Category Archives: elementary

Concord Consortium: NGSS Assessment Portal

It’s been awhile since I’ve featured any of the incredible science education resources at Concord Consortium…so let’s remedy that.

The NGSS Assessment Portal is an online platform developed by the Concord Consortium, an educational research and development organization. The primary focus of the website is to provide thoughtfully designed 3 Dimensional Assessment tasks for educators.

On the NGSS Assessment Portal you will find a set of elementary (3-5) assessment tasks plus middle grades (6-8). The tasks are all online (not printable) and teachers can create free accounts to assign tasks, have students engage, and then collect their responses.

These tasks can obviously be used with students but can also be objects of study for professional development, teacher education, or used as exemplars for NGSS curriculum and assessment work.


Working on State Science Assessments

Twenty-two years ago I was just wrapping up my first year of teaching. Teaching was my second career- I’d spent almost a decade working in Biotech as a STEM professional. Of course back then we didn’t use the term “STEM professional”…I was a lab tech. My career change went well and I really loved teaching those 5th graders. But I also knew that I wanted to find ways to advocate for elementary science and to prepare myself for whatever might come after my time in the classroom.

I remember seeing an opportunity to be a part of a committee/focus group that was looking to start building a science assessment for the state of Washington. We had new science standards and would soon be implementing a state-wide science assessment system. I remember being very interested in what the elementary test might look like. I signed up. I got accepted. And over the following two decades I would work on multiple committees to usher in three different sets for state science standards and assessments (including NGSS). I did item writing, data review, content review, range finding (so much range finding!), standard-setting, work on test and item specs…I can’t even remember every committee. We designed released scenarios & items, PCAs, and lots of professional learning for teachers. Back then most of the meetings were week-long events. Lots of time spent in hotels in Bellingham and Olympia. I also think I maintained my teaching certificate almost entirely from clock hours from those events- a nice perk.

Photo by Viktor Hanacek at picjumbo

I would say that that initial science assessment committee work in the summer of 2001- really propelled me into the work that I do now- working in teacher education and working as a consultant to support schools and districts with STEM instruction. The assessment committee work built my skills in understanding standards deeply, in interrogating the purpose of science assessment, in understanding how to construct clear items, tasks & rubrics, and in building connections with like-minded science folks from across the state.

As it happens, OSPI is currently seeking applications for a new round of science assessment work that will engage in Range Finding in July and Content Review in September. I highly recommend applying to be a part of this work. You will bring key learning and resources back to your district and it just might launch you professionally in ways you cannot even predict.

It’s been a few years since I’ve been on a committee- so I completed the application. We’ll see if they are interested in having an old Science Assessment Leadership Team fossil involved in the work. Either way- I hope that we get lots of “first timers” to apply. We need to take pride in that fact that since the beginning our science assessment work in Washington has been guided by the work of teachers.

Click HERE to see the Science Assessment Professional Development page on the OSPI website. This site shows you the dates and events coming the summer and fall of 2023. Invitations to apply are sent to those on the science assessment listserv but I’m assuming you could also contact the science assessment team (see link under Contact Information on the right side of OSPI page) and ask for a link to the application. Good luck.

It’s a Tradition: Survive the Sound- Enter Soon!

In many classrooms around the Pacific Northwest (and beyond) participating in Survive the Sound has become an annual tradition. Survive the Sound is a website that aims to raise awareness about the survival of endangered salmon species in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. The website allows users to adopt a salmon and track its progress in real-time as it attempts to navigate through a virtual obstacle course that simulates the hazards that salmon face in their natural environment. The website also provides educational resources about salmon conservation efforts and encourages users to take action to protect these important fish species.

The migration starts May 1st so assemble your team now for some friendly competition. And yes- there are prizes!

Healthy Habitats: Climate Change Action for K-2 by Climate Generation

Healthy Habitats: Climate Change Action for K-2 is a primary climate change education resource designed to help elementary educators teach about climate change and its impacts on local habitats. This resource is part of the resource library at the Climate Generation site. The resource consists of three lessons that build off of one another and are designed to be taught sequentially. The lessons aim to develop students’ socio-emotional learning skills, empathy for living beings, and understanding of climate justice issues on local, national, and global scales. The resource was developed by Climate Generation in collaboration with three elementary educators from different parts of the US. The lessons encourage students to explore their local schoolyard habitat, reflect on how climate change may be impacting it, and work together to plan and implement an action that helps reduce local climate impacts and cultivate climate resiliency at their school.

Overall, Healthy Habitats looks like a valuable resource for elementary educators looking to teach about climate change in a way that is engaging, accessible, and relevant to their young students’ lives. The lessons are nicely designed with embedded links to videos and other resources along with supportive student handouts.

Note: you will have to go through a “check out” process to access the mini-unit but the materials are free. A donation is appreciated I’m sure. Check it out.

All the Feelings Under the Sun: How to Deal with Climate Change

All the Feelings Under the Sun: How to Deal with Climate Change by Leslie Davenport is a book written for kids that is designed to help them examine and work through their feelings and emotions about our changing climate. Just looking at the chapter titles gives a sense of what this book is about:


Chapter 1: How We Know What We Know

Chapter 2: The Earth is Heating Up

Chapter 3: Everything is Connected

Chapter 4: Eco-Justice

Chapter 5: Making the World Healthier Together

In my work with classroom teachers it is common to hear a certain amount of hesitancy in engaging students (especially younger students) with learning about climate. The thought being that the content is too heavy and overwhelming. This book might be a great resource for thinking about how to tackle learning about climate head on with a solution-oriented frame and also dealing with our feelings about it.

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WA STATE: FREE K-5 OSPI Science At-Home Workshop

OSPI is providing a FREE workshop on the K-5 Science Essential Question Units and Resources. This workshop will provide an overview of the existing science resources that are aligned to NGSS and are modified to support students and teachers in science learning during distance learning. You also get 1.5 to 6 STEM clock hours depending on whether you want to engage students in some of the learning experiences you will experience. Sounds like a great way to learn about some free aligned science resources and get some free STEM clock hours too. Hope to see lots of you on the Zoom on Jan. 12th.

When: Tuesday, January 12th from 4-5:30pm (other asynchronous hours optional)

Where: Zoom workshop

How: Register on PD Enroller HERE

You can preview the elementary science resources below:

WA Green Schools: At-Home Certification

Washington Green Schools is a non-profit organization working to empower students to become environmental leaders by certifying their schools and conserving resources. During the pandemic Washington Green Schools has added the option for students to apply for At-Home Certification.

I would argue that while the usual school certification process is powerful this is one of those instances where the pandemic can lead to interesting modifications to our procedures. Encouraging students and their families to make changes in their home practices is where the real environmental impact can happen.

Teachers and families can download the Washington Green Schools At-Home Certification Kit HERE. The kit provides a menu of projects to choose from (with their family’s permission and support). Students then conduct a home audit and collect data on the change (project) they selected. Families will also get access to the Carbon Calculator tool and multiple other learning resources. I can image this being a powerful at-home STEM learning experience for the winter and/or spring of 2021.

My Top 5 Science Picture Books for 2020

I’m a former elementary teacher- therefore I love picture books. But to be honest I feel like I’ve always loved picture books. I loved them myself as a kid and have so many great memories of reading them to my own two kids. A couple of decades ago in my teacher education program I can remember we had an assignment to read 50 picture books…it didn’t feel like an assignment to me. That was probably my favorite literacy assignment- and then we got to do a read aloud to our class- just the best!

So now as a teacher educator and consultant I love to integrate picture books into my teaching. I read picture books to my college students and my inservice teachers to teach them about engineering design, the science and engineering practices and the crosscutting concepts. We discuss how to use picture books in authentic and engaging science lessons.

As someone who is always on the hunt for a good STEM picture book- here are my personal Top 5 favorite science and STEM-related picture books from 2020 in no particular order. NOTE: Some of these may not have a 2020 publication date- they are books that I became aware of in 2020.

Top 5 Science Picture Books of 2020

A Computer Called Katherine by Suzanne Slade

We’ve seen a few children’s books about the incomparable mathematician Katherine Johnson depicted in the movie Hidden Figures. I think this is my favorite of all of them due to the focus on Mrs. Johnson’s motivation and drive.

Look Up with Me, Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Life Among the Stars by Jennifer Berne

I am always a fan of sharing (with students and teachers) the early lives of people who entered STEM fields. I think it’s important to see the rich experiences that lead young people to pursue STEM careers. This excellent book shares how Neil’s early curiosity about planets and stars led to his love of science.

Nine Months by Miranda Paul

I have a very strong memory of my mom (a nurse) buying me a book about baby development when I was around 7 years old. I was fixated with that book and all of the pictures of the stages of human development. That’s probably where my interest in science- and specifically biology- was solidified. Nine Months reminds me a lot of that book I had in the mid-1970s. Check it out and try to get someone hooked on the life sciences 🙂

What Miss Mitchell Saw by Hayley Barrett

The true story of Maria Mitchell and her discovery of a comet which led to her becoming the first American female astronomer.

Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge by Rachel Dougherty

The true story of Emily Roebling who helped guide the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge when her husband (the lead engineer on the project) fell ill.

Lots of great picture books were left off of this list. What science-related picture books have you fallen in love with recently that deserve a mention here?

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Great Picture Book: Cece Loves Science

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 6.59.01 PMOVERVIEW: My daughter Cece is 9 years old and last fall we were walking through a Barnes & Noble (yes they still have those!) and we saw a display for a picture book titled Cece Loves Science. My daughter saw the display and shouted, “I DO love science!”

I’ve been using science and engineering related picture books for two decades- both with children and adult learners. I look forward to thinking about how I will use Cece Loves Science (by Kimberly Derting and Shelli R. Johannes, illustrated by Vashti Harrison) with the preservice and inservice teachers I support.

The picture book tells the story of a young girl of color, Cece, who loves to ask questions and figure things out. In the story, Cece and her best friend Isaac, are trying to figure out the best way to conduct an investigation involving her dog, Einstein.

This book has been out for over a year and I’m interested to hear how folks have used this picture book with students. I’d love to hear some stories.

PURPOSE: In the last few years we have seen a much-needed increase in the number of STEM-focused picture books with main characters representing populations who have traditionally been marginalized in STEM- females and people of color. Cece Loves Science is another resource to add to our toolbox that highlights the exceptional thinking of young ladies and positions them as the determined problem-solvers  that they are.

AUDIENCE: children, adults, educators, teacher educators, librarians, informal science educators

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Claim, Evidence, & Reasoning (CER) Resources Part 1

supporting grade 5-8For the past several years I have been supporting pre-service and inservice teachers with the use of the Claim, Evidence and Reasoning (CER) framework for scaffolding students’ writing and talking about scientific explanations and arguments. This framework provides a common language for discussing the elements of powerful explanations and arguments. It isn’t a formula to memorize but a framework for support and improvement.

I have used the following books in professional development and also in college courses I’ve taught.  I highly recommend these:

whats your evidenceTogether these books provide a very clear and engaging look at how to use a Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) framework to improve student writing and discourse in science. The CER framework can support not only science explanations but also the Common Core State Standards’ focus on using evidence and argumentation in math and English/Language Arts.

Over the years, I’ve developed some tools that could be useful for professional development providers, professional learning communities, and ultimately students who are engaging with a CER framework.


1. An activity for writing a scientific explanation of whether soap and fat are the same substance. This is directly from the first book with some added reflective questions for teachers. This could be used as an initial activity with teachers before revealing the CER framework. CER writing an explanation fat and soap

2. A set of 3 Formative Assessment Probes (based on Page Keeley’s work) to uncover student ideas about science explanations- the probes include a DRAFT facilitation guide. Feel free to improve these:

3. A video “think sheet” for participants to track their thinking while watching the first video clip from the book where a teacher introduces the CER framework to a class of 7th graders- introducing CER framework vid 2.1 think sheet

Please let me know if you have any revisions/changes/improvements to any of these documents. Hope these are helpful… enjoy.

I’ll add a few other resources in an upcoming post. What CER resources have you found most useful in your own work with students?

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