Hesitate to participate?

I know this is a rare problem: quiet kids. But what suggestions do you have for a ninth-grade class that is made up predominately of students who seem to be unwilling (or unable) to share thoughts or ask questions during class discussion. They’re even hesitant to answer direct questions aloud. Add to that all the girls are quiet and the boys are willing to answer and ask questions. I’m looking for ideas to motivate conversation, as my regular tricks are not working!

—Lise, Massachusetts

This is not as rare a situation as you may think. Even in a class with many students eager to participate, there are some who hold back for a variety of reasons. These students may lack self-confidence, there may be cultural or social influences at work, or they may have had negative experiences in previous classes. It’s easy to overlook these students, but it’s worth the effort to work with them. I was a quiet student myself, and I appreciated when teachers were patient enough to find out what I was thinking.

You could certainly use written activities to find out what these quiet students are learning and to share with other students, but I suspect that you want to provide opportunities for these students to become more comfortable communicating ideas with other students and participating in real time.

Our colleagues on an NSTA listserve had suggestions, many of which I would recommend based on my experiences:

Continue reading …

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What Meets YOUR Needs?

We often discuss differentiated or individualized instruction being important for students and then provide “one-size-fits-all” professional development for educators – the entire range from K-12. At one point in a previous article, I wrote “What I have never understood is that as educators. Supervisors and administrators we are knowledgeable of the need for Individualized Education Plans for students who need them, differentiated instruction in order to help students thrive based on their learning preferences, and if necessary accelerated or remedial instruction for those students who learn at a different pace. However, when it comes to professional development for educators, district personnel forget all of the important lessons we employ for students and often adopt a once size fits all approach to professional development.”  My views are still along the same lines, but since have come to better understand the many of the limitations that impact professional development opportunities such as an educator’s time, fiscal support, and district needs.

There is no doubt that professional development requirements vary from district to district and often state to state. Individual states may have requirements for moving from one level certificate to another, maintaining your certificate or simply an hour requirement in a given amount of time. Another requirement that is often part of a teacher’s yearly plan are required in-service days organized and sponsored by the school district which may or may not apply to state certificate programs.

It is important to keep this in mind when we consider a study from the Center for Teaching Quality mentioned in the recent issue of the Leaders Letter investigated professional development options across seven international classrooms and published a report titled “A Global Network of Teachers and Their Professional Learning Systems.”

The recommendations are meant for the leadership in educational systems and focus on what would need to be done to help improve professional development and are as follows:

  • Rethink how teachers’ time is allocated.
  • Connect teacher evaluations with professional learning systems.
  • Value opportunities for teachers to learn from one another.
  • Establish career pathways encouraging teachers to lead without leaving the
  • Classroom
  • Expand professional learning offerings and access points.

From a research perspective, this is a relatively small study which only seven teachers across multiple continents interviewed and observed. However, the recommendations are a great starting point for discussion on ways to improve professional development for teachers and do align with other reports published by the CCSSO. Furthermore, educators have known for a long time what types of PD they prefer to attend and that is clearly outlined in Park Rogers in 2007. Educators found that professional development is most effective when:

  1. content is relevant and applicable to classrooms
  2. it engages teachers in learning content through modeling and in similar manners to how their students will learn, and
  3. it allows teachers to form collegial relationships through networking with other teachers and the facilitators.

The fact the recommendations from the study are meant to guide educational systems, the first question I would be interested in hearing is from a district leader’s perspective as to “what is the purpose of in-service days or professional development?” This may be the initial point at which the potential breakdown between needs of the teachers and selections of the district occur. I would think it would be fair to say that teachers have a different perspective as to what they “need” to grow than perhaps what the district “needs” for them to know. There is no doubt that sharing of district initiatives needs to happen but perhaps these should be in addition to the needs of increased content knowledge, collaboration time with like-minded positions or groups across subject or grade level or even personalized programs.

In my personal opinion, it is important for each teacher to seek out the professional development they need even if it is not part of what the district offers. My experience is that many MANY teachers do this automatically each year due to their dedication to their field. So the question that is posed relates to what your state, district or school requires for professional development and if you feel that meets your needs or not? If not, what recommendation would you provide?




Posted in The Leading Edge | 1 Response

Science Education Evolving: NSTA’s Plan for Supporting Science Educators and Working Toward a More Scientifically Literate Future

NSTA Strategic Goals 2014 coverA clear vision supported by specific plans is critical to the success of any organization. The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has the dual responsibility of furthering the important mission of promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all while also maintaining viability. For this reason, we recently updated our strategic vision to establish common goals and objectives that help us best serve our membership, guide leadership, and unite employees.

NSTA Strategic Goals 2010, the previous comprehensive five-year blueprint laid out four goals:

  1. Promoting active participation of all teachers of science in improving science education;
  2. Advocating for the central role of science education to benefit students and society;
  3. Supporting high-quality science teaching to improve student learning for the 21st century; and
  4. Influencing research in science education and promote its wide application to improve science teaching and student learning.

These goals—developed to reflect the changes in science education—served as a tool to help NSTA leadership and staff make important decisions about the association’s programs, products, and services.

Over the past year however, NSTA has worked to reevaluate the plan and to start the next chapter of the association’s history. During my presidency, I convened a task force to develop a new plan that would provide a road map to guide and prioritize the work of the association over the next five years. The development process included the collaborative efforts from a dedicated and distinguished group of educators, science administrators, NSTA staff, and other critical stakeholders.

The result—NSTA Strategic Goals 2015—builds on the goals set forth in the previous strategic plan and outlines new aspirations and expectations for the association. The plan identifies six key overarching goals and the philosophies that underscore them.

Advocacy: We must help the public understand both the importance of scientific literacy to our nation’s future and the critical role science teachers play in achieving it. Therefore, NSTA seeks to raise the status of science education and science teaching as a profession by advocating for high-quality science education within national, state, and local contexts.

Elementary Education: To empower generations of scientifically literate citizens, we have to start young. By middle school, many students have already lost interest in studying science. Rather than drown them in facts and memorization, we must encourage young students to ask questions and supply them with the tools they need to seek answers. We will nurture scientific curiosity among children in the earliest grades.

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and STEM: The Next Generation Science Standards, which advocate using the practices of scientists and engineers to teach key scientific content, provide a roadmap for instilling the critical skills students need. Moreover, the NGSS aim to combine science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in a meaningful way, helping the U.S. to revitalize science education, boost student achievement, and bolster U.S. economic standing.

Membership: Teachers of science at any grade have a tough job. NSTA membership makes it a little easier through enhanced peer-to-peer engagement, differentiated benefits, and an expanded suite of tools.

Professional Learning: To further support all teachers of science, members and non-members alike, NSTA seeks to enhance the professional learning of science educators by providing a suite of tools, resources, and opportunities that supports long-term growth within a collaborative learning environment.

Internal Organizational Goals: Finally, the support of 21st-century science educators requires 21st-century work space and tools, and the staff trained to make the most of those tools.

I think you will agree that these are both lofty and important goals. As a past elementary school teacher, I am particularly pleased with the inclusion of elementary education as a prominent goal, encouraging NSTA to move forward in a very deliberate way to focus attention on children’s primary education. Research clearly indicates the importance, benefits, and impact of science instruction on students. I have long believed that the STEM “pipeline” begins early in a child’s life and must be nurtured through high-quality science and literacy instruction. The strategic plan advocates for coherent science instruction in the elementary classroom, provides the opportunity to develop cohesive professional learning options for elementary teachers, emphasizes the symbiotic relationship and connection between science and literacy, and promotes the use of standards to provide students with authentic science instruction. In short, it takes a holistic, and necessary, approach to improving science education in the elementary years.

BillBaddersMaking the vision of the strategic plan a reality will take a concerted effort among everyone in the preK-16 science education community. Thank you to all who participated in the planning process, and especially to the Strategic Plan Task Force, my fellow Board and Council members, and the staff, for their invaluable effort and input. It is this collaborative spirit that will strengthen our membership and drive the achievement of our vision.

By Bill Badders, 2014-2015 NSTA Retiring President

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I’ve Been Hired as a Science Teacher, but I’m Not Certified to Teach Science. Help!

When NSTA member Susanne Hokkanen was in school for teaching, she received a bachelor’s degree in history along with her teaching certificate. Hokkanen thought she would teach history after graduation, but instead she was hired as a middle school science teacher. “I panicked,” Hokkanen says. “I had taken only 12 credit hours of science in school. I didn’t feel prepared to teach it.”

Hokkanen quickly realized she needed help. “As soon as I secured my teaching position, I got in touch with NSTA,” she says. Hokkanen credits the association for helping her become the science teacher she is today. “My membership in NSTA has helped keep me in science education,” she says. “I’ve been offered teaching positions in social studies and I haven’t taken them.”

Hokkanen: My NSTA membership afforded me the opportunity to take part in the NSTA New Science Teacher Academy. The year-long experience was phenomenal. Being a part of the academy gave me access to science education mentors, discussion threads filled with content specialists, and pedagogy experts. 

Academy fellows also get to attend NSTA’s National Conference on Science Education. Before that time, I had only attended NSTA regional conferences, which are so helpful. The national conference is just as amazing, but more intense. I attend conference sessions that speak to me as an educator. NSTA conferences always have strong threads on diversity—meeting the needs of minority students and teaching in a diverse community. And I go to a lot of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) sessions, which focus on the 5E Instructional Model and inquiry-based learning.

Through NSTA, I learned about Montana State University, where I earned my Master of Science in Science Education. And, as an NSTA member, I’ve participated in web seminars and spent a lot of time in the NSTA Learning Center, which has helped solidify my content and pedagogical knowledge. Because of my involvement in the Learning Center and in web seminars, I now serve as an NSTA online advisor and web seminar moderator.

I’m constantly telling fellow teachers in my district about the benefits of an NSTA membership. There are a tremendous amount of elementary school teachers, for example, who don’t feel qualified to teach science. And they are hesitant to teach science. I like to use myself as an example as why other teachers should not be afraid of science. I encourage them to look at NSTA and the NSTA Learning Center so that they can learn how an NSTA membership helps you gain confidence as a science teacher.

(Note from NSTA: Not a member of NSTA? Learn more about how to join.)

Jennifer Henderson is our guest blogger for this series. Before launching her freelance career as a writer/editor, Jennifer was Managing Editor of The Science Teacher, NSTA’s peer-reviewed journal for high school science teachers.

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The Best Way to Answer Kids’ Questions, and Other Things I Learned at #NSTA14 Richmond

collage of images from Richmond keynoteWhen you bring a bunch of science teachers together, the most amazing, surprising connections are made. Last week in Richmond, Virginia, thousands of science educators gathered to talk about informal science, reach for the stars, and make connections that solidly ground them in professional learning communities that will keep them as energized throughout the year as they were while gathered at that conference.

National Geographic Explorer Brendan Mullan kicked off the conference with a keynote address  that delivered one of the most important messages of the week. He said his parents were inspiring because they were real people. And it was that inspiration that led him to become an explorer, a FameLab winner, and an astrophysicist who sees no limits in our abilities to teach kids to learn, explore, and expand their knowledge.

Richmond telescope winnerAs teachers who are nurturing the next generation of scientists, NSTA members are the real people who are inspiring explorers and astrophysicists who are searching for intelligent life beyond our planet. One simple act can truly take us to the outer reaches… both of our imaginations and the solar system. And NSTA conferences are the perfect place to be inspired. As part of the conference, we harnessed some star power ourselves and gave away telescopes to three lucky winners at our book store. Congrats to the winners: Megan Ennes, Ann Davis, and David Pagel! Join us at our next Conference on Science Education in Orlando from November 6 to 8 and become an NSTA member/winner too.

Since October is Connected Educator Month (CEM), we were especially pleased to see connected educators everywhere in Richmond. One especially powerful connection was among Twitter users who have formed a professional learning community around the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). On Thursday, October 16, they held a Twitter chat from Richmond, and the ideas and solutions that bubbled up were incredible. Read more about the chat: #NGSSchat PD for the NGSS. And NSTA is not leaving CEM at the conference. On Thursday, October 23, from 1:00pm – 2:00pm ET, Dr. Al Byers, NSTA Associate Executive Director, Services will be participating in a panel discussion on Designing and Evaluating Effective Online Communities of Practices.

Preeti Gupta from AMNHTwitter brought us a quote that resonated throughout the conference: “My mission is to maintain the curiosity kids have about sci into adulthood. If you’re in science now, don’t ever forget where you came from.” (@realscientists) Partnerships among museums and schools are great proponents of helping kids nurture their innate curiosity and develop it as they become citizens of our society. On Friday, October 17, Preeti Gupta talked with teachers about the kinds of activities that support children and youth in developing an interest in science, and potentially pursue careers in STEM. Her videos of the Science Club she worked with were particularly motivating! Read more about the work Gupta does at the American Museum of Natural History.

starbucks sign from NSTA in RichmondWhat fuels all these amazing connections? We can’t say for sure, but we are pretty sure that caffeine is involved. One of the winners of our #NSTAGroupie contest won a caffeine beaker mug, and whether she chooses to fill it with a caffeinated beverage or not, she’ll have an instant chemistry lesson in her hands to share with her friends and family when she gets home. Because sharing is what teachers do best, it’s the reason we ran a “groupie” contest rather ask for “selfies.” If you’re at our Orlando or Long Beach conferences, think about participating. We’ll be doing it at both!

trade book authors gather at NSTA conference in RichmondThe conference culminated with one of the greatest connections of all: A celebration of Science and Literacy in which NSTA partnered with the International Reading Association. Authors whose books are featured on the annual list of Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 gathered to read, share, and enjoy the magic that happens when science and literacy come together. At that gathering, author Vicky Cobb encouraged teachers and parents alike to answer kids’ questions with “Great question. How can we find out?” This real answer for a real question brought the week full circle for me. I’m guessing that’s exactly the type of answer Brendan Mullan’s parents would have given him, as they empowered him to become the amazing scientist he is today.

Many many more great connections were made last week, and we’d love to hear about yours. Please tweet using #NSTA14, or share on our Facebook page. If you did attend, please be sure to complete session evaluations for a chance to win a Kindle Fire. Evaluations can be completed online. Read more about the conference from early education expert Peggy Ashbrook: Richmond, Virginia and science in early childhood 2014 NSTA area conference.

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

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Using Your NSTA Social Media Dashboard for Connected Educator Month


MMYM_60minOctober is Connected Educator Month (CEM), and NSTA supports the goals of not only getting more educators connected through social media, but also elevating those connections to develop personal learning networks. Originally developed by the U.S. Department of Education, CEM offers highly distributed, diverse, and engaging activities to educators at all levels. CEM programs include webinars, video conferences, and tutorials.

Dr. Al Byers, NSTA Associate Executive Director, Services will be participating in a panel discussion on Designing and Evaluating Effective Online Communities of Practices. Thursday, October 23, from 1:00pm – 2:00pm ET

NSTA members have a head start establishing and sustaining personal learning networks: NSTA’s Social Media Dashboard. Use NSTA’s social media channels to reach other members, download resources, and explore fresh ideas for creative professional learning. In just 15 minutes, you can pick a platform to connect—or master all of them!

  • LinkedIn
    NSTA’s LinkedIn group allows for open discussions and dialogue among members, experts, and other science education professionals.
  • Twitter
    Faster than email and quick to learn, Twitter has a robust grassroots segment for teachers, administrators, and educators. Great platform for following and contributing to discussions using hashtags like #cem14!
  • Facebook
    Never miss NSTA news, publications, or special events by being a fan of the NSTA Facebook page. Share your ideas, comments, and classroom stories on Facebook with the larger community.
  • Pinterest
    Everything from an inspirational quote to an instructional model is available from NSTA’s Pinterest page. Find out what science teachers are reading, learn more about Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and share the next science toy or tool to make a difference in the classroom.
  • YouTube
    Videos from experts, NSTA staff and authors, and members like you. Subscribe to this channel to get the latest science education videos from NSTA.
  • Google+
    A growing platform for sharing videos, images, and resources for science educators. It’s easy to add other science educators to your circles and start a conversation immediately.

More Time?

If you have more time, consider investigating the NSTA Blog, the platform where social media began. The blog is written by experts, NSTA staff, and by members like you. In addition to learning more about science lessons, the NGSS, and upcoming science-related events, blog posts offer the opportunity to not only comment on each post, but also share NSTA blog posts with your networks.

Not a member of NSTA? Learn more about how to join.

Laura Berry of Cogberry Creative is our guest blogger for this series. Laura is a communications professional for the education community.

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Richmond, Virginia and science in early childhood 2014 NSTA area conference

Train station on Main StreetHere are some glimpses from the NSTA 2014 Richmond, Virginia area conference where teachers shared their work and learned from others. The location is excellent—beautiful train station, hotels just across the street from the convention center, easy access to restaurants and helpful staff people abound! This morning I had the other half of my chicken dinner from Pasture and it was still delicious.

Teachers working together to consider solving an engineering problem.In one session I was delighted (but not surprised) to see teachers collaborating on designing and building their solutions to engineering problems presented to us. We were given the familiar problems of building a chair for Baby Bear (Goldilocks and the Three Bears) and a house for a pig (Three Little Pigs) that would meet certain requirements. Teachers give thumbs up to show they are satisfied with their design.This is how it felt to be problem-solving with a group…excited to be challenged, and impressed with my colleagues design ideas, their ability to communicate, their small motor skills and their willingness to take chances and try again. We didn’t have time to discuss how to implement engineering challenges in our classrooms but later a colleague suggested that we don’t have to present children with problems because every day young children encounter problems to solve in their play. Some that come to mind include, keeping their block structure from falling over, choosing the best blanket to drape over chairs for a tent, digging holes that won’t collapse, and carrying armloads of balls. These are problems that they need to solve for their own purposes. They are also opportunities for teachers to support the Practices of science and engineering while working alongside or observing children. 

IMG_3514 Discussion during a session.The session, Defining Science Learning and Teaching for Early Childhood, was an in-depth look at the recently released NSTA position statement on Early Childhood Science Education. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has endorsed the position statement. Members of the NAEYC Early Childhood Science Interest Forum will be presenting an expanded version of this session in Dallas at the conference next month, November 5-8.

Early childhood educators create community wherever we are!Some of the best discussions took place just after or between sessions. Chat up the person next to you, you might just discover that she is an early childhood teacher from the same small community where your cousins live! 

There are two more days of the conference to enjoy! On Saturday, children and their families are invited to a free event, Celebration of Literacy and Science, in the Grand Ballroom, Greater Richmond Convention Center where they will join other conference goers to a panel discussion of authors of outstanding science trade books who will share what inspires them, how they do their work, and how their books can be used in teaching (10:00 AM – 11:30 AM). Children and their parents are invited to visit with authors to explore their mutual curiosity and wonder about the natural world (11:45 AM – 1:15 PM). Families and homeschoolers will also be able to tour the NSTA exhibit hall and the NSTA Science Store (9am-12pm).

I always get recharged and expand my network at conferences!


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Crosscutting Concepts in NSTA Journals

The more I learn about NGSS, the more I’m intrigued by the crosscutting concepts. These concepts are the big ideas that transcend and connect the core ideas and processes within and in between traditional subject areas. This month’s Science & Children has a guest editorial on the topic that is a must-read for teachers of all levels: Implementing NGSS Crosscutting Concepts

One of the perks of being an NSTA member is having access to all of the journals online. Regardless of the grade level you teach, the journals have ideas for authentic activities and investigations that can be used, adapted, or extended for different levels of student interest and experience. Many are written using the 5E model and most describe their connections to the NGSS. The articles in NSTA’s October K-12 journals focus on three of the NGSS crosscutting concepts: Patterns, Cause and Effect, and Systems and System Models.

Science & Children: Patterns

This issue is the beginning of a series that will address each of the crosscutting concepts with “snapshots” of activities that include the concepts, starting with patterns. Here are some SciLinks that provide additional content information and suggestions for additional activities and investigations:

Continue reading …

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Observe. Everything. Young children, Science Friday and walks in nature

A spider on a daisy flower.

Why is a spider hanging out on a flower? Two-year-old children observed this spider but haven’t yet asked a question about it. Give them time. #ObserveEverything

“Observation is that first step to discovery,” noted Ariel Zych, Science Friday Education Manager, in a audio segment about Science Friday’s Science Club citizen science challenge, #ObserveEverything.

Science Club notes that scientists such as Galileo, Darwin and Curie made careful observations which led to their discoveries. As individuals or as groups or a class, we are invited to do just that: observe everything and anything, and communicate our observation in one of many formats including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, YouTube, Email, and Tumblr! And, of course, we’ll communicate our observation to other students and parents.

All we have to do is:

  1. Observe everything until we notice something that interests you.
  2. Observe it methodically, in the same way, at regular intervals, keeping a record of our observations.
  3. Share our observations with the hashtag #ObserveEverything (see details at https://www.rebelmouse.com/scifri/Science-Club/ )

As I walked with a small class of two year olds (25-30 months old) for the first time through a tended garden near the school, I pointed out features of plants that I thought would interest them. We looked at a tree “thiiiisssss” tall with small leaves (willow oak) and a smaller tree (but still big to them) with big leaves (paw-paw). We used one gentle finger to touch the leaves and whole hands and bodies to hold the trunk. They spotted ants on tree bark, crows in tree tops, squirrels dashing to climb trees and bees going from flower to flower. A few children confidently said, “They’re getting pollen.” Most exciting was the observation of a small spider on a daisy flower. None of the children yet wondered why the spider was on the flower. With time and discussion, they will see a pattern of animals using plants to survive (NGSS K-LS1-1).

As we walked and observed, the adults often reminded the group about ways we can be good stewards of this garden tended by others:

  • Walk on the grass or the mulch paths.
  • Use our eyes to see, our nose to smell, and a gentle finger to touch (most things).
  • Pick up leaves from the ground, not off a plant because it is still using them.
  • Stop and “freeze” if you see an animal so you can watch it for a while without scaring it away.

See articles such as “A Day at the Beach, Anyone?” by Anthony Fredericks and Julie Childers (Science and Children July 2004) and other NSTA posts (here and here) for suggestions on preparing for field trips.

We observed everything! I wonder what observation, and maybe questions, we’ll post next time?

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How Can Science Teachers Use the NGSS to Support English Language Learners’ Construction of Knowledge?

word cloud for Miller blogThis era of AYP (annual yearly progress) and the pressure to meet AMAOs for English Language Learners (ELLs) has fueled our current focus on academic language goals, often framed as vocabulary or discrete elements of grammar. But this narrow focus can result in missed opportunities to seek out and build on student-centered cultural and linguistic resources. Teachers need to focus on developing and honing their pedagogical skills to solicit student ideas and link students’ cultural experiences to the classroom. When we’re able to do that, science class becomes the optimal place to build on the prior understandings and language skills and language-rich practices that all of our students have developed at home and in their communities.

- click to tweet this blog post -

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) offer a way to start the journey of reflective teaching and raise the bar of science learning for all students. Appendix D—All Standards, All Students is accompanied by seven case studies of diverse student groups and addresses what classroom teachers can do to ensure that the NGSS are accessible to all students. The introduction states: “The chapter highlights practicality and utility of implementation strategies that are grounded in theoretical or conceptual frameworks. It consists of three parts. First, it discusses both learning opportunities and challenges that the NGSS present to student groups that have traditionally been underserved in science classrooms. Second, it describes effective strategies for implementation of the NGSS in the classroom, school, home, and community. Finally, it provides the context of student diversity by addressing changing demographics, persistent science achievement gaps, and educational policies affecting non-dominant student groups.”

I was honored to have taken the lead for Case Study 4: English Language Learners and the Next Generation Science Standards and provide the classroom vignette. In this unit, I engage ELLs with three-dimensional learning, in part, by bridging home and community with school. I use a homework assignment to validate the science knowledge in the home and develop comprehensive understanding of the science ideas, which compels a new driving question.

I have students take the Driving Question, “Is all soil the same?” to their families as an “interview.” The students solicit their families’ experiences with soil and write down the interview responses to share with the class. As a result of the homework, many students, especially those whose families have expertise in gardening, have deep, thoughtful conversations with their family. All of the ELL students strengthen their content-specific vocabulary in their home language, and they have an opportunity to bridge the content and vocabulary learned in school with their experiences at home. For example, newcomers from Gambia and Senegal are able to make sense of the science discussions in English after the translated homework is sent home and discussed in the home language.

The extra effort to connect home and school sends a message about the high value placed on home and cultural knowledge and experiences. The students feel validated and so do their family members. One Hmong parent, Mrs. Xiong, a vegetable vendor at a farmers’ market, offers to come into the classroom and share her expertise. She speaks through the school interpreter: “It’s raining in Laos pretty much all the time so the soil is pretty much rich. It rains so much the forest holds everything together and holds the nutrients. It doesn’t wash out. Over there we don’t have sandy soil. In this area, I was so surprised to see corn growing in rows in the sandy soil.” The class is fascinated by Mrs. Xiong’s description of fertilization techniques in her home country. After presenting families’ interviews about soil to their classmates, the students frequently bring up specific comments made by members of their family. It seems that the homework assignment is a small but powerful catalyst for inclusion.

The students write the evidence from their interviews onto sentence strips and include the evidence on the class’ Evidence Wall. This is powerful for some students, who see their parents’ words elevated to the same height as the evidence from shared readings! The students then analyze the data. The class discusses the similarities among the data and look for patterns, getting out a large world map. Everyone is unanimous that soil is different around the world. This discussion leads to the next Driving Question: “Is the soil the same in different places in our neighborhood?” The students spend the next three weeks engaged with the new driving question, collecting soil and analyzing it in three different locations around the school.

The ELL case study, soon to be published in the NSTA book, All Standards, All Students: Next Generation Science Standards in the Classroom, inspires teachers to attempt some new approaches for teaching science that will lead to success for their underserved students. As ELLs engage in sense-making with others around them, they draw from the experiences and conversations they have in their home, in their home language. When teachers tap into these experiences and discussions, they open the door to amazingly rich conversations and collaborative sense-making. Through the changes brought on by the NGSS, combined with creative teaching, we will see more of our students viewing STEM as a viable option for careers and grasping the value of science for understanding the world around them. By making purposeful connections to home and community resources, teachers of ELLs can take advantage of opportunities that engage students–transferring knowledge, practices, and crosscutting concepts across languages and home and community experiences.

Today’s Guest Blogger

Emily MillerEmily Miller is a practicing teacher and a lead writer for the NGSS Diversity and Equity Writing Team. She has taught science as an ESL/ Bilingual Resource science specialist at a Title 1 urban school for 16 years. Emily has used the NGSS in her own diverse classroom and improved and refined teaching to the standards with her students. She is consulting with the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research to develop teacher tools to promote sense making and language learning for ELLs in science. Email her at emilycatherine329@gmail.com.

Editor’s Note

Coming soon from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA): Look for the NSTA press publication, NGSS for All: Reaching Every Student, expected out in 2015. The book will include the seven case studies from NGSS Appendix D as well as additional chapters on interpretations and applications of the case studies for K-12 classrooms and in professional development.  To view the case studies, visit the NGSS@NSTA Hub. You can also view them on the official NGSS website. Also read a related journal article authored by Emily and her colleagues, Hedi Baxter Laufer and Paula Messina. The article, NGSS for English Language Learners: From theory to planning to practice appeared in the January 2014 issue of Science and Children.


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

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