Engaging the Community with Family Engineering Nights

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

“Now I understand what engineering in elementary school looks like!”

A dad raving about the Family Engineering Night

“Easiest and most fun event I have ever volunteered for at school.”

A teacher leading a station

“Loved how it got all members of the family involved in problem solving!”

A response from the parent survey


How much to do you involve your families with school?

If you’re like me, involvement with families consists of newsletters, emails, volunteering in the classroom, attending performances or academic celebrations, and conferences. As I started analyzing and reviewing how I was engaging families in the new science standards, I quickly realized this was purely a one-way system. Families were merely an audience for whatever I deemed relevant.

As I researched more about the traditional family involvement paradigm I’d been adhering to for so long, I realized I was missing an important and critical opportunity to have families as partners. So I started unpacking my beliefs and biases about families, and I thought about ways I could reframe and reshape what I’ve been doing. I was ready to move beyond the status quo and start pushing my practices to move out of my comfort zone!

The opportunity to start this work fell on my plate as a mandate. In my new role as district Elementary Science and STEM Specialist, I was informed that all 15 elementary schools would be hosting a family engineering night, for the first time EVER.

We’ve completed five of our school events and received overwhelmingly positive responses from teachers, volunteers, families, and students — a few of my favorites opened this post.

Here’s how we did it — and you can do it too!

Read more

My NGSS Mess

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

Editor’s Note: Isaac’s two-week unit plan pictured in this post is linked in the text below (PDF) and to the image.

One of my favorite aspects of NGSS is the emphasis on students doing science rather than just learning about science. We can have our students talk about science all day, but it’s not until they actually start to experiment with science that their misconceptions and misunderstandings become clear and they begin to learn so much more.

I was recently reminded that this same learning process applies just as much to teachers in the NGSS transition as it does to students in the classroom.

I’ve been exploring and learning about NGSS for quite a while now. I’ve enjoyed going to rollouts, workshops, and conferences and bringing back strategies and lesson ideas I can use in my classroom. When I found out I’d be teaching chemistry for the first time this year, I saw it as an opportunity to really use all the things I’d been talking about for so long. So, using the proposed California Chemistry Framework as a guide, I planned and implemented my first attempt at a 5E-inspired, totally NGSS unit. And it didn’t work out the way I intended at all.

Read more

Does This Swivl Make My Tendons Look Big?

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

A few weeks ago, I made a stop at a local butcher’s shop and left with a cooler full of cow muscle, tendons, fat, and a kidney just for fun. I was prepping for a tissue engineering unit where students would research authentic tissues before tackling our big question: Can low-cost, synthetic tissues be engineered for use in under-resourced medical schools and research labs? This unit was based on the Tissue Engineering guide from Allen Distinguished Educators DIY Guides.

One of my goals is to increase peer observations and encourage a school culture where teachers open up their practice to others. This can be challenging, as teachers most often have to give up their own time with students to make these observations happen. So I fired up my Swivl, and decided to step out of my comfort zone to demonstrate another way to share our practice when time is short — through video! As part of my work with the Tch Next Gen Science Squad, I decided to focus on the implementation of engineering as described in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Read more

Growth Mindset in STEM: EDP and the Writing Process

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

As a first generation college graduate, a decision I made early in life was to have a growth mindset. If you’re new to the term growth mindset, or maybe just on the hunt for resources, check out Teaching Channel’s Growth Mindset Deep Dive. While many people assume things in my life have come easily, I’ve spent my entire existence struggling to succeed. Blessed or cursed (depending on your perspective) with an insane amount of drive as well as a natural curiosity toward all things, my life has been a constant cycle of discovery, failure, retooling, and — mostly — eventual success.

This lifestyle has carried over into my classroom, as I believe that regardless of the content I’m teaching, it’s my duty as an educator to prepare all of the young people that walk through my door to face the challenges that lie ahead of them. That’s why I’m such a staunch advocate for the incorporation of the engineering design process into all classrooms. The EDP is the epitome of growth mindset and transcends the classroom into every facet of day-to-day life.

engineering-design-process

In that spirit, I continue to refine my practice. Every year, I identify one area of my instruction as a point of emphasis. In the past, these areas have ranged from classroom management, to individualized learning plans, to the integration of technology. One area I’ve been putting off is refining the writing process that occurs within my STEM course. Why have I been putting it off? Quite honestly, I struggle with writing. I believe in the value of writing, but freely acknowledge that it’s not a strength I possess. Opening up this area of my practice could be humbling, but it’s my hope that we (myself as well as fellow educators) will all benefit from this experience.

Read more

What I Know Now: Anchoring Phenomena in NGSS

Tch Next Generation Science Squad

Phenomena can be the special ingredient that brings both intrigue and relevance to an otherwise ordinary lesson. It’s no surprise anchoring phenomena have become a part of the conversation whenever educators discuss NGSS science instruction. This is exciting because anchoring phenomena and driving questions can be the key to student engagement.

When I was first introduced to the importance of anchoring phenomena in NGSS instruction, I remember Googling “NGSS anchoring phenomena” and getting two, maybe three results —  and even they weren’t really what I needed. Today, the same search returns more than 2000 results. In a very short time, knowledge and resources have increased at a breakneck pace. Today, I know I can find the resources I need to help me anchor phenomena to the standards with relative ease. I’d like to share some of my favorite results from my search with you.

Read more

I Feel Smart! Vanessa’s Story

We were weeks into our new journey of bringing the science fair into the 21st century: Science In The Sky.

Everything is digital so why haven’t science fairs caught up? Well, my students were doing it! A feverish pitch exploded early amongst my scientific teams once scientists from around the world started responding to different blog postings. Elshaddai and his team were working hard collecting data on their hypothesis about whether the moon does or doesn’t affect mood. “I don’t even know where Luxemburg, Munich, Hong Kong… I don’t know where any of these places are!” I overheard him saying to his team. Using social media, I was able to distribute their survey around the world and excitement ensued when data started to pour in because they had no idea that I’d done this.

Read more

Six Strategies Designed to Differentiate: NGSS & The Diverse Learner

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

Imagine being 12 years old and being told that you’re made up of tiny bits, that are made up of tiny bits, that are made up of tiny bits; and all those bits are going to interact in different ways and have AWESOME names that sound more like spells from Harry Potter than English. For me, teaching cell transportation at the middle school level has been a challenge.

When students walk into our classrooms many of them have no concept of cells other than the ones they’re carrying in their pockets. We, as science teachers, have long relied on analogies to demonstrate concepts; although this method has worked, I find there’s always a student who is confused by the “endoplasmic reticu-what” and cannot work their way up Bloom’s or grasp the Depth of Knowledge (DOK) I’m seeking for mastery,

This fall, I decided to change my approach when teaching the topic of cells. Instead of having my students dance out the process of endocytosis (think the hokey pokey: “things move into the cell, things move out of the cell… and they move all about”), I would try to align more to NGSS using an approach rooted in phenomena.

Read more

Video Playlist: Five Essential Practices in the Elementary ELL Classroom

5 Essential Practices for Teaching ELLs

In this new series, in partnership with San Francisco Unified School District, we step inside classrooms where teachers are using strategies to engage and support all learners, especially their English Language Learners (ELLs). In Part One of the series, we visit two elementary classrooms to see how teachers use the district’s recommended five essential practices to teach their students during designated English Language Development (ELD) time, as well as to integrate ELD into content. For more information on these practices, read Lisa Kwong’s blog post about the district’s ELL work.

Read more

Overcoming the Challenges of Teaching Science in Elementary School

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

Teaching in elementary school is a challenging task and educators are often confronted with many obstacles. One obstacle to overcome is carving out the time for science classes. With all of the subjects competing for young minds, it’s difficult to create a flexible schedule that can accommodate all the valuable information children need to master. Another potential hurdle is a feeling of uncertainty among teachers about science itself. I often hear teachers say, “I only took a few science classes. How can I teach science effectively and efficiently?”

There are ways to teach science well and manage time efficiently by counting on just a few resources. I find it’s easier to remember these resources if I organize them by theme: Teachers Helping Teachers, Teachers Helping Themselves, and Communities Helping Teachers.

Read more