Achieving Equity Through Assessments by Laura Littrell and Kevin Williams

Our school requires all students to take chemistry. We teach all levels, ranging from Collaborative/Inclusive Chemistry to Honors and AP Chemistry. All of our classes have students who speak different languages, as well as students with a range of social and physical disabilities, home lives, and socioeconomic statuses. One way we ensure equity in our classroom is by implementing multimodal, phenomenon-based assessments.

Multimodal means students can communicate their understanding using discussion, writing, and/or visual (drawings, symbols, tables, graphs, charts, gestures) representations. Phenomenon-based assessments give students real-world connections to the science ideas and require them to use the science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts to explain the phenomenon or propose a solution to a problem. Using this method, we can get a real measure of what students actually know.

How Does This Look in the Classroom?

In our Nuclear Chemistry Unit, we use the phenomenon of the Chernobyl disaster: specifically, why food is still contaminated more than 30 years later. One of the ways we assess student understanding early in the unit is with a Stop Motion Video project.

We divide students into groups of four and assign each group one element from the periodic table. The groups must illustrate nuclear processes—including fission, fusion, and alpha and gamma radiation—using stop motion video. Before they begin, we give them a quick introduction to the open source app Stop Motion Studio. The students have fun making a short stop motion video to learn the app’s mechanics.

Then we allow them one class period (90 minutes in our school) to plan and create a storyboard for their video. We lead a whole-class discussion about the criteria for each video, then together create a video checklist. The groups have to decide who will be responsible for each of the four nuclear processes assigned.

We give students examples of materials they can use to create models. They may use physical representations such as beads, beans, or marshmallows; we even had some students punch holes in paper and use the paper dots. Students can also use dry erase markers to write on their desks or markers and poster paper.

Students have complete control over the method they use. They use methods that are built into our classroom culture in which they get peer feedback from group members to ensure they are working toward the task criteria.

Students use the next class period to create their videos. They really have a ton of fun putting their own creative spin on communicating what they’ve learned, in a unique manner that other students can then use to inform people about nuclear radiation. The products they design very clearly tell us to what degree the students understand and are able to model nuclear processes, as well as the parts of atoms, all the while employing familiar technology (smart device).

Here is one student’s example:

What we love most about this assessment is the way it gives our students choices in the way they demonstrate what they have learned. The task is scaffolded to allow students to be supported through each phase, whether that is through think-alouds as the teacher is discussing the task itself, or by working with peers in a meaningful way to brainstorm the best method for communicating the science ideas they have learned.

One of the really cool things we’ve experienced since teaching students to use this app is students informing us that they used this same technology for a project in a different class. It’s rewarding to discover that not only are we teaching science and checking for our students’ understanding, but we are also exposing our students to strategies that are meaningful to what they want to accomplish outside of the classroom.

Laura Littrell teaches Chemistry at Boone County High School in Florence, KY.  She has taught Science for 11 years.  She has earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry at Butler University and a Masters Degree in Science Education at the University of Tennessee.  She serves as Science teacher Ambassador for Boone County Schools working to implement NGSS across the district as well as improve Assessments to make them 3 dimensional. Littrell loves phenomenon driven instruction and continues to change her course so that students can connect Chemistry concepts to everyday phenomena.

Kevin Williams is a high school chemistry and engineering teacher in Florence, Kentucky. This is his 6th year teaching at Boone County High School. Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in education both from Northern Kentucky University. He is passionate about engaging students in three dimensional science lessons and making learning exciting.

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

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

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

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NGSS: Planning for Science Success for All Students by Hallie Booth

Creating an Environment for All Students to Show Their Understanding

Much discussion has focused on how the NGSS (and other state standards based on the Framework and NGSS) make science accessible to all students. I believe all students can be successful when lessons are designed to use the three dimensions to make sense of phenomena.

What Does an NGSS Classroom Look Like?

The NGSS classroom looks very different from the traditional classroom. Unlike past standards, the NGSS require students to develop ownership of the big ideas in science, not just memorize broad definitions with examples. Students are driving their own learning through the unit and creating artifacts demonstrating their in-depth understanding of the science ideas along the way. All of my units begin in the same way to ensure all of my students have equal-access sensemaking. I offer this glimpse into the thinking and intention of how I start each unit to ensure from the beginning that I am focused on how I can support and engage all students in my classroom:

  • I create a storyboard—also referred to as a storyline—that establishes a learning progression for the unit. I consider the questions my unit-level phenomenon will elicit and design lessons that create opportunities for students to answer them.
  • The unit begins with students experiencing the unit-level phenomenon. This might happen through pictures, data charts, and/or short videos. We create a class record of our observations.
  • The students write their initial questions about the phenomenon that are formulated through a technique called Questioning Formulating Techniques (QFTs).

The questions students ask (and new questions that arise) drive the unit. We decide which question (or questions) we will try to answer, which leads us to the next lesson, and then the next question.

Intentionally Supporting Students

I find that all my students learn from one another through engaging with the science and engineering practices and having opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of the science ideas. As I analyze my class data, individual student demographics aren’t apparent: The data shows students who exceeded the “basic level” of the performance expectations, those who mastered them, and those (less than 10%) who need additional opportunities to engage in the practices to make sense of the targeted science ideas. I find student success is directly linked to the numerous opportunities they are given, opportunities that meet them at their current level of understanding and gradually bring them to an increase in rigor. This also allows students who have a greater understanding of the science ideas to begin higher and create related extensions. The students know where to begin by evaluating the self-guided proficiency chart.

Remediation is based on what my formative assessments tell me the students are struggling with most. In these mini-sessions, I ask specific questions about their artifacts or work on short, guided-learning tasks with them. After the mini-sessions, students tend to clarify any misunderstanding and indicate areas that need to be clarified. I will hold these additional sessions right before the summative assessment to answer any last-minute questions. 

Teaching NGSS holds teachers more accountable for developing coherent storylines built around relevant phenomena and integrating the science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts into each lesson or activity to support students while they are building their science knowledge. Through this process, I have been able to develop opportunities to individualize the learning experience and ascertain the level of mastery for each of my students. Since I started this, I have had tremendous feedback from several students in all demographics: 

  • “Now I really have to think and process the information.” 
  • “I do not have to just tell you definitions; I have to connect them to the given task.”
  • “I like doing science like this because it really helps me understand what they are asking me.” 
  • “I feel like I can discuss the information in class, and [if I don’t understand something,] I feel like I [can] ask questions about it and not be [labeled as] ‘different’ because a lot of students ask questions in the discussion.”

As teachers, we want all students to be successful, so it is up to us to create a classroom environment that allows this to happen. It is up to us to design units/lessons that make it clear what students are trying to figure out, that are relevant and engaging to students, and that are scaffolded in a manner that helps every kid feel supported. When we have students who are not successful, we have to look inward and ask what we can do differently to enable their success.

Students’ resources

Hallie Booth has spent 25 years in education, serving as an instructional specialist, assistant principal, principal, and the Kentucky Department of Education Regional Science Lead. She currently teaches eighth-grade science at Ballyshannon Middle School in Boone County, Kentucky. Booth holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Criminal Justice Law Enforcement, a BA in Elementary Education, a masters in special education, an endorsement in K–9 science education, and a Rank 1 in leadership. She has served as a Common Core fellow, an Education Nation panelist, a Literacy Design Collaborative trainer, an education consultant for the Southern Regional Education Board, and a Thurgood Marshall Foundation trainer. Contact her via Twitter: @alwaysreach1.

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

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

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

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Using Senses in Nature to Experience Equity by Julia Deevers-Rich

In one of my favorite lessons, I take my kindergarten students outside to explore the schoolyard. Though I take my students outdoors throughout the year, I do this lesson at the beginning of the year because it’s an opportunity to teach students to make observations and ask questions. I love seeing my students’ excitement grow as they move around the schoolyard, noticing and wondering about everything! I also get a chance to learn about my students and the wealth of ideas and experiences with nature they bring with them to school.

In this lesson, students begin to develop elements of the Science and Engineering practice of Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Record information (observations, thoughts, and ideas) and Use and share pictures, drawings, and/or writings of observations. We talk about our five senses and how to use them to make observations. I also want to develop the Asking Questions element: Ask questions based on observations to find more information about the natural and/or designed worlds.

Students walk around the school grounds looking for something in nature they would like to observe closely. I like to have everyone walk in silence or very quietly so they can hear the sounds in nature. They might see a bird or butterfly nearby, or find one of the courtyard box turtles eating some tomatoes from our class vegetable garden spot. Many different flowers and plants surround the area, too. When students find that one thing they want to study further, they draw what they see and record in words, pictures, and symbols what they’ve observed with their other senses. They can also measure the object using grade-appropriate tools. 

I ask the students to think about questions they could ask about the object. Then students share with a partner or small group the observations they made and the things they are wondering about the object. Their partner or group members can then ask additional questions and share their own observations. 

Every student has access to this type of learning to help them succeed, and each is bringing different experiences to share with others while experiencing all kinds of new things in nature.

Julia Deevers-Rich has been teaching for the past 36 years in five different states. She is very passionate about teaching, especially the S (Science) in STEM. She currently teaches STEM to grades K–5 at A.M. Yealey Elementary School in Boone County, Kentucky.

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

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

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

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Learning STEM by Building Airplanes

Texas nonprofit Tango Flight builds Van’s Aircraft RV-12 airplanes with students at high schools nationwide.

Organizations around the country are helping students and teachers experience the challenges and rewards of building a full-size airplane, allowing students to apply science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) as well. One organization, Texas nonprofit Tango Flight, builds airplanes with students at high schools nationwide. President and co-founder Dan Weyant, Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher at East View High School in Georgetown, Texas, says the worldwide “demand for pilots, aerospace engineers, and mechanics” inspired him in 2016 to ask his principal and district superintendent if he could establish a year-long class to build a Van’s Aircraft RV-12 two-seat, single-engine, low-wing airplane with students at East View and Georgetown High Schools. Weyant chose the RV-12, which is built from a kit, making it relatively easy to construct compared to other aircraft.

Weyant successfully addressed administrators’ concerns, such as liability. “To mitigate liability, Tango Flight owns the planes and manages assets,” he explains. When a school or district completes a plane, Tango Flight sells it, and the money goes back to the local program to fund the next plane build.

It costs about $100,000 to start the program, he adds, but “there are many ways to fundraise this; the district doesn’t have to pay it all upfront.” Aircraft manufacturer Airbus Americas has funded builds, as well as local aviation museums, businesses, and the city government. Local businesses and nearby colleges and universities also provide mentors for the students.

The first Tango Flight class was a partnership among the two schools, Tango Flight, local businesses, and the STEM program Project Lead the Way (PLTW), on which the curriculum was based. Since then, Weyant, university partners, and Airbus Americas have created a college-level Tango Flight curriculum now used by participating high schools. Tango Flight operates in eight schools in Georgetown, Texas; Wichita, Kansas; Mobile, Alabama; Naples, Florida; Manchester, New Hampshire; Atlanta, Georgia; and Yuba City, California.

“We provide curriculum, training [for teachers and mentors], technical support, and instruments,” Weyant relates. Some Tango Flight schools have students do internships with local businesses, he notes.

Mike Tinich was a PLTW aerospace engineering teacher at Maize South High School in Wichita, Kansas, when contacts at Wichita State University (WSU) recommended him to funder Airbus Americas to do a Tango Flight build. “We built our first plane while [the Georgetown, Texas, group] built their second one…We had a lot to learn, but we had the benefit of their knowledge from their first build,” he recalls.

“We had Airbus engineers work with us as mentors,” and WSU Tech, the local technical college, provided “an experienced airframe [plane structure] instructor to help teach procedures and inspect the finished product,” Tinich reports.

“We were still teaching PLTW during the build, but [Tango Flight] was [the] lab activity. Trying to incorporate both was a challenge,” he admits. “Sometimes the plane took precedence because we had to make sure the plane was safe to fly. ”

Having enough space to build a plane was a dilemma. “The logistics of doing it in a normal classroom were crazy,” Tinich contends. Besides needing room to work, they had “to organize thousands of parts.” Fortunately, “in January 2017, [our school] opened a Career and Technical Center, and the new room had a hangar door on it and more space,” he adds.

“We made a lot of mistakes during the first year, even working with engineers,” Tinich recalls. “But the kids could see adults fail, then move on. [They saw that] failure is an option!”

Students most enjoyed “the opportunity to work with an engineer…It opened their eyes up to opportunities in the aerospace industry,” says Tinich. “Building a plane taught them so much more than just the knowledge of why we have to measure twice and cut once. There was a lot of problem-solving [experience] that was invaluable.”

Aerospace Enrichment

In the Wings Aerospace Pathways (WAP) program held by Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum in Denver, Colorado, students “build and fly drones; earn [Commercial Drone Pilot Certification];…take concurrent enrollment courses toward an A&P [Airframe and Powerplant (engine system)] certification;…and build the RV‑12,” says April Lanotte, the museum’s director of education. Designed for students in grades 6–12, WAP is an enrichment program for homeschooled students, those in online schools, and students in traditional schools that allow them to be released one day each week to participate.

Middle school students learn skills to prepare them to build a plane as high school students: using tools, soldering, and learning about basic electronics, ham radios, and aviation and space history, for example. “It helps middle school students decide what’s next for them,” whether they’d like to be pilots, mechanics, or work in another position in the industry, Lanotte maintains.

When choosing students for the build, CTE Coordinator/Instructor David Yuskewich says, “I look for students who are on-task, good at following directions, self-directed, focused, know what tools to use, and are able to lead other students.” In WAP’s tools and skills classes, “parts of the plane that are not done right have to be scrapped, which costs money and time. I don’t accept any less than perfect on the plane,” he asserts.

“During the build, the students do 80% of the work. A group of adults come in on Saturdays and do the rest of the work to keep things on track,” Yuskewich explains.

Students “wear safety glasses, ear protection, aprons, and gloves, so no one gets hurt,” he reports.

“We have a low mentor-to-student ratio so no student works alone,” Lanotte adds. “Students must be technically and mentally able to do the work for safety reasons. They take it seriously.”

Volunteers who have worked in the industry serve as mentors, including inspectors who can certify the work. “I am an EAA Technical Advisor and inspect the planes. We also have a volunteer who is a technical advisor and serves as ‘outside eyes’ when inspecting the planes,” says Yuskevich.

“We [also] have a team of students who are working on restorations of old planes,” reports Lanotte. “These planes won’t be flown again, but students are copying and 3-D printing parts that aren’t available anymore.”

Though WAP’s annual tuition is $1,000, “we do have scholarships, so no one is turned away,” assures Lanotte. “We work with a local school district with a high [number of low-income students]; they receive 100% funding.” Many students, she adds, “earn elective credits” by taking the WAP classes.

This article originally appeared in the February 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 science teacher you can be.

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

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Why Teach Evolution? by Beth Allan

Why teach evolution? Evolution isn’t just a unifying concept that connects elements of the natural world: It’s also the link among science, our students, and their world. Why is that important? Evolution can be used as a “hook,” a way to show how the natural interests of all students—not just the students who “like” science—can relate to science and how science can be interesting and relevant to their world.  When students view science as relevant, they become eager to learn more, and isn’t that the purpose of school?

Evolution also explains where the natural world has been and what was there, and suggests where we may be going. The exciting part is when creative and purposeful science educators show students how evolution can integrate with every subject.

If your students are interested in history, discuss how the history of the medieval times, the Renaissance, and even recent history is influenced by evolution and mirrors the process of change over time. Are your students interested in art? You can point out how some of the most beautiful creations mirror nature, are found in nature, and are there through the process of evolution. Want to include politics? Have students look back to the Irish Potato Famine and the political effects of starvation and mass migrations, or look ahead to the political effects of climate change.

Whatever the level and whatever the subject, evolution is an underlying core principle that not only unifies the sciences, but also is a unifying theme across all STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) subjects. It helps explain the “why,” but even more powerfully, it allows students to make connections among the subjects by asking “what if.”  And that matters. For all students.

Dr. Elizabeth “Beth” Allan is president-elect of the National Science Teaching Association. She began serving her one-year term on June 1, 2019, and will assume the office of president on June 1, 2020. Allan is currently Professor of Biology and Coordinator of the Secondary Science Education program at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Oklahoma.

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

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Nature of science: a new NSTA position statement

A screen shot of a search on Pinterest for "bear".

Winter weather often makes us wonder how wild animals survive without a heated environment. Combining this wondering with children’s love of teddy bears, and the 100’s of bear songs and finger plays to be found online, and it’s no surprise that early childhood educators may plan “to do” bears—a week of activities involving bear images and songs, imaginative play, and mostly fiction books featuring bears. What may be missing, depending on where you live, is any actual experience with bears or any scientific content.

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“Where did we leave off?”

I was wondering how to reintroduce a lesson interrupted by unexpected days off (such as due to weather). Also, if the majority of the class is absent do you do an alternative lesson and finish the planned one when all the students are back?
— L., South Dakota

Interruptions are the norm, not the exception in education!

How you deal with interruptions will ultimately depend on several factors—the timing in your lesson plan, the complexity of the topic, number of students absent, and even day of the week can all influence your choice.

You should anticipate interruptions during the times of year you’re likely to encounter them. Build in some make-up days into your unit planning for those months. If you’re lucky and don’t get any interruptions then you have some “spare” days to do some more intensive lessons or labs, show videos, build in a field trip, review for assessments, and so forth.

I feel it is best to wait until you have most, if not the entire, class back before you finish a lesson. Students should not be put at a disadvantage because they missed class for an unforeseen and excusable event. For students who do make it to school, you could have an enrichment activity, additional videos, a work period, or have impromptu review and discussions. It may also be a good time to introduce a longer-term research project you may have planned and give some work time. Absent students can easily pick up the project instructions next class while the others continue to work.

Hope this helps!

Image by stoneyridgefarmky from Pixabay

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Reading a Class

A quarter of my grade 7 students are at a beginning reading level. None are on grade level for reading. Can you help me help them?
— K., Alaska

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. To answer your question, I consulted with a colleague, Rita MacDonald, co-leader of the NSTA-WIDA program. Making Science Multilingual. She says:

“Students who are not yet able to read and who will take a long time before they can read still have a need and a right to learn science. So, we need to:

      • Reduce the reliance on text as a way of conveying important information… [by sharing it] through a variety of ways—not just [text].
      • Immerse them in hands-on activit[ies] to experience science concepts.
      • Surround activity with oral language, supported by writing key words and phrases on the board. Most meaning comes from immersion in an activity, to which we later attach language (spoken or written), so shared activity and conversation about it is a powerful way of conveying information.
      • Set up student working groups to talk about ideas, so your non-readers hear the ideas without textbooks.
      • Use video to convey info, and later use a short, simplified reading to reinforce the idea

A test that depends on reading will never give an accurate portrayal of what non-reading or non-English-fluent students know.”

Talk with these students’ English Language Arts teachers or school resource teachers and perhaps check out their school records for insights and ideas to help you. Don’t be dismayed. Just do your best to improve their reading; you won’t likely get them to grade level in one year but any improvement is great.

Hope this helps!

Image by Luisella Planeta Leoni from Pixabay

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Making Sense of Science and Religion

In the science classroom, the rigorous discussion of certain scientific concepts may challenge the religious beliefs of students as well as educators. Navigating these discussions in ways that respect diverse viewpoints, backgrounds, and experiences can be difficult, but a new NSTA resource can help. 

Making Sense of Science and Religion: Strategies for the Classroom and Beyond by Joseph W. Shane, Lee Meadows, Ronald S. Hermann, and Ian C. Binns (NSTA Press), is designed for teachers at all grade levels. The book will help educators to anticipate and respond to students’ questions, as well as help students reconcile their religious beliefs even as the class delves into topics such as evolution, geochronology, genetics, the origin of the universe, and climate change.

Addressing science and religion is, the authors write, part of the educators’ collective job, and it is an inevitable part of teaching science in 21st-century America.  

“Like many people, our students will sometimes come to us with religiously based understandings of the natural world and their roles in it. Other students may be antagonistic toward these perspectives. Others still will wonder what all the fuss is about and would just as soon stick to science. As usual, our job is to convey and model science in the midst of all of our students’ complex preconceptions, misconceptions, beliefs, values, joys, and social anxieties,” the authors state in the opening chapter. 

Making Sense of Science and Religion explains the historical and cultural context of the intersections of science and religion in the classroom, plus it gives a framework for addressing science-religion issues in a legal, constitutional manner. It offers practical suggestions to help teachers develop lessons that align with the Next Generation Science Standards, and provides strategies for implementing effective questioning and designing assessments. For college faculty, Making Sense of Science and Religion gives an analysis of recent research findings and anecdotes related to navigating religion in the college science classroom. 

To assist with carrying the discussion beyond the classroom, Making Sense of Science and Religion provides insight from professionals engaged in facilitating these types of complex and thoughtful dialogues with the general public in spaces that include churches, school board meetings, community events, or town halls, for example. 

The authors themselves represent K–12 teachers, college professors, and experts from organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, who bring a mix of different backgrounds and beliefs and share the goal of creating respectful, insightful educational experiences that will inspire students to grapple with challenging and important scientific topics. 

Learn more about Making Sense of Science and Religion and check out the free chapter “Science and Religion in Middle School and High School Classrooms.” 

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History and Social Studies Integration with STEM

This blog post was authored by Judy Boyle.

NGSS, STEM, STEAM, and Common Core all speak of the importance of the integration of science with ELA, math, and art. However, we are missing one more layer needed to achieve the goal of total integration. We should also look at the integration of social studies and history with science.

Let’s step back for a moment and take a look at science and our world. We’ll begin this perspective at the altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level. Our world and our lives are controlled by science. Take away astronomy, chemistry, biology, botany, meteorology, geology, physics, and others, and there is no planet Earth. Take away engineering and technology, and we have no advancement. Looking through the lens of history, we can see the planet’s natural history is driven by science and humanity’s history is driven by science, technology, engineering, and math.

This idea is clearly reflected in our performing and visual arts, and documented through the writing of playwrights, poets, authors, and scientists of our various time periods. Examples of this are exposed in the art and oral stories of our indigenous people, the evolution of technology and architecture of the Egyptians, the advancement of medicine during the Renaissance period, and links science application and engineering which catapulted countries into the Industrial Revolution. We see it in the notebooks of our scientists and engineers in which they have documented their thoughts and ideas, and we can demonstrate to our students the impact these scientists, engineers, and pioneers have had on our history and our lives. One of my favorite books to share with my students is Notable Notebooks: Scientists and Their Writings by Jessica Fries-Gaithersburg. The book highlights scientists and their notebooks with actual photographs of pages from these notebooks. Through the integration of history with science, students can learn how our tools and technology have evolved, how our understanding of the human body has advanced medicine, how our quest for the moon has brought us beyond what we thought possible. Most importantly, our students can gain a clear understanding that success is achieved through mistakes and perseverance. To teach STEM in conjunction with history allows our students to understand the webbing of science, technology, engineering, and math at a much higher level. For, through the integration of STEM, our students will be able to visualize the application of science, and gain the understandings needed to solve a problem or meet a need through engineering. Let’s look at the topic of plastics. We found a need and solved it. However, we now realize the ramifications of this invention. Through this lens, students have the ability to reflect on the future human impact of engineering design.

Integrating history and social studies with STEM is very impactful when it is presented on a local level. My students perform water quality testing on our local river. Teaching them the local history of our area, allows them to see the impact of mining gold, forestry, and agriculture on the river, and we discuss the future of the river and its needs in preserving it from future impact. Our river supplies a city twenty-three miles from our small, rural town with about sixty-five percent of its water. The diversion dam is located in our town. Its was built in 1899 and needed to be reconstructed. My students performed a human impact study on the reconstruction of the dam. We studied the history of the town and the dam including a major flooding incident. We were given a tour of the pump house which was also built in 1899 and was in its original state. The pump house still housed all of the pumps from 1899 to the present. The students were amazed at the advancement of the mechanics and the decrease in the sizes of the pumps.

Through social studies, we are able to study people by looking at the natural resources they use. We study their climate and weather, vegetation, renewable and non-renewable resources, customs and traditions, and their stories. In other words, we are studying the geology, meteorology, biology, hydrology, agriculture, and numerous other sciences to obtain a better understanding of our world and theirs.

Many elementary students have a love for dinosaurs and this history can link your students to a career path as a paleontologist or as an archaeologist studying the peoples of the past linking engineering, technology, and science. Studying space and space travel can also link your students to STEM and many inventions and discoveries.

Below are just a few of the NGSS that can be used for integrating history and social studies with STEM.  Whenever you look at the Disciplinary Core Ideas, reflect on how you can integrate history and social studies with them. There are many other standards that can be used opening many possibilities!

How have you the integrated history and social studies with science in your classroom? I’d love for you to share!

K-2-ETS1-1 Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.

K-ESS3-1 Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants and animals (including humans) and the places they live.

K-ESS3-3 Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air and/or other living things in the local environment.

3-3ESS3-1 Make a claim about the merit of a design solution that reduces the impacts of weather-related hazard.

4-ESS3-1 Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses affect the environment.

4-ESS3-2 Generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the impacts of natural Earth processes on humans.

5-ESS3-1 Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.

Judy Boyle is the K-8 teacher at Divide School in Divide, Montana. She is the president of the Montana Science Teachers Association and serves on the NSTA Board of Directors as the Preschool/Elementary Division DIrector. She is an MPRES/NESSP Teacher Trainer providing professional learning on the NGSS and its Framework to teachers in Montana. She is Montana’s 2016 Presidential Awards of Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST) awardee for science, and a 2018 Montana Teacher of the Year finalist. Find her on Twitter @sagemountaintr2

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