Category Archives: Science teacher Professional Development

Developing a State Assessment System: Nebraska’s Story

Screen Shot 2019-10-10 at 10.07.36 AMThe state of Nebraska is on a journey to develop a comprehensive state science assessment system that not only includes a state-wide summative assessment system (grades 5, 8, & 11) for science but also:



  • Curriculum Embedded Science Tasks (K-12)
  • Science Task Library (K-12)
  • Monitoring Tasks (Grades 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10)

If you’d like to know more about this work, check out the overview from Achieve HERE.

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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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

NGSS Science Assessment Task Screeners

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 8.48.58 PMOverview: Achieve recently released two tools for screening and reviewing science assessment tasks- the Science Task Prescreen and the Science Task Screener. These tools will be necessary additions to your toolbox of NGSS assessment resources.

Purpose: The Science Task Prescreen (my personal favorite) is a 1-pager with 8 questions that an individual or group can use to quickly review an assessment task and make some decisions about how and if it requires modification to meet the expectations of NGSS assessment shifts. The Science Task Screener is a more substantial tool that could be used for more in-depth review and modification of assessment tasks.

Audience: Teachers, curriculum developers, assessment writers, PD providers, teacher educators, others




Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 6.21.26 PMOVERVIEW: In the state of Washington we are committed to engaging K-12 students in learning about climate science and climate change. For the 2018-19 school year our state has funded an initiative that will provide tools and professional development to support thoughtful implementation of climate science learning opportunities. I’m hoping that this space will be able to promote many of the resources that are developed and used during this process.

One resource that has bubbled to the top for me is Drawdown provides 100 everyday solutions that humans can implement to reverse global climate change. I know several teachers who worry that the teaching of climate change- especially with younger students- can be scary for the children. Draw Down (while not sugar-coating anything) is very solution-oriented and can put students in a positive space rather than doom and gloom.

PURPOSE: The proposed solutions on Drawdown are completely research-based and include some intuitive solutions that you might have predicted (rooftop solar) and others that might seem less intuitive (educating girls & telepresence). The book Drawdown is also a “must-have” climate resource to add to your collection.

AUDIENCE: all the humans



Using Crosscutting Concepts to Prompt Student Responses

OVERVIEW: The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) recently released a document to support and encourage K-12 educators to provide clear and explicit language and prompts to integrate the Crosscutting Concepts into instruction and assessment practices.

PURPOSE: Using Crosscutting Concepts to Prompt Student Responses serves many purposes. For one, it continues to tell the story that the CCCs are a powerful (and underused) dimension of NGSS-based instruction. The document connects multiple existing resources on the CCCs and provides new tools and examples for how the use the CCCs to design prompts and how CCCs might be used by students in their responses.

AUDIENCE: K-12 teachers of science, administrators, PD providers, teacher educators, curriculum and assessment developers, etc




Phenomena & Units for Environmental Justice

There is still room at this impactful upcoming event in the South Puget Sound Region. See below for description and registration link.

The Bethel School District and the Puyallup Watershed Initiative are partnering to offer this 2-day workshop on Phenomena & Units for Environmental Justice.

Title: Phenomena & Units for Environmental Justice.

Location: Graham-Kapowsin High School

Dates: June 25 & Aug. 22 , 2018 (8:00 – 3:30)

Presenters: Lia Wetzstein, Emily Pinckney, Tom Hathorn


●  Inspire students with local phenomena and problems that matter to their community.

●  Support student aspirations toward STEM-related careers.

●  Integrate NGSS PEs about humans in relation to the environment (LS2, LS4, ESS2, ESS3).


●  MS & HS Science Teachers (all subjects), Administrators

●  School Districts in the South Sound LASER Alliance

What: Day 1

●  Meet & study local environmental justice issues → Analyze the systems & who’s affected.

●  Unpack natural & human structures → How did things get this way? What keeps it stable?

●  Use the NGSS engineering cycle (D-D-O) → Solving environmental problems = engineering .

●  Discover & use local STEM issues → Use students’ interests & cultural-community practices.

●  Begin planning → Activities or small units that utilize local phenomena or problems.

What: Day 2

●  Share emerging units → Give & get ideas.

●  NSTA resources for teaching controversial topics → See opportunities & pitfalls.

●  Use students’ voices → Guide the dialogue & discussions.


Contrasting Groups Study- WCAS Development Opportunity (WA Only)

I want to make sure that all grade 5, 8, & ll teachers of science in WA State are aware of this great opportunity to be involved in the development of the Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science (WCAS) called the Contrasting Groups Study.

Unlike most of the opportunities to work on WCAS development, you do not need to travel…it is all online. You will participate in a FREE online training, learn about WCAS and the Achievement Level Descriptors (ALDs), and then make predictions of how your students will do when engaging with the WCAS this spring. This information will be used by the Achievement Level Setting committee in August. You will also get to see the results of your predictions. The window to participate ends soon on April 14th, 2018!

Here is an excerpt of the overview of the Contrasting Groups Study from OSPI. See the complete announcement HERE.

What’s the timeline?

The CGS training will be available online on the Moodle training site from March 1 through April 14, 2018. Educators will learn about the CGS study, about the structure and contents of the ALDs, and how to participate in the study. The training will take approximately 3 hours and can be completed at your own pace. Free clock hours will be available to participants.

 After training, teachers will use the ALDs and observations of student work to make predictions about student achievement on the WCAS. These observations can be completed as part of regular classroom instruction and assessment.

 From March 19 through April 14, 2018 teachers will enter their student predictions into the CGS application in the Education Data System (EDS). This process should take approximately 5 minutes per class of 30 students.

 In fall of 2018, participants can return to the CGS application in EDS and compare their predictions to actual student achievement on the WCAS.


Updates STEM Teaching Tools: SEP Task Formats & CCC Prompts

OVERVIEW: The STEM Teaching Tools group recently updated two of my favorite resources and I want to make sure everyone has the “latest and greatest”.

PURPOSE: These two tools are some of the best resources available for identifying prompts, tasks, and questions that guide students in engaging in the science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts as they solve problems and explain phenomena. These tools have been updated and revised as feedback has come in from the field and other partners.

AUDIENCE: teachers of science, administrators, curriculum directors, curriculum developers, pre-service teachers, teacher educators, PD providers, & others


Click to access STEM-Teaching-Tool-30-Task-Formats-for-3D-Assessment-Design-v2.pdf

Click to access STEM-Teaching-Tool-41-Cross-Cutting-Concepts-Promptsv2.pdf