Category Archives: middle school

Summer Reading: STEM Lesson Essentials Grades 3-8

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 2.36.32 PMWell, it’s that time of year where the ongoing countdown of number of days to the end of the school year is reaching single digits for most of us. As such I’ll be posting some recommendations for professional summer reading related to science education in the coming weeks.

My first recommendation is a new book titled- STEM Lesson Essentials Grades 3-8 by Jo Anne Vasquez, Cary Sneider, and Michael Comer. STEM Lesson Essentials is a timely, readable, and usable guide to STEM literacy that won’t weigh down your beach bag. (At 178 pages it is slim but packs a punch.) See some specifics below.


  • The Front Matter (chapters 1-5) are essential reading for anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of STEM literacy and what it means- Every K-8 principal should read this book!
  • Contains authentic and engaging standards-based STEM activities that a teacher might use in a classroom or that a professional development provider might use in a workshop
  • Chapters are well-written, engaging, and short… perfect for summer reading
  • Makes the case for technology and engineering as central aspects of STEM education
  • Uses the STEM Practices as a central storyline (see p. 38)
  • Includes support on PBL, assessment, and STEM lesson resources


  • K-2 examples would be appreciated (as would High School)
  • Clearer connections on how to obtain some of the materials in sample lessons
  • No e-book version?
  • Easy connection to some online supports- video, links, website, etc

Let me know if you would like to join me in a virtual book study over the summer. I’ve only touched the surface on this great resource.

NOAA Middle School Climate Science Materials

Screen Shot 2013-04-25 at 10.26.54 AMNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a FREE middle school unit on the essential principles of climate science titled: Discover Your Changing World. Click HERE to download the entire PDF or individual activities. These materials could be useful in helping to meet some of the weather/climate related expectations in the NGSS. The resource was recently revised but does not contain direct correlations to the NGSS or the Framework for K-12 Science Education but I’m assuming that NOAA is working on this…? Also, see Chris Ohana’s brief critique of the materials in the comment section.

If you are a middle school science teacher or a science curriculum specialist- please leave your thoughts in the comments- Does this look like a useful supplemental resource? Why/why not? How might you use this?

Crash Course: Biology

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 7.16.49 PMWould you (or your students) appreciate an online overview of biology created by the funny and talented Hank Green? Then check out Hank’s 40-part Crash Course in Biology. Each lesson consists of a short (10-15 minute) YouTube video. The entire course is 7 hours but can easily be searched and used by specific biology content. See That’s Why Carbon is a Tramp: Crash Course Biology #1 embedded below. This would be most useful for high school students or college students looking for a review or refresher of life science concepts.

By the way, Hank also has a Crash Course in Ecology.

Claim, Evidence, Reasoning: Tools to Introduce CER in PD and Instruction

I have been digging into Joseph Krajcik and Katherine McNeill‘s book- Supporting Grade 5-8 Students in Constructing Explanations in Science– and I highly recommend it to any upper elementary and middle school teacher of science. The book provides 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.

As I’ve been moving through the book, 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 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 facilitation guide:

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. My hope is to assemble these tools and others into a Claim, Evidence, Reasoning Handbook.

Practices of Science & Engineering- Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

This month the various NSTA journals will be sharing an excellent article by Philip Bell (et al) titled- Exploring the Science Framework: Engaging learners in scientific practices related to obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.

This article provides some much needed clarity on the 8th practice of science and engineering- obtaining, evaluating, and communication information. You will find examples of what this practice looks like when engaged in by students in pre-K, grade 5, middle school, and high school life science. This article could be very useful for any teacher seeking depth of understanding of the new practices or district administrators, professional development providers and informal science providers who support teachers. Click HERE to download the article. This article could also be used to make some connections with Common Core State Standards in English/Language Arts.

New WA State Science MSP Released Items Grade 5 and 8

This is a post for Washington state teachers only: OSPI just posted new released items for the Science MSP at grades 5 and 8. These are the first actual released items for these assessment- previous Science MSP scenarios and items were samples, not actual released items. You will find two systems scenarios in the grade 5 set and one inquiry scenario in grade 8.

Grade 5: Teacher 2012 Student 2012
Grade 8: Teacher 2012 Student 2012

Looking Back to Look Forward

On Monday I found myself working with a group of science education leaders from around Washington state. Craig Gabler from ESD 113 brought an old copy of Science in the Elementary Grades from the Centralia School District written in the early 1960s. I opened the document to the first page and found the following text.

Science education has three facets. The one is content, the other method, and the third is attitude.

All too frequently, teachers of science become too involved in the content of science.  In reality, science taught in this fashion becomes just another reading or lecture course. Hence, the methods that lead the learner to develop hypotheses from observation, checking these hypotheses or guesses for validity, and eventually arriving at a conclusion, are important. Finally, the accepting of a proven conclusion, even though it is apparently contrary to fact in the attitudinal area is a necessity. Therefore, content, method, attitude assume different roles in science than in teaching history, reading, etc. Content is arrived at through method to change attitude. Science becomes a way of thinking, a method for solving problems, a retreat from the thoroughly emotional plane of living.

This text made me think of how we are still struggling to meet this vision for science instruction 50 years later… We may not use the same terminology but the gist is the same.  So as we embark on the next generation of science standards, how will these standards be different? How will they help us to change and grow and improve our instruction? Or will someone just stumble on a dusty tattered copy of the NGSS document in the year 2062 and think, “We are still trying to do that”.