Category Archives: K-12 General Science

FREE Chapter: Toward More Equitable Learning in Science

Screen Shot 2020-07-10 at 12.54.41 PMThe National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) currently has a FREE chapter from the book Helping Student Make Sense of the World using Next Generation Science & Engineering Practices. This book is a compilation of chapters from multiple authors. The FREE chapter is Toward More Equitable Learning in Science by Megan Bang, Bryan Brown, Angela Calabrese Barton, Ann Rosebery, and Beth Warren.

The chapter lays out 3 Principles for expanding meaningful learning opportunities in science:

  • Principle 1: Notice sense-making repertoires. Attend to, listen to, and think about students’ diverse sense-making as connecting to science practices.

  • Principle 2: Support sense-making. Actively support students in using their sense-making repertoires and experiences as critical tools in engaging with science practices.

  • Principle 3: Engage diverse sense-making. Engage students in understanding how scientific practices and knowledge are always developing and how their own community histories, values, and practices have contributed to scientific understanding and problem solving and will continue to do so.

I think that some of us as science teachers might look at these principles and say, “Yes- I think I do that.” OR “I’m not sure what this means exactly.”

This chapter uses three vignettes to clarify these three principles that are crying out for examples.

Not sure how long this chapter will stay on the NSTA site as a FREE download so grab it now.

Climate Science Assessment Tasks

The Phenomenal Assessment site features three assessment tasks created for the Climate Science Proviso which has provided climate science education funding in Washington state. You will find an elementary task, a middle school task and a high school task.

Elementary: Comparing & Critiquing Energy Sources grade 4

Middle School: Analyzing Patterns in Wildfire Data

High School: Climate Impacts after 1492

These assessment tasks are not intended to be solely used as summative assessments. Think about how you might use these as objects of study for your own professional learning and how these might be used as assessments WHILE learning. This site provides examples of ways that these tasks might be used in equitable and rigorous ways. See below:


Reflect on Argumentation

Analyze Data



Video: How to See Germs Spread

This video by Mark Rober (Check out some of Mark’s other science videos) is nicely done and could be pushed out to students as part of some online science learning. There are lots of Science & Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts at work here too if you wanted to get all NGSS nerdy with it.

Mark is also livestreaming a Science Class on his YouTube channel at 1pm PST Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. His first was today. He’s also posting the videos so you don’t have to catch the livestream.

Resources for Supporting Science Learning During School Closures

Our friends at STEM Teaching ToolsScreen Shot 2020-03-23 at 3.52.54 PM have organized some resources from Council of School Science Supervisors (CSSS) to support families with science learning while practicing social distancing at home. Some of these could be great for use in school districts as reminders of best practices and others contain ready-made resources that are available in English, Spanish and Arabic.

The Sample Learning Menu is a particular favorite.

Click HERE to get to these thoughtfully designed resources.

Science in the City by Bryan A. Brown

science in the city coverScience in the City: Culturally Relevant STEM Education by Bryan A. Brown of Stanford University is a true gift to the science education community. I’ve been using a YouTube video of Dr. Brown discussing science, language and identity for several years in workshops and with my pre-service science teachers (see embedded video below). Dr. Brown has taken the ideas in the short video and built them into an engaging, readable and important book.

Science in the City is an easy read largely due to Dr. Brown’s writing style and his use of story to couch the ideas that he’s presenting to us- he’s also modeling for us what he wants us to do with students! The stories are everyday events that illustrate language, identity, and race. One of my favorites is from early in the book when Dr. Brown reminds us of a post-game interview that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston gave on TV in 2014 following a victory in the national championship game.  After the interview Mr. Winston’s interview was met on social media with a barrage of criticism including a tweet saying, “Am I listening to English?” This criticism was countered by tweets from Lebron James and Reggie Bush praising Mr. Winston’s leadership, interview skill, and talk. Dr. Brown puts this in front of us to make the point that schools tend to value “academic English” and that many folks working in educational systems have a bias for (and against) certain types of talk. We are often missing out on the brilliance of students of color based on these biases.

If you have done any work on student discourse in science this book will resonate with you and likely push you to think deeper about how to interrogate educational systems for more culturally relevant language practices in science classrooms.

Here is a quote from the book that illustrates what Science in the City is all about:

If there is a single message that serves as the foundation for this book it is the idea that there is no cultural distance between students of color and a successful science education.

The final chapter of the book does a clear and concise job of presenting a small but powerful set of instructional practices to implement in science classrooms:

  • Disaggregate Instruction
  • Generative Formative Assessment
  • Culturally Based Cognitive Apprenticeship Instruction
  • Technology as a Cultural Mediator

I highly recommend adding Science in the City to your set of science education resources. I’d also love to hear from anyone else who has been digging into this book.

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Book: Thing Explainer- Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Monroe

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-8-02-51-pmFile this one under “fun” but I’m sure most science educators can find several uses for this book with students. I have owned Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Monroe (Creator of xkcd) for a couple of years. I keep it in my office and every so often I find myself opening it up and spending several minutes examining the brilliant labeled diagrams (they are amazing detailed systems models) that show how common and important living and designed systems work.

Mr. Monroe committed to using only the “ten hundred” most common words. This constraint creates a beautiful simplicity that gets to the essence of these systems. As science teachers we can learn a lesson from this. Too often we value vocabulary words as evidence of student understanding. Perhaps we should push more for simplified explanations that use everyday language.

I think that any human being will find this book to be interesting and any scientist, engineer, or STEM educator will also find it to be inspiring and valuable. There is something about the clearly illustrated systems models that mesh perfectly with the vision of the Next Generation Science Standards. This book also makes a wonderful gift.


LINK: Thing Explainer

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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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WA NGSS WCAS Test & Item Specs Released

Many of us science assessment nerds have been anxiously awaiting for the NGSS Test & Item Specifications for the Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science (WCAS). The anticipated arrival of these document reminds me of an iconic clip from Steve Martin’s movie The Jerk (see below).

These documents are organized into the following grade bands:

I’m assuming that these documents might be useful to science educators outside of Washington. You will see that there is support for each NGSS Performance Expectation from Grade 3 through High School and there are some pretty cool features such as:

  • information on items types and assessment design
  • a variety of 2 Dimensional versions of each PE
  • details and clarification that provide greater specificity to the original PE for not only assessment but also instruction

See the screen shot below for 5-PS1-1 to get a sense of some of the extra information provided by the item specs.

Screen Shot 2019-09-06 at 5.18.25 PM

So You’ve Been Hired as a Science TOSA | Part 1

This is the time of the year when a new group of science TOSAs (teachers on special assignment) tend to enter the realm of school district office science support. Now you may have a different term than TOSA in your neck of the woods- but basically this is a position where a classroom teacher continues to be paid a teacher salary (with perhaps a few extra hours thrown in) but does district office administrative level work to support science implementation.

Over the last 10 years I have worked with and supported many people in these Science TOSA positions and I’ve noticed that many school districts do not adequately support  those who take on these positions. The skillset of a successful classroom science teacher is often not the same skillset necessary to be a successful science education leader. I’ve also noticed that there are a huge variety of roles that these Science TOSAs might be expected to take on- here are a few that come to mind:

  • Science Curriculum and Assessment expert K-5, MS, HS or all 3
  • Mentor teacher
  • Instructional coach
  • Professional Development Designer and Provider
  • Meeting coordinator and facilitator
  • Science Materials Manager
  • Science Curriculum Review Committee Leader
  • and so much more

Some skills that Science TOSAs may need (that may differ from classroom teaching):

  • advocating for science instruction within your own district
  • working in uncertain and ever-changing environments
  • working with mostly adults (vs mostly kids)
  • navigating school district politics
  • managing a budget

While the following is not an exhaustive list- here are a few books that I highly recommend for the beginning Science TOSA. By the way- most of these are not science education specific. I’ll post a Part 2 in the future with some of my favorite science ed resources for new TOSAs.

Designing Professional Development for Teachers of Math and Science (3rd edition) This is an oldie but a goody- the framework for developing and planning PD is just as effective and useful today.

Leading Every Day: 124 Actions for Effective Leadership A set of short snippets that can be used personally or with small groups to focus on leadership.

Cognitive Coaching: A Foundation for Renaissance Schools Another oldie- but this book provides an excellent framework for coaching and working with adults.

Choreography of Presenting A short and readable guide on effectively presenting to adults.

Evaluating Professional Development So you’re delivering PD…but how are you evaluating the effectiveness of that PD? This is the book to get you started.

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2018 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education

screen shot 2019-01-14 at 3.16.42 pmHorizon Research, Inc recently released their findings from the 2018 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education (NSSME+). The plus sign signifies the inclusion of some computer science in the survey. This project surveyed over 7k teachers of science, math, and computer science across the US.

This report provides some excellent evidence for future research, district implementation, teacher education, professional development, curriculum development and much more. The survey itself might be of interest to many and provides a strong model for developing surveys.


Click HERE to visit the NSSME+ site

Click HERE to download the report