If a student receives a bad test score, how do you interpret it? Would you allow the student to retake a modified version of the test? — B. , Ohio
There are many possible interpretations of a poor score on a test.
Knowing your students and developing an assessment practice in your classroom that gives you and your students constant feedback on performance is essential to successful teaching. A quick look at your gradebook should easily identify a poor test score as an anomaly or a fair assessment.
If it is an anomaly, you should consider if the student was ill or missed some work. Do you know if events outside school could be a factor? Are things like test anxiety and organizational difficulties possible concerns? Did the student simply need more time?
Reflect on your role: Were the questions unexpected or confusing? Was the test poorly scheduled? Was there ample time to prepare? Did you give adequate feedback on returned work?
Students need to learn how to prepare for and take a test. Give them simple tips like bypassing difficult questions until later, pacing themselves, and that erasing is a waste of time—they should simply strike through passages they changed (you may want to have extra copies of the test or blank paper available). Suggest how to organize themselves and plan their study time. Encourage re-writing notes, and anticipating questions.
I would certainly allow the student a second attempt. Don’t just give another date and general encouragement to study more. Arrange for some remedial work or one-on-one time. Informing the parents can shed light on the issue and will allow them to support their child’s preparation. Consider having the student only retake missed questions or modifying the format.
On December 7, NSTA is offering a virtual conference designed to bring together some of the best thinkers in the field focused on learning and teaching by connecting in-school and out-of-school STEM experiences.
Why create collaborative STEM experiences? Because no one school, museum, organization, camp, or after-school program can give students and teachers the space, resources, and experiences that will motivate and challenge participants the way you can when school and outside groups work together. That’s why blended STEM learning experiences that connect in-school and out-of-school learning are a key recommendation in the recently released America’s Strategy for STEM Education.*
How Do You Start a Connected STEM Program?
Join NSTA for a virtual conference (Connecting In-school and Out-of-school STEM Learning and Teaching) to meet fellow teachers, STEM program managers, NSTA’s President, NSTA’s Executive Director, authors, and other experts in the field. Learn how they have created programs, what they recommend for those just getting started, where to find collaborators and funding, and ways to gain support for your ideas. Best of all, as you interact with presenters and fellow attendees during this conference, you’ll be expanding your network and meet people who you can count on for help along the way!
Why Learning and Teaching?
Teaching and learning are closely correlated, so good teachers generally make good learners, and vice versa. Throughout this virtual conference, participants will get a chance to see models of both roles, and learn to engage students with diverse learning styles. This matters because understanding how to involve all stakeholders, gain their attention, and keep them invested is critical for connecting in-school and out-of-school learning. And this type of collaboration will be of long-term importance to students (and to society in general), because it models and teaches the skills and working styles that will be needed for jobs of the future (the very near future).
And just as there are diverse learning styles, educators have diverse needs. Here are just a few of the reasons people tell us they sign up for virtual conferences:
“I am a neophyte to STEM, but hope to implement a STEM club after school.”—Laura B.
“[I want to] improve STEM and engage more students in STEM. “—Donald B.
“NSTA Virtual Conferences are a wonderful way to do amazing Professional Development from the comfort of home.”—Dorothy G.
“My biggest challenges have been projects that students are engaged in and ideas for k-2 students.”—Jeremy M.
“We are doing quite a bit of STEM work in our region and part of my job is working with administrators and teachers, district and community to help them get STEM education implementation going in our region.”—Georgia B.
Dorothy G. mentioned one of her favorite things about NSTA virtual conferences (comfort), so it’s worth noting that participants can log on from anywhere with an internet connection and interact with presenters and educators from across the country.
How do you explain to your students that what you’re teaching is important even if there is no obvious real-world application? — B., Ohio
I’m sure every teacher has heard this refrain!
I found that students question what we teach when it is dull and repetitive. So, trying different strategies may work.
You can appeal to them on a philosophical level: explain to them that most of us don’t know what may be personally useful n the future.
The history of science is full of discoveries that were ahead of their time. It took time and the right people to reveal the importance or usefulness of that knowledge. Classic stories you can relate to your students: Michael Faraday and electromagnetism; Wilhelm Roentgen and X-rays; Alexander Flemming and penicillin; and many more.
My favorite is Christian Doppler who, in 1847, studied and determined why sound coming towards you is higher pitched than when it moves away from you (think race cars). Twenty years later astronomers discovered that the light followed the “Doppler Effect” and they could identify stars moving away or toward our solar system. In 1929, Edwin Hubble’s observations of galaxies indicated that they were all moving away from each other at ever-increasing velocity. This is the basis for the “Big Bang” theory, part of our current model of the universe. From Doppler’s curiosity about how train whistles change pitch we now have the current theory of the cosmos!
As a last resort, you can always just say the people who write curriculum felt it was important to understand. They can always complain to the government.
Hope this helps!
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/STScI Hubble Deep Field Team
According to Marc Schulman, executive director of the USA Science and Engineering Festival (USASEF), “the modern era of science festivals…was kicked into gear” when the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a grant to four institutions in 2009 to support the creation of three science festivals modeled on the Cambridge Science Festival: one each in the San Francisco Bay area and San Diego, California; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“Science festivals are really about having a spot for science on the cultural calendar, the cultural stage,” asserts Ben Wiehe, manager of the Science Festival Alliance (SFA) at MIT. “They’re about bringing people together around science and technology and a shared identity of how science makes us who we are.” Because the best science festivals are “extremely responsive to cultural geography,” Wiehe describes his role at SFA as helping members consider what’s important to their communities and form goals around that, rather than focusing on an institution’s own outreach goals. He advises organizers to reflect on “what will give [attendees] new memorable, fresh experiences.…This is ultimately about trying to create a community-wide event. You have to see how people come together in your community, what gives them a sense of pride, how they come together for work or play.” He asks them, “What’s a good inside joke for your area?”
SFA, which grew out of the original NSF grant, now includes 63 member festivals. Many of SFA’s members started with grants from the alliance’s Science Festival Accelerator, which provides professional development and up to $10,000 in matching funds to “new or significantly expanded festival initiatives that focus on areas or communities with relatively small resource space,” Wiehe explains, noting that 2019 Accelerator applications are being accepted through December 2.
Director Jonathan Frederick says he considers the North Carolina Science Festival as erecting “a science circus tent over the state,” with events at more than 250 K–12 schools, and 150 public event partners producing more than 400 events statewide. “We’re trying to connect science to everyday life,” he says. “Our audience is the 10+ million people of North Carolina.” Public events range from urban geology hikes to skywatching at rooftop restaurants to art conservation programs focused on chemistry and biochemistry at museums.
“We have a science night program, with the ambition to be in every elementary school in the state. Each year we send out boxes of supplies [from a library of 40 activities],” Frederick says. Each school receives supplies for 10 different stations and 200 participants. “Some schools in more rural areas may only have 60 people show up; they use the rest of the supplies at the schools. Others have 600 people show up; they use our kits as a ‘starter pack’ and go from there.”
In addition, the festival includes events at university campuses and science centers, such as a science street fair at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the Gravity Games sponsored by Google and Appalachian State University.
The ninth Wisconsin Science Festival (WSF) was held in October. “We have seen tremendous growth in organic interest, the number of communities interested in participating,” says Laura Heisler, cofounder and director. “The very first year, we kept it within Madison;…the expansion became organic with different organizations. Communities across Wisconsin have embraced it…We share resources, advice, and contacts.”
Rather than planning events for various communities, Heisler says her group invites organizers at the community level to share what they’re doing and the science connection, and WSF shares the events on their website and social media and provides T-shirts, a banner, and other promotional items. When they “hit a critical mass” in an area, WSF will buy local advertising to support the events.
WSF also participates in EvalFest, a five-year study of 25 science festivals to develop evaluation tools. “We’ve learned there is great value when people interact with scientists. People don’t realize how much science is in their state,” says Heisler, who is excited to see the results of the study, expected to be completed this year.
A National Stage
“There are different styles of festivals,” says USASEF’s Schulman. Many are connected to specific institutions or last for two weeks or longer with events spread across a large area, attracting local or regional audiences. “Our model is a little different…Ours attracts people from across the country…We’re trying to be like a lightning bolt. Everything you see at [the USASEF] is what you could see at others if you were go to all their events,” he contends. The sixth USASEF will be held April 23–26, 2020, in Washington, D.C.
Held every other year, the four-day USASEF features “650 organizations including nonprofits,  government agencies, colleges and universities, professional societies, and corporations,” many of which bring chemists, engineers, and other STEM professionals from facilities around the country. Exhibitors are arranged in “topical pavilions” such as national security, health and medical, and exploration. “We try to showcase the diversity in [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] STEM jobs and STEM careers. We’re trying to cover the gamut of what STEM jobs look like—including skilled trades/advanced manufacturing,” says Schulman. “We’re constantly trying to push boundaries of what we would consider a STEM career.”
On the first day, USASEF hosts X-STEM, which Schulman describes as “a TED talk” for about 4,000 middle and high school students. “Sneak Peek Friday” is reserved for K–12 school groups, with the final two days open to the public. The 2018 festival drew 375,000 attendees on the final three days, leading Schulman to conclude “we’re at capacity…Booths have 30,000–40,000 people come through.”
After witnessing attendees struggling to reach various exhibitors due to the large crowd, USASEF will add a registration system for the 2020 festival. “It’s not good for attendees when it’s too crowded. They can’t get to what they want to see. It’s not good for organizations; they can’t talk to everyone when they’re jammed up,” Schulman says. A nominal fee will be charged for attendees older than 18; registration for attendees younger than 18 will be free.
While the impact is hard to measure, Schulman is confident science festivals are an important “response to the lack of STEM education in American public schools.” He explains, “I have a science event that gets 300,000 people…Some debate if a festival is a good investment. I tell people, if [festivals] are not working, why are 300,000 people here; 50,000 people [at other science festivals]? It does work; I just can’t give metrics as to how it works.”
Street closures and high noise levels from construction on or near school grounds or other early childhood programs may disrupt the daily routine. Using the engineering habit of mind of optimism, defined as “a world view in which possibilities and opportunities can be found in every challenge and an understanding that technology can be improved” (Katehi et al., 2009, p. 152) educators at the Clarendon Child Care Center, Kathy Connell, Sarah Abu-El-Hawa, and Carly Gertler used the occasion of children’s interest in the cranes at the on-going construction to bring materials out to the playground for children to create their own cranes in 2-D and 3-D representations.
Welcome Kathy, Sarah, and Carly!
Our inspiration for this project presented itself in the construction site diagonally across the street from our playground. Each day as we walked to the playground our group of 16 four and five year-olds noticed the cranes and commented on their presence along with their characteristics. The children talked about how high the cranes stood, how the jibs extend out further from the site—even above the playground, the flapping flags at the ends of the jibs, and the hoists attached to the jibs that lifted building material from the flatbed trailers parked on the streets onto the worksite.
Kathy set out a short row of chairs on the playground and clipboards with paper and markers. The children accepted this invitation and drew their impressions of the cranes. We also set out Mobilo manipulatives on the picnic table and children built their own versions of cranes. By printing with paint using the Mobilo shapes children created 2-dimensional cranes. Photos of cranes by Kathy’s father contributed information on other types of cranes.
The next day we provided a straws and star connection building set and children continued to “build up.” Building with magnetic tiles in the morning sun on days that followed extended the children’s understanding of how large structures are made of smaller units. The light shining through the tiles cast jewel-toned shadow shapes surprising the children and added to their design. In discussion with the construction site manager teachers helped children think about the height of the crane by figuring out how many children would need to stand head-to-feet to be the same height as the (more than 200 foot tall) crane.
The teachers made the children’s work visible to their families, other classes, and the children themselves by creating a documentation panel on the wall. (The classes show their creativity in another way–the names they choose for themselves!) The children’s documentation shows that some are aware of the diagonal cross pieces in the jib and tower. I wonder if sometime they will explore the use of diagonals and triangles in structures, perhaps using K’nex or other building materials.
What advice would you give to first-year teachers who want to give life to their lessons, yet they have a budget that is small or non-existent? — J., Iowa
I always had living things in my classrooms— just going to a park or garden you can find sowbugs (pill bugs), lady beetles, earthworms, and more.
Seeds are easy to come by, and a single package of, say, tomato seeds can go a long way. You can ask for donations of equipment, such as tubs, aquarium supplies, soil, and sand in your school newsletter, website or in communications to students’ families. Consider asking for old cell phones that can be repurposed as cameras for observations. I often would get dissection specimens of fish, oysters, clams, even crabs and lobsters by going to the local grocery store and explaining how I could use any of the creatures that died in their fresh seafood section! They would freeze them and I would pick them up.
There are many, many, many shoestring budget lessons out there that don’t need fancy equipment. My classes would make planispheres—“sky maps” of constellations that you dial to the correct date. You can download one for free and then all you need is paper, glue and card stock (I repurposed file folders in place of card stock). A bit of searching on the topics you teach will net you many cheap-to-make items like this that become little projects in themselves.
Bring in classroom speakers! There are many organizations that have free travelling shows and experts that will come to your classroom. Check out the websites of nature centers, hospitals, zoos, parks, societies, and universities. A bird rehabilitation center in my city would bring owls into the classroom! Free!
Students at Chillicothe Women’s Correctional Center in Chillicothe, Missouri, examine lunar rocks from NASA in Mary Haskins’ environmental science course. Photo credit: SHONA SIMPSON, CCC STAFF
When Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, started an education program last spring at the Chillicothe Women’s Correctional Center, biology professor Mary Haskins says she “jumped” at the chance to teach a semester of environmental science there. “The work is incredibly rewarding and truly life changing for all involved, especially the offenders,” she maintains.
“We provide courses…to both the offenders and to the [Chillicothe] staff ” in a separate class because “most staff don’t have college degrees, and no colleges are nearby….It’s an opportunity for both groups to earn college credit,” Haskins explains.
Only 20 prisoners were permitted to take Haskins’ course. Chillicothe is a mixed security prison, so Haskins taught both violent and nonviolent offenders ranging in age from 20 to 50. She says it is standard procedure for all volunteers to wear “a body alarm for protection…and there was a camera in the room so our activities could be monitored.”
One challenge Haskins faced was equipment approval. For her spring 2019 course, she had to have a November “‘show and describe’ session with the warden to identify ‘types’ of equipment that might be used.” In December she submitted “a complete equipment list for all of the January 2019 labs (types of equipment and numbers of all items).” She had to submit equipment lists each month for the next month’s labs thereafter.
“I was also allowed to show environmental DVDs, but the lights had to stay on, so image contrast was a challenge,” Haskins reports. And after clearing security to enter the prison, “I didn’t want to forget anything because I couldn’t run back to the university to pick it up.
“In May, I wanted to bring in lunar rocks and meteorites from NASA, a hammer, 40 pounds of flour, a laptop, a projector, and [many] other items. I made that request in March, thus allowing my long list of equipment ample time for analysis and approval, since laptops were not traditionally allowed. All of the items, including the hammer, were approved (it may have helped that I also had five assistants that day, so they could be assured the activities and equipment would be monitored). All items were counted each week by the guard at the front desk and checked against the memorandum of agreement for entry/exit,” Haskins relates.
“The limitations are restrictive and require creativity [and] a willingness to substitute some alternative labs for traditional ones,” she observes. One successful project was a benthic research project. “I placed leaf packs in a river in November, retrieved them in January, and hauled the leaf packs to the prison for analysis. Students then sorted and analyzed the data, and wrote research papers on their results.”
Sometimes Haskins’ students surprised her. “Several offenders wanted additional information and used their telephone time to ask family and friends to look up [information online]. So although the offenders couldn’t directly access the internet, they did manage to find far more information than I had expected.”
Afterward, “we prepared two posters from that work, which I presented at different scientific meetings on their behalf,” Haskins relates. “I was very proud of them, and they felt very accomplished.”
The same could be said of some male prisoners at Tomoka Correctional Institution in Daytona Beach, Florida— even ones serving life sentences—who “cried [tears of joy] when they earned their GEDs,” recalls Pam Walker, who taught “biology, physics, and chemistry to prepare them for their GEDs.” She says she would do “demonstrations for them,” such as “showing surface tension using water droplets on a penny….[ In physics, they had to] use one piece of paper to create a tall or strong structure. [I gave them] toothpicks and water-based glue to build things with and test them with weights. I limited how much glue everyone had.”
In another lab, Walker says she taught prisoners “about scientific [methods] of approaching a problem” by having them weigh a piece of gum, “chew it for 10 minutes, and weigh it again to see where the weight went.” In addition to science, “I tried to teach them life skills, how to read a phone bill and balance a checkbook, to give them a basic education,” she notes.
When Andrea d’Aquino, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, taught incarcerated males at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois, as part of Northwestern’s Prison Education Program (NPEP), she made sure her general chemistry course “would teach students about how the world works, through the lens of a chemist. I focus on topics students can relate to and care about. I want to ensure they can use what they learn.”
NPEP courses are credit-bearing and taught with content and expectations equivalent to those at Northwestern. To comply with Stateville’s equipment limitations, d’Aquino and her co-teacher “make videos of all of the labs to show in class. [In the videos,] we do everything an undergraduate would do, [including] pre-labs and post-labs,” she explains.
“Trying to tailor your teaching to different learning styles and backgrounds [is challenging]. Some students have no or little chemistry experience, while others are quite proficient at it,” d’Aquino acknowledges.
Differentiation was also arduous for Kristen Lee, now a physics teacher at Avondale High School in Auburn Hills, Michigan. When she taught science for Spectrum Juvenile Justice Services at the Calumet and Lincoln Centers in Highland Park, Michigan, her students were male youth ages 12 to 21 who were separated into eight “pods” by criminal offense, “so there was a substance abuse pod, a sex offender pod, [for example],” she explains.
Each pod could have both middle level and high school students. “Each grade level did [its] own thing. I had only one group doing a lab each day; the other students [in the pod] did a worksheet,” Lee recalls. She taught physical science to the middle level students and biology, chemistry, and Earth science to the older students, so she taught different subjects in the same classroom. And “everything had to be portable; the teachers moved from classroom to classroom,” she notes.
“The IT [information technology] people made websites for virtual dissections available. I had to sit next to [students] to make sure they stayed on the pages they were supposed to stay on,” Lee relates. “I did a lot of modeling with paper or other safe materials.” And for a thermodynamics lesson, “we made ice cream, which the kids really liked. There’s nothing like eating ice cream at 9 a.m. in science class,” Lee asserts.
When playing and building with blocks, children experience the way the properties of matter, shape, weight, and proportionality affect balance, stability, and position within their structures. Beginning with open exploration, children measure as they build with blocks (Chalufour and all). How many blocks are “enough” for children of preschool age?
Why must we meet so
much as a physics team when I need time alone to prepare for my classes?
Regularly meeting as a collaborative team, department, or content area is extremely beneficial to teachers and, most importantly, essential to the outcome of student success. When science teachers collaborate, it allows for what I call the 3Ds: Design, Dig, and Discuss. Collaborating allows science teachers to design lessons together. It is much easier to create and assess assignments, projects and laboratory activities that engage and evaluate the learning of students as you ensure that your group meets the performance expectations of the curriculum. Common planning and common assignments create opportunities to dig through data together to determine which instructional strategies effectively enhance the student experience. This helps you and your team understand your students’ processing and thinking and discover patterns and trends in student learning. You can clarify misconceptions. Coming together as a team enriches our practice as we discuss student work. Analyzing student work helps the team identify where students are in their learning. You may notice something that your colleagues do not and vice versa; the feedback can help to guide your instruction. When we take these conversations into the classroom with our students, our learners get the opportunity to see exemplars and understand what “meet performance expectations” actually does or does not look like. As our ultimate goal of teaching is student ownership of earning, we must start with the fundamentals of collaboration. The more teachers plan, the more they learn how to best serve their students.
Learning about the NGSS 3D Framework and what it means for the teaching and learning process within my elementary classroom has been an amazing journey that continues to this day. I confess I’ve become an NGSS geek. Some might find that surprising for a person who doesn’t have a degree in science. My transformation began seven years ago when I attended the ExxonMobil Teachers Academy. That experience taught me that Science can be fun not only for my students but for me, too! In the years that followed, I had many opportunities to learn science content and pedagogy. Many visits to the NGSS@NSTA website, lots of reading, attendance at conferences, workshops, and district PD were resources that were invaluable to my development as a science teacher. However, one resource that has provided a very unique learning opportunity for me and my colleagues is the development of the Teacher Cohort within our school. It is highly reflective and collaborative in nature and provides us with insight into our instructional practices and a better understanding of the “big” picture. My hope is that in sharing our experience, you will be inspired to participate in a cohort of your own. My school houses PreK-Grade 4 and has a student population that is culturally and economically diverse. When we first organized the cohort three years ago, we thought it was really important to have a representative from each grade level, if possible. This year, we have finally achieved full representation which includes the Special Education and ELL programs. The reason this is so important is that it establishes a network of teachers who can vertically articulate with each other and then communicate their learning and discoveries with the rest of their grade-level teams.
The next step for us was to have an organization meeting to establish norms and to think about personal goals (Ex: deepening understanding of practices and crosscutting concepts, how to develop lessons that support the framework, strategies to support student learning within the new framework, addressing challenges in instruction – to name a few). Our norms include the process we will follow: questions about the lesson to provide clarification, what we noticed, what we wonder, time for the teacher that was observed to reflect, recommendations/suggestions for future lessons, and questions we want to follow up on in future lessons.
also set up a tentative schedule for classroom visits. These visits are
non-evaluative in nature. They are informal visits for members to observe the
instructional process and student learning. We often interact with the students
and always take notes on what we see. Those notes are used for discussion
purposes in the post-visit reflection and discussion. After the lesson is over,
we meet in a conference room to begin the reflection/discussion process. The
teacher who led the lesson brings any student work that was generated so that
we can all evaluate and discuss what their work tells us and how it can impact
future instruction. We follow the norms and format established in the
organization meeting. While we are out of the classroom, staff coverage or
substitutes are provided for our students. Based on our discussion and the
learning needs of the cohort participants, we establish the focus for the next
year, we are revising the cohort process based on teacher learning needs. Some
of us feel that we would benefit most from a class visit/reflection and others
want to focus on student work from a prior lesson that will inform the
instruction in future lessons. For the latter, the participating teacher will
provide insight to the other members on what worked well and what didn’t and
how it can be improved. One teacher has requested, based on last year’s lesson
outcome, to focus on improving the same lesson for this year’s students. As you
can see, we have refined the process to be responsive to the needs of
individual teachers (just like we do for our students).
It should also be noted that teachers participate in the cohort by choice and, if they are interested, can remain for two years. Then, we change the members so that the learning can expand horizontally as well as vertically. My role in the cohort has been not only as a learner but also as a facilitator so that we are consistent with our practices from one cohort to another.
NGSS teacher cohort has had a notable and significant impact on each of our
classrooms. Participants come eager to learn and are excited to see what other
grade levels are doing. That excitement is contagious and our students catch
it! We have developed a deeper understanding of the learning our students
engage in before they get to our grade level and, for some of us, we get to see
how our instruction connects with the next grade level. This understanding
helps us to identify and apply common language within our classrooms. Another
benefit of participating in the cohort is that we are inspired by our
colleagues. We walk away with a treasure trove of ideas and rely on each other
as a professional support system as we design our science instruction. Finally,
we are able to share strategies that have helped our students engage in
authentic science learning and helps them to figure out the world around them. When
teachers have an opportunity to reflect and learn from each other, our students
are the ultimate beneficiaries.