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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Starting from the Beginning at Year 20

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Have you ever taught a lesson and realized too few of your students learned what you taught? You’re not alone! We’ve experienced this numerous times in our years as classroom teachers and in our current roles. In this blog post, Gabe shares his experiences from teaching and his role as elementary school principal. Together, we share insights from our collaboration and shared experiences.

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Gabe:

After 20 years of working with elementary school children, I finally started to find answers to the pedagogical questions nagging me since my first days teaching mathematics. I also realized how powerful it is to expand my understanding of math concepts beyond the narrow scope I’d experienced — and taught — my entire life.

As a systems thinker, I’d constrained math instruction to a series of prescribed steps, completely disconnected from the mathematical concept. I streamlined tasks into a sequence that could be introduced and modeled — steps that students could rehearse as many times as necessary. Most lessons were a version of,

Here’s the lesson objective, relevant vocabulary, and the steps we need to follow. Now, we will practice these steps as many times as we can before lunch.”

Over the past two years, I began to emerge from my constrained view of math instruction. More than any other aspect of teaching, math instruction is the domain I would revise if I could revisit my years as a classroom teacher. Now, as the principal of an elementary school, my role is to be the lead learner. To me, this means I must first experience the steps it takes to learn new instructional strategies and implement them in classrooms at various grade levels. To do this, I schedule the time to co-teach math lessons in classrooms at the school where I work.

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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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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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Shamrock Science: 3-D Learning with Clovers

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

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“Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity”

~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca

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The ice and snow are starting to melt, the flowers are starting to poke their heads through the dirt, and if your students (and honestly teachers, too) are anything like ours, they’re starting to focus on the golden sunshine of spring break on the horizon. As luck would have it, elementary, middle, and high school Teaching Channel Squadsters came together to explore patterns of inheritance with a clover theme — just in time for St. Patrick’s Day!

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Tch Next Gen Science Squad in Action LIVE at NSTA 2018

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

Connected educators teach longer and have greater satisfaction in what is easily one of the best and most challenging professions.

Whether you’ve had the opportunity to connect with educators on Teaching Channel‘s Q&A board, or even just exploring the Deep Dives, the Tch Next Gen Science Squad wants to connect with you as we continue to get better together!

This year, the Tch NextGen Science Squad has been working to bring you snippets of our NGSS journey through #NextGenSquadinAction and #anewkindofpd videos on Twitter and Facebook.

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