Student writing in science

My mentor and I are discussing if we should grade science notebooks, lab reports, and assessments for correct usage, punctuation, and spelling. Or should we ignore these errors and just grade for content?  —G., Maryland

My contribution to your discussion would fall toward the content end of the continuum. It’s important to assess students’ content knowledge, the appropriateness of their conclusions, their use of evidence to support a claim, how they apply their knowledge to situations, and how clearly they organize data. But students’ written work can be hard to assess if it is riddled with spelling errors or uses sentence structure that is hard to follow. The rubric should reflect the students’ age, experience level, and facility with the English language. For example, expectations and requirements for high school seniors should be at a higher level than those for younger students.

It’s interesting to follow up with students. We often find that students, including those with special needs or who are English language learners, can communicate orally but struggle to write their thoughts in an understandable form.  In these cases, if the student can explain their thoughts orally and/or with drawings, I would use that explanation to assess their learning.

But it’s also important for students to write for a variety of purposes and for their writing to be appropriate for its purpose. A museum zoologist I interviewed said that a good portion of his day was spent writing—notes, memos, observations, summaries, reports, journal articles, blog entries, and letters. Some of this written work was meant for his eyes only (notes, drafts, observations) while others were more summative and meant to be shared with others (reports, articles, letters). Your students’ work follows a similar pattern: writing for themselves (as in notes, reflections, exit tickets) versus writing for their peers or teachers to understand (lab reports or essays). The latter needs to be understandable to others.

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Middle School Science Teachers Making a Difference at NSTA

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As head of the middle level division at the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), one of my goals is to communicate more with middle level science teachers. So, we’re launching a blog, which I hope will enable even more grade 5-8 teachers to contribute to and learn from NSTA. The refined focus at this level will provide an additional opportunity for middle level teachers to share ideas and gain insights from their teaching counterparts. I invite all middle level teachers of science to read, share, contribute ideas, ask questions, and otherwise help us create a greater identity in NSTA while enhancing teacher voice at the middle school level.

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eCYBERMISSION Volunteers Help Power Student Innovation

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Volunteers for eCYBERMISSION [a web-based Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) competition for 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th grade teams] play an integral part in supporting and helping to build students’ interest STEM. During the past competition year, team “Power Up” (a 9th-grade team from Jenks, Oklahoma) sought to use the kinetic energy captured through gears, turned by revolving doors in high traffic areas, to power LED lights. Their national winning project was an innovative way to address the alternative energy solution of crowd harvesting and yield costs savings for their community.

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Science for preschool children

Child builds a ramp structure based on her drawing.I’m taking a job with a preschool program. I’m concerned about how to incorporate science lessons with children who have had no experience with science. Any suggestions or advice would be welcome.  —C., Virginia

Thank you for taking on the awesome responsibility of working with young children! I think you’ll find that even though they may not have had formal science classes, they have many informal behaviors and experiences that lend themselves to learning and doing science: asking questions, observing and exploring their surroundings, drawing, learning new words, making new “discoveries,” being creative with materials, and using their imaginations. Many children may have visited parks and nature centers or participated in outdoor activities with their families.

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NCLB Reauthorization Moves Forward; New Ed Law Possible by Christmas

text-based image reading "No Child Left Behind is closer to becoming history."

No Child Left Behind is closer to becoming history.

Earlier this week House and Senate education leaders announced they had come to an agreement on the major differences between the House-passed (H.R. 5) and Senate-passed (S.1177) bills to reauthorize No Child Left Behind and quickly named conference committee members. A three-page summary of the Framework agreed to by the top four education leaders in Congress (Reps. John Kline, R-Minn.; Bobby Scott, D-Va.; and Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; and Patty Murray, D-Wash.) was released at the start of the conference and guided the discussion that started yesterday afternoon.

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The iPad Pro: Hands-on Observations

The iPad Pro is, at its core, a larger iPad. Larger screen. Larger speakers (four of them), larger keyboard, larger processor, and larger resolution. But so what? Well, I guess it depends on whether or not you believe in magic!

Not just life-size but larger than life. Running anatomy apps like Ess. Skeleton 4 is truly exciting and throughly engaging!

Not just life-size but larger than life. Running anatomy apps like Ess. Skeleton 4 is truly exciting and throughly engaging!

I’ve been with the iPad since the first one back in spring of 2010. The original screen was the perfect size for what it did well. But too big for some things, and too small for others. The iPad Mini does mini iPad stuff very well. But still it was too big for some jobs, and plenty too small for others.

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Thinking about technology and young children

Child holds a pretend cameraWhen the two-year-old class goes walking around the open space with me, they sometimes like to bring pretend cameras with them. I have let children use my real digital camera if they are interested, making them use the wrist strap to catch it if they let go. Watching them use the camera teaches me about their ability to use a device and their objects of interest. Something I never had to consider when raising my children was their use of mobile electronic devices. We had limits on the type of television shows and how long the children could watch, but they did not have their own mobile devices (Gameboys or phones) until they could pay for them themselves in high school. Today there are so many more mobile device options and so much more content available on devices that they’ve become a useful tool for very young children to be entertained and expand their knowledge of the world.

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Educators enjoy the innovative booths at #NSTA15

Babafemi Ojo is a high school biology teacher. Yet his favorite booth at the National Science Teachers Association’s Philadelphia conference was the portable planetarium.

“I could see kids getting in there and being amazed,” says Ojo, who teaches at Newark Tech Essex County Vocational School in Newark, New Jersey. “The kids would ask a lot of questions.”

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Bringing NGSS Topics to Life with a 2-Minute Science Podcast

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A few years ago, I had the pleasure of giving a presentation at the NSTA STEM Forum in St. Louis. I got lots of questions, but I also got something unexpected—homework. One science teacher challenged me to make understandable science stories that she could use in her classroom. To answer this, I’ve created a weekly 2-minute science podcast called Science Underground to do just that.

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Why attend a conference? What about workshops, PLCs, webinars, and conversations with colleagues as professional development?

To be a teacher means being a life-long learner, by disposition and by program and licensing requirement. Every day I learn a something new in my conversations with children (“My mommy has a baby in her tummy”), colleagues and online. Attending workshops, webinars, and conferences are other ways I keep learning and developing professionally. Professional learning communities and my individual reading contribute a lot to my understanding of how children learn and how to teach them. I appreciate all these learning settings and relationships for different reasons, in addition to the new understandings I gain from them. Scroll down to the kind of PD you’d like to hear about and help me learn more by adding your perspective in a comment at the bottom.

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