Encouraging Students to Engage in Argument With Evidence by Michelle Monk

When I first began to shift my curriculum to support the Next Generation Science Standards, I was a bit overwhelmed! And frankly, I am still overwhelmed on some days when I work with my students to support their productive struggle and allow them to “figure things out!” I used to hear requests from my students like “It would be so much easier if you would just tell us the answers!” or “Would you please just lecture to us?” They quickly learned that the answer to both of those requests was “You will gain so much more if you work to figure it out!” We (my students and me) all know now that the shift to incorporate the science practices as identified by the NGSS into our classroom has transformed our teaching and learning space.

One of the practices I initially struggled to include was arguing from evidence. What exactly does that mean? How do you get students to productively argue their findings? How do I ensure that all students are learning and sharing their ideas?

In my opinion, the practice of arguing from evidence simply means that students must use evidence (data) found in their experiments, a video, an article, or another learning activity to support a scientific claim through reasoning. In my classroom, students develop the Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) framework after much discussion with a partner, then a group, then a whole class.

I never really felt successful leading a classroom discussion using evidence until I was introduced to the process of “productive talk” to support the learning and ideas developed by students. Productive talk uses leading questions to allow students to show what they understand about a concept. After I was introduced to the idea of Productive Science Talk through the Talk Activities Flow Chart and Talk Moves while participating in an IMSP I-STEM initiative created to fully investigate and support the shift to the NGSS in Illinois, I became much more confident. This program was funded by a Math and Science Partnership (MSP) grant in Illinois from July 2015-July 2017. Our facilitator, Nicole Vick, introduced us to these tools, and they provided the support I needed to determine which talking strategy to use in class activities. I determine my end goal and purpose within the lesson, and I match the activity to the strategy that will best support the learning objective. I try to use multiple strategies to support the students’ discussions and learning styles.

When students start talking, they start learning! I have seen a dramatic increase in learning and retention now that I have incorporated productive science talk and talk moves into our learning activities.

In the beginning of the year, I must scaffold the learning activities so that the data to support the claim are easy to identify. I routinely remind my students that their claim must be supported by sufficient and applicable evidence as they work to figure out the lesson.

We work hard in the beginning of the year to develop this skill in small groups. My go-to talk move to encourage students to find the appropriate information and share is “Time to think” followed by “Partner talk.” I use this to allow students to first develop their ideas solo, then with one other person, then discuss them with their group of four. I tell the students to talk with one of “their people.”

The next steps in the discussion are organic. You will “feel” the right time to move on to table discussions, and finally, a class discussion. Developing this practice as a team is essential to ensure students are confident going forward. As I move around the classroom, I hear students asking one another which pieces of data would best support their ideas. If it seems that a student is on the cusp of the right idea, I will ask them to explain themselves, and I will use another talk move, “Say more,” in which I ask them to expand on their idea. Often when prompted, the students will figure out the right information.

We routinely use a claim, evidence, reasoning pattern to ensure students have their ideas ready to present before a class discussion ensues. After students have reached consensus within their table groups, we hold classroom discussions. Students are more motivated to share their ideas if they are confident in their responses.

When I first tried this, I was most worried about buy-in and participation from my reluctant learners. I also worried about meeting the needs of my special-needs students while challenging the highest-achieving members of the classroom! I wondered how in the world could arguing from evidence support all learners.

To ensure participation by and support for everyone, we establish classroom norms during the first week of school. I have students participate in two or three learning activities before we take a break from biological concepts and figure out how to best learn in this way. To have a productive discussion before developing group norms, I have each student independently identify 1) what they did to support the group, 2) what someone else did to support the group, and 3) what they could have done better while in the group. Each table group of four students then shares their ideas and develops “group norms.”

I then lead a discussion to establish a set of class group norms. When doing this, we find that everyone wants equal say and everyone also wants the whole class to contribute! Some groups also identify the need to stay on task and respect the ideas of everyone. I have found that my special education students are able to contribute to the smaller groups with more confidence after they hear that their peers trust them—and need them—to share their ideas. Once they share in a small group, it becomes easier to share with a classroom full of peers!

Encouraging all students to identify the pieces of data that then support their claim from a learning activity has actually increased the engagement of students of all levels in my classroom! It is exciting to hear my upper-level students interact with the students who struggle. They work together, they begin to ask each other questions, and they are able to develop appropriate and accurate conclusions when they verbalize the claim. Hosting class discussions to encourage students to “take a stand” has made my classroom more engaging. When students learn to support their claim with evidence and share their ideas, I hope they eventually use this skill in other areas of their lives for the rest of their lives!

If you have any suggestions for other activities we can use to encourage class discussions so students can learn to argue with evidence, I would love to hear them!

Michelle Monk has taught high school biology for 22 years and is currently teaching Biology 1 and Anatomy and Physiology at Eureka High School in Eureka, Illinois. She previously taught at Spring Valley Hall High School and Tremont High School, where she also taught AP Biology in addition to Biology 1 and Anatomy. Monk earned a bachelor’s degree in biology education from Illinois State University in 1998 and a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from St. Xavier University in 2004. Her passion for helping students learn complex scientific concepts through collaboration is grounded in the idea that building relationships, followed by creating lessons with relevance, is essential to having rigor in the classroom.

Note: This article is featured in the September 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.

Future NSTA Conferences

2019 Fall Conferences

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

Arguing From Evidence to Discover the ‘Why’ by Rebecca Schumacher

In my science classroom, students look at evidence all the time. Sometimes it is in photos or videos; sometimes in charts and graphs; and sometimes we generate our own data through investigations. A more traditional approach previously used is asking for concrete answers, as in giving students a graph and asking, “How many deer were found in Cook County, Illinois, in 1967 versus 2017?” Now we are shifting our thinking and asking different, more open-ended questions.

As we transition our practices toward three-dimensional teaching and learning, we also adjust our student expectations. The practice of engaging in argument from evidence makes sense; however, once you explore the K–12 Framework for Science Education in depth, it starts to appear more intimidating. One of the best resources for keeping this practice attainable is having another person to work with, whether it is another science teacher, the ELA teacher, or even another teacher you connect with through social media such as a Facebook group member or Twitter follower. Keep reaching out to others to help share the process.

Luckily, middle school students are still eager to share their ideas. Once one of them starts talking, others can’t wait to chime in. At this age, though, it is very important to remind them to listen to one another, or more than one student will say the exact same thing another just said. Keep in mind that it takes practice; stick with it, even when it seems like the students are not understanding it, and keep pushing them to look deeper. Students are full of great insight, and we should give them a chance to show it.

Engaging in argument from evidence might also sound like a traditional debate team situation in which evidence is presented to win an argument. This isn’t quite the case in science classrooms. We aren’t trying to win; we are trying to learn. When the students can connect what we have done in more than one investigation to another related phenomenon or something from their everyday lives, then we have a successful argument using relevant evidence. We are trying to look at evidence and make sense of it, and share that understanding with others.

Let’s return to our earlier question about deer in Cook County. We can easily look at a graph and answer how many more deer were found in 2017 versus 1967. But now we want to know why: What could be happening? How do you know? These types of questions will drive the lesson in a more meaningful direction. Often we don’t know the initial reason why, but as the students begin to express ideas and have small-group discussions, they create new questions for us to investigate. This is also a prime time, however, to get off track if the groundwork hasn’t been laid.

One way to stay on track is to start the year by making a list of discussion norms. Many students bring their ELA discussion cues ideas into the science classroom, which is a huge win for any teacher. They tend to generate norms like listening to one another and not telling one another that their ideas are wrong. We also make sure to reference the actual phenomena we are investigating because it steers the discussion in the right direction.

This is the perfect moment to employ talk moves. When we want the students to go a little deeper, we could ask, “Can you tell me more about that?” or “Who else can add to what was just said?” “Can someone else say this differently?” “Where does our evidence support this idea?” Many great resources for talk moves are available and can help generate a deep discussion.

Through my work with NGSS and Next Gen storylines, I was introduced to the Talk Science Primer from the TERC Inquiry Project. Its suggestions are so useful for getting students to delve deeper when arguing with evidence. For example, when a student makes an initial observation, the teacher could ask them to say more about it, or ask if someone else can say it differently. This keeps the students accountable. Are they really listening to one another behind those blank looks? Sometimes they give you the 100% right answer, but you don’t want to discourage others from responding, so you have to put on your best “that was very interesting” face and keep going. That strategy also works for the most bizarre answers as well: “Oh wow, which is one thing I hadn’t thought of; anyone else?”

As we progress in our understanding and implementation of NGSS and storylines, it is important to remember that no one best way exists to handle every situation. Every teacher is different; every student is different. Some will get there faster; some will get there slower; some might not even get there until next year.

Constant communication is important. Talk to the other teachers at your grade level, talk to the other teachers on your team, in your department, at a conference. Have any relatives who are teachers? Talk to them, too; I know I do.

Don’t feel like you are in this alone, even if you are the only grades 6–12 science teacher in your tiny rural school, or the only science teacher in your building who has ever had three-dimensional science training. Maybe you are the teacher who just heard of NGSS or the Framework for the first time; that’s okay! Remember to keep moving forward, keep asking your students questions, and keep making your students examine the data to use as evidence when developing arguments to try to discover the “Why?”

Rebecca Schumacher is a sixth-grade science teacher at Hickory Creel Middle School in Frankfort, Illinois, where she is fortunate to work with a great team of teachers. She wants to acknowledge Erin Nemeth, the other sixth-grade science teacher, because their collaborative efforts have made this all so much easier. Schumacher received her master’s degree in science education from Montana State University and is National Board–Certified. She has been working with NGSS since 2014, from writing storylines to facilitating training for other teachers throughout Illinois.

Note: This article is featured in the September 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.

Future NSTA Conferences

2019 Fall Conferences

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

Pairing Literacy and Science to Effectively Teach Argumentation by Judine Keplar & Carrie Launius

Most elementary teachers, have many opportunities to learn best practices in English Language Arts (ELA), but few in science. Three years ago David Crowther, NSTA past president (2016–17), said in his conference keynote, “Of the eight practices of science and engineering, four of them are language intensive and thus require students to use multiple domains of language, including nonverbal modalities, and a range of language registers,” This challenged our thinking about how the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts (ELA) taught argumentation to elementary students. Argumentation is not mentioned anywhere until middle school, yet the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) require students to not only think about argumentation, but also to begin to practice it as young as kindergarten.

Lee (2017)[1] notes another key difference in contrast to the CCSS, in which the term argument is withheld until grade 6: The NGSS expect children from as early as kindergarten to construct an argument with evidence. Thus, “the practice of arguing from evidence is expected consistently throughout K–12.” (p. 97) Since the NGSS indicate that argumentation can be taught and used in the elementary grades and that asking our young scientists to engage in argumentation isn’t an impossible task, the question becomes How?

After examining the NGSS progressions for the SEPs, it is quite evident that argumentation needs to be introduced at the start. For most elementary teachers, ELA is what they know, so we decided to use a book to help students identify argumentation, and see if they would be able to make claims about the evidence that is presented in the book.  We knew that integrating ELA and science was going to be a challenge.

One book that helps to illustrate argumentation and collection of evidence is the classic Starry Messenger by Peter Sis (ISBN 978-0374470272). Written for grades 1–6, this book tells the story of Galileo Galilei and how he used the findings of Copernicus to reiterate that the universe as he knew it was heliocentric. Copernicus realized he did not have enough evidence to proclaim his findings, but he took copious notes so that someone else could use them to not only make the claim that the Earth revolves around the Sun, but also have the evidence to prove the claim’s validity.

The book presents three opportunities for students to identify types of arguments. Although we know from history that religion played a major part in the belief that the Earth was the center of the universe, the book only briefly touches on the point, saying, “It’s tradition.” This gives us the first opportunity to discuss arguments. At this point, we ask our students questions to help them begin to identify differences among arguments. For younger students, ask, “Just because it is a tradition, does that make it a fact or true?” Ask them to further explain what they believe. For students in grades 3–5, questions should be more open-ended.

The second opportunity to discuss argumentation comes at the point in the book when Copernicus has gathered many findings, but says he cannot publish them. Ask students, “Why do they think Copernicus is not able to make a claim and argue about his findings? What might he be missing?” Students in grades K–5 will be able to discuss what they think. During the discussion, students will be presenting their own arguments. Ask them to give examples from the book supporting their thinking.

Galileo had evidence to support that the Sun was the center of the solar system, but he was persecuted for his findings. Students have the opportunity to not only argue whether he was treated fairly, but more importantly, why his discoveries were accurate and what evidence he had to support his findings.

Asking high-level questions like What are the differences among the various arguments presented in the book? Provide evidence to support your claim; and If you were born at the time of Galileo, which side would you take and what evidence would you provide? allow students to engage in SEP at the elementary level.

K–2 grade band

  • Identify arguments that are supported by evidence.
  • Distinguish between opinions and evidence in one’s own explanations.

3–5 grade band

  • Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in an explanation.

By using trade books to engage students in the SEP of argumentation of evidence, they will have a plethora of opportunities to use argumentation well before they are asked to do it in an ELA classroom. Christine Royce, NSTA retiring president (2019–2020), offered the thought that “Explicitly modeling for students and providing them opportunities to learn about and compare/contrast the use of evidence is one such opportunity to utilize a cross- discipline practice. The increased connections between experiences in which the students participate assists them in transferring their learning. Finding the overlap between argumentation in the science classroom and literacy studies will provide students opportunities to develop, consider, and respond to ideas in writing, verbally and scientifically.”

We are reminded of this every day as we examine the graphic below.


[1] Common Core State Standards for ELA/Literacy and Next Generation Science Standards: Convergences and Discrepancies Using Argument as an Example, Okhee Lee https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3102/0013189X17699172

Judine Keplar is English Language Arts Curriculum Specialist for St. Louis Public Schools in St. Louis, Misssouri, and also serves as the current president of the Board of Education in Belleville Public School District 118 in Belleville, Illinois. She is a passionate promoter of cross-curricular literacy at all grade levels and enjoys her work writing curriculum and providing professional development around all things literacy-related. She resides in Swansea, Illinois, with her husband and two children.

Carrie Launius is Science Curriculum Specialist for St. Louis Public Schools in St. Louis, Missouri. She previously was the NSTA District XI Director and president of Science Teachers of Missouri (STOM). She believes using trade books to support science learning is essential for students. She was instrumental in developing and implementing the Best STEM Book Award for NSTA-Children’s Book Council. Her passion is supporting teachers and helping them grow professionally. She resides in St. Louis near her two grown children and with her son and four dogs.

Note: This article is featured in the September 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.

Future NSTA Conferences

2019 Fall Conferences

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

Get students hooked on real-world science

When students see the real-world applications of science, their interest levels soar. Teachers are experts at guiding students through the wonders of how science helps us answer questions and engineering helps us solve problems. This month, stock up on new lessons from NSTA Press books that will spark student interest. You’ll be smiling as they marvel at the everyday applications that take science lessons beyond the classroom.

Explore Natural Hazards

Book cover image of "Natural Hazards"

The just-published STEM Road Map series volume Natural Hazards, Grade 2, will help elementary students learn about the effects of natural hazards on people, communities, and the environment and consider how threats to human safety from natural hazards can be minimized. Download the lesson “Let’s Explore Natural Hazards” and lead your students on an exploration of the types of natural hazards that occur around the world. Your students will learn that natural hazards can be classified as those with weather-related causes and those caused by Earth’s movements. With hurricane and tornado images and information in the news, students are curious about what causes these types of hazards and how their effects can be minimized. Check out all the topics covered in the growing STEM Road Map series, edited by Carla C. Johnson, Janet B. Walton, and Erin Peters-Burton.

Ask Students to Study What Makes a Great Playground

Book cover image of "It's Still Debatable"

At recess time, students can bring their studies of physical science down to earth with an engaging lesson from Sami Kahn’s new book It’s Still Debatable! Using Socioscientific Issues to Develop Scientific Literacy, K–5. Download the lesson “Swingy Thingy: What Makes a Great Playground?” to launch your elementary students on a study of playground swings. They’ll get to model swings as they apply their knowledge of forces to support arguments for safe and enjoyable playground design. Along the way, students develop blueprints and work collaboratively to design a dream playground. Other lessons in this new book prompt students to investigate questions like “Do we need zoos?”, “Which alternative energies are best?”, and “Is football too dangerous for kids?” Explore even more key questions using lessons from the first book in this series, It’s Debatable! Using Socioscientific Issues to Develop Scientific Literacy, K–12, by Dana Zeidler and Sami Kahn.

Explore Phenomena That Sparked Engineering Innovations

Focus on innovations sparked by accidental observations with the 22 easy-to-use investigations in Discovery Engineering in Physical Science: Case Studies for Grades 6–12, by M. Gail Jones, Elysa Corin, Megan Ennes, Emily Cayton, and Gina Childers. Your middle and high school students will use real-world case studies to embark on investigations of actual scientific discoveries that began with observations of phenomena and led to inspired inventions and applications. Download the lesson “A Sticky Situation: Gecko Feet Adhesives” to have your students explore how studying the mystery of geckos’ ability to hang by even one toe from a piece of glass led scientists to make an adhesive that mimics the properties of a gecko foot. Other case studies in the book focus on topics from shark skin and bacteria to the history of the Slinky. Check out the next volume in the series that’s coming soon, Discovery Engineering in Biology: Case Studies for Grades 6–12.

Explore NSTA Press’s Newest Books and Save on Shipping

Through October 31, 2019, get free shipping on your order of $75 or more of NSTA Press or NSTA Kids books when you use promo code SHIP19 in the online Science Store. Stock up on books that cover all grade ranges and span key topics like climate change, engineering, physical science, and life science. Browse the catalog online or view the new and forthcoming books. Offer applies to new purchases made online through the NSTA Science Store between now and October 31, 2019.

Posted in NSTA Press Books, NSTA's Book Beat | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Launching the PocketLab Voyager


Exploring motion, light, temperature, altitude, and magnetic fields can be taken to new interactive heights with the PocketLab Voyager by Myriad Sensors.  Subsequently, by using a wireless sensor, the PocketLab Voyager records and stores data that can be shared with the free PocketLab “app.”

Once coupled, both the “app” and PocketLab device work together to create a variety of  experiments.  Hence, the PocketLab Voyager is designed for users as young as fourth grade; yet, sophisticated enough for engineers, mathematicians, and scientists. 

The PocketLab Voyager operates on a wireless Bluetooth 4.0 connection. Therefore, users are able to collect data using their smartphones, tablets, and computers, which makes accessibility of the PocketLab device simple. Additionally, the PocketLab Voyager has the ability to integrate data with Scratch, Google Drive, and Microsoft Excel. Once integrated,  exploring motion, light, temperature, altitude, and magnetic fields can be taken to new interactive heights for recording and storing data. 

Image 1: The PocketLab Voyager 

How to Use

Before using the PocketLab Voyager for the first time, it is essential to make sure that the battery is fully charged. To charge the battery, use the orange micro USB cord that is included with the purchase of the PocketLab Voyager. Doing this will take approximately 60 minutes to fully charge. Once fully charged, a red light will stop blinking on the front of the device. After verify that the device is charged, users can follow the PocketLab Voyager Getting Started Guide in order to download the free “app” to connect the PocketLab sensor to their chosen device. A hardcopy of the instructions is included with the purchase of a sensor or can it be accessed on PocketLab’s website at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Ds4fzhNVG1RRf4xrKrzQeVW45ktxCto6/view.

We found that the instructions were easy to navigate and the device was ready to collect data within 10 to 15 seconds of pairing.   Moreover, after the set-up with a compatible device, users are prompted and grant access to the camera and microphone.  Once this is accomplished, PocketLab can record a video or capture a graph, combining the collected data in real time. Furthermore, enabling access to the camera and microphone allows users to “record up to 30,000 measurements to the on-board memory,”  which enables users to toggle between sensors, change the points/second feature,  move between units of measurement, and compare up to three sensors at a time.

Video 1: Getting Started with the PocketLab Mobile App

Once comfortable with the “app” and the settings preference it time to begin experimentation! With every purchase, PocketLab includes a series of nine getting started activity cards that provide information about topics such as barometric pressure, gyroscope, and velocity. These activity cards outline how the PocketLab sensor can assist users to record meaningful data for experimentation.  For assistance, users can always refer to the instruction manual tab located at: https://www.thepocketlab.com/educators/resources.

Image 2: PocketLab Voyager Instruction Manuals

The Rangefinder

An interesting feature of the PocketLab Voyager’s is the Rangefinder, which makes it possible to gather data through infrared technology. To use it, it’s necessary to open the PocketLab “app” and pair their device with the sensor. Once the devices are paired, the user can then turn on the rangefinder to display the position and velocity graph.

As the PocketLab Voyager moves, the infrared sensor calculates the Voyager’s “distance from the surface which is then used to calculate its velocity.” Purchased separately, the PocketLab device can also be attached to a cart, which will enable the user to calculate kinetic energy, explore energy transfer, and understand how changes in momentum effect the results of the study. Check out the tutorial below for more details!

Video 2: Using PocketLab Voyager’s Rangefinder

 What’s Included

· 1 PocketLab Voyager

· 1 Protective Carrying Case

· 1 Set of Getting Started Activity Cards

· 100+ Lessons and Activities

· Micro USB Charging Cable

What Needs Purchased Separately

· Temperature Probe ($9)

· Tactile Pressure Sensor ($27)

· Silicone Protective Case ($10)

· Classroom Set Case and Charger ($58)

· Five Port USB Charger ($19)

Classroom Uses

For planning units and lessons, the PocketLab website provides a myriad of resources for educators to use in their classrooms. Educators will quickly find that Myriad Sensors offer four different sensors. In addition, various classroom kits, sensor accessories, and advanced STEM kits are available for use in conjunction with any PocketLab device.

Teachers also have access to a lesson plan directory listing hundreds of lessons for students of all ages. Additionally, educators can post their own ideas and classroom experiences with their PocketLab devices on a community blog which connects educators from around the globe.

Check out the links below for immediate access to hundreds of classroom resources! –https://www.thepocketlab.com/educators/lesson-plan-directoryhttps://www.thepocketlab.com/educators

Tips for Getting Started

Before working with a new PocketLab device, be sure to check out the PocketLab website and review the plethora of resources available. Once there, you will see multiple video resources that will help you get the most out of your sensor. Follow this link to gain access to PocketLab’s how-to videos: https://www.thepocketlab.com/educators/resources.

From our experience, we have found that the PocketLab Voyager to be the perfect interactive tool to engage students in ways that transform the way they view science to be an interactive observational tool for the world around them.


· Wireless Connection: Bluetooth 4.0

· Battery: Rechargeable via micro USB

· Battery Life: 8 hours (wireless, full data rate) 12 hours (low power, logging mode)

· Wireless Range: 250 feet line-of-sight

· Memory: 30,000 data readings

· Durability: 2 m (6 ft) drop protection

· Dimensions: 3.8 x 3.8 x 1.5 cm (1.5 x 1.5 x 0.6 in)

· Weight: 17 g (0.6 oz)

* For specific sensor specifications, check out the following link! https://www.thepocketlab.com/specs



About the Authors

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. Marie Ellis is a graduate student at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania.

Posted in NSTA Recommends: Technology, The STEM Classroom | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Labs in Life Sciences

I am a preservice biology teacher and was hoping to get some insight on labs. What are some of your favorite labs that you have done with your class and what made them a success? How do you typically assess labs?

—D., Virginia

I believe biology becomes much more intriguing for students by incorporating as many hands-on activities as possible.

Not all labs require formal lab reports or quantitative analysis. I feel it is good to vary your assessments to suit the activity. Quick observation labs can be assessed with worksheets. Long-term projects are well-suited to journaling. Paragraph answers foster higher-order thinking skills, promote literacy, and challenge students to reach conclusions and connect topics. Presentations are good assessments.

My favorite hands-on biology activities are:

DNA extraction: Isolate DNA from crushed strawberries or other fruit. Students are amazed at how much DNA can be extracted.

Pop bottle ecosystems: Students are motivated to observe the terraria they created themselves. Peruse my collection in the Learning Center at http://bit.ly/PopBottleEcosystems

Observing living organisms: Start seeds to explore life-cycles, requirements for growth, tropisms, and more. Insects, worms, and pond aquariums are fun. (I discussed this in more detail previously. You can read the blog post at http://bit.ly/2KTDA22.)

Dissections can be fascinating and useful for discussing the ethical, scientific use of animals. Molluscs, fish, and crabs can be purchased from grocery stores. Fetal pigs can be particularly impactful. Don’t forget to include plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables. (Check with your department head or administration and be aware of cultural issues.)

Ecological studies
Students can conduct field surveys of the school yard with small quadrats made from soda-straws. Run transects, identify species, estimate biomass, and write reports on what was discovered.

Hope this helps!

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Posted in Ask a Mentor | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why aren’t you talking?!

I’ve been having trouble getting students willing to talk, answer questions, or share their ideas in class. What strategies/activities do you use to help kids feel more comfortable talking and sharing in your class?
—C., Arizona

There are few things worse than looking at a group of quiet students who you really want to participate! I addressed how to get discussions started in a previous blog (http://bit.ly/322RAfK ) but it’s probably good to revisit this common bane of teachers.

Start the lesson with an impressive demonstration or engaging video to stir up interest. Many students that are shy may just need some more time to digest and formulate ideas and questions before they’re comfortable talking with others. Graphic organizers allow students to think and write on their own so they have fuel for the discussions to follow. Some graphic organizers may be found in this collection in the Learning Center: http://bit.ly/30BgZwO

With their notes in hand, you can set up learning circles for larger groups to discuss topics. Set up rules on how they need to work: always stop at each and every person and always in the same direction – never skipping or reversing.

Hand-held white boards are excellent tools to get students involved. Every student or pair of students writes down short answers, sketches graphs, or indicates their understanding for quick feedback without having to talk in front of classmates. As students raise their boards, simply point, give a quick nod or simple feedback to help them figure out the correct answer. Don’t move on to the next question until everyone has successfully participated. This activity can be exciting and fast-paced, so don’t have too much down time and keep it moving along with a series of prepared questions. You can even invite students to question the class and give their own feedback.

Hope this helps!

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Educating Students About Aerospace Careers

Students in William Ervin’s aerospace class at Dubiski Career High School in Grand Prairie, Texas, gather around the flight simulator used in the class.

Cindy Hasselbring reads from the Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook report: “804,000 new civil aviation pilots, 769,000 new maintenance technicians, and 914,000 new cabin crew will be needed to fly and maintain the world fleet over the next 20 years.” She adds, “212,000 pilots are needed for North America alone. 193,000 maintenance technicians are needed for North America alone…There’s a good opportunity for students to pursue aviation jobs. A student can start at a regional airline at $60,000 a year.”

Hasselbring, senior director of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) High School Aviation Initiative, says AOPA offers a high school aviation STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) curriculum that “is free to high schools…, and provides two career pathways: pilot and drones [Unmanned Aircraft Systems or UAS].”

At age 16, “students can take the [Federal Aviation Association (FAA)] Private Pilot Knowledge Test or Unmanned Aircraft Systems Part 107 Remote Pilot Knowledge Test. Those who pass the UAS test can start a business piloting [drones]. They can work for many employers because they can legally fly a drone,” says Hasselbring.

Some students take the courses “just to learn something new and different. Then they realize they want to be pilots. That’s why the curriculum is used as in-school courses only, to hook in students who may not have considered those careers before. They’re not as likely to choose the courses as an after-school club,” she asserts.

“The curriculum supports the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core, and a lot of engineering practices are embedded. [It challenges] students with projects like testing foam board airfoils in a cardboard wind tunnel and modifying their designs,” as the Wright Brothers did in the wind tunnel they built, she observes.

“Students also learn about the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board], and how they investigate accidents. [In one activity,] students are members of a Go Team investigating what caused an accident and what the recommendations of the NTSB should be,” Hasselbring notes.“The ninth- and 10th-grade curriculum will be available this fall. The 11th-grade curriculum will be available next year. By 2021, all four years [of the curriculum] will be available,” Hasselbring notes. “Schools must go through the application process in the fall” to receive the curriculum, she adds.

To use the curriculum, teachers must attend a three-day professional development workshop. “In-person attendance costs $200 and includes the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities and take a free flight in a small aircraft,” Hasselbring explains. Teachers can attend online at no charge.

“Last year, AOPA offered, for the first time, a Teacher Scholarship program that pays for flight training so teachers can become pilots. We gave 20 teachers $10,000 each. We hope to offer that again,” she reports. William Ervin, aerospace teacher at Dubiski Career High School in Grand Prairie, Texas, has used a variety of aerospace and aviation resources, including AOPA’s. “We use the AOPA curriculum [as a] pilot school. We teach and evaluate the curriculum,” he explains. He also has adapted the AOPA curriculum for his 11th and 12th graders and will be evaluating the 11th-grade AOPA curriculum this school year.

Last year, Ervin wrote Introduction to Aerospace and Aviation, a Career and Technical Education (CTE) innovative course for grades 9–11 that was approved by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). “Innovative courses allow districts to offer state-approved innovative courses to enable students to master knowledge, skills, and competencies not included in the essential knowledge and skills of the required curriculum,” according to the TEA website. Ervin’s course provides “the foundation for advanced exploration in the areas of professional pilot, aerospace engineering, and [UAS],” he explains.
Ervin notes TEA has “a bank of innovative courses” teachers can access. (See http://bit.ly/33nkicL.) He is currently developing a 10th-grade innovative course based on AOPA’s curriculum.

Manufacturing Aircraft

In the Utah Aerospace Pathways (UAP; http://uapathways.com) program, high school students take aerospace manufacturing training courses at their schools and at local technical or community colleges. Students then have an externship with one of UAP’s participating companies during senior year and graduate with a certificate in aerospace manufacturing. “Industry partner companies (Boeing, Janicki, Hexcel, Albany Engineered Composites, Orbital ATK, Kihomac) joined with Hill Air Force Base [located near Ogden, Utah] because they felt the need to build their workforce and training,” says Sandra Hemmert, CTE Specialist for Granite School District in Salt Lake City, Utah. UAP was created “to help students gain skills for industry and college,” Hemmert maintains.

UAP was the start of Talent Ready Utah, an initiative of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the Utah Department of Workforce Services. “It is an amazing partnership of government agencies, industry, and education,” Hemmert observes. Usually it takes two years to develop new high school courses, but “within six months, [UAP] had four new courses. Everything moved faster to address the needs of the industry partners,” she contends.

“The industry partners developed a skills list that was used as the basis of the state standards,” says Hemmert. “To create the curriculum, we had 12 teachers who did a two-week internship in all of the companies. We brought them in with company partners to develop the curriculum. Our teachers didn’t know anything about [composite materials], but the industry partners had an idea about how to get kids excited [about learning]: doing hands-on activities with them.”

UAP was piloted in two school districts—Granite and Davis, in Farmington— and has since expanded to four more Utah school districts. Salt Lake Community College and Davis Technical College in Kaysville are the original UAP partner colleges.

“Students are guaranteed an interview with any of the participating companies after earning the certificate,” says Hemmert. “Students can apply to any of the companies…If one company can’t hire a student, it will support [the student in obtaining a job] with the other companies,” she contends. Students can earn as much as $19 per hour right after high school.

“We have kids who do something else for two years, but they can still have the interview if they have earned the certificate. Some kids go to college and say, ‘It isn’t for me,’ but the certificate gives them a job opportunity. If they decide to attend college, the companies [reimburse] tuition…for employees…A lot of kids are going to college to become engineers and also working for a company to get their tuition reimbursed,” Hemmert relates.

“In addition, the program [educates students about] jobs they didn’t know about. There are so many jobs in aerospace manufacturing,” she asserts.

This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of NSTA Reports, the member newspaper of the National Science Teachers Association. Each month, NSTA members receive NSTA Reports, featuring news on science education, the association, and more. Not a member? Learn how NSTA can help you become the best science teacher you can be.

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

Follow NSTA

Posted in NSTA Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Safer Science Labs

A Manhattan jury recently awarded nearly $60 million in damages to a former Beacon High School student who was badly burned by a teacher’s botched chemistry experiment more than five years ago. The student suffered third-degree burns over 30% of his body, including his face, neck, arms, and hand. This happened when his teacher accidentally ignited a fireball during a “Rainbow Experiment” to show the colored flames produced by various salts. The teacher seemingly ignored many safety protocols while performing the experiment, including pouring highly flammable methanol directly from a gallon jug instead of using a beaker and pipette to dispense it. During the flame jetting of the methanol from the jug, students were seated too close to the demonstration and were burned. This took place in a classroom without a ventilated hood to remove fumes. Several safety deficiencies have often been identified in lab accident reports and warnings for this type of lab demo over several decades:

• students sitting too close to the demonstration;
• limited, inappropriate, or no personal protective equipment in use;
• no safety shield present or fume hood use;
• alcohol stock bottles sometimes used to refill hot ceramic dishes or surfaces;
• limited or non-existent teacher training in the hazards and risks of using flammable liquids with resultant safety actions.

RAMPing up safety

One approach to help prevent these types of safety incidents involves the active use of four principles of safety fostered by the American Chemical Society: Recognize hazards, Assess risks of hazards, Minimize risks of hazards, and Prepare for emergencies. Using the RAMP process allows teachers working in academic labs to help minimize risks and protect students from serious injuries. Unfortunately, if the first step of recognizing and understanding hazards is not successful, risk of hazard assessment may faulter.

A recent issue ACS Journal of Chemical Health & Safety (May/June 2019, Volume 26, Number 3) had a feature article titled “Recognizing and understanding hazards – The key first step to safety.” The author, Robert H. Hill Jr., presents an analysis of several incidents and illustrates how in most cases, if not all, the teacher lacks understanding of the hazards and in effect cripples the RAMP process, resulting in a safety incident. For example, he noted how the teacher in one case did not understand the properties of flammable liquids in high concentrations of flammable vapor above the liquid.

ACS has a video for students about RAMP and a video for teachers about RAMP.

The AAA method

A similar approach encouraged by the NSTA Safety Advisory Board is the AAA (Analysis, Assessment and Action) process for “driving home” safety involving a hazard Analysis, risk Assessment, and appropriate safety Action. It addresses the need of doing a full hazard analysis as the first step.

To located the hazards for a lab or demo, one reliable source is the Safety Data Sheets: Section 2—Hazard(s) identification: All hazards regarding the chemical and required label elements. Other sources include inquiring with fellow colleagues, checking out the NSTA safety portal, the NSTA safety alert and the ACS safety alert.

Once hazards are analyzed, the associated risks can be assessed. For example, if the chemical is flammable and vapor builds up, a flash fire and jetting flame can be effected. The risk in this case includes extreme heat and active flame exposure for observers. Lastly, determine the appropriate safety actions that should be taken as precautions, given the hazards and resulting risks. In the case of the Rainbow demonstration, the safer action is an alternative demo eliminating the use of the flammable methanol. This can be done by dissolving the salts in water, soaking a wooden applicator stick in the solution, and running it over an active Bunsen Burner flame.

In the end

Whether RAMP or AAA is used, one thing is clear: Most safety incidents can be avoided if done in a safer way using one of these two hazard analysis approaches. Once employed at science teachers, too many schools don’t follow up with initial or annual safety training for science teachers—that is, until an accident occurs and there is a lawsuit like the one mentioned above. Stay safe. Don’t destroy a student’s life or your own.

Submit questions regarding safety to Ken Roy at safersci@gmail.com or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.

NSTA resources and safety issue papers
Follow NSTA

Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Pinterest icon G+ icon YouTube icon Instagram icon
Posted in Safety | Leave a comment

Breathing Life into Lessons

I find it challenging to engage elementary students in the life sciences. What are some hands-on activities that work? Are there anchoring phenomena that you recommend?
—C., Utah

Depending on your curriculum, you could pursue several avenues to capitalize on students’ innate curiosity about nature and engage them in their learning.

One of the easiest is to explore your school grounds. Observing how natural processes and organisms take advantage of almost any condition can be powerful anchors for lessons. Questions like, “How can weeds grow in sidewalk cracks?” or “How can ants survive on a playground?” can lead to broad-reaching inquiries. The questions students raise or phenomena they observe are almost limitless.

Consider introducing a classroom pet or aquarium and make the students the caretakers. Focus lessons with the presence of these living things. Tending a school garden can be enjoyable and educational at the same time. Sharing their harvest will also build a community spirit among your students. Individual projects like terrariums or pop-bottle ecosystems will develop a vested curiosity and motivation to keep them thriving.

Field trips to nature centers or zoos are always memorable and introduce students to experts, careers and role models. Many conservation groups have outreach programs to bring nature into the classroom.

A good introduction into genetics and heredity is for the class to go through a list of human genetic traits and collate their results. Funny traits to track: widow’s peak hairline, hitchhiker’s thumb, attached/detached earlobes, tongue curling, convex/concave nose, and so on.  To avoid conflicts with family privacy, keep this introductory activity as a simple survey among the students in your class.

Hope this helps!

Image by photosforyou from Pixabay

Posted in Ask a Mentor | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments