Science 2.0: Developing the Computational Thinker

For the past few issues, we have been focusing on the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards. This month, we look at the Computational Thinker standard. Its performance indicators require students to use technology-assisted methods to explore and find solutions; collect data, use digital tools to analyze them, and represent data in various ways; break problems into parts and develop models to facilitate problem-solving; and understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking (ISTE 2016).

Working with data
Students need to become adept at collecting data, typically during labs in which they may be asked to fill in data tables. In co-author Ben Smith’s class, students would compile their data on spreadsheets, learning how to make calculations, graph and chart data, conduct analyses, and solve problems. Students can share data through a Google Form.

Further, students can learn how asking the right questions will lead to the data they desire. Initially, the questions could involve simple research such as the number of siblings, favorite color, height, or age. Data sets in Google Sheets can be used to analyze the class’s results and help students become more familiar with the data-manipulation tools. Questions on Google Forms can even require data validation, which ensures that each response meets the stated requirements.

Automating calculations in a spreadsheet or Google Sheet can find averages, sums, and data counts. Creating graphs, linear regressions, and histograms can help students make predictions and analyses that accompany each data set. Google Add-ons are tools that provide more functionality to the Sheets app.

Students should be able to use online tools (,, and to import a large data set into a spreadsheet for further analysis. This teaches about the importance of multiple trials involved in collecting large data sets. Teachers may have students work on a part of an experiment and then share their data with the class through a classwide Google Form.

On Google Trends, you can enter search terms that will yield results broken down by searches over time, by region, and by related queries. Students can use the tool to find when the next flu epidemic may be coming based on searched terms. When a second term is added to the query, students can see correlations between data sets. Searching the terms tsunami and earthquake, for instance, reveals a correlation between the two. To evidence their learning, students can first examine online infographics (e.g.,,, and then use online tools to create infographics of their own (e.g.,,

Students can use algorithmic thinking to learn to solve problems that lead to automated solutions. Ask students to map steps they will take in solving the problem. A concept mapping tool (such as LucidChart, MindMaps, or Popplet) allows students to create a flowchart or a decision tree to sequence the events needed to complete the solution. Additionally, has a number of activities that teachers and students can use to learn about algorithmic thinking.

The Computational Thinker can collect, present, and analyze data while working through a strategic solution.

Ben Smith ( is an educational technology program specialist, and Jared Mader ( is the director of educational technology, for the Lincoln Intermediate Unit in New Oxford, Pennsylvania. They conduct teacher workshops on technology in the classroom nationwide.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). 2016. The 2016 ISTE standards for students. Arlington, VA: ISTE.

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the February 2017 issue of The Science Teacher journal from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).

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What’s So Special About Disciplinary Core Ideas? (Part 3)

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DCIs Develop Across Time

The first two blogs in my series on disciplinary core ideas (DCIs) focused on how DCIs form a conceptual framework and that DCIs provide explanations for a variety of phenomena. In this final blog I’d like to focus on an important idea reflected in A Framework for K–12 Science Education (Framework) that DCIs are not stand-alone, individual facts that students come to “know” as the result of one lesson or across one grade. Rather, DCIs develop in ways that become progressively more sophisticated as students use those ideas to make sense of new phenomena or problems within and across the grade levels. What is meant by more sophisticated? It means that students’ explanations become deeper and broader allowing them to explain more fully the causes and consequences of a wider array of related phenomena. Sophistication also means that DCIs become integrated with more ideas and experiences. Sophistication is not acquiring more ideas and more details; rather, it is about making connections to ideas and experiences. As ideas get more sophisticated, students come to understand the cause and effect mechanisms that underlie a range of phenomena.

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Ideas and inspiration from NSTA’s February 2017 K-12 journals

All three journals this month include the inaugural Best STEM Books for Students K–12 with descriptions and reviews. The rubric and criteria used in selecting these books is also provided. Share it with your librarian, too.

Crowdfunding for Elementary Science Educators in S&C has fund-raising ideas applicable to any grade level.

Science Scope — Water

From the chemistry of water to the biology of water habitats and ecosystem to the relationship of water and weather to the importance of water in the body to current events related to access to clean water, water is indeed an Essential Substance.

Featured articles that describe lessons include a helpful sidebar (“At a Glance”) documenting the big idea, essential pre-knowledge, time, and cost. The lessons also include connections with the NGSS.

For more on the content that provides a context for these projects and strategies see the SciLinks topics Algae, Aquatic Ecosystems, Eclipses, Freshwater Ecosystems, Groundwater, Ocean Water Chemistry, Photosynthesis, Water Cycle, Water Properties, Water Quality, Water Treatment, Watersheds


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Using Science and Engineering Practices in the Classroom

Helping Students Make Sense of the World Using Next Generation Science and Engineering Practices provides an in-depth understanding of the practices strand of A Framework for K–12 Science Education (Framework) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Helping Students Make Sense of the WorldNoting that the changes to the standards will likely cause some stress, the authors developed this resource to help teachers. “This is an exciting time in science education. We have many opportunities before us to make significant and lasting change in the ways we teach science at the K–12 level. But with major change comes some anxiety. We hope this book can begin to answer some of your questions based on the reforms found in the Framework and the NGSS,” the authors state in the first chapter.

Helping Students Make Sense of the World addresses three major questions:

  • How will engaging students in science and engineering practices help improve science education?
  • What do the eight practices look like in the classroom?
  • How can educators engage students in practices to bring the NGSS to life?

Written in clear, nontechnical language, this book edited by Christina Schwarz, Cynthia Passmore, and Brian Reiser, explains what is different about practice-centered teaching and learning and how it fits into what teachers have already been doing. “We like to think of the focus on practices as a kind of Inquiry 2.0—not a replacement for inquiry but rather a second wave that articulates more clearly what successful inquiry looks like when it results in building scientific knowledge,” state the editors.

Developed for K–12 science teachers, curriculum developers, teacher educators, and administrators, the book’s lessons are classroom-tested and designed to make implementing the practices as easy as possible.

Check out the sample chapter Developing and Using Models.  Helping Students Make Sense of the World is also available as an ebook.

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Ed News: Idaho Legislators Strip Climate Change Language

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This week in education news, Idaho legislators remove climate change language from new state science standards, California renews push to promote environmental education in public schools, three global indexes show that America’s public schools are doing something right, and Intel dropped its sponsorship of the International Science and Engineering Fair.

Idaho Legislators Strip Climate Change Language in New Science Standards

Idaho Lawmakers on the state’s House Education Committee voted to approve the new K-12 science standards only when references to human activity as a prime cause of climate change that had appeared in a draft of the standards were removed. Click here to read the article featured in Education Week.

California Renews Push to Promote Environmental Literacy in Schools

Environmental education in California got another big push last November when the State Board of Education approved integrating five key environmental principles into the new science frameworks last November. The frameworks provide a blueprint for introducing the Next Generation Science Standards, which the state adopted in 2013, and are gradually being introduced in schools across the state. Click here to read the article featured on the EdSource website.

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The Most Profound News of Valentine’s Day 2017

This Valentine’s Day, while most media attention was focused on the dismissal of the National Security Advisor, The New York Times ran a story that received much less media attention, but has far greater potential impact on our nation’s future.

Amy Harmon reported in the article, Human Gene Editing Receives Science Panel’s Supportabout a just-released study by the National Academies of Science, Medicine, and Engineering (Human Genome Editing: Science, Ethics, and GovernanceNational Academy Press, 2017) that supports continued research and application of genetic modification of human cells, including those cells that pass genetic information to the next generation.

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Big learning from short observations of birds: February 17-20, 2017

Walk outside with your children, watch and count birds for 15 minutes while recording the names of those you know, and report your bird count to be part of a world-wide citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds, creating an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds. On any or all of these four days, February 17-20, 2017, you will be part of the more than 160,000 people who do this every February for the Great Backyard Bird Count, a global event facilitated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon, and Bird Studies Canada.

Chickadee bird shape rubbingGet children ready for the day by looking at the birds that regularly hang out around the play yard or nearby park. The Great Backyard Bird Count website has many tools for identifying birds. I like children to handle life-size cardboard silhouettes of the common birds to help them remember bird sizes and shapes. See February 2007 The Early Years column, “Birds in Winter,” (free to all) for a description of using silhouettes to make bird shape rubbings. See additional resources for children about birds in a March 2011 blog post.

Pigeons roosting on a street lamp.As children see birds, help them tally up the total number seen at a single time (you don’t want to count the same pigeon 25 times!). Observing birds is a great way to begin a discussion on animal diversity, comparing size, colors, and the locations birds seem to prefer. Over time, children begin to identify distinctive bird calls and songs. By entering the data your children collect, they will be helping to answer questions such as, “What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?”

When children’s interest in bird watching is high, setting up a feeder near a window can create an on-going science center for collecting data about which species visit which type of feeder. See an example of a data collection sheet that you can revise to show the species in your area. Begin now and your children will see the bird population at their feeder change as the season changes from winter to spring and beyond.

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Avoiding Electrical Hazards in the Lab

In science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) labs, teachers and students can be exposed to a number of electrical hazards such as damaged electrical receptacles, missing ground prongs, and faulty electrical equipment. These hazards can result in electric shock, electrocution, fire, and explosions.

Circuit breakers only protect the science lab and school building—not the teachers or students—from these hazards. A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), a device that constantly compares current flowing from the hot wire to the neutral wire in a circuit, can help protect lab occupants from electrical accidents. If the GFCI senses an imbalance in the current, a switch will open and the current will stop flowing in about 1/40 of a second.

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Join NSTA Press Authors at the 2017 National Conference in Los Angeles

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We rely on their expertise and have their books lined up on our resource shelves for handy reference, but the opportunity to hear so many NSTA Press authors speak in person is too good to pass up. The array of authors who are scheduled to present at the NSTA National Conference in Los Angeles, March 30–April 2, 2017, is impressive.

The wide range of topic areas ensures that there is something for everyone. Listen to Page Keeley discuss formative assessment probes; Emily Morgan and Karen Ansberry share how to use children’s picture books to teach STEM, inquiry, and more; or Steve Rich present many ways to bring outdoor science in to your students. Some of NSTA Press’ new authors will be there too, discussing big data, STEM, NGSS, and many other topics.

The Advance deadline for registration is fast approaching (February 24), so don’t delay. Register today and secure your opportunity to advance your own professional development by spending time with the experts. NSTA authors have developed classroom-tested solutions to the challenges you face every day.

Here is the complete list of NSTA Press authors and topics:

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The Surefire FirePak: A Smartphone Science Studio Lighting Solution

As the smartphone camera gains an ever-more sophisticated role in the science classroom, the technical limits of phone photography become more apparent. Luckily a dose of strong light can overcome many problems as well as provide access to a world unseen by the human eye. But not just any light will work. The amount, color and frequency modulation of the light all play important roles in scientific photography.


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