Novel Wuhan Coronavirus: What’s the Real Story?

Author: William Reed, High School STEM Teacher at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep, Chicago, IL

Grade Level: Secondary

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will generate and prioritize questions about the novel Wuhan coronavirus and evaluate scientific and/or technical information from multiple authoritative sources, assessing the evidence and usefulness of each source for answering their prioritized questions.

Note to teachers:
Because of documented cases of unfounded and harmful racially-driven responses to the outbreak as well as disproportionate (based on the available evidence) fear of the virus by individual students in the United States, students will also discuss appropriate and inappropriate responses to the outbreak. 
Finally, because developments in the novel coronavirus story are currently in rapid flux, you may also choose to engage students in obtaining and evaluating more recent reliable sources.

Google Slides
Student Note-catcher

Teaching Guidance
This lesson consists of three segments: connecting prior knowledge to the novel coronavirus global outbreak (lesson parts 1-2), making sense of the novel coronavirus (lesson parts 3-4), and examining people’s negative bias toward Chinese citizens at home and abroad (lesson part 5). Lesson part 6 offers students an opportunity for reflection on the lesson as a whole.

Part 1: Lesson Launch – Videoclip (32 minutes)

Begin by showing a recent video from a newscast about the coronavirus. Ask students to capture a few noticings from the video clip in their notes or on the student handout. (4 minutes)

Ask students to individually write about three things- their current understandings, their feelings, and their questions about the coronavirus. (5 minutes)

Have students briefly discuss their responses in small groups and then lead a whole-class discussion, recording at the front of the room the classes’ understandings, feelings, and questions in separate categories. Gather as many student questions as possible (you could use a one-question-per-sticky-note method) while supporting students in drawing connections between their questions. (10 minutes) 

Continuing the whole class discussion, ask students to consider how we might prioritize their questions for investigation. Which questions seem bigger or more important to address first? Students are likely to prioritize questions regarding action- what we can do to respond to the outbreak (and how worried we should be) in an evidence-based way. Though other questions may be prioritized as well, try to build a class consensus that these response-related questions make sense to investigate first. (5 minutes)

Ask students to consider in small groups how we might investigate our questions regarding the novel coronavirus, and particularly our questions about appropriate evidence-based responses. Have a few groups share their ideas with the whole class. Expected investigative ideas include research using reliable sources of information. (5 minutes)

Next, to continue to build student buy-in, ask the whole class if investigating the coronavirus more in science class will be helpful. After listening to student responses, consider saying, “there is a lot of information and in some cases misinformation out there about the coronavirus. Our classroom is a safe space where we can together evaluate that information and make sense of it so that we have a better understanding of what, according to scientists, we should know now. Also, by generating questions we have and considering ways to investigate those questions, we’re applying our practice as scientists to this problem and meeting the goals of our science class”. (3 minutes)

Note: At this point and throughout the lesson, stay attuned to students who may be uncomfortable or scared. Gather assessment evidence on this issue throughout the lesson and if necessary connect students to additional support (such as their own family and school counselors).

Part 2: Students Connect Science Ideas to the Novel Wuhan Coronavirus (3-50 minutes)
Ask students if they suspect any connections between the coronavirus outbreak and science ideas that they have figured out in this science class or in previous science classes. Student responses will vary depending on the class context. Possible connections include disciplinary core ideas (especially in the life sciences and engineering design) and crosscutting concepts (for example cause and effect: mechanism and explanation; stability and change; and structure and function). See the table above for more information. (3-50 minutes)

Part 3: Shared Reading (19 minutes)
Ask students to individually consider what might be some reliable sources to gather more information about the novel coronavirus. Have students share their ideas, which might include medical professionals, government, newspapers, and/or health organizations like the CDC and the WTO. (3 minutes)

Tell students that you found an article from a major national newspaper (USA Today, February 1, 2020: “Coronavirus is scary, but the flu is deadlier, more widespread”) that refers to members of the science community and that you think will be of interest to our questions about the level of concern we should currently have. Ask students to individually read and annotate the article. As they read, students should complete a table that has them record connections to questions or ideas already raised in class, new ideas, and new questions (10 minutes)

Have students briefly discuss their connections, new ideas, and questions in small groups. (3 minutes) 

Listen for student takeaways such as that they are much more likely at this stage to contract the flu virus than the novel coronavirus, and that there are a surprisingly high number of flu-caused deaths in the US every year. 

Ask the whole class to reflect on what questions posed earlier were answered by this reading and what questions remain or new questions the class has. (3 minutes)

Listen to student responses that seek more information about the novel coronavirus or about influenza. 

Part 4: Jigsaw Texts (60 minutes)
Tell the whole class that in order to answer as many of their questions about the coronavirus (and now flu) as possible, students will participate in a jigsaw reading, where they will read one article in their small group, summarize the main ideas (and generate a list of connections, new ideas, and questions), and then share those ideas with a group of students who have read other texts. (2 minutes) 

Article 1: CDC: What the Public Should Do  
Article 2: CDC: nCov 2019 Transmission 
Article 3: CDC: nCov 2019 Prevention and Treatment
Article 4: WHO: Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) situation reports
Article 5: WHO: Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) advice for the public: Myth busters
Article 6: Chicago Department of Public Health: 2019-nCoV: Guidance for Students
Article 7: CDC: Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and You

Note that any of these articles could be exchanged with other articles from health agencies or news organizations or even informational videos such as this one from the WHO or this one from the CBC. You may also consider previewing each article and assigning the articles to students based on their typical reading-for-comprehension speed and the length of the article. Finally, you may not need to use all 7 articles. 

As students complete the reading individually, direct them to both annotate and complete the relevant section of the student handout. (13 minutes) 

Have students who read the same article briefly share their findings with one another in a small group and discuss the article. This will help students with preparing to briefly summarize their article in the mixed group (4 minutes)

Regroup students so that one representative from each article is in each group. Ask students to briefly summarize the purpose of their article in their new groups. Each summary should be brief- less than one minute. When sharing the summaries, students should make connections to what they have heard elsewhere, including in the other students’ summaries. Talk through anything that is unclear or seems inconsistent from one article to the next. Students should take notes during this sharing, listening, and discussion process. (14 minutes) 

Ask students to answer the following questions, either individually or in small groups. Were there any noticeable patterns or repetitions in the articles you and your classmates summarized? Why might this be? What questions that we posed earlier did these articles help us to answer? (5 minutes)

Discuss with the whole class what their main takeaways from the jigsaw reading were. Then, ask students what questions they feel like we’ve answered and what questions we’re still wondering about (or what new questions we have). (10 minutes) 

Listen for student responses that remark on the shared advice across organizations for prevention, the similarities of prevention measures between coronavirus and the flu, or the fact that the virus is not spreading widely in the United States. Where appropriate, clarify students’ thinking through follow up questions and other talk moves and facilitate students in clarifying each other’s thinking. Note that teachers may need to clarify transmission prevention practices important for personal and public health, but that teachers should first give students an opportunity to describe these to one another in the group discussion. 

Coach students in articulating questions that they have answered as a result of the readings, which may include questions around the appropriate response to the virus or the severity of the virus. Anticipate additional student questions around details of transmission, the origins of the virus, methods scientists use to study the viruses, personal health risk factors or other related topics. 

End this part by leading a class discussion about other ways besides obtaining and evaluating information that we could go about investigating the novel coronavirus. Display models and images of coronaviruses and ask students how using these models might be helpful for deepening our understanding and explanations. Students are likely to discuss the possibility of doing laboratory investigations with viruses in the school. Ask students to reflect on why this is impractical, but suggest that we could act as citizen scientists using publically available scientific data like the 2019 nCov DNA genome or the WHO nCov case data portal. Subsequent lessons could include students’ use of mathematics to analyze the spread of the virus or the student’s analysis of gene data using resources such as BLAST. Students could also develop general models for vaccination and explore what research into vaccine development entails.  (10 minutes)

Part 5: Shared Video (15-30 minutes)

Play the video from Al Jazeera English (beginning at 1:03) to the whole class. Ask students to individually jot down notes from the video in their notebooks or on the student handout. (5 minutes) 

Ask students to individually answer the following questions on their student handout. Have you ever felt unfairly targeted because of a group that you belong to? If so, how did it make you feel? If not, how do you imagine that would feel? Based on what you know about the novel coronavirus from this lesson, explain why prejudice against people with Chinese or Asian ancestry who live in countries outside of China has no scientific basis. (5 minutes) 

Lead a whole-class discussion (or, if you prefer, first have students discuss their answers in small groups). Ask students why the reporting from France is concerning. Ask students to explain why the fear of people based on their race or ethnicity with respect to the coronavirus is contrary to what we know about the coronavirus. (5 minutes) 

Part 6: Wrapup and Reflection (20 minutes)
In their small groups (or as a whole class) ask students to discuss the following prompts and capture the group’s thinking in their notes or on the student handout. What are some markers of reliable information when it comes to major events like the coronavirus? What makes this information reliable? What are some strategies we used to help make sense of the information available? What other tools (other than gathering and evaluating information ) might we use to further investigate our questions about the novel coronavirus? (20 minutes)

Additional Resources

Check out our learning center collection for free materials that you can use in our classroom right away.
Report from NBC on emergency declared
CBC Explainer
Wikipedia page
Flu worldwide CDC
Flu is deadlier
WHO video explainer:
Complete genome:
WHO Dashboard:
Blog Post: Leveraging Science in the News
Blog Post: Coronavirus Meets…Physics? Making a Biological Topic Fit into a Physics World

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Coronavirus Meets…Physics? Making a Biological Topic Fit into a Physics World

Author: Stephanie Duke, Physics Teacher and Science Department Chair at Graves County High School in Mayfield, KY

If you heard about a high school science class completing a unit on the novel coronavirus, you’d probably assume it was a biology class. That’s where students learn about viruses, right? Not always. I just completed a unit of study about the novel coronavirus in (drumroll please) PHYSICS. This unit called for students to research using “language” instead of “numbers” as we typically do in physics. We had a rich discussion regarding the characteristics of resources that are considered to be reliable and less-reliable, and the public response to the hysteria. 

The Setup: Before I even introduced the lesson, students were already talking about/asking questions about the coronavirus in class. They had concerns. Could they die from the coronavirus? If so, could this virus wipe out entire communities?

I didn’t want to simply tell students about the coronavirus; I wanted students to do investigative research. The novel coronavirus unit was a good avenue for students to directly see the difference between reliable and less-reliable sources of information. Several students had fallen victim to misinformation from social media, such as Facebook, or information obtained through Google and Wikipedia that was inaccurate or false. 

I presented the phenomenon (coronavirus) to the students through actual news footage from ABC News’ YouTube Channel, which made the clip relevant. Immediately students knew what to do based on their prior experience in other lessons and units: They observed the phenomenon, recorded their noticings and wonderings, and asked questions. Excellent questions.

What They Did: The coronavirus lesson created opportunities for students to develop and use elements of the science and engineering practice of obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information in the following ways:

  • Critically read scientific literature adapted for classroom use to determine the central ideas or conclusions and/or to obtain scientific and/or technical information to summarize complex evidence, concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.
    • Compare, integrate and evaluate sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a scientific question or solve a problem.
    • Evaluate the validity and reliability of and/or synthesize multiple claims, methods, and/or designs that appear in scientific and technical texts or media reports, verifying the data when possible. 

Students compared the number of cases of coronavirus to the number of flu cases. They knew people got sick from the flu, but this exercise caused students to stop and pay attention. The map of confirmed coronavirus cases made the coronavirus real for them. They could SEE it.

What I Saw: At the onset, I did have a handful of students who were not in favor of us moving away from our plotted path through our physics syllabus. Some kids asked, “This is physics. What does the coronavirus have to do with physics?” Once we began digging deep into available resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, they were hooked and engaged in the lessons. 

As a science teacher, it’s easy for me to notice the science ideas in situations like the coronavirus. The layout of the coronavirus unit goes beyond the typical science focus and addresses social bias. Without these cues, I may have overlooked the human side of the coronavirus outbreak. My students immediately picked up on this issue on day one, with no less than one group in every class pointing out the poor treatment of anyone of Asian descent since the virus outbreak. Students shared the idea that we treat people badly based on their outward appearance or because of where they were born. People from China aren’t prone to getting the coronavirus due to their genetic make-up; the virus just happened to originate in their homeland.

There is a common pattern in physics. We ask questions about experiences (phenomenon) we have together, determine reliable ways to collect data related to our experiences and attempt to make sense of this data through various avenues. Basically, kids analyze and interpret numbers (quantitative data) and use that knowledge to explain relationships.  Again, it’s physics. They have less experience researching with “words” than they do with “numbers” in my world, so this unit further sharpened their investigation skills. Kids struggle with reading scientific texts and pulling out relevant information. In this situation, students NEEDED information from the text to better understand this “thing” they keep hearing about on the news. The need for information brought purpose to reading the text.

I was also pleased to see that my 16- and 17-year old students appreciated my push to investigate phenomenon in prior units, letting them explore their own questions, and that the coronavirus unit allowed them to continue to investigate even after putting away the graphing calculator. 

At the close of the unit, students were much more cognizant of their hygiene. I heard students telling each other to wash their hands and cover their mouths (sneezing and coughing) after they engaged in this lesson, but I’m not yet sure this will stick with them in the coming weeks.

This unit made both physics and science in general applicable to them; the kids “got” how science, along with fact-checking, can drastically impact their daily lives. They also got a real-life lesson on the impact of sensationalism and unreliable sources. It wasn’t a typical physics lesson, but the principles were still very much there.

Additional Resources

Check out our learning center collection for free materials that you can use in our classroom right away.
Report from NBC on emergency declared
CBC Explainer
Wikipedia page
Flu worldwide CDC
Flu is deadlier
WHO video explainer:
Complete genome:
WHO Dashboard:
Blog Post: Leveraging Science in the News
Lesson Plan: Novel Wuhan Coronavirus: What’s the Real Story?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Presenting to Peers

Professional development can be boring at times, but I don’t really think my colleagues would be receptive to what I say since I teach science.
—R., Wisconsin

Please know that you are a valuable resource to your colleagues. We need more science teachers to put themselves out there and help provide quality professional development for their schools. Teachers need exposure to the science in everyday life. We benefit from learning from our peers, just as our students are motivated and build their confidence when they learn from each other. You may reduce your peers’ resistance to trying new things in their classrooms because of the mutual respect for the work “we do in the trenches every day.” Working with different teachers in different content areas provide a platform to discuss and share literacy strategies plus the importance of nonfiction reading and writing to everyone’s discipline. Besides, science is fun. Demonstrating how we keep students engaged and excited about learning can inspire others. An open dialogue about your needs as a professional is important, too. Your colleague may have a similar need as well. If we do not participate in our pedagogical growth, then we leave our development in the hands of others who can only speculate on how we can help our students grow academically, socially, and emotionally.

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What Does It Really Take to Get High School Students to Make Their Ideas Visible? by Angie Berk, Jen MacColl, and Kristen Moorhead

Asking high school students to reveal what they really think about what causes a natural or designed phenomenon is risky business. Risky in that it requires students to take the intellectual and social risk of sharing their thinking, which may or may not be correct. We thought all we needed to do was to ask them to share their thinking. But we discovered it takes intentionally listening to who really is or isn’t talking and teacher moves to shift the culture from some students sharing ideas some times to all students revealing their thinking. We’d like to share two stories about what it really takes.

Ms. Berk’s Physics Class: Using Whiteboards to Visualize Energy Transfers and Compare Ideas

Student discussion and equity in sharing ideas is especially important in freshman physics. Core concepts and graphing methods are abstract and difficult for many students. Discussing these concepts and giving students equal opportunity to share ideas is crucial to success in physics. Assigning roles during the activity and sharing their ideas on a whiteboard helps accomplish this.

Before the energy conservation lesson, we defined what energy is and what forms it can take. Instead of a teacher-led lesson, students learn through a hands-on activity with assigned roles, working in pairs, with specific tasks to accomplish. Student pairs transfer colored water among three graduated cylinders representing total energy, kinetic/moving energy (Ek), and gravitational potential energy (Eg). They are given a scenario: a dog sitting still on a bed. Student A “acts out” transferring energy/water from the total energy cylinder to the Eg cylinder. In the scenario, the dog jumps down from the bed to the floor. Student B then transfers all of the energy/water to the Ek cylinder. They must discuss the question with their partner: Did the total amount of energy/water ever change?

Next, student pairs act out their own scenario with the water, switching roles. The pair then needs to translate what happens with the cylinders to sketches on a whiteboard. Student A sketches the change in cylinder energy/water level.  Student B then shares their whiteboard results with another pair of students, who have a different scenario.

Together, the pairs must then analyze all of the scenarios, seeking a pattern about the total energy in a system. They write down their group’s “rule” about a system’s total energy.

The class does a gallery walk of all of the groups’ boards to develop a class definition of the law. Finally, students convert their whiteboard sketches to bar graphs.

During this process, students develop the core idea of conservation of energy. The teacher is available to answer questions, while evaluating student progress. Additionally, each student has the opportunity to share their ideas through pictures, graphs, writing, and talking.

Mrs. MacColl’s Biology Class: Alone Zone Really Matters!

This year, my students seemed more timid, self-conscious, and fearful of sharing their ideas than students in years past. Even with this classroom climate, I was surprised by my students’ reluctant performance in a Gallery Walk and their collecting and sharing of ideas.

I asked students to work with their lab partners to create a poster illustrating the structure and function of randomly assigned cells. Then I asked the partners to participate in a Gallery Walk to understand and make sense of others’ ideas. During their timed rotations, they were asked to categorize the cells as either epithelial, muscle, nerve, or connective tissue. As partners visited each poster, I asked them to discuss and analyze their ideas with one another.

I noticed it was awkwardly silent as students gathered the required information from the posters. I tried to expand the structure of their discussion to encourage more talking. I thought if I could get them to share aloud, differences in their ideas might press them to think more deeply about their own ideas. I cued students at the end of each rotation to use a sentence starter such as “I think…because…”and provided one minute for partners to share in this manner. The sentence frame increased the talk, but frequently only one of the partners was talking:

Partner A: I think red blood cells are connective tissue because connective tissue helps transport things.

Partner B: Yeah. I didn’t have time to write it.

Not a productive discussion. Therefore, I required 30 seconds of Alone Zone (private think time) before partner sharing to increase the likelihood of equitable talk, even if partners disagreed. Then I told students they would have 30 seconds to decide what type of tissue the cell made, then cued them to each share their “I think…because….”  With the addition of the private think time, I noticed both partners shared equitably and often shared different ideas! This strategy made my students’ thinking visible:

Partner A:  I think red blood cells are connective tissue because they flow in the bloodstream.

Partner B: I think red blood cells are epithelial tissue because they cover the interior of hollow organs.

Now that I could hear each student’s idea about red blood cells, it was revealed that half the students thought red blood cells were epithelial tissue, while the other half thought they were connective tissue.  Because I found a way for students to reveal their ideas, I recognized that this provided an opportunity for students to engage in argument for and against each of those claims using evidence.

Another example of the power of highly-structured protocol occurred during our “Cell Tank” activity, in which I asked students to analyze how a cell would function when missing their assigned organelle. I asked each group to create a Google document in which they could individually add their own unique ideas. I thought for sure I would observe all of my students contributing equally, especially since we had just practiced the Partner A/B structured protocol. Not quite. That idea crashed and burned as I observed one or two out of the four partners typing away, while the other two or three took a backseat.

On to Plan B. I distributed a large piece of butcher paper to each group and instructed each group member to choose a different color and physically write down their ideas. This strategy proved successful. Perhaps it gave my students the Alone Zone time they needed to think and write down their ideas. Perhaps they felt more comfortable sharing their ideas in writing.  Nonetheless, it gave me and my students the opportunity to analyze one another’s ideas and allowed me to observe equal participation.

So What Does It Really Take?

So many strategies are available for making students’ ideas visible. One “aha” moment for us was realizing the importance of having group accountability in place so that all students would share ideas. The second, and perhaps most important, “aha” moment was that listening to what students aren’t saying and intentionally providing structure really does increase the amount and quality of student intellectual engagement. It is only when students’ real ideas are revealed that teachers can guide students from their current conceptions to constructing lasting explanations of how the world works.

What strategies for making students’ thinking visible have worked for you in your classroom?

Angie Berk is a physics and biology teacher at Arcadia High School in Arizona’s Scottsdale Unified School District.





Jen MacColl is a National Board Certified Teacher who teaches (with her sidekick Benjamin) biology, zoology, and botany at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Arizona.




Kristen Moorhead is a consultant for Professional Learning Innovations, LLC. She is currently coaching K–12 science teachers in Scottsdale Unified School District as they shift their instruction to reflect the vision of the National Research Council’s A Framework for K–12 Science Education.



Note: This article is featured in the February 2020 issue of Next Gen Navigator, a monthly e-newsletter from NSTA delivering information, insights, resources, and professional learning opportunities for science educators by science educators on the Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional instruction.  Click here to sign up to receive the Navigator every month.

Visit NSTA’s NGSS@NSTA Hub for hundreds of vetted classroom resourcesprofessional learning opportunities, publicationsebooks and more; connect with your teacher colleagues on the NGSS listservs (members can sign up here); and join us for discussions around NGSS at an upcoming conference.

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

Posted in Next Generation Science Standards | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Going Public: Revealing Student Thinking in Science by Missy Holzer

Our classrooms are dynamic places where young learners gather to figure out the natural world. How can we be sure they are all making sense of the phenomena during this process? How do we know what they are thinking?

We tend to grasp how they think through our selected formative and summative assessments, but this is not enough if we want our students to develop proficiency in science. We need our students to “go public,” revealing their thinking, their models, and their ideas, and it is our challenge to ensure all our students do this. When students employ science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts to make sense of the phenomena in question, their thinking becomes apparent. However, as science teachers, we must avoid resuming our old assessment routines and focus our energy on the process and progress students achieve while making sense of phenomena.

We can do this by listening to students argue from evidence during discussions, by analyzing their Claim Evidence Reasoning (C-E-R) posters, and by closely examining their model revisions during a lesson set or unit. At the heart of two curriculum projects, OpenSciEd and NGSX, students go public with their ideas. Borrowing from these projects as well as STEM Teaching Tools, I armed myself this year with tools and routines to encourage all my students to participate in a community of scientific practice.

As a class, we identified norms for discussions centered on respect, equity, commitment to community, and advancing our thinking. We refer to our list to ensure everyone is meeting the goals of our discussions. But I found that having norms is not enough to foster lively discussions advancing scientific knowledge, so I decided to survey my students about their feelings toward participating in discussions. The results showed they prefer to participate in small-group discussions; however, in those small groups, they are unsure about how to ask probing questions.

With help from STEM Teaching Tools PD Playlist: Promoting Student Science Talk in the Classroom, I introduced “partner conversation supports” to my students, and incorporated “Talk Moves” from TERC’s Talk Science Primer into my discussion routines. Since I combined these resources with our class norms, my students are now having more focused discussions within their small groups, and they are now the ones driving whole-class discussions that include everybody’s voices.

An alternative to class discussions that I find to be more enjoyable for some students in making their thinking visible is to create team posters of their C-E-Rs, followed by Gallery Walks. In a recent sensemaking lesson, students considered three lines of evidence while addressing their claim about the co-evolution of biology and geology on Earth. In small groups, they discussed their lines of evidence in relation to the mechanisms for change over geologic time. Each group considered different pieces of evidence, which translated into variation across the C-E-Rs. During the Gallery Walk, a student from each team presented their poster, and after the presentations, students visited each poster, equipped with sticky notes to leave comments.

The non-threatening nature of this routine not only encouraged all students to participate in some way, but also made their thinking visible to the entire class. Their resulting individual C-E-Rs were much richer than before, which I think can be attributed to their group effort in analyzing and interpreting the data and sharing their thoughts using posters, both of which pushed them to think more deeply about their claims.

In this last routine, students are only “going public” with me as they build and revise their models.  It is unbelievably enlightening to monitor student progress over a larger unit as they make sense of phenomena. Recently, my students were challenged to determine the order of events in Earth’s early history, and this required them to start with an initial model, then revise it as more evidence was introduced. They worked in small groups to analyze the data, but they worked individually to create their arguments. With our learning management system, I was able to access their work during the two weeks of the unit. I reviewed their work and adjusted my lessons as needed, and while doing so, I found it fascinating to see how students revised their models along the way as more evidence was introduced. At the end of the unit, students combined their ideas to create one model they shared with the class.

These few routines not only connect with multiple science and engineering practices (NRC 2012, and NGSS 2013), but also mirror the practice of scientists. I would be doing a disservice to my students if we did not debrief the use of these routines as they relate to the work of scientists. If I don’t have a first-person example to share, I seek examples from the history of science within my domain, or I share resources such as Tools of Science. How do your students go public with their ideas?


National Research Council (NRC). 2012. A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Missy Holzer, PhD, has taught science in New Jersey for more than 30 years and loves her job more today than when she first started. Her philosophy of education includes using hands-on, minds-on inquiry using real-time and original data and data tools to encourage lifelong learning in her students. Holzer enjoys field research immensely and has assisted with data collection in places such as Svalbard; Nicaragua; Kenya; Ecuador; Jamaica; Costa Rica; off the coasts of Oregon, South Carolina, Cape Cod; and Chile. She is a Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) Ambassador and worked alongside astronomers to collect astronomical data in the stratosphere. In the classroom, she uses her field experiences to develop units of study to inspire students to explore their natural world. Holzer is secretary of National Earth Science Teachers Association (President 2012–2014), has served on many state and national committees, and presents at local, regional, and national conferences. She served on the development team for the 2009 New Jersey Science Core Content Standards and on the State Leadership Review Team for the NGSS, and authored the Capstone High School Science Model Curriculum after New Jersey adopted the NGSS. She is an Achieve peer review panelist, reviewing lessons and units for NGSS congruency. Through workshop offerings, she supports formal and non-formal educators as they transition to using NGSS. She holds a MAT in science education, a MS in geography, and a PhD in science education.

Note: This article is featured in the February 2020 issue of Next Gen Navigator, a monthly e-newsletter from NSTA delivering information, insights, resources, and professional learning opportunities for science educators by science educators on the Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional instruction.  Click here to sign up to receive the Navigator every month.

Visit NSTA’s NGSS@NSTA Hub for hundreds of vetted classroom resourcesprofessional learning opportunities, publicationsebooks and more; connect with your teacher colleagues on the NGSS listservs (members can sign up here); and join us for discussions around NGSS at an upcoming conference.

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

Posted in Next Generation Science Standards | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Making Students’ Thinking Visible Through Discussion by Dana McCusker and Marisa Miller

As the assistant director of science for Mastery Charter Schools I have had the pleasure of working with Dana McCusker and seeing her excellent teaching in action. As a science teacher leader, she has been at the forefront of utilizing discussion resources and supporting other teachers in our network to use them in their classrooms. Here is Dana describing how she uses discussion to make students’ thinking visible:

As the fourth-grade science teacher at my school, it is my job to not only teach my students about science concepts, but also to teach them how to “do” science. The vision for science education articulated in A Framework for K–12 Science Education states, “The learning experiences provided for students should engage them with fundamental questions about the work and with how scientists have investigated and found answers to those questions.” (Framework p.9) “How do I make this happen in my classroom?,” you ask. In addition to engaging my students in the science and engineering practices, I give students ample chances to make their thinking visible through discussion. This gives both me and my students another way to see their growth from start to finish in an investigation and put it all together to end the unit.

The key to getting all my students to participate in the discussion is to give them some time beforehand to think and write about a shared experience with a phenomenon or investigation. Seeing what the students write also provides me a window into their thinking so I can better guide the discussion.

I have my students sit or stand in a circle for the discussion. I make myself a part of the group by putting myself on the students’ level, sitting or standing in the circle, to emphasize they are not looking at me, but at one another. This builds our classroom community and helps them see themselves as scientists: that everyone can engage in argument from evidence.

A few weeks ago, my students worked to discover the natural processes of physical and chemical weathering. They had prior knowledge about physical weathering from a previous investigation in which they observed models of physical weathering, developed their own ideas, and then learned the academic vocabulary associated with physical weathering, but they had no classroom experience with chemical weathering. We started class with an initial ideas discussion when I showed them a picture of the Grand Canyon and a picture of the Rocky Mountains.

I gave them five minutes to write about what they observed in the pictures, then asked them to join their groups. They had a few minutes to discuss their observations and ideas before sharing them with the class. I have found that whole-class discussions are more successful when students have had a chance to talk about their ideas in small groups first, which relieves any nervousness. Here is what happened during the whole-class discussion that day:

Teacher: Let’s bring it back to the whole class and discuss what is going on in the pictures. I am going to ask this group to share what they have been discussing with the whole class.

Student 1: Based on what we learned the last couple of days, physical weathering is happening in both, [as] it is clear that pieces of the rocks or mountains are missing.

Student 2: I agree, but it looks like different types of physical weathering [are happening] because of the environmental factors. For example, the Rocky Mountains have snow covering them, so they are probably breaking down by freezing and thawing. In the Grand Canyon photo, it looks like there is a river flowing through, so I’m guessing water abrasion is playing a big part here. I also know that there can be wind or sandstorms in the desert, so maybe wind abrasion, too.

Student 3: I agree with all of this, but I think there is something else going on. Does anyone else notice that they are different color[ed] rocks? I am not sure if this is because of the rocks themselves, or if there is another factor playing a part. And if it is something else, is this also causing the rocks to break down even more, or is it changing the color, or both?

Student 4: I don’t think that the color is a sign of the rocks breaking down; I think they are that color because of their environment.

Teacher: What makes you think this?

Student 4: Well, I was thinking of it in the way that when we spend time in the sun, our skin changes, and usually gets darker, which almost looks like what is happening with the rocks, that maybe the sun is a factor in the color.

Teacher: That is an interesting way to think about it! So it sounds like we can all agree that there is some kind of physical weathering going on in both of the pictures, correct?

Class: Yes!

Teacher: Is there anyone who could elaborate more on what Student 4 said about the color of the rocks? Are there any experiences you have had that might help you think about this phenomenon?

This is the moment when I considered what my students said about the different colors of the rocks and introduced a new investigation in which they observed chemical reactions on different rocks.

During discussions, I ask probing questions and encourage students to ask one another probing questions. Each student has the following Sense-Making Discussions student reference sheet in their notebooks, and the expectations for discussions appear on the board. I made this reference sheet several years ago, editing it over the years using discussion norms from The Inquiry Project and question stems from OpenSciEd, to help the students feel more confident during the discussions, especially at the beginning of the school year.

In my classroom this year, I have used the discussion framework from OpenSciEd to differentiate between initial ideas, building understanding and consensus discussions. These discussions are a chance to support all students in my science classroom, especially the students who may not see themselves as scientists or who struggle with other subjects, like writing. Supporting all students is extremely important to me because I was that student who didn’t see myself as a scientist and who struggled in other subjects because I didn’t always have that teacher to help me to realize my strengths.

In addition to the discussion resources from OpenSciEd, I also use resources from STEM Teaching Tools, such as this one on expectations and discourse moves. What discussion supports do you provide to students in your class?

Dana McCusker is a fourth-grade science teacher at Mastery Charter School-Smedley Elementary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, recently named a Title 1 Distinguished School by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. She loves to bring real-world experiences into her classroom and foster investigative science lessons and discussions on all types of scientific concepts. She has a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and Spanish from La Salle University in Philadelphia, and a master’s in education with a dual certificate in elementary and special education from Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb. When she was approached to pilot a new science program for Mastery seven years ago, she jumped at the opportunity in order to provide a quality science education to her students. During this time, she crafted lessons and fine-tuned her own science knowledge, and showed her students how science is just magic you can prove.  She served as a science content lead teacher for the Mastery Charter School network for four years, and serves as a teacher leader at her school. She is a sports fanatic and the proud wife of her golf-loving, accountant husband, and the proud mom of a very curious and active three-year-old girl, with another baby due in April!

Marisa Miller is the assistant director of science for Mastery Charter Schools. Mastery Charter is a network of more than 20 schools, many of them turnaround schools, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Camden, New Jersey. In her role, Miller supports science teachers in grades 3–12 through teacher coaching and curriculum and professional development. Before entering her current role, Miller taught biology and middle school science for five years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and secondary education from The College of New Jersey and a Masters in Science Education from Rutgers University in New Jersey. Miller works to advance science education and three-dimensional learning as a former member of Achieve’s Peer Review Panel and current member of NSTA’s 3-D Learning Cadre. Like McCusker, she also has a very rambunctious three-year-old and is expecting another baby in April. You can connect with her on Twitter: @marismiller6.

Note: This article is featured in the Fenruary 2020 issue of Next Gen Navigator, a monthly e-newsletter from NSTA delivering information, insights, resources, and professional learning opportunities for science educators by science educators on the Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional instruction.  Click here to sign up to receive the Navigator every month.

Visit NSTA’s NGSS@NSTA Hub for hundreds of vetted classroom resourcesprofessional learning opportunities, publicationsebooks and more; connect with your teacher colleagues on the NGSS listservs (members can sign up here); and join us for discussions around NGSS at an upcoming conference.

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

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Explore Before Explain to Engage More Students

A new addition to the Instructional Sequence Matters series has arrived! Instructional Sequence Matters, Grades 3-5 by Patrick Brown offers examples and strategies for using POE (Predict, Observe, and Explain) and 5E (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate) with students to tap into their innate curiosity and prepare them for deep learning.

Instructional Sequence Matters focuses on explore-before-explain teaching, which the author explains is a way of thinking “more purposefully and carefully about the nature of how we design instruction.”

Students come to the classroom as knowers already. They come with knowledge, ideas, experiences that have developed their understanding of how the world works. They come with a sense of curiosity, and questions, such as why do rainbows appear in the sky; why do leaves change colors; and why does the moon go through different phases, explains Brown. As they learn in school, they build on their previous experiences, correct errors in their thinking, revise misconceptions, and build new knowledge.

“I firmly believe that a significant task of science teaching is cultivating the innate skills that child scientists bring to school and balancing their ideas with purposeful pedagogical practices,” says Brown. “Bringing an explore-before-explain mindset to science teaching is a way to develop the budding scientist in each of your students.”

According to Brown, this instructional method has far-reaching implications in the elementary school classroom, beyond science instruction.

“[It] lends empirical support for the placement of other experiences in the elementary classroom to leverage the best possible learning experiences for students,” says Brown. “One of the hallmarks of explore-before-explain teaching is its emphasis on learning for understanding and wiring (or rewiring) the brain, so knowledge is deeply blanketed in evidence-based experiences.”

Brown’s objective is also to rewire how educators think about sequencing. Instructional Sequence Matters helps educators to understand the developmental psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and science education research that explains why the order in which lessons are structured is so critical.

The book provides examples that show how specific aspects of all three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards can translate into the classroom: 1) science and engineering practices, 2) disciplinary core ideas, and 3) crosscutting concepts. It includes detailed, ready-to-teach lessons that use either a POE or 5E sequence to cover a variety of science topics such as heat and temperature, magnetism, and electric currents.

Instructional Sequence Matters will help educators to promote long-lasting understanding by motivating their students, encouraging them to think critically, and engaging them more deeply with content.

Read the free chapter “Learning About Ecosystems.”

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Go Green This Spring, Apply for a Green Ribbon School Award by Jim Elder

Is your school a green school?

Is it doing amazing work in reducing environmental impacts, such as waste, water, energy, and transportation?

Does your school work to improve the health and wellness of students and faculty with coordinated school health programs that take into consideration air quality, contaminant control, acoustics, daylighting, thermal comfort, school food, and more?

Is your school a leader in effective environmental and sustainability education that emphasizes hands-on, real-world learning, civic engagement, STEM connections, and green career preparation?

Then you should apply for a Green Ribbon School Award sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and administered by state education authorities.

Only 50-80 schools in the country win each year, so it’s a big deal. it puts your school in an elite national group of green schools; winning schools get a good deal of national, state and local press; the award helps schools attract more funding as well as community support; and the award builds school spirit both within the school and in the community. Winning schools are invited to the award ceremony in Washington DC.

The premise of the Green Ribbon Schools is simple: It seeks to promote effective school sustainability and collaboration.  Applicants are measured on how they perform on three key pillars:

  • Reducing environmental impact and costs;
  • Improving health and wellness; and
  • Providing effective environmental and sustainability education.

Here are two examples of the great programs coming out of Green Ribbon Schools:

For over twelve years, Virginia Beach Public Schools has been moving towards a more sustainable model. To date, it has completed eight LEED buildings ranging from basic certification to Platinum. The Sustainable Schools Committee works with a Sustainable School Liaison in each school, and have been able to establish 64 schools with outdoor teaching gardens, 72 schools with environmental clubs, and over 60 schools that partner with third party environmental organizations like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Environmental education extends far beyond the walls of a traditional science classroom at Quincy High School, a career and technical school. Summer Leadership Camp, which pairs upperclassmen with incoming 9th grade students, offers an outdoor learning experience that builds friendship and leadership skills. The school’s STEM wing is home to a greenhouse, where students are actively involved in learning how to grow their own food. Students complete “Service to School and Community” hours that allow them to focus on how singular responsible actions can benefit the larger environment and affect the sustainable practices of other members within the community.

Schools and districts do not apply for the award to the U.S. Department of Education, but to their state education authorities. (State participation in the award is voluntary so contacting your state official will help them to determine their level of participation.)

If you are interested in learning more, I encourage you to contact your state departments of education or the state authority on this list.

Jim Elder is Executive Director of the Campaign for Environmental Literacy.

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

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Using rain to manipulate art media, and modeling rain

A day where the rain had lasted so long that the playground became soupy led to an investigation of the properties of art media—tempera paint and oil pastels. As a science investigation we (most of us) followed my procedure of using tempera paint on one half of a page and oil pastels on the other half.

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NSTA Legislative Update: President Releases Education Budget for FY21 Programs by Jodi Peterson

The Trump Administration released its education budget for FY2021 last week, and it was immediately and rounded criticized by education advocates and denounced by Democratic lawmakers.

The president is proposing a 7.8 percent cut to U.S. Department of Education programs. The $66.6 billion request represents a $5.6 billion reduction from the department’s enacted 2020 funding level and is part of the Administration’s plan to cut billions in non-defense spending.

Further, the budget seeks combine 29 K-12 grant programs into a $19.4 billion unified block grant, called the Elementary and Secondary Education for the Disadvantaged Block Grant.  This represents a $4.7 billion cut from the enacted FY2020 funding levels for these combined programs. It would affect practically every program under the Every Student Succeeds Act, including ESSA Titles IVA, ESSA Title II, ESSA Title I, and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

The proposed Elementary and Secondary Education for the Disadvantaged Block Grant would be allocated through existing Title I grant formulas and could be used to support any activity supported by the consolidated programs.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the new block grant would “end education earmarks” and transform how states use federal dollars in a way that aligns with the federal education law.  

Education advocates were not happy with this budget. In a statement, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the block grant proposal was “simply code for less funding to the schools and communities that need it most.”

The Title IVA Coalition (NSTA is a member) released this statement shortly after the budget was released: “While we are not surprised by the President’s failure to provide adequate funding for public education programs under the Every Student Succeeds Act, we are deeply concerned that the FY21 budget proposal would violate congressional intent. The proposal aims to consolidate 29 discretionary education programs and combine them into a singular block grant while failing to provide equal to or more funding for the existing programs, resulting in a net cut. Specifically, we are dismayed that this Administration would cut Title IV-A of ESSA, the strongly bipartisan flexible block grant that provides funding for safe and healthy students, well-rounded programs, and the effective use of educational technology. Sadly, this budget is yet another demonstration of the Administration’s complete lack of commitment to the success of the public education system and lack of respect for Congressional intent.”

The administration’s budget also includes plans for Education Freedom Scholarships that would create a $5 billion federal tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations to pay for students to attend private schools or expand their public education options. Legislation to authorize these scholarships has been introduced in the House as H.R. 1434 (116) and the Senate as S. 634 (116).

The budget also proposes a $900 million increase for career and technical education programs. In a fact sheet, the White House Office of Management and Budget states this increase “would help ensure that all American high schools offer high-quality vocational training programs and that all students have access to pathways other than costly 4 year degrees to well-paying jobs.”

The President budget is seeking $931 million for the National Science Foundation Education and Human Resources Directorate, and is calling for eliminating funding for NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement.

In previous years, Congress has largely rejected the attempts by the Administration to cut funding for specific education programs.  NSTA will be working with other advocates throughout the year urging Congress to increase funding for vital education programs such as Title IVA, Title II, and Title I.

The budget tracker developed by our friends at the STEM Education Coalition is below.

Program FY2019 Omnibus POTUS FY2020 Request FY2020 Minubus POTUS FY2021 Request
ESSA Title I-A Grants to Local Education Agencies $15.86B $15.86B $16.30B $0 (consol.)
ESSA Title II SupportingEffective Instruction Grants $2.05B $0 $2.13B $0 (consol.)
Title IVA Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants $1.17B $0 $1.21B $0 (consol.)
Title IVB 21st Century Community Learning Centers $1.22B $0 $1.25B $0 (consol.)
ESEA Formula and Competitive Block Grant1 n/a n/a n/a $19.36B
National Science Foundation’s Education and Human Resources Directorate $916M $823M $940M $931M
NASA STEM Engagement $110M $0 $120M $0
Career and Technical Education State Grants $1.26B $1.26B $1.28B $1.96B
Education Innovation and Research Program $130M $300M $130M $0 (consol.)

1In their FY2021 request, the administration proposed to “consolidate nearly all currently funded formula and competitive grant programs authorized by ESSA into a single state formula grant program.”

Stay tuned, and watch for more updates in future issues of NSTA Express.

Jodi Peterson is the Assistant Executive Director of Communication, Legislative & Public Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. Reach her via e-mail at or via Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

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

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Fact or phony? Scientifically evaluating data

From information about the novel coronavirus to viral posts on social media, it can be a challenge to sort out fact from fiction in what we read on the web. Students face this challenge in their daily reading, too, and these featured resources can help your students learn ways to think critically about data and information they encounter. Share with us in the comments the resources you find most helpful for supporting students’ critical thinking skills.

Just the facts

NSTA Press authors Laura Tucker and Lois Sherwood provide an engaging lesson in “Fact or Phony? Scientifically Evaluating Data” from Understanding Climate Change, Grades 7–12 that will help your students develop their abilities to evaluate information about climate change. Students explore a purely fictional web page cleverly designed as factual and are challenged to consider whether the “Pacific Northwest tree octopus” is, in fact, in danger of extinction due to the effects of climate change. By reviewing data and evaluating their validity as well as using reputable sources of data, students practice key methods to sort out fact from phony. Also check out Steve Inskeep’s NPR piece “A Finder’s Guide to Facts,” which suggests quick questions to ponder when evaluating news stories, such as “Is the story so outrageous you can’t believe it?” and “Who is the news source, anyway?”

Discussing the novel coronavirus in science class

NSTA stepped up this week to provide teachers with a classroom lesson centered on the novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan province in China. William Reed created this secondary lesson designed to engage students in a discussion and exploration of what we know and still need to learn about this public health event. For additional resources on viruses and how to uncover what your students know or think they know about viruses and infectious diseases, download Page Keeley’s formative assessment probes “The Virus Debate” (from Uncovering Student Ideas in Life Science, Volume 1) and “Catching a Cold” (from Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Volume 4). Explore all the popular formative assessment tools in Keeley’s Uncovering Student Ideas in Science series.

Win a bundle of NSTA Press books in February

Enter to win a bundle of books of your choice this month during NSTA Press’s “I Love Science Book-Bundle Giveaway.” Between now and February 28, 2020, enter the book-bundle giveaway that features elementary,middle, and high school collections of 10 resources each. All you need to do is tell us what you love about NSTA Press books and select which bundle you’d like to win. Three winners will be selected each week over the course of the three-week campaign. Best of luck to all who enter!

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