STEM Matters: 5 Facts to Share with Parents and Students

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

In the United States there are significantly more job openings in STEM-related than non-STEM occupations. At the same time, there is a shortage of qualified people to fill these careers opportunities. For the U.S. to continue to compete in a global economy and succeed in addressing our environmental challenges, we must do a better job of educating and engaging our students in STEM. It is more important than ever that all students have the foundational knowledge and skills needed to be an informed citizen and to pursue a career in STEM if they so choose.

Here are 5 things to know about the STEM field:

1. STEM is the fastest growing job market: Over the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs was 3X greater than that of non-STEM jobs (source).3x-block

Looking to the future, the Economics and Statistics Administration and the Center on Education and the Workforce expect the field to increase by another 17 percent.
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Using Summary Charts to Press for Evidence and Promote Coherent Science Instruction: 8 Tips!

To the average student, science class feels like a series of disjointed learning activities. They don’t really know why they are learning what they are learning, nor how what they’re learning connects to the real world.

There are two things teachers can do to address this lack of coherence:

  1. Plan each instructional unit around a specific science phenomenon (read more about how to plan science units around intriguing phenomena here).
  2. Use a summary chart to help students keep track of what they learn from their lesson activities and then use their learning to help them explain how and why that phenomenon occurs.

In this blog, I focus on summary charts as a high-leverage tool in science classrooms.

What is a summary chart?

Alexa Summary Chart Nabisco Factory

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Announcing STEAM Fair 2016: Five Things You Need to Know

STEAM Fair Logo_2015

We are pleased to announce our 5th annual STEAM Fair!

Today’s job market is tough. Applicants significantly outnumber the available jobs. However, companies in the fields of science, technology, and engineering are actually struggling to find skilled workers and are looking abroad to recruit the expertise they need.

It is crucial that students develop the foundational knowledge and skills necessary to pursue whatever career path they desire. The school schedule must reflect the importance of science, engineering, and technology or we will limit ourScreen Shot 2015-11-04 at 11.10.40 AM students’ options for their future. Moreover, we need to do a better job of developing an informed citizenry that can make responsible decisions about the products they purchase, the food they consume, and the politicians for whom they vote. It follows that building our students’ scientific literacy can help to ensure their personal well being, as well as the welfare of their families, communities, and the interconnected world in which we live.

The projects students complete for the STEAM fair should not feel like “an extra thing to do.” The STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art as design, and mathematics) fair is a natural setting to promote learning of important academic content (i.e., CCSS and NGSS) and to support student development of 21st century skills, such as critical thinking a
nd problem solving—skills that are in high demand in today’s workforce!

To assist you with preparing your students for this year’s STEAM fair competition, I present you with…

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Your Best Year of Science is Here! 4 Guides to Start MBI Today

If we keep doing the same thing we will continue to get the same results.

The time is NOW to transition to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Our students can’t wait! The Chicago Public Schools transition plan below has us at FULL implementation of NGSS next year:

CPS Transition Plan

Two of the key shifts with NGSS are the following:

  • Phenomena: K-12 students should be using science ideas to explain HOW and WHY science phenomena occur.
  • Science and Engineering Practices: K-12 students should be engaging in the 8 science and engineering practices (e.g., developing and using models, engaging in argument from evidence) in order to learn the content and explore the crosscutting concepts. The days of teaching an isolated unit about the scientific method are over (note: the scientific method does NOT provide an accurate vision of the work of scientists–read more here).

Model-Based Inquiry (MBI) is one way to address these two NGSS shifts:

MBI Overview

The following MBI “How To” Guides were developed by AUSL teachers for AUSL teachers. Over the last two years, the teachers that make up the AUSL Science Teacher Network Team have been studying NGSS and best practices for science teaching. They’ve tried out and refined these strategies in their own classrooms and through Lesson Study, and synthesized their learning in these guides and Tch AUSL videos.

MBI Guides:

  1. MBI Guide #1: How to Come Up With an Engaging Phenomenon to Anchor a Unit (TchAUSL VIDEO)
  2. MBI Guide #2: How to Engage Students in Developing and Using Explanatory Models (TchAUSL VIDEO)
  3. MBI Guide #3: How to Use Summary Charts in the Classroom (TchAUSL VIDEO)
  4. MBI Guide #4: How to Enhance Discourse in the Science Classroom (TchAUSL VIDEO)

Special thanks to the following staff for creating these resources:

  • Darrin Collins (Phillips Academy High School)
  • Deanna Digitale-Grider (Solorio Academy High School)
  • Kristel Hsiao (formerly at Solorio Academy High School)
  • Kat Lucido (Phillips Academy High School)
  • Nicole Lum (Orr Academy High School)
  • Sarah Rogers (formerly at Howe School of Excellence)
  • Alexa Young (Marquette School of Excellence)
  • Chris Bruggeman (AUSL Technology Coordinator)

Post your questions and the examples of MBI from your classroom below.

Explanatory Models: A Highly Effective Way to Support Science Learning, NGSS, and MBI

When you hear the word “model” you might immediately think of the small-scale 3-dimensional replicas of buildings used by architects or the typical animal cell model your teacher had you make when you were a student. In science, the term “model” refers to a siTypes of Models Anchor Chart_Hsiaomplified representation of a system that is used to make predictions or explanations for a phenomenon. Scientific models are “judged on both how simple they are and how well they can be used to explain and predict natural phenomena” (Jadrich & Bruxvoort, 2011, p. 12). Using this definition, the 3D cell model or a drawing of the rock cycle found in so many textbooks are NOT scientific models in and of themselves. They are simply representations (unless they are used to explain or predict). Memorizing the steps in a cycle or the parts of a cell are not the end goal in an NGSS classroom.

According to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), scientific models may include: diagrams, physical replicas, mathematical representations, analogies, and computer simulations (see NGSS Appendix F). But, again, keep in mind that they must be used to predict or explain phenomena.

In this blog, we focus on one specific type of modeling that is particularly helpful for supporting and deepening student learning: “explanatory models.”

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6 Steps to Coming Up With an Engaging Phenomenon to Anchor Your Next NGSS Unit

Transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards’ way of constructivist teaching may seem a daunting task initially, but it is highly worthwhile! In this blog, we’ll share with you some easy ways to get started.

NGSS shifts the focus from science classrooms as environments where students learn about science ideas to places where students explore, examine, and use science ideas to explain how and why phenomena occur (Reiser, 2013). If you pique student curiosity they will be driven to want to learn more (Krajcik &  Mamlok-Naaman, 2006). It follows that one of the most important components in making this transition to NGSS is planning your units around a big question tied to a puzzling phenomenon.

phenomenon definition pic

Though the transition to NGSS and phenomenon-driven instruction may be challenging, there are small initial changes you can make that will provide large positive outcomes with regard to student motivation and depth of thinking. As you go through this blog, keep in mind how everything is geared toward introducing a real life context before throwing in the underlying scientific content.

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Spring [Your Science Instruction] Forward: 5 Steps to Implementing MBI

Model-Based Inquiry (MBI) is an engaging, NGSS-aligned, research-based approach to scienceinstruction (Windschitl, Thompson, & Braaten, 2008).

There are 5 steps to implementing MBI:

  1. Plan your instructional units around meaningful real world phenomena
  2. Elicit and work from students initial ideas
  3. Engage students in ongoing and in-depth sense making
  4. Provide students with opportunities to revisit and revise their thinking
  5. Have students apply their learning to a new, related phenomenon

In the following video, we introduce you to Model-Based Inquiry and provide you with a peek into what it looks like in action (in our very own AUSL classrooms). After you watch the video, scroll down to read more about the 5 steps to implementing MBI, as well as 3 tips for improving your teaching practice immediately. Enjoy!

Welcome to MBI


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Introduction the Next Generation Science Standards: 4 Things to Know

Happy 2015! It’s that time again–time to make your New Year’s resolutions. If you are a K-12 teacher and have not yet familiarized yourself with the new science standards then this blog’s for you! To help you get acquainted with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), here are 4 things to know…

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5 Things You Need to Know About the 2015 STEAM Fair

AUSL is excited to announce our 4th annual AUSL STEAM Fair! The process of creating stellar STEAM Fair projects begins after the break. (So you can breathe a little easier.)

The STEAM Fair is an opportunity for students from across the AUSL network to plan and carry out investigations or design projects related to the fields of science, technology, engineering, art as design (e.g., architecture), or mathematics.

Why is STEAM Fair Worth the Effort?

Due to the fact that there is a shortage of skilled workers in STEM fields (compared to a surplus in other areas), it is crucial our students develop the foundational knowledge and skills necessary to pursue whatever career path they desire. Moreover, given our current health and environmental woes, we need to do a better job of developing a scientifically literate citizenry that can make responsible decisions about the products they purchase, the food they consume, and the politicians for whom they vote.

The projects students complete for the STEAM fair should not feel like “an extra thing to do.”The STEAM Fair is a natural setting to promote learning of important academic content (i.e., Common Core State Standards [CCSS] and the Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS]) and to support student development of 21st century skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving—skills that are in high demand in today’s workforce!

And as a free early holiday gift, I present to you…

5 Things You Have to Know About STEAM Fair:

1. You first have to know about the basics:

WHEN: The finals will be held on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Schools fairs will take place anytime on or before April 17, 2015.

WHO: 4th-8th graders who place first at their school-level fair will advance to the finals. 9th-12th graders who place first or second at their school-level fair will advance to the finals. K-3 classrooms are also encouraged to carry out investigations. All teachers are asked to send photos of their students’ in action and their work to so we can feature them in a slideshow at the finals.

WHERE: The finals will take place at Collins Academy High School. Prior to this, each AUSL school will hold their own fair in order to determine winners who will advance to the AUSL finals.

2. There are two types of projects your students can present for the STEAM Fair:

  • Science Investigations — Students may conduct traditional experimental design projects (with controlled variables) or they may carry out studies involving systematic observations. Here’s a short YouTube video for info about the difference between the two.
  • Design Projects — Students may carry out an engineering design project or another form of design that solves a problem or fulfills a need (e.g., architecture, computer program, graphic design, etc.)

3. Winning projects tend to have four characteristics:

  • They addressed a novel problem or investigated a novel question (rather than being a project taken from the Science Buddies website)
  • They involved extensive background research or preliminary studies that informed the research question or design.
  • Students made a strong case for the need for their study/design
  • Students showed a deep working knowledge of why they got the results they did and how their project is relevant/important.

4. There are some excellent resources out there to help you assist your students:

Your student could win one of these

Your student could win one of these

5. The prizes are AWESOME. Winning students from each grade level will receive:

  • 1st place: Chromebook
  • 2nd place: $50 gift certificate
  • 3rd place: $20 gift certificate
  • Students placing 1st, 2nd, or 3rd at the AUSL Finals will also receive a medal
  • All students who earn a spot in the AUSL Finals will receive a certificate of participation.

Please share your questions, resources, and photos related to STEAM Fair in the comment below!

Best of luck to each of our schools!


The STEAM Fair Team of Alissa Berg, Chris Bruggeman, and Laura Zaniolo

Transitioning to NGSS: 5 Factors That Affect the Quality and Strength of Scientific Arguments

Rational point - No evidence

Engaging in argument from evidence is one of the 8 Science and Engineering Practices outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). In order to advance new knowledge about how the world works, scientists must justify and defend their ideas through evidence-based argumentation. Before an explanation becomes scientific knowledge, it must stand up to rigorous scrutiny by the scientific community—new science ideas are not easily accepted. Consequently, in the science classroom, “students should argue for the explanations they construct, defend their interpretations of the associated data, and advocate for the designs they propose” (NRC, 2012, p. 73).

In a previous blog, I presented the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning-Rebuttal framework as a strategy for helping students construct scientific explanations. In this blog, I focus on 5 factors that affect the quality and strength of our students’ arguments.

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