Teaching through Story: Reading in Science

In last weeks blog I referenced Dr. Tony Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills. Dr. Wagner proposes the following seven skills as essential for: improving our teaching and learning strategies in education, and preparing students to lead lives as “civically engaged individuals” (Danielle Allen, What Is Education For?).

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  3. Agility and Adaptability
  4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective oral and written communication
  6. Accessing and Analyzing Information
  7. Curiosity and Imagination

I left us with the question: How do we account for Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills when selecting Big Ideas? This week, the Get Real! Science cohort is working on Stage 3 of the Universal by Design framework: developing a Learning Plan. As we begin to map our learning experiences and activities to our desired outcomes (Stage 2) and guiding principles (Stage 1) it is important to also reference interdisciplinary goals, the tenets of Nature of Science, and opportunities for learning and student action beyond the walls of the school building.

What types of learning experiences allow us to facilitate learning experiences that do all of the above?

A recent assignment tasked the GR!S cohort with reading a “non-fiction science book” of our choice. We were tasked with analyzing the theme, identifying the tenets of Nature of Science, and exploring possible uses for the story in our own classrooms.

I chose to read: The Boy Who Harnessed the Windco-authored by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. If you’re looking for a good read, check it out! The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind is a story of resilience, tenacity, and innovation. It is the privilege of the reader to join William Kamkwamba as he shares his story of growing up in an agricultural village in Malawi, Africa. William’s story is one of resilience through drought, famine, poverty, and lack of access to equitable education opportunities. Despite these hardships, William demonstrates tenacity as he works alongside his family in order to provide food for survival, and as he pursues learning opportunities through the local library when he can no longer afford to attend school. William is innovative, utilizing resources and materials in new ways in order to accomplish his goal: to bring electricity to his family’s home and village through the construction of a windmill.

As I begin to think about how I will engage my students in meaningful, interdisciplinary learning experiences I am eager to teach through stories like that of William’s. William begins his story by sharing a childhood game of toy trucks, a game where he and his friends made trucks out of empty cartons. William states: “Even though we lived in a small village in Africa, we did many of the same things kids do all over the world; we just used different materials” (Kamkwamba & Mealer). It is through stories like these that we can teach our students in ways that expand world views without drawing lines between “us versus them”. The diversity of concepts and content within the story line offer worthwhile and enriching interdisciplinary educational experiences.

So…how can teaching through story introduce learning experiences that prepare students to lead lives as scientifically literate, global citizens? Let’s think back to Dr. Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills. 

  • Reading inherently stimulates curiosity and imagination while requiring students to access and analyze information.
  • Stories have the power of introducing relevant characters who demonstrate agility, adaptability, initiative, and entrepreneruialism. 
  • When students have a voice and choice in the stories they choose to read educators can differentiate lessons focused on developing effective communication strategies to meet the needs of each student.
  • Stories have the power of inspiring action! Extension tasks can challenge students to think critically and take on problems in their own community which require collaboration across networks and the ability to lead by influence!
    • Learning communities can begin by getting involved with existing initiatives such as the Moving Windmills Project or by starting their own!

Looking for stories to incorporate in your classroom? Check out NSTA’s Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12: 2018Do you have recommendations to add? Please share in the comment section below!

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What makes an idea, a BIG idea?

Image: Ted Ed

What makes an idea, a BIG idea? As educators we are surrounded by ideas. It is our responsibility to carefully select and combine ideas which serve as the foundations for meaningful learning experiences for our students: the Big Ideas. It is essential that these ideas are situated: Meaningful learning experiences are situated in familiar culture and context, respect and employ the prior knowledge and experience of each learner, are scaffolded accordingly, and incorporate community expertise and resources while fostering participatory, citizen science action research (Avery, 2013; Ballard et al. 2017).

According to Wiggins & McTighe (2004), BIG ideas provide a “conceptual lens for prioritizing content”. Therefore, we generate and utilize Big Ideas as the foundational experience for instruction, understanding and assessment (Wiggins & McTighe, 2004).

Big Ideas reflect exert understanding and anchor the discourse, inquiries, discoveries, and arguments in a field of study. They provide a basis for setting curriculum priorities to focus on the most meaningful content” (MOBAP).

While as educators we assume the “behind the scenes” responsibility in creating learning experiences that anchor student learning in Big Ideas it is essential that we collaborate with our fellow educators, our students, and our communities when doing so. According to the constructivist theory: learners “do not passively absorb information, but rather, meaningful learning involves the active creation and modification of knowledge structures” (Palmer, 2005, p. 1854). When we invite individuals with various perspectives in the construction process we ensure that the Big Ideas we select allow for various entry points for learning and involvement, broadening our students learning community beyond the walls of the school building, while encouraging students to take on challenges within their own communities! For example, in the context of the Genesee River (Rochester, NY) we can ask the question: How does water influence weather, circulate in the oceans, and shape Earth’s surface? Within the question lies room for various entry points of study: geological time, weathering and erosion, pollution, the development of industry along a waterway, environmental impact…

As we begin to shift away form traditional teaching methods toward inquiry driven approaches we must expand our own understanding of teaching and learning. Where to begin? Check out Wilmes & Howarth (2009) Using Issues-based science in the classroom

“Every day we are confronted with issues of varying degrees of complexity and importance…Questions such as these present unique opportunities to incorporate personal, societal, and global issues into the science classroom. Issues-based science not only helps increase student engagement, but also provides a context in which to learn and apply core science content. In addition, students evaluate scientific evidence, apply reasoning, examine positions, and weigh trade-offs” (Wilmes & Howarth, 2009).

Our next step is to dig deep! What “issues” can we take on in our local communities? Choosing issues that are complex, lead to ongoing questioning, and encompass interdisciplinary study invite inquisitive minds to learn through various perspectives. As a student teacher at World of Inquiry (RCSD #58) I am fortunate to have the experience of teaching and learning in an Expeditionary Learning school. This year, seventh grade students are exploring: The Riveting River! (An expedition grounded in the local Genesee River).

While students will unpack Big Ideas in each of their core content classes, interdisciplinary study will be encouraged through collaborative learning experiences and field studies. A culminating experience will provide students the opportunity to share their understanding with community members during Expedition Night, an event which allows the time and space for authentic communication and shared learning. When we ground teaching and learning in Big Ideas we facilitate ongoing inquiry, encouraging young learners to pursue learning opportunities that extend beyond the classroom!

Recently while participating in a seminar focused on Understanding by Design, facilitated by Julie Kopp, the GR!S cohort participated in a focused free write where we were asked:

What are your long-term goals for student learning in science?

The following themes emerged: Perseverance, Curiosity, Problem Solving, Scientific Literacy, Environmental Consciousness.

What are your long-term goals for student learning? Brainstorm for a few minutes and write down your thoughts! Then, watch Dr. Tony Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills:

How do we account for Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills when selecting Big Ideas?

Here’s my working draft:

In designing innovative, authentic, and meaningful learning experiences grounded in Big Ideas which acknowledge and celebrate diversity (in regard to perspectives, experiences, and identities) it is my hope that students will: take ownership of life-long learning, express a willingness to persevere, and take on new challenges. While I acknowledge that our work together in school is building the foundation for learning, the importance lies in what each individual builds on top of the foundation.

What are your thoughts? Join the conversation in the comment section below!


A Big Idea… Information in this section was taken from the referenced pages of Understanding by Design Professional Development Workbook by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins distributed by ASCD in 2004.

Avery, L.M. (2013). Rural Science Education: Valuing Local Knowledge. Theory into Practice, 52(1): 28-35.

Ballard, H.L., Dixon, C.G.H., & Harris, E.M. (2017). Youth-focused citizen science: Examining the role of environmental science learning and agency for conservation. Biological Conservation, 208, 65-75.

Palmer. (2005). A motivational view of constructivist-informed teaching. International Journal of Science Education, 27(15): 1853-1881.

Wilmes, S. &Howarth, J. (2009). Using issues-based science in the classroom. The Science Teacher, 24-29.

Looking for new ideas? Big ideas have implication outside of curriculum development and implementation as well! Check out Ted-ED’s 24 Game-Changing Ideas from Educators to see what fellow innovative educators are doing in their classrooms!

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Is it possible to dig a hole through the Earth?

This week we, the GR!S Cohort, are writing to our most important critics, our students. We will each author a post written to a middle school student articulating the purpose in learning a specific concept or topic. In other words, we will hopefully provide an answer to the question: “Why is it important that I know this?”. It is our task as educators to facilitate learning experiences that allow students to “constructify” meaning, or articulate why it is important to learn about a given topic or concept. So, where do we begin? First, check out both the current New York State Core Curriculum Standards and the new New York State Science Learning Standards. Although at first the length may seem daunting to a novice educator it is essential that we view these standards as resources, guides which provide the framework for authentic and meaningful learning experiences. This week I will begin my second student teaching placement at Rochester City School #58, World of Inquiry. Over the next eight weeks, I will learn with and from seventh grade science students as we investigate concepts pertaining to Geology. For this week’s blog post let’s focus in on the layers of the Earth.

Hello, Scientist!

Today, I have a question for you! Have you ever dug a hole in the ground- perhaps at a park, or in your backyard, or at Charlotte Beach? What did you see? What changes did you notice as you dug deeper and deeper into the ground? Did you begin to wonder how far you could dig? When I was a young scientists I remember digging a hole in the sand at the beach. My brothers and I dug for hours! I remember our grandmother asking us if we were trying to dig a hole all the way to China! We looked at each other surprised, was that possible?! The next day we returned to the beach to keep digging, but when we returned to the same spot the hole we had worked so hard on had disappeared! Where did it go?

Is it possible to dig a hole through the Earth? 

If I could dig a hole through the Earth where would I end up?

What do you think? What do we already know based on what we have learned and from our experiences that could help us answer this question? What more information do we need in order to support our claim?

If we could dig a hole, beginning in Rochester, NY, through the center of the Earth, where would we end up? Is this the same place our ancestors would end up if they attempted the same mission 200 million years ago?

Let’s use this video, modeling the movement of continents over time to find out! First, see if you can locate Rochester on the globe. How does Rochester’s location on the globe change over time in relation to other continents?

Over the next few weeks we will investigate each of the layers that make up Earth’s interior and the properties of each. These layers are called: the crust, the mantle, the outer core, and the inner core. Together, we will study the theory of Continental Drift in order to gain a better understanding of how Rochester’s location on the globe has changed over time!

I look forward to our work as geologists together!

Miss. Todd

Could I dig a Hole Through the Earth? The answer, is no. However…this question sets the stage for an ongoing list of additional, driving questions. While some young scientists might already know the answer to the first, that is okay! The more important questions are those that follow. As educators we must always remember to ask our students their interests! In allowing our students questions to guide instruction when possible we are then better able to provide meaningful learning experiences, connecting the topics/concepts outlined in the standards to our students everyday lives!


NYSSLS, Disciplinary Core Ideas:

  • “Evidence from deep probes and seismic waves, reconstructions
    of historical changes in Earth’s surface and its magnetic field,
    and an understanding of physical and chemical processes lead to
    a model of Earth with a hot but solid inner core, a liquid outer
    core, a solid mantle and crust. Motions of the mantle and its
    plates occur primarily through thermal convection, which
    involves the cycling of matter due to the outward flow of energy
    from Earth’s interior and gravitational movement of denser
    materials toward the interior. (HS-ESS2-3)”

NYS Core Curriculum Standards:

  • Key Idea 2: Many of the phenomena that we observe on Earth involve interactions among components of air, ware, and land. 
  • Major Understandings:
    • 2.2a The interior of Earth is hot. Heat flow and movement of material within Earth
      cause sections of Earth’s crust to move. This may result in earthquakes, volcanic
      eruption, and the creation of mountains and ocean basins.
    • 2.2b Analysis of earthquake wave data (vibrational disturbances) leads to the conclusion
      that there are layers within Earth. These layers—the crust, mantle, outer core, and
      inner core—have distinct properties.

Do you think it is dangerous to eat an orange while flying in a hot air balloon? Check of Mr. Kostka’s Blog to find out!

Why do we have seasons? Check out Miss Line’s Blog to learn more about the Earth, the Moon, and how they interact!

Keep an eye out for posts from Miss Barton and Mr. Kogan for more exciting, “ah ha” moments! Do you have a story explaining why it is important for us to learn about a certain topic that you are passionate about? Share it in the comment section below!





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What is “Ambitious Science Teaching”?

What is Ambitious Science Teaching

Who is an ambitious science teacher?

What does teaching and learning look like in a classroom that practices Ambitious Science Teaching?

The authors of Ambitious Science Teaching provide the following visual to formulate an initial understanding and provide a framework to answer these types of questions. According to Ambitious Science Teaching, teaching and learning are guided by intellectually engaging experiences, phenomena and content, of which are grounded in providing equitable opportunities for all students throughout the learning process. Please visit here to learn more about Ambitious Science Teaching!

Image result for ambitious science teaching

If you have taken the opportunity to check out the Ambitious Science Teaching (AST) website you are probably feeling excited, intrigued, and innovative. You may also be feeling a bit overwhelmed. How can I, as an educator, implement the practices of an ambitious science teacher in my classroom successfully? Let’s start by taking a look at a smaller chunk. AST presents the following seven foothold practices as those which are key to building a classroom environment where reform-minded teaching and learning succeeds!

Ambitious Science Teaching: 7 Foothold Practices

  • Scaffolds to make students’ initial ideas public”
  • Responsive Talk: How students use vocabulary”
  • “Using back-pocket questions to make sense of activities”
  • Using a gallery walk to critique student models and explanations”
  • “Everyday language and science language”
  • “Comparing students’ science ideas: scaffolding debate”
  • “Creating a “Gotta-Have” Checklist
    • Check out James’ blog this week to learn more about this practice!

This week the GR!S Cohort is working collaboratively to define each of these seven practices in our own practice. Check out each of these practices in the classroom setting by watching the videos included for each! Before you start watching, read How to Learn from Video: The 7 Basics to guide your learning!

Let’s take a closer look at the first foothold practice: Scaffolds to make students’ initial ideas public! 

First, check out the video below:

Here are the key take-a-ways I have recorded as I continue to develop a working definition for this core foothold practice in my own teaching. I have used the Task-Tools-Talk framework as outlined by AST.

  • Task
    • Situate new content in authentic and meaningful learning experiences rich in ideas that require students to access prior experiences and language.
    • Situate new vocabulary (content discipline language) in familiar, student language and experiences.
    • Allow time for students to discuss ideas, explore new paths and engage in peer feedback.
    • Strategy: Phenomena based inquiry (See: Next Generation Science Standards)
  • Tools
    • Provide the resources students need in order to take on intellectual problems (Engle & Conant, 2002).
    • Strategy: Sentence frames (making the distinction between nice and helpful feedback)
    • Provide explicit directions and examples (take away scaffolding gradually)
    • Strategy: Post-It Note feedback method
  • Talk
    • Encourage and facilitate student autonomy.
    • Facilitate meta-cognition (“thinking about thinking”) through the development and use of classroom discussion.
    • Strategy: Gallery Walk

As always, I hope you will join our conversation and share your noticings and wonderings regarding Ambitious Science Teaching in the comment section below! Use the following sentence starter to begin the conversation:

An ambitious science teaching practice I employ (or can see myself using) is ________________.


Ambitious Science Teaching. Retrieved from:https://ambitiousscienceteaching.org/.

Engle, R.A., & F.R. Conant. (2002). Guiding Principles for Fostering Productive Disciplinary Engagement: Explaining an Emergent Argument in a Community of Learners Classroom. Cognition and Instruction, 20(4): 399-483.

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Growth-Oriented Mindset: Planning and Implementation

As we sat in stand still traffic on the west-bound lane of the NYS Thruway surrounded by others traveling back home from their Thanksgiving holiday I began to feel the pressure of what seems to be a never-ending To Do List. My laptop was packed away in an unreachable spot from the passenger seat, uncharged. Google maps informed us that what typically is a 40 minute drive, would be over 2 hours. We all know the feeling, especially this time of year, how we choose to balance our work load, personal goals and time with family and friends is unique to each of us as individuals, yet planning ahead using a growth-oriented mindset is sure to reduce some of the unwanted stress! As educators we have a responsibility to facilitate goal planning and implementation for our students as well. One way of doing so, for both ourselves and our students, is through the use of the SMART Goal framework.

What are SMART Goals? Using the SMART Goal framework, goal-setters are encouraged to use the following framework while mapping their goals: SMART Goals are…”Specific (simple, sensible, significant); Measurable (meaningful, motivating); Achievable (agreed, attainable); Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based); and, Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, time-sensitive)” (MindTools).


Image: SMART Goals

As a cohort we have begun to grapple with the challenges associated with a goal we share: implementing educational research and theory in our everyday practice. With the vast array of published “best-practices” for teaching and learning, teachers are bound to feel overwhelmed at times. I found the following guidelines a useful lens for approaching this topic:

  1. Identify what works: What works in regard to “best practice” planning and implementation is likely to be unique to each classroom, or community of learners. Both the planning and implementation of new practices for teaching and learning takes time. In order to be successful we must commit with an open-mind, not every “best practice” will work seamlessly the first time around!
  2. Share knowledgeCollaboration and communication are key elements for both teaching and learning. Sharing what work’s and what doesn’t work help us reach our goals. While we often talk about building a community of learners for our students, we must also remember that it is important to build and nurture our own community of learners.
  3. Use time wiselyTime can often be used as a scapegoat, especially when our lives are busy! Using the SMART goal framework to map both our personal and professional goals ensures that we are on track toward success.

Try it out! Map one of your personal or professional goals using the SMART Goal framework and join the conversation in the comment section below!

Here’s a quick pep-talk from Kid President before you get started!


MindTools. (n.d.). SMART Goals: How to Make Your Goals Achievable. Retrieved from: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm.

Enser, M. (November 23, 2017). How can schools use research to better inform teaching practice? Teacher Network. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2017/nov/23/how-can-we-make-research-work-harder-in-our-schools.


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Educational Resources for Teachers and Students

“Current educational goals envision learning environments in which students are genuinely engaged in productive disciplinary work. Yet creating environments in which such experiences occur is neither common nor easy”

(Engle and Conant, 2002, p. 400).

How do we, as novice, first-year educators,

begin to build and nurture such learning environments?

According to Engle and Conant (2002) we can do so by creating environments which foster the following four principles (p. 400-401):

  • Problematizing: “Students are encouraged to take on intellectual problems”
  • Authority: “Students are given authority in addressing such problems”
  • Accountability: “Students’ intellectual work is made accountable to others and to disciplinary norms”
  • Resources: “Students are provided with sufficient resources to do all of the above”

While each of these principles requires considerable “un-packing”, this week we will focus on: Resources. The resources we need to provide for our students to engage in productive, authentic and meaningful learning extends far beyond the materials we find on the traditional Back-To-School shopping list. As I continue to compile the resources I have obtained thus far throughout my graduate school coursework, teaching field placements, professional development seminars and conferences I am amazed at the availability of resources available for teachers! However, I also recognize the time required to obtain, organize and implement the wide variety of resources that are available. Where do we even begin to look?

While searching I came across Edutopia’s live page: The Big List of Educational Grants and Resources.

The list contains live, updated links for educational grants, contests and awards, and classroom resources, visit now to: “get a roundup of educational grants, contests, awards, free tool kits, and classroom guides aimed at helping students, classrooms, school and communities” (Edutopia).

Here are a few resources I was drawn to learn more about:

1. Lexus Eco Challenge STEM Contest

2. Digital Citizenship Curriculum from Google

3. Resources for educators from the California Academy of Sciences 

4. STEM Education Outreach Programs with Lockheed Martin

5. Teaching Science and Math with Music

  • Check out Sydney’s awesome blog post this week to learn more about the benefits of teaching and learning music, both in school and beyond!

For another great resource check out Edutopia’s Resources Toolkit for New Teachers

Do you have great resources to share? Comment below!


  • Edutopia. (Original: 12/13/13, Last Updated: 11/22/17). The Big List of Educational Grants and Resources. Community Partnerships. Retrieved from: https://www.edutopia.org/grants-and-resources.
  • Engle, R.A., & F.R. Conant. (2002). Guiding Principles for Fostering Productive Disciplinary Engagement: Explaining an Emergent Argument in a Community of Learners Classroom. Cognition and Instruction, 20(4): 399-483.

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Reflective Practice: A Weekly Recap from Kaitlin and Olivia

Weekly Recap

It’s been another busy and exciting week for the GR!S preservice team! We began the week with the opportunity to attend the Science Teachers Association of New York State (STANYS) annual conference here in Rochester, NY. Check out Sydney’s blog  for a recap on our experiences!

For several of us, this week kicked off our mini-unit implementation: a series of lessons we have been developing over time under the guidance of our cooperating teachers. Check out James’ blog post on his experiences here!

This week we, Kaitlin and Olivia, will report out on the first day of our mini-unit, as a method of reflective practice. To learn more about what it means to become a reflective practitioner, check out this free, online module from Open Learn: Learning to Teach, Becoming a Reflective Practitioner. 

Kaitlin’s Weekly Reporting: A Week of Firsts

The start of this mini-unit marked a series of firsts for me. It was my first filmed lesson, my first time using the official Warner lesson plan, and my first time truly teaching the class I’m assigned to. I will start by commenting on filming. Filming was a terrible experience. It took a lot of pre-setup. I had to make sure all of my equipment was charged, that everything was setup with a good angle and that it was set so that audio recording would be taken clearly. I think I spent most of a previous class period setting it up. It definitely made me more nervous than I usually was before teaching a lesson. The kicker to all this? None of the recording equipment worked properly. I had both a laptop and a camera recording. My laptop recorded nothing. Why did it do that? Not enough storage space. My camera only recorded maybe 40 minutes of my total of 80 minutes of teaching. Part of those shots were of the very tops of students’ heads. It is very hard trying to carry a camera around with you to small groups, focus on speaking to the students, and making sure that everything is in frame all at the same time. What made this even more depressing was that this was one of the best lessons I’ve ever taught. Students were having incredible discussions, they were laughing and smiling, and they experienced many exciting a-ha moments throughout. It would have been perfect for edTPA. And almost none of it got recorded. Hopefully the Regent’s classes will have a better recording session, but from now on, I’m going to use different filming equipment.

My first time using the Warner Lesson Plan was also horrible. The sequence of it doesn’t make sense to me, it’s not an efficient lesson plan to use if you don’t have tons of time, and I just don’t like the format of it. I found the unit plans that we used for our summer camp to be much more efficient and effective of communicating the information that I need for my daily preparation. I will be pleased when we get to use our own styles of lesson plans.

My actual lesson was the one thing that went well. It was an introductory activity to get the students interested in the topic of proteins. The gist of the lesson was that the students were adopting the role of a neurological team that is encountering a medical mystery that they have to solve. I gave them files containing medical reports and a coroner’s report all based on actual templates and using authentic medical language. They had to consider symptoms, patient family history, and recent travels. They had to use prior knowledge of the sort of things hospitals take into account and vocabulary that they may have heard on medical and crime tv shows. Then, they had to use knowledge of cross-referencing research skills to find the correct disease. Lastly, they had to use what they had learned about the disease in order to combat social media that was spreading misinformation: a good relevant life-skill and nature of science moment. The discussions I heard were great, and it felt amazing seeing how excited the students got when they solved the mystery. We ran out of time before I could move into the rest of the lesson on proteins, but we’ll have time to get to that later. I only hope that I can make the rest of my lessons as engaging as this one was.

Olivia’s Weekly Reporting: Question, Claim, Evidence, Reasoning

As we continue to bridge between the present NYS Core Curriculum Standards toward the Next Generation Science Standards, our teaching must evolve to facilitate learning of disciplinary core ideas while engaging students to take ownership of the learning through science and engineering practices and cross-cutting concepts. This week I began a mini-unit with students enrolled in 9th grade Living Environment, focused on reviewing Cells and Life Processes. The lesson began with a warm-up activity, engaging students in a Think, Pair, Share activity. Students were asked to consider each of the following, guided by the question: What are the key players that keep me balanced and what are their jobs?

Think: Write down two questions a scientist would ask in order to gather more information about cells, organelles, or maintaining homeostasis.

  • Student Examples: What kind of cell is it? How does the cell membrane function? Why is the animal cell a random shape? Why are plant cells square? What do they need to survive? Is the cell multicellular or unicellular? What size is the organelle? What is the cell made of?

Pair: Pair up with a scientist sitting next to you and brainstorm two tools a scientist might use in order to conduct an investigation about cells.

  • Student Examples: Microscope, Slide, Cover Slips, Indicator Solution (IKI), Dialysis Tubing (represents a semi-permeable cell membrane), background knowledge,

Share. Share with the class and record other scientist’s ideas!

Next, we used the same framework of thinking to approach a whole-class activity: Inquiry Cubes! The first inquiry cube was designed with numbers, colors and a single pattern in order to scaffold learning that could then be used next to approach a more complex cube focused on cells, organelle structure and function, and life processes.

Throughout the lesson students were encouraged to collaborate with their peers, or fellow scientists in order to engage with Science and Engineering Practices outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards.

  1. Questioning: Formulate questions based on their observations.
  2. Claim: Develop a claim, or prediction.
  3. Evidence: Supply evidence, based on observations.
  4. Reasoning: Provide reasoning, justifying claims with evidence.

As educators continue to implement NGSS in the classroom, collaboration is key to both our success as teachers and student learning. Questions, feedback, advice based on your experiences? Please comment below to begin our conversation!

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A Growth-Oriented Mindset

“A self-managed classroom is growth-oriented. In a self-managed classroom, making mistakes is part of the territory. In fact, students and teachers understand that making mistakes are not only normal but a necessary sign that learning is occurring. To that end, students demonstrate, analyze and celebrate academic courage- taking risks to speak up in class, ask questions, pose ideas, and try out new concepts and vocabulary. They are not afraid or embarrassed to show they care about learning. They understand and discuss the concept of growth mindset that practice makes you stronger, that engaging in hard work and more challenging problems “grows your brain.” They thrive on embedded cycles of practice, feedback and documented growth in academics, communication, routines, and procedure” (Berger et. al, 2015, p. 3).

According to Berger et al. (2015) a self-managed classroom can be defined by four characteristics, a self-managed classroom is: respectful, active, collaborative and growth-oriented. While all four play a critical role in establishing and nurturing a self-managed, or student-driven inclusive learning community, this week I will focus on: growth-oriented mindset. As you read above a growth-oriented mindset involves risk-taking, collaborative inquiry, and a willingness to add to and revise thinking over time.  So how do we establish a classroom environment where all members (teachers and learners) practice with a growth-oriented mindset?

First, we must make thinking (and therefore learning) visible! When thinking is made visible learners are able to revisit, add to, and revise their thinking (or model) throughout a unit.

Next, we as educators must scaffold learning appropriately for each learner. Scaffolding allows access to new concepts and materials for all learners, and encourages independent inquiry. Eventually scaffolding can be taken away as learners become more confident.

How do you establish a growth-oriented mindset in your learning community? Join the conversation in the comment section below!


  • Ms. Laura Westerman (Middle School Science Teacher, STANYS 2017 Conference Presenter): DIY Individual Student White Boards: Buy a piece of shower board ($10 at Home Depot) and cut into smaller sections for a cheaper alternative to dry erase boards. White boards are a great way to encourage student thinking in a “low-risk” setting as white boards are easy to erase! Furthermore, the use of individual white boards make student thinking visible to the teacher quickly, a great check-in for understanding or piece of formative assessment!
  • Courtney Sears, Edutopia Author (A Simple Tool for Fostering Growth Mindset)Use pens, instead of pencils, to keep mistakes, revisions and LEARNING visible! Model the revision process for students by putting a single line through an “old-thought” or section that you would like to now revise.


  • Berger, R., Strasser, D., and L. Woodfin. 2015. Management in the Active Classroom. EL Education: New York, New York.

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Integration = Equity

In 1954 the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional (Brown v. Board of Education); overturning the ruling of separate, but equal (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896). Today, segregation is evident in public schools across the United States, it is 2017.  Segregation is inherently unequal and inequitable, yet still across the country young learners are denied the right to an equitable education. How can we “fix” this? As Hannah-Jones (2017) states: “The fight for public schools must be a fight for integration. Period”. Integration, in fact forced integration of public schools is our only chance of providing equitable learning opportunities for all learners: Integration = Equity.

On October 26, Great Schools for All hosted  Nikole-Hannah Jones, Investigative Reporter, New York Times Journalist and 2017 MacArthur Fellow, to lead a conversation on social justice and public education reform. The event was held at the Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY; approximately 600 people (students, families, community members, volunteers) were in attendance. After laying out the historical evidence and crises of today, Nikole challenged her audience, stating: “I don’t talk to people who don’t want integration, I talk to people who SAY they want #diverseschools, then act differently” (@atbrady; @nhannahjones).

As a preservice teacher at the Warner School of Education, I believe in our mission which states: “At the Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development, we believe that education can transform lives and make the world more just and humane” (Warner School of Education, Mission Statement). But saying I believe is not enough. That’s the easy part: saying we believe in something, pledging a commitment to social justice and reform. The harder part, is acting on our commitment, our actions are what have a chance of making a difference.

Check out a collection of Nikole Hannah-Jones’ work here to be inspired! Our commitments become most powerful when they are personal, when we exhibit a sense of ownership: check out Nikole’s story on the decision she and her family made when choosing a school for her daughter. Here is a short clip of Nikole and her family on the way to school:

How will YOU make a difference? You can begin by becoming involved with Rochester’s Great Schools for All! Do you know of other organizations committed to action oriented social justice in the greater Rochester area? Comment below!

(Photo: GS4A Webpage, Logo)

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A Time for Change: Balancing the STEM Gender Gap

“Women’s under-representation in STEM fields starts early, with gender gaps in STEM interest beginning in middle school and growing throughout high school, college, and career. Far too many girls and women are discouraged from pursuing success in STEM fields. NOW IS THE TIME FOR CHANGE” (WFCO, p. 10).

Image: Diversity.com


It is an exciting time to enter the field of education! Current education reforms aim to transform traditional teaching and learning; shifting the role of a teacher to that of a facilitator, and the role of a student to an engaged, active learner. Culturally responsive teaching practices aim to create a safe, enriching learning environment for all learners and encourage strong relationships between: student-student, student-teacher, and teacher-teacher. Collaboration and communication are key for successful implementation of such reforms; everyone’s voice must be heard and valued. As educators we must continually assess not only student performance, but also the learning environments in which we facilitate learning.

Does the learning environment represent that values of all of our students (Culturally Responsive Teaching)?

Does the learning environment provide multiple means of action, representation and expression for all learners (Universal Design for Learning)?

Does the learning environment provide equitable access to materials, resources, and experiences for all learners?  

This past week I joined a group of students enrolled in an Environmental Studies course aboard Science on SenecaScience on Seneca offers the opportunity for middle and high-school students to engage in an authentic research investigation, focused on the water quality of Seneca Lake. While aboard students examine water chemistry (temperature, pH, Dissolved Oxygen, and nutrient concentrations), the diversity of the ecosystem (plankton tow, sediment samples) and water clarity. Students use the tools and procedures followed by professional research scientists and contribute their findings to an ongoing, communal database for future research. The learning environment aboard the William Scandling (a research vessel owned and operated by Hobart and William Smith Colleges and the Finger Lakes Institute) offered, encouraged and modeled techniques for all students to engage with throughout the experience. Further, all students were encouraged to partake in “hands-on” learning as the groups were small (2-3 students/group) and mentored by one teacher, trained in the procedures and goals of Science on Seneca. 

As I listened to students over the course of the two days I recognized some trends: several of the students had experience on boats, mostly fishing experiences, however for some students this would be their first experience on a boat. Whether it was new or familiar, all students seemed excited by the opportunity: Snap-chatting photos to friends, taking selfies and exploring the boat deck. When it became time to start collecting data, it appeared that students were divided: some were eager to use the tools provided, others were hesitant and resorted to note-taking rather than working with the tools.

On the first day I found myself working to encourage a switch of these initial roles. While one student (female) immediately took the role of note-taking, another took the role of data collection (male student) and the third (female student) seemed content observing. A gentle recommendation such as: “A” why don’t you do a second trial to see if you get a similar result? seemed to be enough encouragement for the female partner to join in. After a few more recommendations such as this I found myself wondering how as teachers we can work to modify what seem to be pre-defined, self-selected roles of students. While these three students seemed willing to try a new task when prompted, they resorted back to their original roles after one trial.

How can we break the stereotype of young women taking notes and young men being more willing to conduct the research (ex. examine a soil sediment sample). As science teachers we must commit to actively breaking down stereotypes that have led to the gender gap in STEM opportunities and careers. How we approach a redistribution of roles in our classroom depends on each community of learners we teach. We must constantly be aware of the learning environment, the availability of roles and the goals of each lesson/activity: how can we ensure that every student has multiple opportunities to explore various roles inside and outside the classroom?

Here is a compiled report I found useful for strategies to do so! While the following resources are focused on engaging young women in STEM, several of the instructional strategies can be applied to all learners: with our main focus being including every student in STEM. Check out the following 12 Strategies for Engaging Girls and Young Women in STEM provided by the Women’s Foundation of Colorado. Visit the link provided to learn how to implement each strategy in your classroom!

Strategy 1. Provide opportunities for mastery experiences.

Strategy 2. Provide opportunities for girls to learn by observing others.

Strategy 3. Provide opportunities for girls to be recognized as innovators by their peers and their community.

Strategy 4. Take a holistic approach. Help girls cope with misconceptions and biases that stand in the way of STEM engagement.

Strategy 5. Educators and community organizations can provide opportunities for parents/caregivers to see their daughters practicing science, technology, and engineering skills and solving problems using math.

Strategy 6. Give parents/caregivers ideas about how they can continue STEM learning at home with their children.

Strategy 7. Educate parents/caregivers on how best to advocate for advanced STEM opportunities for their daughters.

Strategy 8. Show parents/caregivers where they can find STEM opportunities for their girls.

Strategy 9. Educators and community organizations can provide multi-faceted communications about how STEM relates to students’ daily lives and everyday experiences.

Strategy 10. Help educators access and share STEM resources.

Strategy 11. Provide training and resources for educators to develop curriculum that is inclusive of girls, including girls of color.

Strategy 12. Link educators with industry partners so they can see and experience the work of STEM professionals.

Additional Resources for Women in STEM:

  1. STEMinist
  2. STEMconnector
  3. STEM Village
  4. Carnegie STEM Girls 
  5. PBS SciGirls

Do you have additional resources for supporting young women in STEM? Please share in the comment section below!


The Women’s Foundation of Colorado (WFOC). This is what STEM looks like. Retrieved from: https://www.wfco.org/file/WFCO-STEM-Guide_complete.pdf.

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