Engineering the End of the School Year

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

As students walk into class, they gather all their materials and get to work right away on their collaborative projects.

Groups are independently engaged in their learning.

“I think greenhouses are going to be too expensive, but let’s look up the costs.”

“I think we should make a movie to tell others about our plan, because that’s more interesting than a PowerPoint.”

Does this scenario sound like a dream classroom, especially during the last few weeks of school? Well, what if this could be your classroom reality?

Keeping yourself and your students charged at the end of the school year sounds great and somewhat daunting. June can be taxing for students and teachers alike. However, the end of the year can also be the perfect time to try out new teaching practices and student-centered learning strategies.

If you lean in to the opportunity to reinvigorate your day-to-day routines, you can set yourself up to finish on a strong note, in terms of both instruction and social-emotional learning.

So, what’s the secret?

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Ecosystems: An NGSS-Designed Unit

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Every teacher seeks opportunities to engage students, but how often do you have the opportunity to truly immerse your students in the discipline you love? And how can you be certain that the resources you choose are high quality and grounded in best practices?

Experts at Achieve, NSTA, EdReports, BSCS, and Learning Forward have been engaging in a process of helping the science education community come to a consensus on what counts as “high quality.” And both federal and private STEM funders are supporting the work of researchers and developers to create open access curriculum materials.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, educators from the American Museum of Natural History, The Lawrence Hall of Science, and University of Connecticut are wrapping up a four-year project that sought to create both an exemplar unit (along with student assessments) and a professional learning program to support the enactment of the NGSS-designed curriculum.

The project was a huge success, and after a few years of field testing in New York City, the middle school ecosystems unit is becoming well known across the country — rated “High Quality, If Improved” by Achieve’s EQuIP Peer Review Panel.

One missing piece in all of the work was video of the enactment of the Disruptions in Ecosystems unit in a classroom. Video-based professional learning tied to NGSS-designed instructional materials can support teachers with developing a more concrete understanding of what it feels like to be in an NGSS classroom. It answers the frequently asked question, “What is this supposed to look like?”

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Family Fun with the Fathers of Science

My father is my hero, my inspiration, and one of several people I credit for my journey to becoming a science teacher. Whether it was dissecting cow hearts or cleaning a creek, he always taught me to embrace a sense of wonder and to question the natural world.

In this summer season, many of us are away from our classrooms, but Father’s Day is a perfect time to think about the “fathers” of science — in addition to our own. And it can also be an excellent time to plan some lessons with the family that may be applied in the classroom this fall.

Meg's dad holding newborn Edison


Meg’s dad holding newborn Edison.

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Dr. Stephen Pruitt: The Highest Distinction is Service to Others

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Teacher appreciation is something I think about a lot. When I was in the classroom full time, I so appreciated the notes from children and families — especially when they arrived at times other than Teacher Appreciation Week. However, it’s really awesome to be recognized as a group with your colleagues, and for that reason I’m thankful for the special things that happen each year at the beginning of May.

As a #NGSS teacher, learner, and coach, I have so much for which I’m thankful. I write this post to give a shout out to those who have been instrumental in helping me to become a much better #NGSS advocate and guru. Through my own learning, I became a better listener and collaborator, and now I can pay it forward by working with other teachers. There’s no educator who has had a greater impact on my #NGSS journey and my work than Dr. Stephen Pruitt.

Dr. Stephen Pruitt

Stephen Pruitt, who I like to call the “Father of NGSS,” was my first NGSS teacher. There are so many things I’ve learned from Stephen that they would be impossible to enumerate in full.

Dr Stephen Pruitt with students

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  • Most notably, he taught me how important it is to believe in myself as a science educator.
  • Stephen helped me to understand the importance of the three dimensions of NGSS, and how weaving those strands into meaningful science teaching and learning makes a strong and beautiful rope. While each of the dimensions is important as part of the foundation of learning, sense-making doesn’t truly happen until each of the dimensions are interwoven.
  • Stephen also taught me how to “eliminate black boxes” as an adult learner, so I could use that learning in my work with teachers and children.

These are just three examples of the ways that Dr. Stephen Pruitt has impacted me and my work as an educator. I appreciate him tremendously and I find myself wondering, if Stephen had such a profound impact on my work, what impact has he had on educators across the country? I decided to ask a few colleagues for their thoughts in an effort to find out.

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Hit the Ground Running Next Year: Free NGSS Course Opportunity!

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Are you looking to kick-start the school year with a robust, vetted, and Next Generation Science Standards-designed unit?

If you’re teaching science in grades five through nine and are interested in learning about the Disruptions in Ecosystems Unit, receiving the printed materials, getting continuing education or graduate credit, and implementing Chapter One at the start of your school year — then apply today to join our free online course!

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End the Torture of Science Fairs

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

Yellow, trifold Science Fair poster that reads, "How Much Turmoil Does the Science Project Cause Families?"As a classroom teacher, I used to require all of my fourth and fifth grade students to complete a formal science fair presentation following the scientific process with a tri-fold board and a classroom competition. I made it a big deal and organized many school-wide science fairs with elaborate themes and events. My intent was to get students and our community engaged and excited about science.

When my own children started participating in science fairs, I learned that my actual impact looked a little less like engagement and excitement, and a little more like torture — for the whole family! I was definitely not my best parenting self while trying to coerce my own children to finish their projects, and I realized that it’s time for a science fair revolution.

Check out this hilarious article by Susan Messina, creator of the turmoil project.

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Time for A Shift

The shift from a strict adherence to the scientific process to the Science and Engineering Practices should be reflected in our school science events. There are eight practices and only one of them is Planning and Carrying Out Investigations.

It’s time to broaden our view of a science fair, just like we’ve broadened our definition of the practices.

The “scientific method” makes science into a series of rigid steps — and can lead students to disengage. In contrast, the Science and Engineering Practices highlight how science is a highly social, creative, and iterative problem-solving process, involving a variety of different kinds of intellectual work.

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Eliciting Engagement with Earth Day Every Day

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

A couple of years ago, the FIRST LEGO League robotics theme was “Trash Trek.” That was the year that I decided to coach not one, but two teams of middle school students… by myself. After thinking long and hard about the challenge topic, the teams came up with two original solutions.

Team 1 joined efforts with a local trash company to recycle lunchroom milk cartons.

Team 2 had read that mealworm larva could eat styrofoam. They decided to grow mealworms, measure their consumption, and develop a plan for landfills. They grew mealworms in my classroom for six months. Did you know those little buggers grow wings? I didn’t.

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As Earth Day is quickly approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot about that robotics season and the initiative of those amazing students. They were motivated to make a change. They were obsessed with their efforts and even wrote songs about mealworms to quell the fears of the local elementary students — highlighting that while the worms could eat trash, they wouldn’t actually eat their house.
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Tch Video Lounge: KLEWS for Learning Science Vocabulary

Tch Video Lounge 2.0 - Watch. Learn. Interact.

Looking for a fun way to learn with colleagues? Come and check out Tch Video Lounge, where you can watch, interact, and discuss videos with the rest of the Teaching Channel community. We have over thirty videos in the lounge, with topics ranging from new teachers to instructional coaching.

In our latest installment, Bringing a KLEWS Chart to Life, we focus on science and visit a third grade classroom in Queens, New York that is engaged in NGSS instruction and learning. The video clip comes from our recently launched series, KLEWS: Supporting Claims, Evidence & Reasoning.

Teacher in front of her class, pointing at a KLEWS chart.

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Elevating Teacher Practice: Introducing Our Newest Laureate, Meg Richard

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Teaching is a rewarding profession on its own, but we also know the importance of elevating teachers that take initiative. The ones who put themselves out there and respond to the needs of their colleagues. Teachers like Meg Richard, a seventh grade science teacher at California Trail Middle School in Olathe, Kansas.

Meg RichardMeg has been an active content contributor as an NGSS Squadster, offering ideas and strategies which have proven to be of great interest and value for our followers. In response, we’re now re-introducing Meg as a Teaching Channel Laureate so she can share even more of her practice with our Tch audience.

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Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Embracing Virtual Journeys in Science

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

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“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

~ Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

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When I was a classroom teacher, this quote was posted on my wall to remind my students that they would have many choices in life. I wanted my students to be ready to explore the world and walk through all the doors that would open for them.

I was recently re-inspired when I saw these same words posted on the wall of a classroom I visited. It reminded me not only of the inspiration I find when reading many of the Dr. Seuss books, but also that each of his books has a message — some buried deep within the text, others more obvious, almost jumping off the page.

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