Category Archives: teaching

High Quality Science Instruction: Building Conceptual Understanding and Language Skills for English Learners

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 4.22.53 PMWestEd recently published a FREE report titled- High Quality Science Instruction: Building Conceptual Understanding and Language Skills for English Learners.

The report describes a backwards planning method for designing science lessons that helps students build conceptual understanding of science ideas AND supports language learning. This seems like an applicable article for most K-12 science teachers. Click HERE for the article.

ChemCollective: Resources for Chemistry Teachers

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 2.21.12 PMChemCollective is a project in the National Science Digital Library (NSDL) that is supported by NSF and Carnegie Melon University. ChemCollective provides resources designed to support teachers of chemistry in designing engaging and interactive online activities for students. ChemCollective has been around for several years but they recently redesigned their web presence so you may want to check it out. Some of the chemistry teaching and learning tools will find on the site include:

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?

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.

Environmental & Sustainability Enhanced Elementary Science Lessons

OSPI and Washington State LASER received a grant to create supplemental lessons to teach Environmental & Sustainability standards within some common elementary science instructional materials. Click HERE to view the page on WA State LASER’s site. The lessons are linked to the following kits:

New Plants (FOSS)

Structures of Life (FOSS)

Land and Water (STC)

Native American Story Connections– You will find video, audio, and a lesson plan

Standards-Based FOSS Science Kit Resources

FOSS science kits are a core elementary science material for many districts in Washington state. Several resources have recently been developed that help teachers to use the kits to more effectively teach our Washington Science EALRs. These resources have tended to stay regional but I know that all of the creators of these tools and resources very much want them to be shared and used.

Olympic ESD 114

ESD 114 has developed new curriculum guides for each FOSS kit they support. The guides provide a week by week scope and sequence that identifies WA Science Standards and Math CCSS; Focus Questions/PE tasks; and Critical Assessments/Hinge Questions.

You will also find curriculum resources such as learning progressions, rubrics, supplemental assessments, rubrics and other support links.

Click HERE to see the kits that ESD 114 supports.

You will also find a video describing the Science Kit Resources.


Northwest ESD has posted resources from their Assessing with Learning Progressions in Science (ALPS). This project generated:

  • Instructional tools for a variety of FOSS and STC kits: these documents provide a learning progression for each kit, plus a variety of student tasks, and resources for checking student understanding across the progression. Click HERE to see an example for the FOSS kit Variables
  • Classroom videos of using learning progressions for formative assessment in science

ESD 112

The Science & Math Education Resource Center (SMERC) at ESD 112 has developed a variety of key elementary science resources including:

Connected Educator Starter Kit

This is not a science specific resource but I wanted to share it with you all as we get ready for a new school year.

August 2012 is Connected Educators month and has a FREE Connected Educator Starter Kit. The PDF has embedded links to videos and resources that will guide educators through a different web tool every day: from Twitter to social bookmarking and webinars.

If you are just getting started with Web 2.0 then this guide will be a valuable resource. If you are already an expert, then this guide provides an easy way to advocate for effective educational technology use and get your colleagues involved.  Enjoy!

Basic Systems Questions

I am a self-professed “systems nerd”.. I love systems thinking, conduct professional development on systems thinking, and am constantly on the lookout for new tools and resources regarding systems. So it is with great pleasure that I introduce to you another tool from the incomparable Tom Hathorn (a fellow systems nerd).. The Basic Systems Questions Framework. This one-pager represents the basic systems questions that relate to all levels K-12:

1. Parts– What are the most important properties? What are their functions?

2. Whole–  What is the system’s function? How is this different from any parts?

3. Interactions– What are the important connections? What actions occur between parts?

4. Beyond- What is beyond the system boundary? What are the system inputs and outputs? How does it interact with other systems?

This sheet can be used to examine physical systems such as a pendulum, a living system such as a plant, or an Earth/Space system such as a model of Earth’s tectonic plates. This resource directly supports WA Science Learning Standards and may be useful as we transition to systems as a cross cutting concept in the Next Generation Science Standards.

Click HERE to download a copy of the Basic Systems Questions sheet- this tool will be added to the next version of the K-5 Systems Handbook. Enjoy- and I’ll be interested to hear how you plan to use this in the fall.

The Inquiry Project

The Inquiry Project is an NSF funded partnership between TERC and Tufts University to create research-based lessons to teach students in grades 3-5 about materials and matter.

All materials seem to be user friendly and include thorough resources for instruction that uncover student initial ideas and engage students in appropriate hands-on experiences with models of matter. The materials are also part of the Talk Science project- which promotes student discourse as a way for students to learn science concepts. Click HERE to see a short video clip.

These materials could be a great supplement to an existing elementary science curriculum. I’d love to hear from any teachers who are already using these instructional materials.