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!

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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Video Self-Reflection: Indoor Rockets

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

The National Board Certification process was one of the most effective exercises I’ve been involved in. The initial process, as well as my subsequent renewal, have proven to be invaluable to my development as an educator. The challenges presented to me have encouraged continued growth within this profession.

I found one of the most difficult aspects of the certification process to be the videotaped reflective piece. This component forced me to critically analyze virtually every aspect of my practice. Lessons learned through critical analysis of the recording have compelled me to find solutions to a wide variety of minor issues that were possibly hindering the success of my students. The videotaping has had such an impact on my classroom that I continue the practice to this day.

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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.

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Five Tools and Processes for Translating the NGSS

Tom:

As the school year is approaching its second semester, I’ve started to both reflect on the progress I’ve made as well as look ahead to the standards that need to be addressed by the end of the school year. As a STEM teacher within Greenon Local Schools, my primary focus is on Science and Engineering Practices. Something that has always been a major challenge is how to accurately take inventory of the standards and then develop an outline that ensures the needs of my students have been met by the time they leave my classroom.

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