Digging Deeper: Designing Solutions

This month’s Digging Deeper column for the Next Gen Navigator focuses on the practice of constructing explanations and designing solutions, and specifically the design process that addresses the engineering component of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Its inclusion is relatively new in science education, and for teachers who haven’t had the opportunity to develop understanding of the engineering design process through workshops or teacher preparation coursework, it’s often viewed with trepidation. 

The Framework for K–12 Science Education, the foundation of the NGSS, defines engineering as any “engagement in a systematic practice of design to achieve solutions to particular human problems.” The inclusion of the design process enables students to engage in the practical application of science knowledge to solve problems. It makes science relevant and meaningful to students. This relevancy makes learning engaging, and we know students learn when they are engaged and having fun! I think this is what makes the NGSS, and its inclusion of designing solutions, so powerful.

My journey into the engineering design process began almost 10 years ago when I was awarded a grant to purchase LEGO Mindstorms for my gifted and talented students. I had the wherewithal then to align the program to standards, guide my students to create their own challenge, and identify criteria for success. At the time, however, the science standards consisted only of the scientific and technological design processes. The technological design standard was simply stated as design, modify, and apply technology to effectively and efficiently solve problems.  While the students no doubt were following this iterative process, they lacked an understanding of engineering design to facilitate their learning.

Continue reading …

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How I Came to Understand the Three Dimensions

When I first started teaching science, I taught the facts. I taught the nine planets (before Pluto got demoted; sorry, Pluto!), the steps of mitosis, and the workings of plate tectonics, for example. I was proud that I had students who could learn the facts and recite them to me. It was always wonderful to have my students perform well on their tests, and it made me smile to know they could identify things like the various Moon phases.

More recently, however, I noticed I was becoming more worried about my students’ ability to “do science,” not just learn about it. I became more intent on helping my students learn about the process, the nature of science. I was very encouraged when I heard new science standards were being developed that recommended exactly what I was trying to accomplish. I thought, “Hey, I do this already.” Then I began exploring the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and thought, “Oh, good grief. What is this? I don’t do this at all.” So it was back to the drawing board again.

As I prepared to teach the NGSS, I felt like a first-year teacher once again. I read the Framework for K–12 Science Education, looked through the NGSS Appendices, and asked questions, lots of questions! To be honest, I was initially most comfortable with the Disciplinary Core Ideas. The other two dimensions, Science and Engineering Practices and the Crosscutting Concepts, were not as easily understood. I was able to really comprehend the practices when I started to accept the idea that they were the process.

The Crosscutting Concepts have been the most challenging, for sure. They have not been easy to grasp and implement in my classroom. This is where I feel the most challenged. It has been a real struggle to integrate them in a meaningful way and to have my students work with them without my feeling like they were an “add-on.” I will not say I have mastered them–far from it–but I do feel better somewhat more comfortable with discussing and teaching patterns, systems, and energy flow. Maybe in a few more years I will be able to say, “I get it!”

Two actions that have helped me understand and wrap my brain around the three- dimensional aspect of the NGSS were helping to design and lead professional development opportunities for my district’s middle school science teachers and participating in the #NGSSchat on multiple occasions.

Designing professional development for our district was a test. You can’t stand before a group of teachers and fake it. Our group had to know our stuff—not perfectly—but enough to discuss it intelligently with our peers. We also had to be able to disseminate our work to give teachers examples of what works and what doesn’t. That was a learning experience.

Participating in the #NGSSchats has been exciting. So many insightful, passionate people with many fantastic ideas take part in them, sharing with one another about our craft and helping one another. For example, a significant piece of information I received from the #NGSSchat has been the recommendation to be intentional with Crosscutting Concepts. I regularly get great ideas like this from the chat that I try out in my class or contact one of my peers from the chat to discuss further. These discussions are invaluable in helping me grow as a professional. If you don’t have a Twitter account, sign up now! It will be the best decision you can make to help you increase your knowledge of and skills in teaching the standards.


Patrick Goff

Patrick Goff is an 8th-grade science teacher in Lexington, Kentucky, and has taught for 18 years. He is a National Board Certified teacher with a master’s degree in Administration. He has presented at multiple conferences locally and internationally, and is a co-founder of @ngss_tweeps.


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Posted in Next Generation Science Standards | Leave a comment

Classroom atmosphere

I recently took a teaching position, after several years in a different job. I thought I could create a calm, focused atmosphere in my middle school science classes, but some of my students have really annoying and off-task behaviors. How do I deal with this. —C., Maryland

Even though they try to act like adults, most middle schoolers are still basically kids, with high levels of energy and enthusiasm. Most love to participate in activities and readily engage in discussions. They are also physically active, prone to fidget, and aware of how to annoy a teacher to get a response.

To provide focus, set out explicit learning goals and performance expectations, describe how each activity contributes to the goals, and provide feedback that will guide students toward the goals.

In terms of a “calm” atmosphere, eventually you’ll be able to tell when noise is “noise” and when it’s the sound of learning and excitement. Some noise can be controlled by establishing (and practicing) routines and procedures for the beginning and end of class, transitioning between activities, and lab/safety behaviors.

If a behavior is distracting to others or potentially dangerous, you’ll need to deal with it by talking with the student or removing him/her from the activity. Otherwise, can it be ignored? Is it worth making an issue out of? I had a student who would talk to himself as he worked (even answering his own questions!) I asked others if they were distracted; they shrugged and said, “It’s just his way of thinking.” So I asked him to keep his voice down and raise his hand if he had a question for me.

When a student appears to be off-task, ask “What are you doing or thinking about?” You might discover what appeared to be an off-task behavior was very much on-task for that student.


Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/21959512@N04/galleries/72157627369163687/

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Ed News: Can Grade-Skipping Close The STEM Gender Gap?

News Roundup banner

This week in education news, the March for Science has special relevance for K-12 science teachers; survey results show that parents generally rank math and science lower than reading and writing in terms of importance and relevance; young children are more likely to be held back in school, than they are given the opportunity to skip grades; and Texas State Board of Education voted unanimously to change language in its science standards.

What Does The ‘March For Science’ Mean For STEM Education?

Scientists and educators across the country will converge on the National Mall tomorrow for the March for Science, an event meant to highlight the importance of science to society and advocate for evidence-based policymaking. The march has special relevance for K-12 science teachers, who will be well-represented in Washington and in 374 satellite marches across the country, said David Evans, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, which is partnering with the march. Click here to read the article featured in Education Week.

Parent Perspectives On Math And Science: 2017 Public Opinion Survey

Earlier this year, the Overdeck Family Foundation and the Simons Foundation commissioned a survey to determine how parents of school-aged children view math and science in relation to other academic subjects. The findings show that though children enjoy math and science, parents generally rank these subjects lower than reading and writing in terms of importance and relevance. Science in particular was notably less valued than the others, suggesting that rigid definitions of “science” limit interest and engagement for both parents and children. Click here to read the results of the survey.

Continue reading …

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The Green Room: How Border Walls Affect Wildlife

Steve Hillebrand, US Fish and Wildlife Service

The proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border would significantly affect wildlife (see “On the web”). Most animals cannot get past walls that are hundreds of miles long and many meters tall. Some species along parts of the border where a wall already exists, such as jaguars and ocelots, suffer from dwindling populations and difficulty finding mates.

Daily access to food and water can be disrupted by walls, and wildlife populations need to migrate freely to find viable habitat as climate conditions change. Researchers worry that an expanded wall would increase the number of threatened and endangered species requiring protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Besides walls, other human activities fragment wildlife habitat, including, for example, building houses in a forest, converting tallgrass prairie to cornfields, and laying highways along mountainsides. While such activities may not always substantially shrink the overall size of a habitat, they do break it into smaller, more isolated fragments.

Fragmentation disrupts plants and animals alike. When plans arose to expand the border wall in 2006, Arizona park and wildlife managers’ pointed out that “…building a wall, along with the roads and support facilities it necessitates, would not only plow under saguaros and other fragile desert plants but scare Sonoran pronghorn and other wildlife from important sources of food and water” (Cohn 2007).

Border walls going up in other parts of the world are having similar effects. A study in Slovenia found that the over 100 miles of fence built along the border with Croatia has fragmented habitat for large carnivores, such as wolves, bears, and lynx, which rely on intact territories. “These fences represent a major threat to wildlife because they can cause mortality, obstruct access to seasonally important resources, and reduce effective population size” (Linnell et al. 2016). Continue reading …

Posted in The Science Teacher | 1 Response

Week of the Young Child from NAEYC, April 24-28

How will your early childhood program celebrate the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) annual “Week of the Young Child?” Explorations that relate to all five daily themes offer many opportunities to connect young children to science and engineering concepts, using math and technology to build their understandings in a science inquiry investigating a question or natural phenomena–STEM learning! An initial investigation into how we use our senses might be a good beginning for a longer science inquiry into one particular sense or how we can use technology to extend our senses.

Music Monday

A "guitar" made with a milk carton and rubber bands.Exploring the connections between the properties of materials and the kinds of sounds they make is a fun way to begin exploring how sound is made. “Becoming Attuned to Sound,” the Early Years column from Science and Children February 2014, describes children exploring how the size and tautness of a rubber band changes the sound it makes when plucked, and how to construct a simple rubber band musical instrument.

Educator explores the sounds made with a stretched rubber band.The “Young Children Investigate and Engineer Sound Through STEM” session at the 2017 annual NSTA conference provided hands-on experiences and inquiry for teachers to bring back to their children. 

After making sound, children can represent it through drawing, or record it to share with others using an audio recording app on a phone or tablet. Maybe some of us are still using tape players!

Tasty Tuesday

The sense of taste is equally important as the other four for exploring the world but is not part of most science explorations because, for safety reasons, we separate lab work from anything we eat. So we will call it “cooking” to make sure young children understand that in this exploration all ingredients are safe to eat. Tasting is part of the Early Sprouts curriculum, an approach that engages young children in gardening, sensory exploration, and cooking throughout the school year. Try making and tasting their Hearty Apple & Raisin Cereal! While measuring the ingredients children get experience with the concept of volume and while cutting the apple they use an ancient technology–knives (Safety tip: precut apple slices are easy for children to further cut using butter knives). Read more about this approach in the July 2009 Young Children article. Continue reading …

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The Science Teacher: Call for Papers

The Science Teacher (TST) seeks manuscripts of approximately 2,000 words that describe new and creative ideas for the secondary science classroom. Manuscripts should provide practical activities related to the themes listed below. TST also encourages manuscripts outside of the listed themes. For help, see our author guidelines and annotated sample manuscript.

Forensics: Solving Mysteries Through Science
Forensic science is both an important part of our criminal justice system and also an avenue for engaging students in scientific inquiry. From the stories of Sherlock Holmes to the popular television drama CSI, the analysis of forensic evidence has fascinated citizens for centuries. By its nature, forensics is an interdisciplinary subject, bringing in modern analytic techniques from chemistry, molecular biology, paleontology, physics, and Earth science. Do you use forensics activities in your classes? Have you found new strategies and engaging activities to teach this fascinating subject or enrich other subject areas? If so, TST wants to hear from you.

Using New Tools to Support Science Learning in a Connected World
As technology evolves, so do the skills needed for success in the modern world. New tools have radically changed the way we communicate, share information, and collect data. This issue will explore how these new tools can support student learning and create a “connected classroom.” Possible topics include ideas for using:
• social media
• online simulations and virtual field trips
• YouTube, online lectures, virtual learning communities, and flipped classrooms
• strategies to improve critical thinking and digital and media literacy
• probeware and wireless data collection in laboratory and field work
• cloud computing
• modeling
• big data
• mathematics and computational thinking tools
• 3D printers
• new presentation and communication tools
• live webcams
• digital graphics, multimedia, and visualization tools.
Please share your ideas for teaching with new tools. Continue reading …

Posted in The Science Teacher | 1 Response

STEM-In-Action at its Best: Students Turn Ideas into Reality

Team Crabyotics, 2015 White House Science Fair

When it comes to student-focused STEM projects at Taos Middle/High School, ideas seem limitless.

It all started with information shared from a group of Taos students participating in a STEM demonstration during eCYBERMISSION‘s 2013-2014 National Judging & Educational Event (NJ&EE). The demonstration mentioned the use of Chitosan as a filtration. The students shared this information back in New Mexico with soon-to-be team Crabyotics—Andrea-Chin Lopez, Julia Johnson, Anthony Archuleta, and James Valerio.

This shared-information soon became a bio-filter system community project, which competed in local science fairs, competitions, and of course eCYBERMISSION, which resulted in the team’s STEM-In-Action Grant.

During the 2013-2014 eCYBERMISSION competition, Team Advisor (TA) Laura Tenorio and her team “Crabyotics,” located in New Mexico, developed a bio-filter system that successfully removes antibiotic drugs from drinking water, thus helping to stem the growth of drug-resistant bacteria.

“To this day, if you ask any of them, they still don’t believe it really happened,” said Team Advisor Laura Tenorio. “They are convinced that it was just a dream.”

Three Steps to Turn Your Ida into Reality

Taos is considered a rural area with access to limited resources for major scientific efforts. But at the Middle School’s science lab, commonly referred to as the “The Tyger Lab,” Anthony and Andrea came together with their fellow 9th grade team members James and Julia to research all that was needed to produce Chitosan and then produce a filter.

  1. In July of 2013, team Crabyotics began to work on their IDEA of making a filter against antibiotics.
  2. It was then that they DETERMINED that not only could it chemically work in theory, but that this filtration method could also be cost effective.
  3. This was when they began to think of a business plan, which the group CREATED after their research revealed their filter had potential for a patent. 

“eCYBERMISSION completely changed the entire focus of the project, along with the STEM-In-Action Grant,” said Andrea… “Thanks to the grant and our Team Advisor, the project and our futures were invested and encouraged.”

Andrea and TA Laura Tenorio worked together to smooth out the business plan the team started creating. The teams’ main goal was to turn an idea into reality and incorporate into the community.

Of the original STEM-In-Action Grant proposal, the only part that has not been implemented is the Middle School and Community implementation. Actions are currently underway to determine a mass identification of water contaminants. The patent application is ongoing and being modified and FDA and EPA approval of the filter use will not go into action until further testing has been completed.

Managing the STEM-In-Action Grant: Anthony, James, and Julia have gone in separate directions from the project, while Andrea has maintained work on the grant. Andrea recruited two eCYBERMISSION Alumni—Arasely Rodriguez (The Wyrmies- 2013 NJ&EE) and Will Song (1st Place State, 2015)—to continue year three of the business plan and experimentation.  Currently:

  • Andrea, Arasely, and Will are working on the final phase of Crabyotics, named “Crabsorption,” which will focus on laboratory honed chitosan as an absorption media for pharmaceuticals from water sources and from the human body.
  • Dual patent are in the works, both with Crabyotics original purpose, and with Crabsorption.
  • Andrea and Mentor/TA Laura Tenorio have continued to gather more sponsors to support the implementation of the idea. (i.e. attract interest of ISEF, enter the Science Talent Search, and plans to compete in BioGenius and AEOP’s Junior Science and Humanities Symposia (JSHS).

New/Upcoming Tests: They tested a wide variety of antibiotics against chitosan cooked for varying times, and focused on a filter design that could resist water pressures with potential use in a universal setting.

In the Community: Not only does Andrea assist with Taos Middle/High School teams competing in eCYBERMISSION, she encourages students with little interest or knowledge in STEM to join eCYBERMISSION. Her experiences are then shared with younger age groups in the community. 

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Science 2.0: Communicating Science Creatively

We’ve been covering the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards in every issue since September. This month, we examine the final standard, called Creative Communicator, which requires students to communicate effectively and creatively express themselves (ISTE 2016). The science curriculum provides opportunities for students to express their understanding of concepts. Science involves more than collecting data and crunching numbers. Scientists must also be able to explain their work. We need to create persuasive arguments that support our conclusions.

Meeting the performance indicators
The performance indicators of this standard state that students need to choose, create, remix, communicate, and publish. For teachers, facilitating this type of work calls for a change in instructional design. The activities in your classroom must require students to communicate their understanding of a lab and what they’ve learned from it.

Students need to be able to choose the appropriate platform and tool for their presentations. For example, a poster on a trifold board could be used instead of a written report to present scientific work. When technology is brought into play, students have a much wider choice of media when presenting their work.

We ask our students to communicate their results of a lab report in three steps (explain what you did, explain what you found out, and describe how you found out) to summarize their findings. This summary can take place in virtually any medium. When students were learning to use digital graphic organizers, we would allow them to use a flow chart for their conclusions. They can easily paste pictures of lab setups, graphs, and other media into many tools (e.g., Inspiration, LucidChart, Poplet, MindMaps). Some students may make an infographic, while others may use Google Slides, write a song, or even compose a haiku.

Some students concluded a lab on the conservation of momentum with PowToon, an animation tool that creates a video with music. The lab asked students to collide carts and use motion sensors to record the data. Students used tools in Powtoon to explain what they did and then used other tools with imported images of their graphs to explain what they found. Overall, it was a creative, effective effort at completing the three components of the conclusion.

Additionally, this standard asks students to create original work or remix the work of others. We hang signs in our classroom that say “UCC,” which stands for “user-created content.” Almost every laptop, tablet, or phone has a camera, offering opportunities for students to take their own photos of equipment setup, written work, or scientific phenomena. Students can also use online simulations and their own videos to remix and communicate their work.

Finally, this standard requires students to publish their customized work. Online tools make publishing easy. Teachers should consider using a website that allows students to keep a portfolio of their best work. A web tool that allows students to edit pages (Google Sites or Wikispaces) will help accomplish this task. Students can link their products and use this to reflect on the tools they have learned and the methods they have used for communicating.

Becoming a creative communicator requires students to learn a variety of tools and develop the ability to evaluate the choice of the right tool for the task at hand. Students will learn how to become creative by using different tools and incorporating media into their work. This standard allows students to present their scientific work in a way that demonstrates their understanding both visually and verbally.

Ben Smith (ben@edtechinnovators.com) is an educational technology program specialist, and Jared Mader (jared@edtechinnovators.com) 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. http://bit.ly/ISTE-standards.

Editor’s Note

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

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Posted in Science 2.0, The Science Teacher | 1 Response

STEM Sims: Fleet Manager

STEM Sims: Fleet Manager


STEM Sims provides over 100 simulations of laboratory experiments and engineering design products for application in the STEM classroom. One particular simulation found on this site, Fleet Manager, challenges students to manage their very own fleet of vehicles by comparing the fuel efficiency of vehicles and determining which vehicles should be replaced or converted to more efficient vehicles. Fleet Manager is aligned with national (NGSS) standards (see below) and is compatible with state standards as well.

  • MS-ESS3.A – Natural Resources
  • MS-ESS3.D – Global Climate Change
  • MS-ETS1.C – Optimizing the Design Solution



The simulation provides students with a brochure (see link below), a pre-assessment quiz, and an introductory information overview about the use of alternative fuels. The Fleet Manager simulation links important science concepts to real-world concepts. For example, students of all ages can integrate mathematics and science concepts into the decision of purchasing a future car, e.g., mileage, operating cost, emissions, etc.. Hence, this activity gives students the opportunity to evaluate an entire fleet of vehicles. Subsequently, this evaluation elicits the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and simultaneously challenges students to make both efficient and environmentally decisions similar to those made in real-life. Continue reading …

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