Inspiring Young Geoscientists With Fossils

Troy J. Simpson’s students at Glenn Raymond School in Watseka, Illinois, use a limestone slab with brachiopods and trilobite fossils to make claims of past geologic environments. Photo courtesy of Jasmine Essington

“I have an extensive fossil collection that we use in my eighth-grade science classes. We use it in our investigations of Earth history, in particular the Midwest,” reports Troy Simpson of Glenn Raymond School in Watseka, Illinois. He says he uses fossils “not only for investigating how life evolves and develops, but [also] for paleoenvironmental changes, simulated geologic strata interpretation, piecing together the geologic history of our region. I believe…getting the specimens in the hands of the students…helps make it more relevant to them…Even if you have [only] a few samples, it can impact students’ learning.

“I like to use larger specimens that show fossils in their environmental and geological context. This helps with the student interpretation of the geologic past,” Simpson observes. “The Midwest used to be an ocean and a tropical forest; we have evidence of this.

“My mission is [this]: We need more geoscientists,” Simpson asserts. “Unfortunately, geoscience [has] become a fossil science in and of itself. It is a vicious cycle [in which] fewer students are introduced to it at the K–12 level, thus fewer college students go into it, then numbers drop, and programs become downsized. Looking down the road, we will need those geoscientists to help with investigations on Earth and on other celestial bodies
as well.”

DeLacy Humbert, a science teacher at Capital High School in Helena, Montana, would agree. She acquired funding from science-based grants that allowed her to create a high school class on paleontology. “Everyone loves dinosaurs, but after third or fourth grade, [the enthusiasm] dies down. That’s a detriment to STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math because] dinosaurs are a ‘gateway science drug,’” she explains. “I saw the need. In paleontology units in Earth science class, the students loved it.”

Humbert says she “dreamed of this class for years. It took two years to get everything ready and propose it” to all of the department heads and the principal, then to the school board. She had to create her own curriculum and resources because “nothing between [the] elementary [level] and [the] college [level] existed.”

Humbert first taught the class in the 2018–2019 school year. “We had 30 students and a waiting list. There were a few less students this year, but we still had a waiting list,” she notes.

After the first year, Humbert tweaked the course. “Last year, we did a pigeon dissection before lunch. It was gross, and pigeons are expensive,” she admits. This year, she is using rotisserie chickens, which are much less expensive. “Bone structure is important,” she maintains.

Humbert also leads a summer camp that features a dinosaur dig. To prepare the students, she shared fossils from her collection and revealed their age, then had the students identify them. “It takes a while for them to identify [the fossils]. They need practice,” she contends.

The dig was challenging, she says, because “I have to teach [students] how to excavate and prospect. Prospecting is hard because the terrain isn’t easy. [There’s the] dangers of falls, snakes, and wild cows.” Students’ parents had to sign waivers and provide health insurance, she notes.

Last summer, she and her students found a couple of dinosaurs. “I teach them how to prepare the fossils so they will be able to do internships at university labs,” she reports.
Michael Baldwin, IB Biology and IB Chemistry teacher at Brent International School in the Philippines, has his students do several activities to learn about fossils. For one, he says, “I find diagrams of articulated fossil vertebrates from different time periods, project them onto a surface, and draw and cut out the bones on card stock as close to actual size as possible. I then mix the ‘bones’ in a plastic bag, and I have students try to reconstruct the animal. From their reconstruction, you can have them draw what they think the animal looked like; you can give them real index fossils along with their skeleton so that they have to try [to] identify when the animal lived. They can look for evidence of what the animal ate and how it moved, etc. You can also have students use similar puzzles to compare homologous structures, etc.”

In another activity, says Baldwin, “Students can look at photos of fossil leaves and count stomata to compare to living plants to investigate possible levels of carbon dioxide in a discussion of the effects of carbon dioxide concentration and global warming on plants. Is there evidence that there was a high level of carbon dioxide as indicated by the number of plant stomata on similar species of plants from the Eocine [epoch]?” He has also “had students do experiments to test different hypotheses about the function of gastroliths [rocks held inside a gastrointestinal tract] in plesiosaurs.”

Teaching about the fossil record and how it’s changed over time gives her eighth graders “a piece of evidence to show how species changed over time,” and helps them construct a scientific explanation using geological rock strata, says Tanya Gordon, Earth science teacher at West Junior High School in Boise, Idaho. “My colleague and I have students do an activity to address that as part of a quarter performance task.”

Sue Meggers, middle school science instructor at Interstate 35 School in Truro, Iowa, points out that fossils are not only evidence of life, but also “evidence of nutrients, especially in typical marine deposits (limestone, potash, and phosphorus are mined from marine deposits and used as nutrient supplements or pH balancers in soils). And there’s an economic connection to fossils; for example, limestone is used in building.”

All of the teachers agree that letting students do their own fossil identification is essential to three-dimensional learning. “I brief them first, then give them the resources to do it, but they have to figure it out,” Meggers maintains.

Even young children can benefit from exploring fossils, says Sarah Erdman, lead teacher at FB Meekins Cooperative Preschool in Vienna, Virginia, whose collection includes “some mud tracks, fossils plus the environment they’re in, which helps students connect with what fossils are.” She adds, “We’ve been lucky to have people bring in their personal collections—for example, a paleontologist who visited my class…With students this age, we expose them to what we learn [from fossils] and who does the finding, [which is someone’s] job. [We tell students,] ‘That’s so-and-so’s mom who also [finds and studies fossils].’” At age three, children become aware of gender roles, “so it’s great to counteract that [by saying,] ‘This is an everybody thing.’”

A student in Sarah Erdman’s class at FB Meekins Cooperative Preschool in Vienna, Virginia, examines fossils on the science table. Photo courtesy of Sarah Erdman.


Finding, Handling, and Storing Fossils

Simpson connects with local quarry managers who help him find fossils. He also gets them from contacts from the National Earth Science Teachers Association and the Geological Society of America. And he takes his students to accessible outcrops and parks where collecting is permissible to gather rocks and fossils: “My students and I can go on-site and learn on the spot [about] the geology of the area and its fossils,” he relates.

In her rural area, “we live on Devonian to Pennsylvanian bedrock, so we collect fossils in our gravel,” reports Meggers. “My students don’t think of their environment as very cool or unique. Then they discover that their driveway has fossils. It blows their minds!”

“I was very fortunate to receive some lovely fossils from a member of our local rock club,” says Marteen Nolan, science teacher at Crocker High School in Crocker, Missouri. Among them was a fossil bed that intrigued students in her advanced geology class, so they contacted a University of Missouri-Columbia geology professor for assistance in identifying the fossils. “The students were able to determine that what they had thought was a [dinosaur] bone was in fact a different type of mud, and the fossil bed was likely from an ancient oyster bed that had been washed inland by a hurricane. It was such a great authentic scientific inquiry experience for them,” Nolan relates.

“Our state mining trade industry does a summer workshop,” she notes. “If mining takes place in your state, check with a mining agency” about fossil donations, she advises. Nolan also offers some safety precautions: “Obsidian glass is a volcanic glass with sharp edges…Don’t bring in asbestos! Gypsum can have it, too, so don’t let students hold it.”

One consideration for teachers is fossil storage. “Storage depends on how rare the fossil is and its condition. Some fossils can only be looked at. Thing is though, if you use them, then eventually they may be broken,” Baldwin cautions.

“I’m encouraging students to touch all of the fossils except carbon films because they’re so fragile,” says Gordon, who has found carbon films with impressions of fish fossils. She suggests that experienced teachers share their fossil collections with new teachers. “It would be beneficial for new teachers to have a way to build a collection…Foster that new enthusiasm for teaching with the ability to share things hands-on with students.” 

This article originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of NSTA Reports, the member newspaper of the National Science Teaching 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 teacher of science  you can be.

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Book clubs, professional learning communities, and resources on equity

One of my favorite professional learning opportunities was an informal Professional Learning Community (PLC) organized by a colleague before the term “PLC” came into common usage. A small group of early childhood educators met weekly for about 8 weeks to discuss the wonderful book, Worms, Shadows, and Whirlpoolsby Sharon Grollman and Karen Worth, and share how we implemented the authors’ guidance in our own classrooms.

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Developing Risk-Taking Students

I want my students to “take risks” when learning but I am not sure how to start.
Alicia, Mississippi

We must deliver science content differently by modeling for our students that risk-taking is encouraged in the classroom. You can encourage risk-taking through differentiation. Think about three components that I call the “C.I.A. of Differentiation:” Content, Investigation and Assessment. As the teacher, you are the “director” of learning (pun intended). It is your mission to provide a learning environment in which students take an active part in the learning process. This means that you have to make teaching and learning not only engaging for them but for you too. Rethink your role as the teacher. You are not expected to know everything; however, you are expected to establish a safe learning environment where mistakes are permitted if students learn from them. Your content knowledge is important but it can be just as important for you to model the strategies you use when you do not know an answer. As you guide students to the information they need, they pose questions. Allow students to investigate, gathering information that will help them solve problems or validate established theories. Student products or assessments are concrete evidence of the learning that has taken place. Allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge through a choice of blogs, news reports, debates or posters keeps your classroom creative and relevant. Students feel safe to express themselves without judgment when they have choice. Bringing the “C.I.A.” to your classroom is risky but worth it. With this mindset, you develop skilled, science-conscious scholars willing to question ideas and design answers to help make a better place to live.

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Building Student Ownership

I teach advanced science courses. Many of my students see school as a competition so they just want the correct answers to study for a good grade. How do I help build student ownership for learning in my science classroom?
–Chelia, Louisiana

Student ownership of learning is a paradigm shift for the teacher as well as the student. We develop this shift by preparing lessons with the end in mind. We must ask ourselves, “What do I want my students to learn from this unit?” As we plan with a conceptual mindset, our instructional strategies and activities must align with this thought process. Instead of fill-in-the-blank notes and worksheets, we plan for students to do more meaningful and creative tasks that will engage them in the content as we facilitate their learning.
Building scientific content knowledge is important and learning appropriate terminology is crucial so graphic organizers—such as the Frayer Model in which students write a word’s definition, restate in their own words, draw a picture, then give an example of its usage—makes the students responsible for comprehension. We must ask our students, “What are you learning?” instead of “What are you doing?” Posting, “What am I learning and how does it apply to me?” in your classroom is a fundamental reminder for both educators and students. As teachers, we must plan opportunities for students to process and apply knowledge, not simply recite or regurgitate information. Yes, science is innately an active subject, but most importantly, science is a way of thinking where we ask questions, gather information to make informed decisions, and apply our knowledge toward the betterment of our society.

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Plan Labs with Assessments, School Calendars in Mind

I have written a lab about quarks. The problem is there are no Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) about quarks. The only standards that refer to the nucleus is about protons and neutrons. How can I align my lab with standards that don’t exist?

—Gary, Illinois

This is a great question which leads to the purpose of performance expectations (What are students to learn?) for states that have adopted NGSS and other states using their own state science standards. In either case, students will have a comprehensive assessment and it is important that we, as teachers, follow a trifecta of alignment with 1.) performance expectations, 2.) instructional delivery and 3.) assessment. I’m sure you designed a great lab on quarks and I would never negate your hard work and time, but if there is no performance expectation written, then I suggest you hold off on scheduling the lab. You are ultimately charged with preparing your students for successful understanding of the performance expectations. Instructional time is sacred. Whether your students are assessed by an end of course exam, semester final, or other performance task, you want your students ready.

To help keep focused on that goal, try planning backwards: Find out when your culminating assessment is scheduled. Then think about your school calendar. When are your formative and summative assessments? When do your terms end? What days do you know that little instruction will happen due to assemblies or school-wide events? Include these dates on your teaching calendar to help map out the time you have to teach all of the significant performance expectations within your designed units of study. Planning is key!

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Connecting with Students

I’m a first-year high school science teacher seeking desperately the best way to connect with my freshman biology students who are very smart but are not use to being pushed to comprehend a rigorous curriculum. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Chelsea, Texas

The 5E model of science instruction is based on the following components: 1.) Engage, 2.) Explore, 3.) Explain, 4.) Elaborate and 5.) Evaluate. As you build upon your pedagogy, I suggest you first emphasize the engage part of the 5 E. This component is a good starting point because it helps students learn to ask questions and not assume every answer will be handed to them. This “microwave generation” wants answers now but if we do not challenge them to ponder the “what ifs” of life, then our students will not develop into young scholars able to innovate and create—making life more effective, efficient, economical, and interesting.

Engaging them with a question or asking them to work in a group to develop a graphic organizer can generate thoughts of what they already know, what they would like to know, and how they know they understand the concept, which also sparks interest and helps students to think in terms of how this applies to “me” and our world. Engagement leads to exploration that facilitates application. Engaged thoughts should lead students to define specific questions they are curious to answer. Gaining knowledge for themselves will develop their own explanation of phenomena that we, as science teachers, can elaborate on. We can clarify misconceptions, fill gaps of information and finally help them evaluate ways to make society better.

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100 days of school–weather watching and documenting plant growth

Just as numerals marking the number of in-school days are sometimes posted in one long line stretching across walls of the classroom, weather data can be collected and posted throughout the year. Using symbols that both children and scientists recognize, children can document the weather they experience. Collecting weather data over the year or at least several months will be more meaningful than “doing” weather for a week or taking an occasional nature walk.

See the Early Years column, The Wonders of Weather, in the January 2013 issue of Science and Children and the NSTA Connections archived data collection templates for your children to use as they make actual weather observations outdoors, describe and document them, creating data they can reflect on later to look for patterns.

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How PLCs Helped Move Us Toward Equitable High School Assessment Practices by Holly Hereau

My colleagues and I began using units intentionally designed for the NGSS for biology in early 2017. We started with a high-quality unit evaluated by my colleagues on the Science Peer Review Panel, and eventually used a full program from the unit’s developers. We were immediately impressed with the coherence and relevance of the curriculum, which resulted in an extreme increase in student engagement. Students who were not traditionally successful in science were exploring content deeply and asking questions, and they were participating in small- and large-group discussions in ways we hadn’t been able to motivate before.

However, we were still developing our understanding of three-dimensional assessment tasks, and everyone was becoming anxious about the lack of scores in the gradebook. So we created some “traditionally” formatted quizzes. Despite their level of engagement and the multiple ways students showed understanding during discussion, many did not score as well as expected. Eventually, our students’ enthusiasm for science decreased to the level it was before we implemented the new units. Getting a low score, especially on the content they had been deeply interested in and felt they knew, reinforced students’ previous belief that they were not good at science.

We realized the issue was not the materials, but the assessments we were using. Over the next year, our department learned as much as we could about equitable assessment practices and began exploring standards-based grading.

Challenges in Implementing Standards-Based Grading

Previously, we would spend lots of time unpacking standards to create learning targets in the form of “I can” statements. We quickly realized that these “I can” statements, which described what students were about to learn, were at odds with the key innovations of the NGSS that ask students to use the science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts to uncover the key science ideas. Similarly, it was challenging to create rubrics that didn’t reveal what students were supposed to figure out, yet were still effective at helping students understand where they needed to focus to improve.

The biggest challenge was the lack of time necessary to do this work before teaching the content. Deciding on learning targets, determining assessment opportunities, designing three-dimensional rubrics for those opportunities, and clearly defining grade-band expectations is no small task. As the year progressed, we also needed time to ensure teachers’ scoring was calibrated, and of course, we had to find time to give students meaningful feedback. We were incredibly lucky to have used high-quality NGSS-designed materials with a team of committed teachers collaborating in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to help make these tasks less formidable.

The Synergy of Purpose-Driven PLCs

Our department was fortunate to have access to a large amount of quality professional learning as the NGSS were being implemented.

As a PLC, our team was able to increase our capacity to meet these challenges. We pooled our expertise, time, and resources to create a system that would help educators to both build confidence in students and give our team some data on their learning:

We employed high-quality materials to support our work. Using the assessment overview document provided within the Biology Storylines program, our content-level PLC created three-dimensional, single-point rubrics intended to measure a student’s proficiency and understanding during the chosen task in a way that doesn’t reveal any key ideas students have not yet developed. As we create these rubrics, and reflect on how we use them, they have become living documents that we are constantly refining.

We also meet as content-level PLCs to reflect on student work and “buddy score” student responses to calibrate expectations for scoring. These rich discussions have not only helped clarify what we expect students to be able to do at different high school grade levels, but also have helped teachers become more comfortable with the innovations and expectations of these new standards.

Early Evidence of Success

With our new assessment system, we find that student confidence is increasing, and they’re remaining engaged and excited throughout the cycles of “figuring out” all year. Not only have students been more engaged, but we’ve also seen evidence of early success on the Science Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP) assessment.

On the state test, previously unmotivated students commented about how they learned something new from the interesting phenomena presented on the test, and they were motivated to continue testing for additional days to finish the exam. That anecdotal evidence seems to corroborate with how our students’ scores have changed relative to scores of other students in Michigan.

Our PLC work has been key in making our assessments more equitable, and I look forward to continuing to build students’ confidence as scientists.

Students at our school consistently underperformed on the state science exam. 15.8% of students at our school scored above the benchmark for proficiency in 2015–16, and only 13.5% scored about the benchmark in 2016–17, compared to 33% and 33.8% of students in Michigan for the same years.

This pilot test released data to districts, but did not release the scores publicly. Additionally, no benchmark for proficiency was released to schools, so these metrics are not directly comparable to the scores from previous years. However, even considering the average percentage of test questions students answered correctly at our school relative to the average across the state, the relative gains are promising.

Holly Hereau is a science educator at BSCS, an adjunct biology professor at Macomb Community College in Warren, Michigan, and Mott Community College in Flint, and is a member of Achieve’s Science Peer Review Panel. She previously taught high school biology, chemistry, and environmental science in Redford, Michigan, for 15 years. Hereau has worked with educators across the country to support implementation of high-quality NGSS-designed units developed by the Next Generation Science Storylines and inquiryHub teams. She holds a BS in biology from Grand Valley State University and studied entomology at Michigan State University before earning a master’s degree in education at the University of Michigan. As a proponent of five-dimensional learning, she is passionate about providing experiential and place-based opportunities for students. Connect with her on Twitter at @hhereau.

Note: This article is featured in the December 2019 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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PLNs + High-Quality Units = NGSS Success by David Grossman

In June 2013, Kentucky’s Board of Education officially adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which not only set a new course for science education in Kentucky, but also started me on a new professional journey. As the newly-minted science department lead teacher at my middle school, it fell to me to attend regional rollout meetings, bring the information back to my district, and lead them through NGSS implementation. I discovered that transformative task could only be accomplished with the right ingredients: professional learning networks (PLNs) and an example of high-quality NGSS design.  

At that time, I was already developing the first ingredients: two PLNs that would serve me through the implementation and beyond.

The first PLN I developed centered on my school science department: the team I would lead through NGSS implementation. We were all at different places in our science teaching careers, but we had to unite to plan the implementation of the NGSS in our classrooms.

The second PLN I developed was an informal online group of science teacheDavid rs and experts whose knowledge of NGSS exceeded mine. These were the people, in addition to the Science Peer Review Panel, who would spur my growth in understanding and implementing the NGSS. It was this second PLN that led me to a professional learning session on the EQuIP Rubric for Science, a tool to determine how well materials are designed for the NGSS, and to the Next Generation Science Storylines project.

At the EQuIP Rubric training, I was introduced to the idea of centering units around phenomena for students to figure out, and to the idea of building a coherent storyline around the phenomenon.

Following this training, the power of my school PLN really blossomed. The other seventh-grade science teacher, Katie, and I worked to overhaul the seventh-grade curriculum to align it to the NGSS. It was still early in the life of the NGSS, and most of us were grappling with including the Science and Engineering Practices and shifting content among grade levels. Figuring out phenomena was not yet at the forefront of the district’s curriculum process, but Katie and I accomplished more together than we could have alone. My preferred teaching style complemented hers, and we both were determined that our students would succeed with the NGSS. We were making great progress.

While the curriculum we designed may have addressed the progressions in the NGSS, we weren’t yet reaching the full intent of the standards. We realized the additional ingredient we really needed for the NGSS vision to became real: to try out an example of a high-quality unit designed for the NGSS in our classrooms.

We first used version 1.0 of the Next Gen Storyline unit How Can We Sense So Many Different Sounds From a Distance?, which had been designated as a quality work in progress by some of my colleagues on the Science Peer Review Panel. It was this unit that helped us realize what it meant to lead with an engaging phenomenon that would drive student learning. In this unit, students discover how sound travels from a record player to the listener by using a sewing needle and a paper cone to produce sound from vinyl records and ultimately realizing that vibrations produce sounds and that the characteristics of the vibrations determine what kinds of sounds are produced. Version 1.0 of this unit was little more than a skeleton outline that briefly described each lesson, so Katie and I had a great deal of work to do to upgrade it, and we struggled—a lot. After some revision from the developers, though, Version 2.1 of this unit earned the NGSS Design Badge.

Our experience teaching with this unit crystalized in our minds the NGSS vision. We couldn’t return to a traditional teach-lab-test method of science instruction. We began to creatively embed phenomena in our units so that students investigating phenomena would drive the learning. Since I collaborated with Katie, I have changed grades and schools, but I have always tried to keep the NGSS vision front and center: that vision that was shared through PLNs, paired with high-quality units that scored well on the EQuIP Rubric.

In my transformation to an NGSS science teacher, the key ingredients were a PLN of experts to push me, a PLN of colleagues to productively struggle with me, and an example of high-quality NGSS design.

Please comment below! What kind of awesome can you cook up with these three ingredients in your practice?

David Grossman is a National Board–certified science teacher currently teaching high school biology in Kentucky. This is his 19th year in public education. For much of his career, he taught middle school science. He has supported the NGSS rollout at the school, local, and state level. He participates in the Center for Disease Control’s Science Ambassadors program, which is helping him introduce public health issues in his classroom. Grossman is a former member of Achieve’s Science Peer Review Panel, and he still works with Achieve to evaluate lessons and units using the EQuIP Rubric for Science. Connect with him on Twitter at @tkSciGuy.

Note: This article is featured in the December 2019 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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Improving Elementary Science Programs Through Professional Learning Communities by Edel Maeder

“I’m not good at science.” It’s a declaration that far too many students have made in classrooms. Their beliefs are often based on lack of exposure to science, not their true potential to do science. So how do we change their minds and get them to believe they have the capacity to succeed in science? As the PreK–12 Science Coordinator for a school district of more than 11,000 students in 17 different schools, it’s a question I grapple with regularly.

The U.S. Department of Education has invested upward of $200 million in high-quality science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and knows “STEM education is a pathway to successful careers, and [the Department] is committed to ensuring equal access to a strong STEM education for all students.” To get there, our youngest students require consistent opportunities to form the foundational skills and knowledge needed to progress to higher levels of thinking that develop over time. This need is clearly described in the grounding research of the Framework for K–12 Science Education: “Building progressively more sophisticated explanations of natural phenomena is central throughout grades K–5, as opposed to focusing only on description in the early grades and leaving explanations to later grades.”

We know it’s important that all children have equal access and support in science, but what are the effective strategies to accomplish this? Research shows “the most promising strategy for sustained, substantive school improvement is developing the ability of school personnel to function as professional learning communities.”

A focus on equity, access, and continuous improvement is needed to enhance instruction. As a member of Achieve’s Science Peer Review Panel (Science PRP), I’ve worked with some of the nation’s foremost experts on three-dimensional teaching and learning. That experience readied me to meet the challenge of leading Greece Central School District in the transition to three-dimensional science teaching and learning in a way that minimized the need for teachers to be out of the classroom.

I launched a Science Leadership Team made up of a group of self-selected elementary school teachers and administrators interested in learning more about the new science standards and willing to share their learning with district teachers to help their colleagues.

Together with these teacher leaders, we mapped out a plan to support all the elementary teachers in the district. Leaders from the Science Leadership Team were given two weeks, which we called a “cycle,” to meet with grade-level colleagues from different buildings, resulting in the same learning shared districtwide by the end of each cycle.

The Science Leadership Team met for two full days before a new cycle began to make sure they were prepared. The first day concentrated on new learning for the team. My involvement with the Science PRP proved invaluable because I shared case studies and lessons deemed “high-quality” using the EQuIP Rubric for Science as well as other material grounded in best practice.

On the second day, I introduced the group to a 45-minute learning opportunity that the Science Leadership Team members, in pairs of two, would use when they met with grade-level teachers across the district. The team was invited and encouraged to work together to examine the learning opportunity and make it better. As a result, team members improved the experience and felt prepared to lead a group, and every teacher received the same high-quality learning.

I believe hope lies in communicating, collaborating, and forming a professional learning community that exhibits research-based characteristics to be effective, including “an environment that fosters mutual cooperation, emotional support, and personal growth as they work together to achieve what they cannot accomplish alone.” NSTA and Achieve are providing resources, such as those high-quality examples from the Science PRP, that can guide districts as they progress in their understanding and implementation of three-dimensional teaching and learning for all of our nation’s children.

I am honored to lead my district forward in full implementation of the New York State Science Learning Standards, which are based on the Next Generation Science Standards. I hope our efforts will help change the paradigm. By engaging students earlier with good science instruction, they will see their potential to do science, and we, as educators, will help them achieve what they hought was impossible.

Dr. Edel Maeder is the preK–12 science coordinator for the Greece Central School District (GSCD), the 10th-largest district in New York State. Before becoming a district-level administrator, she taught secondary science for more than 20 years. Her certifications include biology, Earth science, chemistry, and general science. She is a member of the GCSD Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment and leads a variety of professional learning activities. She is a member of the New York State Science Content Advisory Panel, NSTA’s 3-D Professional Learning Cadre Community, and Achieve’s Peer Review Panel. Maeder is committed to supporting educators in three-dimensional teaching so all students benefit from three-dimensional learning. Connect with her via Twitter at @EdelMaederSTEAM.

Note: This article is featured in the December 2019 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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