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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Skype a Scientist

Connecting students with real STEM professionals is one of the greatest gifts we can give them on their STEM journey through K-12. However, these opportunities may not always be equitably available for all students. Skype a Scientist looks like an innovative site that is attempting to connect a database of STEM professionals with teachers, classrooms and the public at large. You can sign up as a scientist, a teacher, a group or an individual- looks like they host several events throughout the year. Check it out!

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A Humble Request…

I have been maintaining this site with a focus on STEM education resources for more than a decade. (We are rapidly approaching 1000 posts to this site.) During that time I’ve never asked my readers for anything. No PayPal donations, no Kickstarter, no Patreon premium content, no merchandise. I’ve even paid every year (until recently) to keep advertisements off of this site.

So, as you can probably tell, today is the day I’m going to ask for something.

In February 2020, my wife was hired as executive director (now CEO) of our local food bank-The Bonney Lake Food Bank. Little did she know that she was entering this already difficult job in the midst of what would become a global pandemic generating rapidly expanding food insecurity. She saw her customer base grow from supporting 150 families per week in February 2020 to over 1000 families per week in November 2020. Notice that says families…not individuals.

Rather than maintain business as usual the Bonney Lake Food Bank has innovated during these stressful times. In order to maintain social distance and support those who cannot always easily travel, they have implemented a thriving delivery model. This has required new infrastructure, new technology, new systems, new software, new vehicles, new knowledge and beliefs about those who need support, and a generous amount of collaboration from the National Guard and the local community.

One of the greatest bottlenecks to the work has been the small dilapidated building that my wife inherited. This eye-sore was quickly spruced up to at least a baseline of usability last winter. However, that building is not a long-term solution. It is a hazard, unfit for the work that needs to be done, and it does not represent the dignity that customers and staff of the food bank deserve. Therefore the Bonney Lake Food Bank will be moving to a new site starting in December of this year. But there is much work that needs to be done at the new site.

Watch the video below to hear from leaders and volunteers at the Bonney Lake Food Bank and their vision for the sustainable new location- The Market.

So I’m asking for your support. If you have ever appreciated a resource that I posted on this site. If you’ve ever laughed at a silly science music video I posted. If you’ve ever used a picture book, a lesson plan, or appreciated a report that you found here. Then I would ask you to please donate to the Bonney Lake Food Bank. Any amount is helpful. Click HERE to donate directly to the relocation fund. This will help the organization move to the new site and to fully enact their vision for providing food, support, and dignity to those who need it most.

Thank you for any support you can give,

Kirk Robbins

NGSS in the Classroom: What Early Implementer Science Instruction Looks Like

WestEd recently released a report on the NGSS Early Implementers Initiative in California. The report provides a call for NGSS teaching, features of high-quality NGSS instruction, and multiple snapshots of NGSS instructional sequences.

The report highlights 4 NGSS features:

  • 3D Learning
  • Phenomenon-based instruction
  • Engineering
  • Student Agency

I think my favorite part of the document is a comparison of two 8th grade science lessons at the same school. This comparison really helps illustrate the shifts we need to see in NGSS instruction.

I’ll be using parts of this support with my pre-service teachers and also with districts I support.

You can find the report HERE.

List of Online Tools for Distance Science Learning (OpenSciEd & Inquiry Hub)

Teachers using OpenSciEd & Inquiry Hub materials have assembled a Google Sheet with a variety of online tools and how those tools might be used by science teachers during distance learning. There will most likely be several tools you have heard of but it’s possible that there may be ways of using the tools that you haven’t implemented. I’m assuming that even teachers who don’t use the OpenSciEd and Inquiry Hub materials will find some useful nuggets here…and perhaps will want to learn more about the root materials.

NOTE: This is NOT a list of science content materials (videos, simulations, etc). This is a list of digital tools with recommendations for how to use those tools with students engaging in rich NGSS-designed science learning.

You can access the Google Sheet HERE.

Indigenous Education Tools

Indigenous Education Tools is a growing site (check back for new resources often) that offers teaching tools and resources that address the “root causes of inequities for Native children and families, and by supporting the development of innovative successful educational pathways.”

A few highlights of the current resources on the site include:

  • A set of short briefs in the style of STEM Teaching Tools that dig into topics in education of Indigenous peoples:
  • A set of videos led by leaders in Indigenous education. See interview with Michael Tulee below as an example:

  • A set of Learning Materials (from ISTEAM) based around Water, Food, Birds and Plants. Everything on this site is powerful but I find these materials to be the highlight for me personally. These materials highlight well-crafted activities and also provide models of what well-designed learning activities might look like when designed for Indigenous learners. See the set on Water below:
  • Online workshops to engage in asynchronously

I also highly recommend adding @IndigenousSTEAM to your Twitter feed so that you can stay on top of the latest from this group.

Reopening K-12 Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic- A Report

The National Academies Press recently released a consensus report titled Reopening K-12 Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic. This report is FREE and can be read online in your browser or downloaded as a pdf. You will also be able to purchase a hardcopy eventually if you wish.

I know that several school districts have already “made the call” on what school will look like in the fall of 2020. But this report could be used to support the decision to stakeholders and to use as a guide for future decisions. This report also provides support for how to reopen schools safely.

Here is some text from the report describing what the academies do and why it’s important- especially right now:

As we discuss in this document, the research on the spread and mitigation of SARS-CoV-2 is expanding rapidly, leading to greater clarity on some topics while also pointing out new areas for investigation. Guidance documents for schools and districts are emerging at breakneck speed. In July 2020, opinion pieces are dominating the news media landscape, many of them staking out positions on either side of a “to reopen or not” debate and making bold claims about what is “safe”. The politics of the moment are ablaze: one need only scan the headlines of U.S. newspapers to uncover the ways in which the politics around the question of reopening have overshadowed the scientific evidence.

The National Academy of Sciences (now expanded to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine) was chartered by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 to meet the government’s urgent need for an independent adviser on scientific matters. Our organization is founded on the principle that independent guidance based on scientific evidence is essential for making sound policy. Development of that guidance needs to focus on interpreting scientific research without political influence: essentially, independence is necessary to ensure the integrity of the guidance. Further, as the committee refers to in the Epilogue of this report, we know that evidence and data do not provide policy direction on their own: evidence and data must be interpreted, and these interpretations are never neutral. For this reason, the consensus study process at the National Academies demands that multiple perspectives are brought to bear on the available evidence: while “neutrality” is never possible, including multiple perspectives at the table can support an interpretation of the evidence that reflects the concerns of multiple constituencies and is as independent from individual bias as possible.

Learning from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

IMG_5043I’m assuming that many of us in education and science education are spending time this summer digging into (or revisiting) Dr. Ibram X. Kendi‘s book How to be an Antiracist. In future posts, I’ll share some of my thoughts and learnings from the book and some connections I see with science education. But for now I just wanted to “introduce” Dr. Kendi for those who may not know of his work.

Below you will find links to a variety of online resources that range from short appearances on talk shows to podcasts and webinars. While it’s impossible to summarize the depth of Dr. Kendi’s work in a few words I think in education a good start is the idea that it’s not enough for us to be not racist…we need to be actively antiracist and thoughtfully interrogate curricula, assessments, policies, procedures, discipline structures, (and so much more) in our educational systems.

A. Dr. Kendi on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

B. Dr. Kendi on the Armchair Expert podcast with Dak Shepard

C. Dr. Kendi on a recent 1-hour online workshop (this link may expire in a month from posting)

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.

Equity & Diversity Resources Pt. 1

I know that a lot of educators are digging into books on equity and diversity this summer. Here are a few resources that have been key in my personal journey as a white male looking to become more culturally aware, equity-focused, and anti-racist. I will keep adding to this list. I’m aware that many excellent resources are currently not included here. I’m not trying to make an exhaustive list on this first post- but instead providing a ‘playlist’ of the resources that I’ve used personally and that feel like good starting places for others.

TITLE Overview Author Link
Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain THE book on culturally responsive teaching. Provides tools and strategies to dig into CRT. Clear discussion of how a lack of CRT affects students. Zaretta Hammond Click HERE
Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People Describes the Project Implicit implicit association tests. Discusses how we all have unconscious biases (even ones we don’t want) and how these may affect us. Makes the case that we must confront and think about these “mindbugs”. Mahzarin R. BanajiAnthony Greenwald Click HERE
For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too Provides stories, a framework, and strategies for effectively teaching urban students of color. Lots of wisdom here. Christopher Emdin Click HERE

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