Phenomenal Resources

Before I take over our classroom as student teacher in a few weeks, I will have the opportunity to do a practice run. I am planning and leading a series of lessons to kick off our unit on bonding.  As part of my planning, I’ve been trying to think of the perfect anchoring phenomena.

A phenomena is an observable event that can be explained with the scientific knowledge. Using a phenomena to anchor learning provides students with the opportunity to puzzle out that scientific knowledge for themselves. It allows them to have something tangible to create their new knowledge around. This makes leaning more meaningful and is one of the key elements of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

In my search for some bonding phenomenon inspiration I came across a few great websites that feature collections of phenomenon for all different science topics. Finding the right phenomena can be a challenge, but it is a real game changer when you do. These resources are too valuable not to share!

Phenomena for NGSS is a collection of photos and short videos that can be used as phenomena in the science classroom. Also check out their Twitter feed!

#ProjectPhenomena not only has some great examples of phenomena, but also provides target grade levels, relevant DCI, and some suggestions for how to use them.

The Wonder of Science organizes phenomena by grade level and standard. Some even include anchor chart and assessment ideas!

I hope you find some inspiration here. And, if you know of any others, I’d love to hear about them!

Science As A Verb

In general, I have somewhat mixed feeling about the practice of “verbing.” That is, using a noun or adjective as a verb to describe an action for which a suitable verb does not already exist. I think most people are familiar with the term “adulting” to describe the practice of acting like a grown up. I’ve been a grown up for a while now, so “adulting” isn’t really in my vocabulary, but I have been known to create my own verbs out of other words when necessary. Usually I have a little warning sound in my brain when I do.

Except with science. I don’t feel guilty about using science as a verb at all. I think it kind of got a raw deal by only being allowed to be a noun. Of all the words out there, science should qualify as a verb. The noun, science, describes all of the stuff that we know about how the world works, but there is so much more to it than that. Science is also what we do, the action we take, to come up with that knowledge. Science is actively looking at the world with curiosity and questioning what we see.

I recently began my first student teaching placement in a chemistry class at the School of the Arts in Rochester, NY. My cooperating teacher kicked off the year by asking our students “Can an artist be a chemist?

If you think of science as a noun, and especially as being the information that will be on the exam at the end of the year, then the answer to that question might be not so positive. Things like stoichiometry, ideal gas laws, or the various models of the atom may not seem relevant to someone who is less passionate about chemistry than I am.

The danger in presenting that narrow, noun-centric view of science is that for many people, science will seem irrelevant, or even intimidating. It presents science as a thing that is reserved only for those who are “good at school.” By ignoring the verb part of science, the curiosity, the questioning, the investigating, and the problem solving that we are ALL are capable of is devalued. When science appears to be an elitist club, people don’t try to join.

Thankfully, many of our students do already see science more than the information they will need to learn to pass an exam. They see chemistry as something they are already a part of.

Student Responses

One of our students from period 3 really nailed it:

“Both artists and chemists need an open mind and a creative mind.”

So true!  

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go science.

Science STARS

September is here! I have always loved the beginning of the school year. There is nothing like fresh notebooks and new pens. This year is extra exciting since I have started in my first student teaching placement. My cooperating teacher is amazing, and I have already learned so much.

More about that later, though.

Right now, I want to talk about STARS! This fall, the Get Real! Science crew is hosting an after school club for local middle school students called Science STARS. Much like our summer camp in Sodus, we will be using this opportunity to do science with youth about topics that matter to them. We are going to be using what we find out to create a movie, complete with a red carpet premier at a real movie theater!

I have teamed up with Kristi and Alyssa to lead a group in investigating food. We know that the youth have been taught about the importance of healthy eating and that they know generally what is healthy and what is not. We have no desire to do any lecturing on nutrition. Instead, we will explore the barriers to healthy eating that the youth and members of their community encounter. We want to help them discover ways to overcome these barriers and the empower them to help others do the same.

Kristi, Alyssa, and I created a short video to introduce the topic to the youth when we met with them this week. Check it out!

A Different Perspective

Camp started this past week! Get Real Science is taking over a summer camp in Sodus, NY for a week. We are having fun and doing science!

One of our themes for camp is using aerial photography in order to look at things from a different perspective. Scale is one of the Crosscutting Concepts identified by the National Research Council (2012) in their Framework for K-12 Science Education. Aerial photography can allow us to see things from a larger scale than we can on the ground. Patterns, another Crosscutting Concept, may be revealed from this new perspective, as well.

In fact, just last week, Anthony Murphy discovered a previously unknown ancient monument site while flying his drone in Ireland. The drought conditions revealed the outlines of where the monument had been located, but it was only by getting a different perspective that the pattern could be seen.

Anthony Murphy, Mythical Ireland

As part of our introduction to camp on Thursday, Gavin, Robin and I led the students through an activity to practice aerial photography. Here are the athletic fields outside of the Sodus Elementary school. Our own dry conditions reveal ed two rectangular areas that look like they were once something other than a soccer field.

An aerial view of the field where we were practicing.

Despite a few hiccups, like the camera’s weight preventing the balloons from flying as high as we wanted, we had a blast! It was great to see the students excited to try this out. We had a laptop outside with us, so we could immediately download the pictures and show them off. The students got a huge kick out of seeing themselves from above. Even some of the students who were reluctant to participate had smiles on their faces when they saw the result. Those smiles were the best.

The students from above.


National Research Council (2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.


Asking Questions

Last night the Get Real! Science crew took part in a Collaborative Conversation in Sodus, NY to help us prepare for our science summer camp. We had members of the Sodus community, educators, family, and friends join us. With such a diverse group, we able to get a ton of great ideas.

Rather than talking about our specific camp plans, we asked broader questions of our collaborators. Ellen, Kristi and I wanted to know,

How can we encourage students to take their science inquiry practices out of the classroom and into their everyday lives?

When we met with students in Sodus earlier this month to talk to them about our ideas for summer camp, they were amazing. They asked some really thoughtful questions about the science that we shared with them. But, for some students, there is a disconnect between what goes on in the classroom and outside of the classroom.

Asking questions is one of the critical science and engineering practices that students should engage in according to the National Research Council’s (2012) Framework for K-12 Science Education. They state,

“Asking questions is essential to developing scientific habits of mind. Even for individuals who do not become scientists or engineers, the ability to ask well-defined questions is an important component of science literacy, helping to make them critical consumers of scientific knowledge.” (p. 54)

The conversation at our table took some very different paths, which was fabulous. One of our collaborators, Chuck brought up the topic of science literacy. He wondered where students would go when they wanted to look for answers to their questions. We also talked about helping students develop an understanding of the trade offs that scientists and engineers must wrestle with. We had been focused primarily on fostering a curiosity about the natural world in our students, but it is also important for students to questions why we do the things we do.

On the more practical side of things, Mary had some great ideas about ways to engage our students’ families in the science that they are doing. We talked about how students might bring aspects of their home lives into camp and ways that we can communicate with families and the community. We thought that using social media could get students excited about sharing their science and motivate them to keep noticing and wondering.

Overall, it was a really enjoyable evening! About half an hour into the event I realized that I wasn’t really even thinking about having to present my thoughts to an audience anymore and instead could just focus on having a conversation with some wonderful people.

Lab Girl

If you are anything like me, you have more books on your summer reading list than you could ever hope to read in a few short months. Well, I have another one for you to add, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

Penguin Random House

Jahren is a botanist/geologist/biochemist and all around fabulous scientist. Her book is part memoir, part science story. Both are fascinating.

In our Get Real! Science classes we’ve been talking about challenging the stereotype of the typical scientist. Jahren’s memoir chapters do this by telling her story. She talks about the journey she has taken to find her identity as a scientist and the struggles she has faced as to be recognized as a legitimate scientist because of her gender. She talks about the passion that drives her and the mania that at times has consumed her. She talks about finding friendship and love. She is not a scientist despite her role as a wife and a mother, or as someone who happens to have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She is all of those those things together.

We have also been talking about different ways of communicating science in order to make it more accessible. Jahren shares rich descriptions of the lives of plants, and their stories mirror her own. These chapters are not told in the sterile, remote language often found in science literature. Instead they help us to share in the wonder and curiosity that drives Jahren to keep exploring. They inspire us to do the same.

Telling Stories

This week, the Loyal to Soil team, along with the rest of our Get Real! Science cohort, met with students in Sodus, NY to talk about our experiences as scientists exploring their community. We wanted to find out if they had any ideas for some next steps we could take on our quest to find out why some fruit is good while other fruit is great, even on the same farm, and to invite them to join us over the summer to do the investigating. They completely blew me away with the connections they made to our science and asked some really amazing questions. I can’t wait to get back to work!

Here is the video we made to share our science:



Looking Up

This past weekend, I had a chance to visit the Mees Observatory in Bristol, NY, about 40 miles south of Rochester. Despite living in Rochester for most of my life, I only learned about its existence last year. The observatory is run by the University of Rochester Department of Physics and Astronomy, and in conjunction with the Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Science (ASRAS), they offer free tours to the public on Friday and Saturday nights during the summer. Registration is required, and the tours fill up fast, so I was super excited when I managed to find an open spot.

Our evening started with a presentation about the night sky. Jupiter was in a location for prime viewing, so we learned about it’s features and moons. Then, one of our tour guides, Pouya Tanouri, told us a little bit about his research. While many people (me!) are interested in the things that we can see in space like the planets and stars, Pouya is interested in what we can’t see, like dark matter.

The Mees Observatory

Do you see those clouds? The sky had be perfectly clear and sunny on our drive down to Bristol. By the time it was dark enough to see the stars, there weren’t any to see! The clouds had moved in. We were so disappointed. The giant telescope was neat, but what we were really there for was what we could see through the telescope.

Just as we were about to give up and go home, the sky cleared. We could see so many stars. Even without the telescope the view of the sky was amazing.

The first object we looked at was Jupiter, as promised. It was huge! Because Jupiter was low in the sky, the atmosphere made things a little hazy. The stripes were clearly visible, and a couple of times while I was watching, the big red storm came into focus.

Messier 13 Credits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); Acknowledgment: C. Bailyn (Yale University), W. Lewin (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), A. Sarajedini (University of Florida), and W. van Altena (Yale University)

My favorite object was a star cluster, Messier 13. The picture above is a composite of images from the Hubble Telescope. What we saw wasn’t quite like that, but it was still impressive. According to NASA, there are over 100,000 stars within this cluster. What looked like a single dot of light to the naked eye resolved into a sea of lights of varying intensity through the telescope.

Besides the tour at the Mees Observatory, the ASRAS offers free telescope viewings from the top of the RMSC planetarium on Saturday nights when the weather is cooperative. No reservation required for those, but they do recommend that you call ahead to make sure it’s still on.

I love that people are doing science all around us, and so often, they are eager to share. This stuff is too exciting to keep to yourself! Do you know of any other great science experiences Rochester has to offer?

Team Soil

This week, we had the chance to get back to our roots (pun intended), get our hands dirty (literally) and do some science! After the somewhat overwhelming start to our time here in the Get Real! Science program, it was a great way to remember our reason for being here in the first place.

Robin, Gavin, and I decided to investigate the connection between soil quality and produce quality. Our line of inquiry was inspired by a 6th grader from the Town of Sodus, NY who wondered why apples from the grocery store were so much less tasty than apples from the local farms. Perhaps it’s something about the soil in Sodus.

Now, apples are more of a fall crop, and we weren’t going to be going collecting soil from the farms producing grocery store produce, but the idea was still something we wanted to explore. As often happens with these kinds of wonderings, our questions wandered and evolved until we came to something we could test. Spring means strawberries, and some strawberries are definitely better than others. We decided to take soil samples from two different strawberry patches and then see if the nutrient levels in those samples correlated to the quality of the berries.

I’d be lying if I said we weren’t at least a little bit motivated by the produce quality testing part. Unfortunately we are still a little early for strawberries, so the taste testing didn’t pan out. We had to settle for counting unripe berries and flowers instead. Science can be cruel.

We carried on anyway, and the folks at Burnap Farms were kind enough to let us trample all over their fields to collect our soil and berry data.

Team Soil with Kendra (left), Ed, and Jan (right) of Burnap Farms.

One thing that struck me throughout this process is how easily Robin, Gavin and I were able to work together. We very quickly reached the point where we felt like old friends. In our readings this week, we explored the ways that science is cultural, and I have to believe that has something to do with our bond. Though we come from different backgrounds, we share a culture. We know how to talk about science, and we know how to behave when doing science.

When I’ve thought in the past about how to make science more inclusive, I have primarily considered the ways that we can recognize how our students are already doing science, even if it doesn’t fit the typical picture of what science is. I still think that is incredibly important, but through our readings and insightful discussions during class this week, I’ve come to see that it isn’t enough. We also need to acquaint our students, all of our students, with this shared culture. This is not to say that their personal way of knowing is wrong; there is more than one way to approach science after all. However, we do need to ensure that our students have the tools to bridge those different ways of knowing, both within our classrooms and in their future endeavors.

Why blog?

I love science, and I think you should, too.

Alright, so maybe you don’t have to love it, but I hope you can at least appreciate science for its beauty and power. Science is not hard; it is not reserved for stuffy, old men in dark, creepy laboratories. Science is about being curious and exploring and discovering. Science is about finding something that you think is cool, learning everything you can about it, and being so excited, you can’t help but share it with everyone who will listen.

This is where blogging comes in. In the book, Science Blogging, Christie Wilcox (2016) makes the case that blogging is an ideal medium to share science in an enthusiastic and engaging way. The informal nature of blog posts allows for the use of accessible language complimented by pictures and video. Blogs have the ability to reach people from a wide range of backgrounds and locations. These factors allow blogs to bring science to people who might not otherwise engage with it.

I am not a stranger to blogging. As blogging evolved over the last 10 or 15 years, I have used this tool in a variety of ways. Through personal blogs, I have been able to keep family and friends updated, especially on the lives of my children.  Blogging about hobbies allowed me to connect with wonderful communities of interesting and knowledgeable people. Putting myself out there in a public or semi-public space and knowing that what I am writing will be read by someone else keeps me accountable for both the frequency of posts and the content that I create. Blogging has often been a motivation to push myself beyond what I might otherwise find comfortable. I hope that this blog about my journey to becoming a science educator helps in the same ways.

My goals for this blog are:

To Find My Voice

I have been interested in using story telling as a way to teach science for a long time. I think that, for many people, stories can capture attention and provide connections to science in a way that a basic telling of facts cannot. Every skill requires practice and work, and storytelling is no exception. I look forward to telling stories here.

To Collaborate

Like any new student, I am extremely excited about this journey that I have just begun. I am enthusiastic about changing the way that science is taught and have so many grand ideas for doing so. I am thrilled to have a platform to share those ideas with other science teachers. I also recognize that there is wisdom to be gained from those with experience. There will be obstacles to my ideas that I have not considered. I hope that this space can be a place for sharing ideas and experiences for the benefit of all science teachers.


Wilcox, C. (2016). Science Blogging: The Essential Guide. Yale University Press.