Image: J Brew via Flickr (Creative Commons)

So just maybe the ultimate Crosscutting Concept is that science and art are fundamentally related, the thought processes of scientists and artists more akin than surface appearances would suggest. Part of our task then as teachers and as a society is to erase the artificial divide between the two and the notion that we have two competing cultures, as if there could possibly be a competition at that most fundamental of levels — the working of the human mind. And that would logically lead us to very thoughtfully tuck a capital A into STEM right after the E.

As Pattiann Rogers states in The Dream of the Marsh Wren. “It has seemed to me impossible to live in our world, to survive — the split, the rending being too great — if a union could not be found and created within these two ways of knowing, the artistic and the scientific, both so essential and so present in our lives. I believe that the union is there and only lacks expression to bring it into reality.”

~ Penny

To learn more about STEM Institute, click here.

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Filed under arts, book review, creativity, curiosity, NGSS, Pattiann Rogers, poetry, STEAM, STEM education, teacher resources, The Scientific Method, Uncategorized, Wheel of Inquiry

Smarter Science

Today I want to take time to introduce you to a free resource that just might help you better implement the Next Generation Science Standards.

Our neighbors to the north, Ontario to be precise, developed their own framework for science right around the time we were developing the NGSS. As their website points out, “Smarter Science is a framework for teaching and learning science in grades 1-12 and for developing the skills of inquiry, creativity, and innovation in a meaningful and engaging manner. Students engaged in Smarter Science-based activities are actively investigating and problem solving, enabled by a teacher who helps them address challenges relevant to their world. As they learn to think and act like scientists, students become increasingly independent and self-confident learners.” The developers of Smarter Science wanted to make science come alive for Ontario students. They wanted to provide the means to allow teachers to actively engage students, to develop their problem-solving skills, to get them thinking, and to dovetail science with literacy and numeracy.

Sound familiar?

Smarter Science was the brainchild of the Thames Valley District School Board and was piloted in 50 Ontario schools between 2006 and 2010. As educators saw the positive results emanating from the implementation of Smarter Science, more and more schools in Canada adopted the framework. Delightfully, Smarter Science is open source, which means that the folks who created it are sharing it freely with educators across Canada and the world. It can be freely reproduced and distributed. And that’s exactly what I intend to do and encourage you to do as well.

The Smarter Science framework beautifully complements our own Next Generation Science Standards and spells out what to do (and what not to do!) in the science classroom. It provides a very strong visual for implementing a more inquiry-based science program and aligns nicely with the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching. Do what it suggests, and you’ll be in the proficient and distinguished range of practice in no time. More pedagogically based than the NGSS, Smarter Science provides explicit classroom practice pointers, but unlike the NGSS doesn’t address Cross-Cutting Concepts or Disciplinary Core Ideas. You have our own NGSS for that. But Smarter Science is a good entry point and is easier to use than the NGSS.

A couple of pictures to give you a taste, and then please download your own copy, and set aside some time during the holiday break in December to peruse it. I guarantee you’ll come away with a better sense of how to do science with your students.

The Snarter Science Framework


A Sample from the Framework … Note the Helpful Teaching Tips.

A Sample from the Framework … Note the Helpful Teaching Tips

The Smarter Science site has downloadable templates to help you achieve a more inquiry-based classroom. And check out the Inquiry Cards here. Poke around the website, and I’m sure you’ll discover useful tools and ideas to get your students thinking like scientists.

~ Penny

By the way, if you’ve been involved in Golden Apple’s professional development, this framework will remind you of STEM Institute and the way our faculty conducts activities. You can learn more about STEM Institute here.




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Filed under Canada, education policy, inquiry science, NGSS, science teaching, Smarter Science, STEM education, Uncategorized

The Martian — Not a Review

Dedicated to the stellar STEM team at Everett Elementary and to intrepid teacher I(inquiry)TEAMs everywhere.

In the summer of 1999, I did some work for Adler Planetarium as part of a MAPS (Museums and Public Schools) grant. Museums in the Parks and Chicago Public Schools collaborated to design curriculum based on museum collections, with an eye toward creating interdisciplinary units incorporating something from each of the museums, connecting kids to the rich treasury of artifacts they housed, and making field trips more relevant. Each curriculum team consisted of representatives from each of three museums and 4 CPS teachers representing different subject areas. My team included The Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, and The Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum (as it was then called).

After touring our partner museums, my team was charged with developing field trip activities tied to the Mars-focused unit we were working on and based on what we had seen at the museums. I still remember one of the “field trip questions” written by a teacher on my team: “What do the red planet and the Red Sea have in common?” I’ll tell you his answer later in this post.

Mars has always been fascinating, but back then it was particularly so. Three years earlier (1996), Dr. Robert Zubrin had published The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must, and Adler Planetarium was all over it. It’s a fascinating and important book that makes the colonization of Mars seem entirely doable. Carl Sagan said, “Bob Zubrin really, nearly alone, changed our thinking on this issue.” As an aside, the science behind the book is both compelling and accessible to the general reader, so it would be good background reading for units you might create in the future focused on ESS1B – Earth and Solar System and the Disciplinary Core Ideas under Engineering, Technology and Applications of Science (ETS1A, ETS1B, ETS1C, EST2A, and ETS2B).

The Case for Mars by Dr. Robert Zubrin

The Case for Mars by Dr. Robert Zubrin

Now, let’s fast forward to October 2015, and the movie that debuted this past weekend at the top of the box office heap, raking in almost $55 million dollars in one weekend, director Ridley Scott’s The Martian, starring Matt Damon. Revisiting the Zubrin book after just having seen The Martian, it’s obvious that Zubrin’s thinking about how Mars could first be explored and then colonized, has shaped the work that is going on today, including some of what we see in the film.

We’re so used to film conflict centering on man vs. man, all those Terminator and Bourne movies, that the struggle of one man against the hostile environment in which he finds himself stranded … Mars … and against his own physical, psychological, and intellectual limits … is a refreshing change. What sets this film apart, in addition to Damon’s superb performance and the strikingly beautiful setting, is the plausibility both of the story and of its heroic resolution. This really could happen and in the not too distant future.

Serendipitously, just days ahead of the film’s release, NASA scientists confirmed evidence of water on Mars, something that had only been suspected until then. And NASA is currently working on  at least nine of the technologies that are represented in The Martian. The film is a celebration of scientific thinking and engineering expertise, both on the part of astronaut Mark Watley and by the team of scientists at NASA and Watley’s crewmembers who are trying to save him. If you ever needed inspiration for teaching STEM, this film is it. And if you ever needed ammunition to make a case for the value of increasing the amount of time devoted to STEM subjects in school, The Martian will also serve.

But as to immediate practical applications, I think the film can serve as a model for STEM thinking and teaching. Exactly how do STEM professionals set about understanding a phenomenon or solving a problem? When Matt Damon’s character Mark Watney finds himself stranded on a planet where he is fast running out of food supplies and realizes that he has only a small window of time to travel the thousands of kilometers necessary to reconnect with the next mission from earth, he defiantly says “I’m going to have to science the s**t out of this.”

It’s that attitude that teachers are now called on to exhibit in facing the challenging task of teaching to the new standards, when we have precious little time in the daily schedule for it, no NGSS aligned resources (just some old FOSS and SEPUP kits), and no likelihood of having those resources for about the same length of time Mark Watney must wait for the return of his crew (total mission length about 900 days), and, with any luck and a lot of science, his return to earth. In the meantime, we have to “science the s**t” out of what is available.

So just like Mark Watney broke into things never intended for the use he would put them to in order to save his life and just as he dumped stuff from cupboards and lockers onto the table and floor to see what would serve his new purposes, we are in a space and time when teachers literally have to do the same thing. We have to fully embrace the first of the 5 E’s … Exploring! And, thankfully, just like Watney, we aren’t alone. He had his crew in space and the NASA team back on earth to help him problem solve, once, of course, he had figured out the huge problem of how to communicate with them the fact that he was still alive. Teachers have each other. We just have to reach out to each other and collaborate.

All over the Internet, teachers and STEM organizations and institutions (including NASA, btw) are posting free resources that you can use to do the science you want to do with your students, science aligned with the NGSS. And there are those FOSS boxes, possibly sitting in a closet or storeroom somewhere in your school. Raid them. FOSS isn’t inquiry based and it isn’t NGSS aligned, but those kits contain all of the stuff that STEM folks use in their work. Break into those boxes and figure out how those tools and materials can be used in new ways for different activities than FOSS intended, activities that are NGSS aligned. Let Mark Watney be your inspiration. If he could figure out how to keep himself alive on a hostile planet, you can figure out how to keep NGSS alive in an environment not conducive to its implementation. No pun intended, but it will require “out of the box” thinking from you.

So give yourself a treat this weekend, and see this terrific film. Then have a go at those supplies lying around your building.

Recently, when he was asked by The Guardian about the scientific accuracy of The Martian, Robert Zubrin said, “The US space programme today is frozen in its tracks. NASA talks about sending humans to Mars in 2043, but that’s just postponing it for another generation. We’re much closer today to being able to send people to Mars than we were to sending people to the Moon in 1961. If Barack Obama’s successor were to commit the nation, in the spring of 2017, with the same kind of courage and determination that JFK did in 1961, we could be on Mars before the end of his or her second term. It’s a question of political will to me. That’s the real positive message of The Martian. It’s saying, ‘we can do it. If we use our minds, we can take on all these challenges.’”

And, teachers, so can we! Storm the Internet. Tear into your classroom closets and storerooms. Repurpose those FOSS kits. And make it an iTEAM effort; enlist your colleagues.

Now for the answer to that question I posed earlier, “What do the Red Sea and the Red Planet have in common?” I’m ashamed to say, the teacher who made up that question for a field trip worksheet that students would fill out on their visit to The Field Museum and Adler Planetarium, wrote the correct answer as “the color red.” If you’re like me, you anticipated something more scientific. In point of fact, one thing Mars and the Red Sea do have in common is high salinity; both are extremely alkaline, with a pH of over 8.0. There’s surely an inquiry investigation in there somewhere.

Teachers, is there any doubt we have our work cut out for us?

~ Penny

For more information about Golden Apple STEM Institute, click.

A good free resource, the NRC’s Guide to Implementing the NGSS, which will help you keep the task in perspective can be downloaded here. You can find a summary here.

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Filed under 5 E Model, Adler Planetarium, collaboration, creativity, Everett Elementary, Field Museum, inquiry science, Mars, NGSS, resources, science teaching, STEM education, teacher resources, The Martian