Seeking a New Way to Assess Science at All Levels

The word assessment can prompt feelings of dread, mistrust, or outright hate in many teachers. That’s distressing, as quality instruction includes quality assessment. Unfortunately, we have allowed assessment to become the “tail that wags the dog.” The development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) was a tremendous step forward in attempting to change that and recover students’ excitement and curiosity about science.

I view assessment from two perspectives. First, as leader in developing the NGSS, I know the intent of the Framework for K–12 Science Education and the lead states. Second, as Commissioner of Education for Kentucky, I am responsible for creating an environment that ensures students are receiving a quality education. While these positions give me two different lenses for viewing education, I believe that together they offer a specific way to approach three- dimensional assessment.

First, let’s consider the intent of the standards. I believe that traditional science testing has removed the creativity and joy from science teaching, resulting in students who fail to experience the joy of learning science and don’t develop the ability to think critically about the world around them. When we crafted the NGSS, we had a clear understanding that the standards would “break” many of the current psychometric models, including the notions that one standard equals one multiple-choice item and that we can only test content. If we approach state assessment from the standpoint intended by the states and the writers, then we must have the courage to seek a new way to approach state assessment.  Continue reading …

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Kentucky’s Systems Approach to Assessing Three-Dimensional Standards

One thing is clear about our multi-dimensional standards: They require a complex and thoughtful approach to assessment. No single, conventional, summative test can be expected to provide reliable data sufficient enough to satisfy the demands of all possible audiences. To say a student truly understands all dimensions of a multi-year set of Performance Expectations (PEs) would require days of intensive assessment or a technological solution that currently exists only in science fiction. So how do we improve our ability to ascertain what students know and can do, given the limitations of the traditional summative assessment model?

The obvious answer is that we should go beyond the traditional summative assessment model. We’re not required to base our understanding of student achievement solely on a single assessment given at the end of the school year (or multiple years when grade-band testing.) To more accurately assess multi-dimensional standards, we need to employ an approach that allows us to measure student performance at different times and in different ways. Most importantly, we need to emphasize formative assessment over summative assessment, which will enable teachers to make course corrections well before the summative assessment. This requires a new way of thinking about assessment in science: a systems approach.

In the 2016–17 school year, Kentucky field-tested this new approach. In addition to new summative assessments at elementary, middle, and high school levels, we implemented formative assessments at every grade level. Called Through Course Tasks (TCTs), these assessments differed greatly from the traditional science assessment approach. They combined summative assessment for accountability with daily formative classroom assessment to create a system of science assessments. Continue reading …

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Focusing on Instruction to Improve My School

How do you envision science education in your classroom? Your school? Your district? In hectic life of a modern educator, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the initiatives, expectations, and pressures of our profession. As a first-year high school administrator, I admit I experienced a point last year when I was simply surviving—not managing adequately, but just barely managing.

Continue reading …

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

Commentary: Reasoning Versus Post-Truth in The Science Teacher is an important read in a time when dependence on unverified information from social media seems to be more prevalent than using trusted sources that value reasoning.

Science Scope – STEM Integration

From the Editor’s Desk: STEM Integration: A Tall Order: “The shift from teaching math and science in silos to intertwining them with technology and engineering makes education more relevant to students’ lives through exposure to authentic problems.”

Articles in this issue 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.

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 Biodiversity, Careers in Science, Conductors/Insulators, Covalent and Ionic Bonds, Energy Transformations, Forces and Motion, Insects, Kinetic/Potential Energy, Law of Conservation of Energy, Migration, Renewable Sources of Energy, Satellite Technology, Sound. Sustainable Development, Winds


Read more from The Science Teacher and Science & Children:

Continue reading …

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The Carson SkeleScope: Less is More and More is Good

As the old saying goes, sometimes less is more. And such is the case with the Carson SkeleScope. Whether used to teach optics, engineering or perhaps even astronomy, having a clear view of the internals of a telescope can be quite engaging. If you make that inspection explorable as well, students will no longer have to just imagine how the reflective magnification of light works. With the SkeleScope, students can construct and manipulate an inexpensive optical tube assembly with mirrors and an eyepiece that hides none of the components of a centuries-old telescope design that is one of the most popular today.

By producing a visible scope in the same vein as the “Visible Man” I played with as a kid, a new level of conceptual understand is possible. Until Marcel Jovine created his Visible Man and Visible Woman in the early 1960s, much of the under-skin workings of a human were relegated to drawings. I cannot help but wonder how many more doctors and nurses got their start “playing” with the plastic parts of this visible human toy.

Continue reading …

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Ed News: Critics Say Proposed NM Science Standards Omit Evolution, Climate Change

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This week in education news, New Mexico unveiled proposed science standards that omit references to climate change and evolution; all California teachers with a teaching credential, including preliminary credentials obtained through a traditional teacher preparation program or an intern credential, will now meet the definition of “effective;” teachers need to keep creativity at the forefront of the educational spectrum; the Partnership For 21st Century Learning launched a new learning framework; panel says teachers are quitting because they’re dissatisfied; it’s all about ‘new collar’ jobs; and solving real-world problems is key to Ed tech success.

WHOSE SCIENCE? Critics Say Proposed NM Science Standards Omit Evolution, Climate Change

New Mexico’s Public Education Department unveiled proposed teaching standards this week that critics say would omit references to evolution, rising global temperatures and the age of Earth from the state’s science curriculum. The standards are based on a science curriculum called the Next Generation Science Standards proposed in 2013 by a consortium of 26 states. But the New Mexico plan contains additions and deletions from the nationwide standards. Read the article featured in the Albuquerque Journal.

California Defines ‘Effective’ And ‘Ineffective’ Teachers, And Why It Matters

Intern teachers in programs like Teach for America who earn their preliminary credential while on the job will not have the scarlet letter of being labeled an “ineffective teacher” in California. In adopting the state plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act on Wednesday, the State Board of Education resolved a remaining contentious issue: the definition of an “ineffective teacher.” It decided not to include teachers with intern credentials in the definition after much testimony from former intern teachers and districts that readily hire them. Read the article featured in EdSource.

Continue reading …

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STEM Sims: Data Visualization


STEM Sims provides over 100 simulations of laboratory experiments and engineering design products for applications in STEM classrooms. One particular simulation found on this site, Data Visualization, is a stimulating and imaginative tool for students to analyze a graphic representation of Napoleon’s 19th Century invasion of Russia. Hence, students use data provided with an 1889 graphic representation drawn by Charles Minard. The drawing is detailed and gives a variety of information about the military campaign. Subsequently, students are able to imagine they are military historians investigating and making inferences to analyze the success or the campaign. As is the case with all STEM SIMs software, Data Visualization is aligned with national (NGSS) standards (see below) and is compatible with state standards as well:

• MS-PS4.C – Information Technologies and Instrumentation
• MS-ESS2.D – Weather and Climate

The simulation provides students with a brochure (see link below), a pre-assessment quiz, as well as introductory information about the concepts of Data Visualization. The simulation provides students with valuable data analysis skills; which offer an excellent content map that integrates mathematics, science, and social studies very well. Moreover, the activity challenges students to solve the problems of how and why the campaign failed, making it both engaging for students and stresses the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, e.g., Analysis and Evaluation.


STEM Sims provides four separate lesson plans for this simulation (see links below) and provides an excellent learning opportunity for students while minimizing the planning needed by teachers:

Lesson 1:

Lesson 2:

Lesson 3:

Lesson 4:


Data Visualization, much like the other simulations on this site, gives students the opportunity to learn authentic and integrated STEM concepts. Moreover, this simulation provides science teachers with a valuable opportunity to work across the curriculum with other subjects. Therefore, science teachers will have the opportunity to work with other teachers and make more diverse connections with their science students. Consider signing-up for a free trial to evaluate this excellent simulation for your classroom and try to determine where this simulation fits into your instructional planning.

For a free trial, visit

Recommended System Qualifications:

• Operating system: Windows XP or Mac OS X 10.7
• Browser: Chrome 40, Firefox 35, Internet Explorer 11, or Safari 7
• Java 7, Flash Player 13

Single classroom subscription: $169 for a 365-day subscription and includes access for 30 students and 100 simulations.
Product Site:

Edwin P. Christmann is a professor and chairman of the secondary education department and graduate coordinator of the mathematics and science teaching program at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. Anthony Balos is a graduate student and a research assistant in the secondary education program at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania

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The Vernier Three-Axis Magnetic Field Sensor: A Magic Wand for Magnets

What could be better than one anisotropic magnetoresistance magnetic field sensor? How about three anisotropic magnetoresistance magnetic field sensors and a Hall effect sensor as well! Pack them all into a lightweight watertight housing with a rechargeable battery and wired or wireless connectivity and you’ve got yourself a Vernier Three-Axis Magnetic Field Sensor.

Vernier Three-Axis Magnetic Field Sensor

Vernier Three-Axis Magnetic Field Sensor

I’ve been a fan of Vernier’s magnetic field sensors for decades, ever since the 1990s when my earth science students used the sensors with their primitive Apple laptops in the fields, hills, and caves of Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho. 

Back then the magnetic field sensor was long cabled tube with amplification box that connected to a computer via a wired and powered interface box of some variety (Bluetooth hadn’t yet cut it’s teeth in classroom electronics yet so adding “less” to wire was years away). Still, the students loved making sine waves of magnetic field strength within the futuristic Logger software. Measuring the earth’s magnetic field, as well as the orientation of two thousand-year old basalt flows. Students could pick up a broken piece of basalt and using the Vernier Magnetic Field Sensor re-orient the stone in relation to the larger background rocks.

In the classroom, the student used the Vernier Magnetic Field Sensor to locate and map magnetic objects buried in sand, and even hypothesize about the objects size, shape, depth, and density using a control set of objects and sandbox.

Today Vernier offers a wireless Three-Axis Magnetic Field Sensor as part of their Go Direct series of sensors. Back in the 1990s it was a substantial update when the DIN connector changed to a BTA connector, and the beige serial connection box morphed into the translucent LabPro. To think that a couple blinking lights was exciting feedback from a battery-powered interface! 

Go Direct sensors are a new class of Vernier probeware that evolved out of almost 40 years of science teaching hardware and software that built in or bolted on advancements in consumer technology including replaceable battery power, USB connectors, rechargeable batteries, mobile device compatibility, touch screens, multiple inputs, online support, digital curriculum, wireless communications, more touch screens, low energy Bluetooth, and now universal power and data connectivity using the EPS standard.

Today’s topic is the Go Direct Vernier Three-Axis Magnetic Field Sensor. The sensor is a breakthrough in capability, size, weight, price, and most important performance. The Vernier Three-Axis Magnetic Field Sensor measures magnetic field strength along three planes within one sensor. The 12.2 centimeter long probe (19 cm overall) has a tiny 0.7 cm footprint on the tip allowing the probe’s proboscis to be inserted inside some small spaces such as inside solenoids with no clumsy cables, or probe rotations to mimic three-axis measurements.

But should the need for a cabled connection between Go Direct sensor and digital device, that is certainly possible as well. Using the same micro-USB port that charges the internal battery, the Go Direct sensor can be hard-plugged directly into a computer. Why go wired when you could be wireless? Good question. The backwards compatibility allowing a copper connection over an electromagnetic one expands the usability of the sensor. A little-discussed element in the science lab is sacrificial computer or tablet. As technology ages, it looses it reliability, connectivity and security. By being able to buy the most modern digital sensor yet plug it into an obsolete machine for lab work fresh life is breathed  into old tech. The Go Direct concept is also a significant upgrade when using BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) science classes because an old Windows machine will work along side a Macbook Pro next to a Chromebook, next to an iPad, next to an iPhone or Android smartphone.

But on to the Vernier Three-Axis Magnetic Field Sensor. By using multiple sensors built into a single  33 gram probe, the nimble Vernier Three-Axis Magnetic Field Sensor can be waved  about like a magic wand, or maybe more like a symphony conductor’s baton as the student conducts their experiments. And at only 33 grams, that almost 14 Vernier Three-Axis Magnetic Field Sensors per pound.

So how does the sensor work? It uses two methods of measuring magnetic fields. The tip of the sensor has a +/- 5 mT chip that applies the property William Thompson (aka Lord Kelvin) observed in 1856, a phenomenon now called anisotropic magnetoresistance or AMR.

So what do you get when you mix the quantum physics effects of spin-orbit interaction with the magnetization of a material? Magic? Well actually anisotropic magnetoresistance. But it seems like magic. Ever wonder how a digital compass works? Like the kind in cell phone apps and GPS receivers. Do you think there’s a little magnet spinning in your phone? Actually, there might be, but not for the compass. Moving metal in a phone is how it vibrates when a call or text comes in. In the case of anisotropic magnetoresistance, there is an effect on electrical resistance between the direction of magnetization and its angle relative to an electrical current. Maximum electrical resistance occurs when the magnetic field is parallel to the direction of the electrical current. And of course the sensor must be calibrated for the job it will do.

In order to determine polarity of the magnetic field, a thin film of permalloy has strips of gold (or aluminum) laid across it inclined at forty-five degrees. With the current unable to flow along the normal path of least resistance, instead it is offset at and angle and thus forcing it to have a dependance around a neutral point. Like I said, magic.

Back in 1960 at the General Conference on Weights and Measures, the unit of Tesla was announced. One tesla is equal to one weber per square meter with the weber (Wb) being the SI unit of magnetic flux. The weber is named after the German physicist Wilhelm Eduard Weber. 

Measuring the X-direction Magnetic Field Magnetic fields that point in the same direction the wand is pointing are recorded as positive, and fields that point in the opposite direction are recorded as negative. Thus, the magnetic field of the Earth will register as a positive field when the wand is pointed toward the magnetic pole in the Earth’s northern hemisphere, which is a South magnetic pole. When the wand is aligned with a permanent magnet and pointed toward the South pole of a magnet it will also record a positive field.

Measuring y- and/or z-directions The marks on the sides of the wand, at the tip, indicate the y- and z-directions of positive magnetic field measurements, as well as marking the location within the housing where the ±5 mT magnetic field sensor is located. This is important for consistent placing of the sensor and accurately measuring the distance between the sensor and the source of a magnetic field.


In the case of the Vernier Three-Axis Magnetic Field Sensor measurements of +/-5 mT are possible as well as measurements of +/-130 mT. How can this be, you might ask, with no switch between a high and low setting like on previous magnetic field sensors? Great question. Part of the magic of this sensor is that it is actually multiple sensors. About five millimeters from the tip of the sensor is the +/-5 mT anisotropic magnetoresistance sensor, and about 10.5mm from the tip is the +/-130 mT Hall effect sensor.

The tip of the sensor is noted with three embossed dots indicating the actual location of the sensors with two labeled as Y and Z with the third dot on the very end of the probe completing the triple capabilities of the Go Direct Vernier Three-Axis Magnetic Field Sensor

Just upstream a centimeter on the probe’s shaft is a Hall effect sensor for measuring a larger amount of magnetic flux. The Hall effect is the production of a voltage difference across an electrical conductor but transverse to an electric current in the conductor and to a magnetic field perpendicular to the current. Edwin Hall discovered the effect in 1879 while working on his doctoral degree at Johns Hopkins University. If only we could all be so lucky. And Hall did all this work almost two decades before the electron was even discovered!

At total of six data channels are measurable with the Go Direct Vernier Three-Axis Magnetic Field Sensor: X, Y, and Z magnetic field, and X, Y, and Z 130 mT magnetic field.

The durable sensor is water resistant, but the ~2.4 GHz of the Bluetooth signal is not. So underwater measurements would be a good candidate for using a USB wire.

The software to make the Vernier Three-Axis Magnetic Field Sensor really go to work is called Graphical Analysis 4.  So powerful is GA4 that it will get its own writeup in the future. But don’t wait for that day. Download it for free now.

For when you want to hold the Vernier Three-Axis Magnetic Field Sensor stationary, there are many solutions. No tripod mount is on the sensor, but the sensor fits wonderfully in the Joby GripTight ONE Mount which then can be attached to a tripod. Of course you could also just use a rubber band.

Conducting experiments and inspections with magnets is as easy as waving your magic wand. Don’t have a magic wand? Then use the next best thing, a Go Direct Vernier Three-Axis Magnetic Field Sensor.

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folder icon  Safety

Protecting Students From Fires

In 2015, the National Fire Protection Association released a revised version of NFPA 45 that included a new chapter titled “Educational and Instructional Laboratory Operations,” which applies to K–12 school laboratories. The new chapter provides fire protection and safety requirements for new and existing educational laboratories doing experiments or demonstrations using hazardous materials.

Most state legislatures will eventually adopt the updated NFPA 45 standard, meaning it is or will become a legal safety standard that school administration and teachers must follow

The Specifics

The first section (12.2: “Instructor Responsibilities”) of the new chapter clearly states that in a demonstration or experiment using hazardous materials, the teacher is required to:

• perform a documented hazard risk assessment,

• provide a safety review to students,

• provide adequate personal protective equipment, and

• place a safety barrier between students and the demonstration or experiment to prevent personal injury.

Furthermore, this section states that laboratory teachers must be trained and knowledgeable in fire safety procedures, emergency plans, lab hazards, appropriate PPE, and conducting an appropriate hazard risk assessment.

The second section (12.3 “Chemical Storage and Handling”) directs teachers to store bulk quantities of chemicals in locked rooms outside the classroom or store portioned amounts for each class session in a locked cabinet inside the lab. The second section also includes the following guidelines:

• Quantities of chemicals should not exceed the pre-laboratory unit quantities specified in local fire or building codes.

• Bulk quantities of chemicals in a prep room should be dispensed outside of the classroom or lab.

• If the lab does not have a prep room, the quantities of chemicals must be kept in locked cabinets before students arrive in the classroom or lab.

• The minimum amount of chemicals needed must be transferred to a smaller, appropriately labeled bottle.

Section 12.3.2 (“Performance of Experiments or Demonstrations”) again requires specific actions on the part of the teacher. For instance:

• Experiments or demonstrations must be performed in a location with access to an exit.

• Experiments or demonstrations involving hazardous quantities of fumes, vapors, particulates, or gases must be operated within a chemical fume hood.

• If it’s not possible to perform the activity in a fume hood, it must be performed behind an impact-resistant plastic or tempered glass safety shield.

• If the activity is performed outside of a fume hood where a shield is not used, students must observe the activity from at least 3 m (10 ft.) away.

• Activities using flammable liquids and open flames must be performed by a knowledgeable instructor.

• Teachers must review the hazards with students, required PPE, and review of emergency procedures.

In the end

NFPA 45 (2015) provides clear direction for science teachers to conduct safer demonstrations or experiments with students. The standard does not, however, prohibit the use of flammable solvents in school laboratories.

Submit questions regarding safety in K–12 to Ken Roy at, or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.

NSTA resources and safety issue papers
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Enhancing Google Sheets for the Classroom

Among the most commonly used tools in the science classroom are those that allow students to collect and manipulate data, including Microsoft Excel, Graphical Analysis, and Google Sheets. This month, we focus on one of the benefits of Google Sheets that sets it apart from similar tools: the add-ons.

If you’re new to add-ons, first look under the add-ons menu in Google Sheets and click “get add-ons.” Once there, you may search for add-ons by category (i.e., Business Tools, Education, Productivity, Social & Communication, and Utilities).

Finding data
Sometimes simply finding data related to a certain scientific content area can be challenging. With the Knoema Data Finder add-on, students can browse a large database of data sets that can be immediately imported into a brand-new Google sheet. This is a great way to get students started on manipulating data. Continue reading …

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