Finding Balance with engageNY: Teaching Fairness with Fairy Tales


My 1st Grade students at Tarkington School of Excellence participate in Classroom Champions, a free program where we receive monthly social-emotional lessons from a U. S. paralympian.  A fortunate byproduct of our involvement with this program is spending a lot of time with my students discussing differences between people and the importance of treating everyone fairly. The process has not only opened our classroom space to many important conversations about fairness, it has led to looking at different texts with a critical eye to learn lessons and to seek to understand more.

After completing the engageNY Listening and Learning unit Similar Stories and Different Lands, I saw a perfect opportunity to promote critical thinking skills as well as those lessons on fairness fostered by Classroom Champions.

In this engageNY unit, we read nine stories, each providing opportunities to discuss the traditional roles of boys and girls in fairy tales. Four of the stories featured young girls who are kidnapped by trickster male characters wishing to eat or marry them. In two of the stories, the girls are servants who clean, do laundry and marry a prince in the end. In three of the stories the male character is brave and defeats monsters and “gets to marry” the princess because he saved her life.  

As we studied these stories I wondered, “What subliminal messages did I just send the six and seven year-old boys and girls in my classroom?” Several students started to make comments, such as, “That’s just how girls are.” Other students said, “That’s what boys do, boys are brave.”

berman-booksIn order to help the students understand that books don’t always portray characters in an accurate light, we read The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs and The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. The students talked about how they first perceived the wolf and how their perceptions changed when we read different stories.

In a discussion, my students analyzed the characters and plots of the stories from the Similar Stories unit. Then they talked about how the girls and boys were portrayed in each story.

Most of my students considered boys as brave and necessary to defeat things. They thought girls had to clean, be scared and get captured. This moment really showed how much of an impact these stories have on our kids and it showed a need for balance in portrayals of boys and girls. 

Temperature Check: Closed-eyes Poll

At this time, I decided to take a closed eye poll.  I use closed-eyes polls frequently to gauge understanding, check for misconceptions, and before discussions where I anticipate strong opinions. Closed-eyes polls allow the students to see what the class is thinking as a whole without highlighting specific students. It also helps me determine the evidence they need to use so classmates can understand their point of view.  Closed-eyes polls also let me see what next steps I need to take in the moment or in future lessons. They also provide me with a reminder to never assume that everyone is thinking the same thing as the few students I heard in conversations.  

closedeyespoll-2When I asked if girls could be brave and defeat things, the initial response from most girls and boys was no. But in our closed-eye poll, more students (10 to 7) believed girls couldn’t be brave and defeat things.

Over the next week we began working to change their perception. We discussed the importance of what the stories taught us, and how we also need to look deeply into the stories we read.  She Persisted started our lessons about women who have had huge impacts on the world. Already students’ brains started spinning. One said, “I was wrong, I changed my mind. Girls are brave. Just because boys sometimes look stronger doesn’t mean they are. Girls are really brave too.”

Linking to Science and Thinking Critically

As a result of reading several books about women who worked to make the world a better, more accepting and innovative place, the students began to recognize a need for change, the importance of accepting differences and seeing what all people have to offer.  Our first quarter science unit was about animal adaptations, focusing mainly on how sea turtles survive. Several months later, a student saw a commercial at home about endangered sea turtles. The class decided to write letters and engineer designs to help save the sea turtles.

To extend their learning, students retold and created puppet shows (part of their end of unit science task on light and sound), with alternate endings to stories read aloud in class.  Students used the stories from Different Lands, Similar Stories and created endings that showed a female solving her own problem or with help from another female.  One group, had Cinderella attend school and graduate from college. Another group, created a female hunter that saved Little Red and her grandma.

Overall Impact

One of the big reasons why I love teaching 1st Grade is because of the changes that I see in my students everyday. As learners, citizens, thinkers–I love watching them grow and expand their curiosity about the world around them. Enhancing my ELA instruction with several stories featuring strong female protagonists (as well as our participation in Classroom Champions) provided some very clear development in my students’ thinking and choices around the works that they read.

  • My students became passionate about making a difference and social justice. They sought out more books about men and women who made changes in the world and analyzed their character traits. 
  • They were better equipped to identify stereotypes and the importance of not judging others.
  • My girls felt empowered and all of my students experienced some shift in their viewpoints on what it means to be a boy or girl.
  • I noticed more of my students seeking out books from our classroom library that featured female protagonists.

Students also made greater connections about stories and characters across engageNY reading units.  Below are examples of students using previous texts to support their arguments of why Hatshepsut (from Domain 4, Ancient Civilizations) should or should not have been allowed to be Pharaoh (click each to enlarge).

I’d like to know if your classroom made enhancements to engageNY units that transformed students’ thinking–let’s keep this conversation going in the comments below.


Christine is in her third year as a 1st Grade teacher and mentor at Tarkington School of Excellence. She previously taught 5th Grade math and science at Tarkington. She received her Masters Degree in Special Education from University of Illinois at Chicago.

Cooking with STEAM: 11 Project Tips to Impress the Judges in April

The 7th annual AUSL STEAM Fair is coming up in April!

Here are the basics you need to know:

  • What: STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art (as design), and Mathematics
  • When: April 20, 2018 (9:30am-1:30pm)
  • Where: Collins Academy High School
  • Who: Each school will send their 4th-12th grade winners from their respective fairs to the finals. Elementary schools send one winning project per grade. High Schools send two winning projects per grade. Students may work individually or in pairs.
  • Why: 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 and problem solving—skills that are in high demand in today’s workforce!
  • How: Check out our STEAM Fair resources here (including example timelines, graphic organizers, and project ideas): 

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Start 2018 Right! 3 Great Reads for Science Teachers

pic2It’s that time of year again…the time where we reflect on the past and set goals for the year ahead. As I reflect on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and what’s had the most positive impact on science teacher practice and student learning over the last few years, three readings immediately come to mind.

Check them out, along with corresponding New Year’s resolutions, below.

New Year’s Resolution 1: Engage students in modeling how and why phenomena occur.

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Stepping Back: 7 Ideas to Transform Student Science Discussions

“The person doing the talking is the person doing the learning.”

stem-blog-121317There is little point in covering material if students don’t have the time to process and internalize it. We need to stop trying to fill students’ brains with so much information and focus on depth over breadth.

Now that we have Google, there is a plethora of information right at our fingers. We don’t need to store random facts in our heads. Carving out time for students to make sense of and apply those facts to new situations will have a much stronger return on investment in the long run.

Not only should teachers NOT be the ones articulating the science content to students (as this only serves to deepen the teachers’ understanding), but they should NOT be the only ones evaluating students’ ideas.

Put the onus on the kids! Read more

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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Tch Tech Follow Up: Google Expeditions Are Going, Going…

Teachers control the VR headsets with a tablet which also allows them to highlight content for students.

Teachers control the VR headsets with a tablet which also allows them to highlight content for students.

Last week, I shared a short clip showing you the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program. This international program brings immersive and engaging experiences to schools via virtual reality technology that you can try at home. Google is sending ambassadors with class sets of VR headsets throughout the Chicagoland area from now through November 11th. Hey! That’s just FOUR WEEKS away!

For that reason I am reaching out to YOU, 2nd through 12th grade science or social studies teacher, to tell you more about Google Expeditions so you’ll bring them to your school. To push you along, here are five reasons why you should take the time to recruit five other teachers for this amazing field trip in your classroom. Read more

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.

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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Revise Your Thinking: 6 Science Myths Debunked

One goal of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is to develop students’ understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge and how it is developed (Nature of Science in NGSS). Words like “theory” and “proof” get thrown around in everyday conversations and mis-used in the media all the time. To ensure our students become critical consumers and informed citizens, it is up to science educators to provide them with a more accurate conception of what counts as science and how scientific knowledge is generated.

In this blog, I debunk 6 Common Myths About Science, provide 9 Core Ideas of the Nature of Science (which would make a great anchor chart for your classroom!), and include links to lesson activities that are sure to deepen student understanding of science. Read more