Rolling from Inquiry into Engineering Design

Headshot of blogger Jill JensenGuest blogger Jill Jensen began her 24th year as a science educator this fall. For the past twelve years she has been an Inquiry, Design, Engineering, Art & Science (IDEAS) Coach at Glacier Hills Elementary School of Arts and Science in Eagan, MN. Her current role allows her to partner with classroom teachers to extend and enrich their learning using inquiry, design, engineering, art and science. In this investigation she supports kindergarten students in pursuing an interest in objects rolling down ramps and extends it into an engineering design project improving an objects’ ability to roll.

Follow her on Twitter @GHSTEAMchic and read more about her work on her blog, Jensen’s Jots, at 

What is it about watching objects roll that inspires cheers? As a K-5 science specialist, I’ve helped organize our annual Family Science Night since 2009. I try to have a balance of new stations and previous favorites. One station that remains every year is ‘Ramp Race’: two metal ramps placed side by side with the same number of blocks under each one and positioned about a meter from the wall. Families choose objects from a bin of miscellaneous items to place on the ramp and see which one hits the wall first. As simple as this sounds, it’s consistently one of the favorite stations and typically elicits oohs, ahhs and exclamations. 

A Science Inquiry Cycle used by the author and her students.It was witnessing this excitement that led me to consider how to build on that enthusiasm. From this informal learning opportunity, I developed a four day mini-unit for kindergarten students that I’m excited to share. At Glacier Hills Elementary, we use an inquiry cycle shown in the picture above to guide our investigations. Our first step is to observe. For this experience, small groups of students are given the following objects: D battery, AA battery, crayon, vial, giant pom pom ball, ping pong ball, golf ball, a wooden circle (similar to wooden pattern blocks), a roll of masking tape and the inside circle from a used roll of scotch tape. The objects are carefully selected to represent a range of sizes, colors, weights and textures. This lesson takes place after teachers introduced three dimensional shapes in math. 

For this particular lesson, on the first day, we emphasize the shapes of cylinder, sphere and circle. Groups of students sort the objects by a category of their choice (size, shape, color, weight or texture). Students can also play a ‘guess my rule’ game with their group. To play this game, a student chooses a category, but does not share what they have chosen to their group. The student puts out objects that fit their mystery category and asks their group to guess what category they are showing. After spending so much time observing and describing these objects we move to “I Wonder…”. Some questions include: where did these objects come from, how much do they weigh, how big are they,… and usually someone asks about rolling them. This is the question we explore the following day. This lesson is wrapped up by having students document a category for sorting in their science notebooks with writing and drawing. 

We start day two by reviewing the sorting (color, size, shape, texture, weight). We also review our “I Wonder…” question, “I wonder if we can roll these objects?” I prepare the room with eight stations, each with a metal ramp and three wooden blocks. I usually have students work in groups of three or four. Students start by exploring on their own, trying any combinations, arrangements and trials they wish. We come back together for students to share what they noticed. At some point, students mention that some things were good rollers and some things didn’t work very well. This leads to our investigation: to decide as a class which objects are ‘good’ rollers and ‘bad’ rollers. First students have to decide some rules and standards. I propose the following: to be a ‘good roller’ the object has to roll down the ramp and roll one meter on the floor. Standard testing is explained, meaning all the ramps need to be set up the same way (three blocks under one end of the ramp) and that we all need to test the same way (start behind the starting line, no pushing/helping or stopping). 

A "no" tub and a "yes" tub for sorting objects.Students are given a meter stick and an additional block to put at the end of the meter stick to serve as a finish line. I also give students two containers, one labeled YES and one NO. If the object hits the block (reaches the finish line) it goes in the YES bucket. If it doesn’t, it goes in the NO bucket. Once students have tested their items, we come back together to share results. Frequently an object has mixed results, some groups get a YES and others NO. This leads to an opportunity to discuss argumentation in science. Having different results doesn’t mean that one person is right or wrong, it just means different results. However, we do need a class consensus. In this situation I do a do over and we use the results I get from the demonstration. We also discuss that if an object only works some of the time, it’s not really a ‘good roller’ Now what we have our final criteria and results, we share our findings by documenting our results with pictures and words in our science notebooks. 

Finally, we start a conversation about the objects in the NO bucket. I ask if there are things we could do to the ramp that might make the objects be a YES. All ideas that students generate are listed on the board. Once we are out of ideas, I go back through the list and share whether I have the supplies and equipment to try their idea. Sometimes it’s an easy test, like adding more blocks to make the ramp steeper. Sometimes I have to do some searching for equipment, like trying a ramp made out of a different material. Sometimes students want to try a different length of ramp or a ramp without sides, all of which I have now gathered after several years of doing this investigation. Sometimes students come up with unique ideas that I would have never dreamed of and I do my best to make it happen. I’ll never forget one year a student wanted to run water down the ramp with the objects, thinking the water will help push the object and carry it down, which it did and that student was thrilled to see it happen. 

A metal ramp set up to roll objects down a slope.Testing out different ramps takes place the following day, giving me time to gather supplies and equipment. When students return, I have new stations set up around the room using as many of their ideas as I can. I have removed the YES items from the bin of objects to test since we know those already work. I still give the YES and NO buckets for students to document their results. Since there are a variety of different pieces of equipment to test, we rotate to each ramp in stations. At the end of class we compare our results and decide which ramps were most effective. Again our findings are documented in science notebooks. 

An Engineering Design Process used by the author and her students.Our fourth day of investigating is an opportunity to introduce an Engineering Design Process to students. Using the diagram as a jumping off point, I share that engineers start with a problem rather than a question. Our problem is that we have several objects that aren’t good rollers. For the Ideas step, we look back at objects that were good rollers and see if we notice any patterns. To help facilitate our discussion, I’ll hold up the objects we observed the first day and compare them to our NO objects. We particularly pay attention to items that are the same shape. For example, I ask students to consider why the D battery a good roller but the crayon is not? Students are asked to describe how the battery is different from the crayon and how the tape roll is different from the wooden circle. 

Child sitting next to a ramp, rolling a set of 2 lids connected by a pencil between them as an axle.After describing the differences between objects, we conclude together that good rollers tend to be wider or bigger and heavier. Next, we think about how to make the NO objects bigger, wider or heavier. Items available to students include: washers, bolts, bottle caps, plastic lids, paper plates as well as bins of several of the YES items (lots of tape rolls and batteries for example). Masking tape and duct tape are also provided for students to attach things. While we are engineering in this investigation, we still talk about the importance of following our science investigations rules (starting behind the starting line, not pushing or helping and that the object has to reach the finish line). We do this because we want to know if their design worked, not because help was given. We also talk about try, try again. If they tried some washers and it didn’t work, try some more. If that didn’t work, try something else. 

3 children showing the object made of a set of 2 lids connected by a pencil between them as an axle.It only takes about ten minutes before cheers can be heard, telling me success was found. At that point, we’ll do a quick pause so the student that found success can share their design with the class; scientists and engineers don’t hide their designs from others, they shout their success so others can learn! Yes, there are copycat designs that come next, but there are variations that emerge as well. As with previous lessons, ideas and designs tried today are documented in science notebooks. 

This mini unit has come to be one of my favorite experiences for kindergarten students. Students are given opportunities to observe, wonder, investigate, discover, find patterns, draw conclusions, test out their own ideas all while applying math vocabulary and science concepts. 

Posted in Early Years | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
folder icon  Safety

Laboratory Evacuation Training for Science Teachers

School science labs need to be evacuated in the event of a fire, chemical spill, gas leak, the release of chemical toxins, or other laboratory incident or building issue. The top priority in an emergency evacuation is to ensure all laboratory occupants make it out alive and safe. This blog post describes emergency evacuation planning and training for science teachers.

Getting started

At the beginning of the school year, teachers need to review evacuation procedures with students and a conduct an evacuation drill. In preparation of the evacuation, teachers must make sure exits and aisles in the laboratory are not blocked and free and clear of all trip-fall hazards such as a book bag on the floor. The National Fire Protection Association standards require schools to have emergency lighting and signage at all exits indicating the evacuation route. Make sure students know the evacuation routes and the staging area outside of the facility where the class will regroup after they exit the building. Make sure students know the location of emergency fire alarm pull boxes in corridors.

Evacuation procedure

To plan for an evacuation:

• Have access to an active chemical and biological inventory to provide to the emergency responders.

• Keep the names of trained personnel who work in liaison with emergency responders.

• Have a list of actions to be taken in the lab when the fire alarm is activated (e.g., shut off active flames, turn off electrical equipment).

• Be familiar with the location of engineering controls (e.g., fire extinguisher, eyewash station, spill kits, fire blanket).

• Bring several plastic refuse bags for students to deposit personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent cross-contamination.

• Know two or more evacuation routes from the building in case the one indicated by the exit signs becomes blocked.

• Set up a staging area outside the building for laboratory occupants.

• Do not re-enter the facility until emergency responders or an administration representative provides notification that it is safe to return.

Building evacuation instructions

• When the fire alarm sounds the science teacher should, if possible, shut off ignition sources (e.g., gas), cover hazardous chemical containers, close fume hood sash, close windows, and turn off all electrical equipment before exiting.

• Make sure students exit the building immediately after the fire alarm goes off.

• If someone becomes injured (suffers a cut, burn, or is exposed to toxins), the teacher might need to seek help from the school nurse, security, or administration officials to remove the injured occupant and secure immediate medical assistance.

• The teacher, who should be the last occupant exiting the room, needs to close the laboratory door.

• All laboratory occupants should exit from the same door.

• Always respond to the fire alarm; never assume it is a false alarm.

• Remove PPE, if possible, before exiting. If not, exit the facility with PPE and once at staging area, roll gloves and goggles in a lab apron and then place them in a plastic bag.

• Be prepared to assist students with disabilities. If students are in a wheelchair or on crutches, proceed to the closest “area of refuge” and call in for rescue help. Do not use the elevator. An area of refuge is a designated location within a building (e.g., a stairwell) specially designed to hold people safely during an emergency. The area of refuge is set aside for situations when evacuation may not be possible or is otherwise unsafe for certain occupants (e.g., students with physical disabilities).

• Stay clear of emergency responders entering the site.

• When outside the building, move immediately to the staging area to take attendance.

• Depending on the severity of the emergency, evacuees may need to move even farther away from the building. Follow instructions provided by classroom teacher, evacuation monitor, or when prompted by administration (usually over the PA system).

Procedures for fires in the lab

If a fire originates in the laboratory, take the following actions.

• Determine the level of the fire. Small and manageable fires can be extinguished by removing the source of ignition (e.g., shutting off gas), and using the appropriate type of extinguisher.

• Fire originating in the fume hood can be extinguished by closing the sash.

• Fires determined not to be manageable require evacuation.

• Pull the fire alarm to signal evacuation.

• Evacuate the building by following the “Building Evacuation Instructions” described above.

• Have a laboratory fire safety compliance checklist to help prevent potential lab fires from starting in the first place.

Chemical emergencies

Mount Holyoke College has an effective plan for evacuations caused by chemical emergencies. In part, their manual states:

Possible incidents are classified into two categories: emergency responses or incidental releases. An emergency response is an occurrence that results, or is likely to result, in an uncontrolled release of hazardous materials that requires a response effort by employees outside the release area or other designated responders (e.g., fire department, clean-up contractor). Situations generally resulting in emergency responses include:

• the release requires evacuations of the area

• the release poses, or has the potential to pose, conditions that are immediately dangerous to life and health

• the release poses a serious threat of fire or explosion

• the release requires immediate attention because of imminent danger

• the release may cause high levels of exposure to toxic substances

• there is uncertainty that those working in the area can safety handle the hazard

• the situation is unclear or data is lacking on important factors.

An incidental release of hazardous materials occurs when (1) the substance can be absorbed, neutralized, or otherwise controlled at the time of release by those in the immediate release area or other laboratory personnel, or (2) a release where there is no potential safety or health hazard.

Submit questions regarding safety to Ken Roy at or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.

NSTA resources and safety issue papers
Follow NSTA

Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Pinterest icon G+ icon YouTube icon Instagram icon


Posted in Safety | Leave a comment

Ed News: Early STEM Provides Critical Foundation for Future Learning

News Roundup banner

This week in education news, a New York City high school entrance exam finds brightest girls do better in STEM classes than on standardized entrance exams; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plans to invest in professional development providers; science brief suggests that early STEM experiences provide critical foundation for future learning; new survey finds that students and teachers continue to experience inequitable access to STEM-related classes and resources; 100Kin10 releases its annual STEM and education trends report; report finds that U.S. immigrant children study more math and science in high school and college, which leads to their greater presence in STEM careers; Utah Board of Education releases draft of new state standards for public review; and 30,000 Los Angeles teachers prepare to strike.

The Problem with High-Stakes Testing and Women in STEM

In New York City, there is a big debate over who should gain admittance to eight elite public high schools, including the well-known Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx High School of Science. Currently, Asian-American students score high enough on an entry exam to win a considerable majority of the seats. Mayor Bill de Blasio and a new school chancellor want to bring in more black and Latino students, who make up most of the city’s school population. This tension between demographics and academic excellence is prompting scholars to take a closer look at the data on scores and grades and how well the entry exam predicts achievement. But one researcher thinks the most consistent bias might be against gender. Read the article featured in The Hechinger Report.

Gates Giving Millions to Train Teachers on ‘High Quality’ Curricula

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plans to invest in professional development providers who will train teachers on “high quality” curricula, the philanthropy announced this afternoon. Read the article featured in Education Week.

Continue reading …

Posted in Education News Roundup | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Old Tech for New Times

It seems the same students answer my questions and I wonder if they are answering so fast that maybe the other students just need a little more time to think. Any suggestions on how to not deter these types of students from answering while allowing other students to get involved too?
– O., Ohio

In my experience, one of the best methods to get the whole class to participate is to use individual whiteboards. (I remember scoffing at pictures of one room school houses with kids holding up slates!) I had a “recharging cart” (a bag) of these “acoustic tablets” on a counter in my room. Accessories included “wireless stylus” (markers) and “history cleaning app” (erasers). One student once stated, “I love these boards because I’m not the only one answering!”

There are vendors who sell durable products but you can head to the dollar store or make your own from white panels from lumber stores (see if the woodworking teacher can help).  Check to make sure that the markers and erasers will work on any product you make. 

Ask a question and have all the students hold their boards up. You quickly point, nod, say “yes”, “no” “close” or give them hints until all the students get the right answer. Both the students and you get immediate feedback.

Fore more elaborate questions, you can provide students with multiple choices and they hold up the letter of their answer. Gauge how they’re receiving new material by having students draw a happy face, neutral face or sad face to indicate their understanding.

At the end of the period make sure the students clear their histories and return the “tablets” along with the accessories.

Hope this helps!

Posted in Ask a Mentor | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Science Teachers and the Course Forward for STEM Education

Science teachers’ voices do count—and are being heard—in Washington, D.C. 

On December 4, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) published Charting a Course for STEM Educationwhich presents a five-year strategic plan for how federal agencies can best support STEM education, from preschool through university.

In developing the report, science teacher (and NSTA Press author) Jeff Weld worked at the White House with leading officials from 14 federal agencies; representatives from state governments, industry, and academe; and educators to craft a report that also offers guidance to the STEM education community and will shape future commitments from the federal government.

K–12 teachers played a major role in developing this report, and their voices were heard. Working with NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation convened a STEM Education Advisory Panel and tasked this group to contribute to the report. I was asked to serve as vice chair for the 18-member panel, and NSTA was also represented on the panel by two NSTA STEM Ambassadors and one NSTA past president.

Over several months, the panel made solid and actionable recommendations to the plan’s three critical goals:

  • Goal 1: Build Strong Foundations for STEM Literacy;
  • Goal 2: Increase Diversity and Inclusion Through Broader Access to STEM; and
  • Goal 3: Prepare the STEM Workforce for the Future.

While these goals are aspirational, it is important to note that they recognize the central importance of science education in our society. This did not happen by chance.

Science is the best tool we have to explain our observations of the natural world and to predict future phenomena. Every citizen needs to know the basics of scientific observation and prediction, and be sufficiently informed to make decisions about food, environment, biotechnology, medicine, artificial intelligence, and myriad other issues arising every day. Teachers’ voices were critical in identifying the importance of science and discovery in this report, and we will be watching carefully for how federal agencies will be increasing support for our community.

The five-year plan also articulates the need to include demographic groups that have not had adequate access to STEM opportunities ranging from education to employment. That call underscores the message that STEM is for every citizen. By 2045, the United States will have a “minority white” population. It’s clear that the push for STEM literacy for every American must begin now if we want to reach this goal.

Federal agencies have committed to better, consistent reporting of participation in their programs and transparent efforts to broaden participation. We are very proud that the U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) was cited as exemplary in their efforts to reach underrepresented groups and to compile meaningful participation statistics. NSTA administers eCYBERMISSION, the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), and Gains in the Mathematics of Education and Science (GEMS) for AEOP.

Preparing the STEM workforce for the future is the plan’s third goal. It too is couched in highly aspirational and formal language, calling for “education systems that combine high-quality career and technical training with college preparatory curriculum.” It emphasizes education that spans traditional disciplinary boundaries. NSTA and ASTC’s publication Connected Science Learning is cited as a best practice example of bridging informal and formal preK–12 STEM education programs.

I have only one major criticism of the report. Research continues to show that the single most important factor in (STEM) education is the teacher. While teachers played an influential role in reviewing the report, a gap exists between its aspirational stance and how individual teachers could use the report to improve their practice. Personally, I wish it had included better recognition of the classroom changes occurring with the implementation of standards based on A Framework for K–12 Science Education, including engineering design and computational thinking.

Charting a Course for STEM Education is a major step forward in coordinating federal agencies’ support for STEM education. While it can’t be considered comprehensive and has sections needing amplification, it establishes a framework and outlines the administration’s commitment for how they can better support STEM education.

The final report clearly reflected the input from the teachers on the Advisory Panel, and the agencies were frank in discussions about how they acted on the recommendations. We expect to see substance in the implementation plan this spring, when the administration will offer specifics on each agency’s commitments, goal by goal. And of course, we will pay attention to the administration’s budget requests to support those goals.

We look forward to working with the federal agencies to implement this plan at the federal level, and ensuring that all teachers and state and district leaders have this information as they devise the best science and STEM education for their students.

And teachers will have another opportunity for their voices to be heard.

NSTA Executive Director David Evans

Dr. David L. Evans is the Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Reach him via e-mail at or via Twitter @devans_NSTA

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all



Follow NSTA

Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Pinterest icon G+ icon YouTube icon Instagram icon




Posted in NSTA Reports, The STEM Classroom | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

English Learners in STEM Subjects

Conducting a review of the research literature on science education with English learners (ELs) would be a demanding task. Reimaging what is possible for ELs in science education would be an even more demanding task. Consider the enormity of the task to reimagine what it takes to transform the education system in order to promote learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as well as language for ELs. This was the charge for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) (2018) consensus study, English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives.

The report places ELs at the center and starts with a description of the EL student population and their performance in STEM subjects (see more details in Chapter 2 of the report). Then, the report describes contemporary views on language and each of the STEM subjects and how children, especially ELs, learn each of these subjects. Based on these contemporary views, the report describes how language and STEM subjects can be integrated for ELs (see more details in Chapter 3 of the report).

Based on these core ideas about ELs and the five subjects, the remainder of the report describes the research literature on how multiple components at multiple levels of the education system– instructional practices and curriculum materials (Chapter 4), schools working with families and communities (Chapter 5), teacher education (Chapter 6), assessments (Chapter 7), and education policies (Chapter 8)–promote language and STEM learning with ELs.

In this blog, I highlight several key issues about ELs and integrating language and STEM subjects to improve the learning outcomes of ELs. (For an overview of the NASEM report, readers would enjoy reading the blog titled, Reimagining STEM for English Learners by K. Renae Pullen .

The description about ELs presents two key themes: (a) heterogeneity of the EL student population and (b) inconsistency of educational policies with ELs. I would like to highlight a few prominent issues that may surprise STEM educators (and readers will find other issues in the report).

The report states, “Against common intuition, the majority of ELs in the country are U.S. born.” These long-term ELs have been receiving English language development services for at least 6 years and yet have not met reclassification criteria for their state. These students are typically English users, not English learners. This demographic information may surprise STEM educators who tend to think of ELs as newcomers, those foreign-born ELs who have recently arrived in the US.

The report goes on to say, “Because states have different criteria to implement legislation regarding the definition of ELs, whether a student is regarded or not as being an EL depends, at least to some extent, on the state in which a given student lives.” Only recently was there an effort to develop a common definition of ELs across the states. Currently, EL definitions vary across states.

The report continues that classification and reclassification of students as ELs “varies considerably across states, and even across districts within states.” Although the state ELP assessment is the sole criterion in many states, some states with large EL populations require other criteria including academic achievement measured by standardized test scores and/or grades in English language arts and/or mathematics, thus preventing ELs from having access to STEM subjects.

The report describes “the gap that can’t go away.” As ELs become proficient in English, they are reclassified and no longer count in the EL category for accountability purposes, “creating an achievement gap that must persist” and overestimating the gap between ELs and non-ELs.

How Can Language and STEM Subjects Be Integrated With English Learners?

Integration of language and STEM subjects with ELs can be considered in terms of (a) federal legislation and standards and (b) contemporary views on language and STEM learning.

In terms of educational policies, federal legislation since No Child Left Behind of 2001 has called for alignment between content standards and English language proficiency (ELP) standards. The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 mandates that “the State has adopted English language proficiency standards that . . . are aligned with the challenging State academic standards” (1111(b)(1)(F)). While mathematics and science standards have been evolving for almost 3 decades, there has been no agreement on ELP standards. This lack of agreement on what counts as language and how ELs learn (English) language presents challenges to establishing alignment between content standards and ELP standards.

In terms of theory and practice, there have been parallel shifts in science (and mathematics) education and second language acquisition. In science education, traditional views have focused on individual learners’ mastery of discrete elements of science content, whereas contemporary views emphasize that students make sense of phenomena and design solutions to problems as scientists and engineers do in their work (knowledge-in-use). In second language acquisition, traditional views have focused on discrete elements of vocabulary (lexicon) and grammar (syntax) to be internalized by learners, whereas contemporary views emphasize that language is a set of dynamic meaning-making practices learned through participation in social contexts (language-in-use). Recognizing these instructional shifts as mutually supportive can promote rigorous science learning and rich language use with ELs.

The report highlights that “the aims of content learning and language learning are closely tied to each other and are best addressed in parallel or in conjunction, rather than separately or sequentially.” The report also highlights that “language proficiency is not a prerequisite for content instruction, but an outcome of effective content instruction.” With its charge to reimagine what it takes to transform the education system in order to promote STEM learning as well as language learning with ELs, the report offers promising practices for teaching, learning, and assessment in language and STEM subjects with ELs.

Okhee Lee is a professor in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University. She was a member of the NGSS writing team and served as leader for the NGSS Diversity and Equity team. She served on The Committee on Supporting English Learners in STEM.

Posted in NSTA Reports | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Engaging English Learners in K-12 Engineering

Engineering is now part of the Next Generation Science Standards as well as many state standards. As schools and teachers begin to think about how to introduce engineering in their classrooms, they should do so in ways that support all students, including English learners.

Because K-12 engineering is a relatively new discipline, we have an opportunity from the start to design curricula and instruction that embed effective practices. There is not yet much published research specifically about engineering with English learners. But there is much to learn from research done in other STEM disciplines, particularly math and science. The recent consensus report from The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives, provides a comprehensive review of such research. It addresses STEM learning and language development, effective instructional strategies, school-family-community interactions, teacher preparation, and assessment. The concise summary of relevant literature, and its 24 conclusions and 7 recommendations provide valuable resources to spur thinking about engineering with English learners.

Over the past few years my Engineering is Elementary (EiE) team and I have begun to explore some of the affordances of engineering for English learners. Close work, conversations, and observations of elementary teachers and students engaged in engineering lessons suggest a few ways that English learners can benefit from engineering instruction. These resonate strongly with the overall themes of the NASEM publication.

First, engineering can be designed to offer rich opportunities for language-intensive classroom experiences. Hands-on engineering challenges invite students to engage in authentic, purposeful, and meaningful discourse. As they dive into open-ended challenges, students can generate original solutions.

Students need and want to use language to share their innovative, unique ideas with others on their teams and in their class. Well-designed engineering lessons ask students to read, write, speak, listen, and visually represent their ideas and designs. For example, as students engineer a device to help a person with a physical disability open jars and cans, they might research the topic or interview the client to learn more about what is needed, discuss design features and sketches with teammates, share ideas for which materials to use and why they might work, negotiate with team members to arrive at an initial plan, draw and label a diagram of their proposed solution, collect and record data about how it works and where it needs further adjustment, determine how they can improve the device, and communicate what solution they recommend and the process they used to develop it with their classmates and clients.

A second beneficial feature of engineering centers on the materiality of engineering. Students, and many engineers, use physical materials to produce a product. Exploration of materials and their properties is an important part of engineering for children, especially those in elementary and middle school. Describing materials and naming properties allow all students to develop both understanding and a robust vocabulary to communicate—whether something is fluffy, opaque, strong, or porous might determine whether it is the best choice to meet the criteria of the project. Developing linguistic descriptors goes hand-in-hand with developing skills to manipulate and construct solutions. As they design concrete models, students can demonstrate their ideas through gesture, drawing, and construction of a technology. The materiality of the solutions allows students with varying levels of English proficiency to participate and share their ideas in meaningful ways. They can experience success by using multiple ways to show what they know.

The open-ended nature of engineering design challenges, which allow multiple solutions, also can invite English learners to contribute what they know. Culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms are rich in different ideas and perspectives, which can strengthen engineering solutions and the learning community. Students can draw on their funds of knowledge and creativity as they consider how to solve the challenge at hand. As English learners share their ideas and draw from concrete experiences, they can communicate the salient features to others through language and sketches. Furthermore, other students are encouraged to consider the different ways other cultures solve problems thereby broadening their perspectives. 

Finally, engineering can encourage students to develop new identities for themselves and see others in different ways. Doing authentic engineering tasks shows students they are capable of this type of work and allows them to begin to build affiliation and identity. Engaging in language-rich engineering challenges can provide opportunities for students to develop their academic language in ways that build their self-confidence about their engineering or STEM abilities. Engineering tasks that allow students to demonstrate their ideas also encourage students to regard their teammates and classmates as valued collaborators. Contributions that draw from multiple modes of communication can be made, recognized, and celebrated by a larger group, and students, including English learners, can become active, valued members of the engineering learning community.

Christine M. Cunningham is the Founding Director of Engineering is Elementary and is Vice President of the Museum of Science, Boston. 

Posted in NSTA Reports | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Ideas and inspiration from NSTA’s January 2019 K-12 journals

Happy 2019! This is a milestone year for science teachers: Message From the President: NSTA’s 75th

Regardless of what grade level or subject you teach, check out all three K-12 journals. As you skim through titles and descriptions of the articles, you may find ideas for lessons that would be interesting for your students, the inspiration to adapt a lesson to your grade level or subject, or the challenge to create/share your own lessons and ideas.

NSTA members, as always, have access to the articles in all journals! Click on the links to read or add to your library.

Science Scope – Oceans

From the Editor’s Desk: Thank the Ocean “Even if you are far away from where its waves meet the shoreline, kids tend to wonder about its vast depths; rhythmic tides, interesting creatures; and the fact that there is so much left to discover…Many of our 21st-century socioscientific issues, such as climate change, plastic pollution, and oil and gas exploration, will require solutions developed by ocean literate citizens.”

Articles in this issue that describe lessons (many of which use the 5E model) include a helpful sidebar documenting the big idea, essential pre-knowledge, time, safety issues, and cost. The lessons also include connections with the NGSS.

  • The lesson in Ocean Acidification Investigation is designed to help students explore and understand the relationship between air pollution and ocean acidification, including the effects on living things.
  • The Microscopic World of Plankton takes a different look at food webs and ecosystems. The article includes a plankton “primer” with background information and directions for designing and constructing plankton nets—and you don’t need to live near an ocean for collecting and learning about plankton.
  • Ocean Pressure connects physical science and oceanography in a hands-on study. The author includes a predict-observe-explain process in a graphic organizer.
  • Commentary: Engage Your Students in Ocean Exploration Science and Scope on the Skies: Monitoring the Hydrosphere include a rationale for incorporating ocean science and water studies into the curriculum and lists of resources to get started.
  • To help students understand the characteristics of saltwater, Disequilibrium: Floating Eggs has a lesson on why objects are more buoyant in salt water than in fresh water.
  • Citizen Science: Global Fishing Watch is a project that shares real-time data and information on over 60,000 fishing vessels. Students can “explore, track, and measure current and historical commercial fishing activity” to look for trends and patterns.
  • The investigation Staying Fit in Space combines engineering, space science, data analysis, statistics, and physics in a study of the effects of exercise on the human body in space.

This month’s Science Teacher has an article related to this theme. From Dissolution to Solution goes beyond traditional studies of ocean acidification to a series of lessons that address questions about the causes and impact of acidification and ways to reduce it.

These monthly columns continue to provide background knowledge and classroom ideas:

For more on the content that provides a context for projects and strategies described in this issue, see the SciLinks topics Acid Precipitation, Buoyancy, Carbon Cycle, Density, Eclipses, Energy Transformations, Food Webs, Marine Ecosystems, Marine Life, Ocean Pollution, Ocean Water Chemistry, Oceans, Overfishing, pH Scale, Plankton, Salinity, Solutions

Many authors share resources related to the lessons and strategies in their articles. These resources include rubrics, graphic organizers, handouts, diagrams, lists of resources, and complete lessons. You can access these through the Connections link for Science Scope

Continue for The Science Teacher and Science & Children

Continue reading …

Posted in SciLinks | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How Are Car Crashes, Packaging Design, and Bridge Design Related? (Hint: Integrated STEM)

Imagine a nationwide team of STEM education experts creating a GPS system of sorts for educators who want to chart a course toward an integrated STEM approach—one that’s aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards, the Common Core State Standards, and the Framework for 21st Century Learning.

That’s exactly how NSTA’s STEM Road Map Curriculum Series came into being. STEM educators from across the United States responded to a growing need for K-12 classrooms to offer students real-world learning experiences, ones that are delivered through authentic problem-solving and pedagogy and grounded in integrated STEM.

The developers of this work embed authentic assessment and differentiation through each module, and they view the curriculum as a resource that serves the needs of whole districts, individual schools, or classroom teachers focused on implementing an integrated STEM approach in their own unique construct.

Three new books have been added to the STEM Road Map Curriculum Series, each targeting a different level of secondary school:

In Packaging Design, sixth-grade students can explore how marketing, packaging, and communications connect. Students have the opportunity to learn how to repurpose a product or market it to new customers, convince customers to buy their product by honing their persuasive writing and speaking skills, and develop their content knowledge while investigating the complexities of marketing.

To purchase a print copy, click here.
An e-book version of this book is also available for purchase.
Enjoy a sample chapter by clicking here.

Improving Bridge Design  puts eighth grade students in charge of strengthening the nation’s infrastructure by designing longer lasting bridges. Students examine both the nation’s as well as their own community’s current infrastructure, focusing on bridges; create models of bridges using scale factor; research the types of rocks used in bridge design; investigate building costs and more sustainable design; and debate the merits of a federally established program (similar the post-World War II Works Progress Administration) to improve the country’s public infrastructure.

Click here to purchase a print copy of this book.
An e-book version is also available. 
Enjoy a sample chapter of this book.


After exploring the content in Car Crashes, 12th grade students will understand the physical forces, industry challenges, role of governmental safety standards, and individual rights. Lessons take students through the roles of  forces, speed, velocity, momentum, and impact in auto safety; reverse-engineer car crash scenarios to understand why accidents happen; the background and effect of government regulations; and the many aspects of the car-safety industry.

To purchase a print copy, click here.
An e-book version is also available.
Click here to enjoy a sample chapter from this book.

The trend toward an integrated STEM focus across districts, schools, and classrooms prompted NSTA to create this high-quality, research-based K-12 curriculum series. Find the ones that are just right for you.


Follow NSTA

Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Pinterest icon G+ icon YouTube icon Instagram icon


Posted in NSTA Press Books | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ed News: Meeting New Science Standards Requires Greater Emphasis on Teacher Practice

News Roundup banner

This week in education news, new Forever GI Bill law allots a fifth year of education benefits for eligible students pursuing degrees in the STEM fields; President Trump signs NSF STEM Education Research Bill; researchers argue that education apps often don’t align with what we know about the science of learning and memory; Boston Museum of Science president and director to resign at the end of January; a look back at 2018’s seven biggest federal K-12 policy stories; and a new study finds that states need to focus more on teacher practice when implementing the Next Generation Science Standards.

Vets Interested in STEM Degrees Could Get More GI Bill Money in 2019

Some college degrees in science, technology, engineering and math fields take longer than four years to complete, which is why the new Forever GI Bill authorizes an additional school year of GI Bill funds on a first-come, first-serve basis. Scholarships of up to $30,000 will be available for eligible GI Bill users starting in August 2019. Only veterans or surviving family members of deceased service members are eligible for this scholarship — not dependents using transferred benefits. Read the article featured in Military Times.

The Teacher Strikes and Protests Planned for 2019

While 2018 was a pivotal year for teacher activism, with large-scale strikes in six states and more protests around the country, there has been some question as to whether momentum would continue into the New Year. So far, though, we know at least a few places where labor actions are likely to happen. Read the article featured in Education Week.

Continue reading …

Posted in Education News Roundup | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment