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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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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Winter Olympics: 5 Rings, 5 Events, 5 Engineering Challenges

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on up it’s…”  Olympics time!

~ Sanka Coffie, Cool Runnings

Olympic rings

The Olympics are full of amazing athletes, but what keeps people watching night after night are the stories.

For two weeks every four years, households around the world tune in to watch. We cheer on Apolo Ohno, Lindsey Vonn, and Shawn White. We’re suddenly captivated by otherwise mundane tasks like sweeping (curling anyone?).

The stories of the athletes teach lessons of perseverance in which athletes train, and retrain, and retrain… until they reach their goal and the glory.

How can we provide students with analogous opportunities to embrace a process that leads them to overcome a challenge and improve upon a system?

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Practices in Action: Ecobottles as a Model Ecosystem

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

Anyone who has spent time learning about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is familiar with the three-dimensional aspect of the Standards — an integration of disciplinary core ideas, cross-cutting concepts, and science and engineering practices. While most would reason science education has always involved themes and practices in addition to the content, the integral shift the NGSS offer is that each of these is given equal status.

The Next Generation Science Standards changed how science is assessed. Students must show proficiency in all three dimensions, not just content mastery.

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STEM in Early Learning

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When you think about STEM, you might think about high school students doing an egg drop design challenge or middle schoolers building model roller coasters. But even our youngest students are ready to engage in STEM.

In our latest video series, created in partnership with Fairfax Futures, we explore what STEM looks like in early childhood. Young children naturally engage in the scientific method. They observe the world around them, make predictions, try out ideas, and revise their thinking. To help students develop these key concepts, the teachers in these videos present students with developmentally-appropriate math and science activities. They root their lessons in connections to literature and their students’ home lives, asking open-ended questions to help students develop understanding.

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Happy Hallow–STEAM!

Happy Hallow-steam

Halloween can be a scary time of year for educators SmartBrief Ed Choice Award

— candy, costumes, calamity — oh my!

In this season of changing leaves, could it be time to change our mindsets as well? Can we turn the season of “boo” into a season of “oooh” in our classrooms this fall?

Here are some ideas on how to use the crispness of autumn and some tasty candy sensations to sweeten some lessons for your students this Halloween.

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Tch DIY: Build & Tch with Tom Jenkins

Build & Tch with Tom Jenkins

As Science Laureate at Teaching Channel, one of my roles is to highlight exemplar modules of instruction. In my mind, that means that these units not only have to be aligned to the standards, but also need to be both unique and engaging.

One problem with innovative lessons is that they often involve costly or custom-made components. To help address these issues, the editorial team at Teaching Channel asked me to create a series of videos that show educators how to build different testing mechanisms that I use within my own middle school classroom setting.

Tch DIY: Build & Tch is a new series where I, along with my students, will not only highlight four outstanding modules of instruction, but we’ll also provide a step-by-step video on how to construct wind turbine stands, shake tables, an electromagnetic dropping mechanism, as well as an air compressed rocket launcher.

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NGSS: From Theory to Practice

NGSS: From Theory to Practice Video Series

In my role as a facilitator of professional learning for science teachers, I’m often asked “What do the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) look like when they’re translated into classroom practice, and how do we help teachers get there?” Along with some innovative collaborative partner institutions and generous funders, we at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) have been working on two projects to answer these questions. Thanks to Teaching Channel, we captured some of this work on video to share with the larger science education community.

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