NGSS Your Science Class

When I first started this site, my goal was to provide NGSS-aligned curriculum and instructional materials, plus some teaching ideas, to science teachers who were struggling to find resources that were truly aligned to the standards.

As our Facebook community grew and I interacted with more and more teachers, I realized that what everyone really needs is the training to create NGSS-aligned curriculum and resources for their own classrooms.  We are all teaching so many different subjects, grades, and standards — there was no way I could help everyone by just creating resources.

So I started exploring the idea of providing training on the NGSS, and last night, I did my first online workshop — Conceptual Shifts: The New Science Mindset.  If you would like to see the replay, click here. That said, one hour of time is just a drop in the bucket, and many teachers may be looking for additional training and guidance.

Enter Science Teacher Tribe and the NGSS Your Science Class course, launching August 1.

If you are in the thick of implementing NGSS in your own science class and are looking for support in the transition, the NGSS Your Science Class course may be for you.  In addition to 12 weeks of lessons, the course also includes complete access to the Science Teacher Tribe community and growing library of NGSS-aligned resources.

Course topics include: bundling standards; creating storylines; choosing anchoring phenomena; using performance expectations to create assessment tasks; three dimensional learning; deep dives into the 5E Model; formative assessments; content literacy strategies and writing in the science classroom; and differentiating for all learners. 

Course material will be presented through a weekly video workshop, accompanying resources for planning and classroom use, a weekly virtual PLC meeting where we can actually interact face-to-face, and personal feedback on the units, lessons, and instructional materials you develop.

Check out the course and Science Teacher Tribe here. Keep in mind, the resource library is growing and will include all of the resources currently available at my TeachersPayTeachers store by August 1 – plus additional resources that are currently in the works. And don’t delay too long – membership pricing will increase as the library grows.

If you have questions about the growing content (topics, disciplines, grade levels), please email me at and I can let you know if my resources would be a good fit for your classroom.

Likewise, if you have questions about group pricing for the course or site for your science teachers at the school or district level, please contact me at


A strategy guide with three quick ways to implement science stations in your middle and secondary ed classrooms!

Using Science Stations In Your Classroom Routine

Science stations are a flexible instructional strategy. Which approach works best for your classroom?So we have covered why you should use science stations, and how to prepare for science stations – now let’s take a look at actually using science stationsScience

My use of station work evolved as my students and I became more familiar and comfortable with the concept.  I started initially using Simple Rotations, and then I decided to give my students greater responsibility by adopting Student-Paced Transitions.  I added Differentiated Activities into the mix in my classes that were heavy on high-needs learners as I became more comfortable with my curriculum.  Check out how you can use science station work in your classroom below.

Science Station Work Strategies:

Simple Rotations:

Students are divided into groups and given a task to complete at their station. They have an allotted period of time to complete that task. When the time is up, they move to the next science station.

*Cheat Sheets or Support Stations can be provided as a way for students to check their work independently before moving on. Cheat Sheets can be kept in a folder at the table with a set of correcting pens, and students can be given time to correct their work before transitioning. I ask students to leave their original response and simply add the revised version so I can see their original effort and thought process. Help Stations are areas set up away from the immediate students’ workspace. Students leave all papers and writing utensils at their table when they visit a Support Station – this way, they are truly only looking for support on one or two questions.

Student-Paced Transitions:

In this setup, students (or student groups) transition from one science station to the next at their own pace and in the order they prefer. This works best when students are working independently or in partners. I provide students with a checklist to keep track of the stations they have completed and still need to complete.  They then attach this checklist to their completed work at the end of the activity. Additionally, I always set up extra stations (if I have 4 tasks, I may double those to get 8 stations), and I have a rule regarding the maximum number of students allowed at a station at a time. I also typically use a timer to keep students moving forward — while they are not required to move at the bell, they can pace themselves a bit better if I’ve broken the class time into smaller chunks.

That said, I still monitor student movement. If I notice a group lagging at a station, I will assign them a time limit. I also have supplemental work for early finishers – typically the workbook students are working through.

Lastly, I would also recommend transitioning to this style only after students have become accustomed to station work.

Three ways to use station learning in your middle and secondary science classrooms!Differentiated Activities

Science stations make it easy to vary the level of the material without making it obvious to other students. For example, students can be assigned to just one station with the appropriate level of material.  There could be texts that are differentiated for high or low readers or jigsaw activities based on student interest.  Additionally, you can make actual changes to task cards, student response sheets, note taking work, or labs without drawing the attention of other students. This can be really important considering the social pressures of students in middle and high school.  With homogenous groupings at each station, these changes make the material accessible and appropriate for all learners.

In What other ways have you used science stations to improve instruction? Share your ideas in our Facebook Community today!

Engage students with science stations to deepen understanding and put responsibility and ownership in students' hands.

Prepare your classroom for learning stations to engage students, differentiate activities, and transform your classroom instruction.

How To Set Up Science Stations In Your Classroom

How did I transform my instruction, engage my students, cut out the

Science Stations are a great way to increase student engagement and responsibility.  They encourage them to become active participants in their learning and moving them toward ownership and agency. You can read more about WHY I use stations in this blog post, but for now – let’s chat about HOW I prepare for stations.

How To Choose Your Activities:


For your science stations, choose activities that students can work through more or less independently. You can’t be at every station all of the time, so it’s important that students can understand what to do at the station and complete their work on their own while you circulate to troubleshoot, manage the room, and facilitate deeper learning.

While students may struggle with this type of independence initially, as you use science stations more frequently, they will become accustomed to doing some “figuring out” on their own.  You may also want to institute an “Ask Three Before Me” rule. You can learn more about that strategy at the Teaching Channel.

Lastly, each science station should have simple instructions. Provide these instructions briefly before you begin but also include a written set of instructions at the table.  Avoid activities that require multiple steps or extensive setup and cleanup.


Read characteristics of Earth's layers and sort them into the appropriate category to learn about Earth's interior structure in the 5E Explore science activity.  Analyze claims, evidence, and reasoning to learn how scientists know what is inside of Earth in this evidence-based NGSS-aligned 5E Explore activity.


The 5E instructional model is an evidence-based approach to foster deeper understanding in science lessons. I use the 5E instructional model in my classroom, and I have found that science station work is perfect for Explore activities.  Because students are not expected to master anything at the Explore stage, you can emphasize that it’s okay for students to make mistakes, take guesses, and work through the tasks on their own.  This reduces the “Is this the right answer?” questions and student frustration that can build when students are working on their own.

I also use it for initial Explain activities, but I always follow up with a whole-group review.  When using it for Explain activities, I often provide “Support Stations” and “Cheat Sheets” where students can check their understanding. To find out how you can incorporate Learning Support Stations in your classroom, access my Types of Learning Support Stations resource.

 Checking stations are a must have for station work.


This may go without saying but just for the sake of absolute clarity, it is important that science stations can be completed in any order.  All students will have different starting points, and each activity must essentially “stand alone.”

Additionally, each of your science stations should require about the same amount of time to complete. That said, because that cannot always be the case (and students work at different paces anyway), it is important to have something for students to work on if they finish early.  I provide students with a workbook at the beginning of the unit that they can work through during this downtime. Alternatively, each station (or the short ones at least) could have a quick extension activity for students who finish early.

How To Prepare Your Classroom and Students For Science Stations:

Setting Up science stations:

I typically set up science stations so that students complete a different task at each station. I consider my ideal student grouping (typically 2 to 3) and create enough stations to facilitate that split.  If I don’t have enough activities for that number of science stations, I may create two parallel tracks. For example, if I need six stations but I only have 3 activities, I have two science stations for each activity and run two parallel circuits.

I have also used science stations to facilitate small group teacher-led instruction.  I split my class into two groups — then, I work with one group personally on a more difficult task, while the other group completes stations independently.  This has been a great way to lead students through an activity (for example, graphing seismic waves to provide evidence for Earth’s interior structure) without engaging in the “whole group instruction” attention battle.

Students graph seismic waves as evidence for Earth's interior structure. Additionally, since graphing activities can require some troubleshooting (especially for students who struggle in math), splitting the students up into these groups allowed me to provide additional, one-on-one support.  While I worked closely with the group in the front, my students worked at their stations in the back of the room. Because they were already familiar with station work, behavior issues were minimal.  (I would not recommend doing this until students are accustomed to the procedures and responsibilities of station work

This setup could also work really well with lab activities.  I love that you can not only guide students through the activity more easily but also engage with them more personally as they work to guide their thinking and understanding.

Transitioning through science stations:

You must have a system for transitioning. Students should know where they are moving next and when they are expected to move.  You could use a bell, flicker the lights, or use a call and response to indicate it is time to move. I usually just used the timer on my iPad.  Students could see the time remaining displayed and were also listening for the alarm. So that students know where they are going next, you may want to number your tables or station areas and review the direction of movement before beginning.

Procedures for science stations:

Classroom management is key when using science stations in your classroom.  Aside from establishing strong relationships with your students, it is important to set clear procedures for students to follow.  Consider things like, how and when should students rotate? What should students do before they transition (reset supplies? turn in their work?) How should students handle sharpening pencils, getting supplies, or using the restroom? When is it okay to access the Support Stations or Cheat Sheets? Should students be talking with other groups? How should students get your attention?  If you address these issues ahead of time, your stations will run significantly more smoothly.  I recommend posting a code of conduct for stations where students will be working, as well.

Accountability in science stations:

Aside from managing student behavior, it is important to hold students accountable for their learning.  Because science station activities are typically not designed to result in immediate mastery of the subject (working independently, students may walk away with some misconceptions that still need addressed), grading for right or wrong answers may not be the way to go.  Additionally, if you provide Support Stations or Cheat Sheets, what is to keep students from simply copying the answers? Lastly, how to ensure students remain on task and complete their work in a timely fashion?

How to set up stations in your science classroom!I have found one strategy that works well is the stamp, sticker, or “sign off” method. After completing the work at a station but before making any corrections (whether as a class or using a Cheat Sheet), the teacher can stamp the students’ work to note that it was attempted.  This is not a check for correct or incorrectness but rather just – did they try? In the same way, you can use a stamp to denote where students left off — did they finish the assigned task in the allotted time? Where did they stop?  Similarly, if students are working through a project, you could include a “teacher check” to ensure that students are on the right track before continuing to invest their time and energy into the task.

Do you have any tips or tricks for using stations in the classroom? Join the conversation in our Private facebook community today!

How station work in the middle and secondary classroom can open doors to higher engagement and student ownership of their learning!

Why I Use Classroom Stations For Science Instruction

Classroom stations in middle and secondary science instruction can lead to higher engagement, motivation, and performance by students. Make your life easier and adopt station learning strategies.One of the great things about the Next Generation Science Standards is the shift to focus on what students can do! I truly believe this shift forces us as teachers to put more ownership into students hands. They are the ones working in the classroom. We are there to facilitate. Using classroom stations is a perfect way to do that.

I’ve found that classroom stations are a great way to engage students in the types of activities that support the NGSS, and they are perfect for the 5E Model. Both my students and I benefited when I switched to station work. Why?

Why are Classroom stations central to my classroom Routine?


Classroom stations provide opportunities for students to work collaboratively with other students, exploring new concepts and making sense of their ideas. Students can develop their own ideas while learning from others.

Teacher Benefit:

Students want to talk anyway. How many of you have wasted minutes or breath trying to get a class to quiet down so you could teach? With stations, you don’t have to. Yes, there will be times you will need their attention as a whole (although I tried to limit myself to 5-10 minute increments).  That said, the majority of class is spent in learning activities that allow students to interact and socialize as they are learning. You no longer have to fight the “quiet down now” battle. Teaching in a chatty urban school, I can tell you – this drastically reduced my stress levels and made my classes so much more enjoyable!


Classroom stations allow students to work at their own pace.  Stations can be a way to differentiate for your quick and slow learners. Quick learners can move quickly through the stations and required tasks, while slower learners can take their time completing their work. It is important to fill the gap for your quick finishers though.  You can provide time for silent reading, extension activities, or ongoing projects (20% time?). Your slower learners will have time to actually explore the content and build their understanding – instead of simply “running out of time” and being given the answer during review.

Teacher Benefit:

You have built-in differentiation without making significantly more work for yourself! Next time your principal stops in for a walk-through, you can point out that your class is built on differentiating for students needs and interests.  

Small Group Work:

Classroom stations provide you the opportunity to work with students in small group instruction. Stations are a great way to work with small groups on a difficult task while the remainder of the class works through engaging, self-directed activities.

Teacher Benefit:

This is where you can really get your teach on, and you can do it in a way that is more effective and enjoyable. Again, you don’t have to fight the “quiet down now” battle, you can ensure your small group is paying attention, and you can address each students’ misunderstandings or struggles.


Station work allows for regular movement. You can easily incorporate brain breaks in the transition between stations. Physical movement is an important facet of learning that we often overlook.  Classroom stations allow structured opportunities for students to get out of their seat. You can learn more about the importance of moving in class at this article by the Washington Post.

If you’re interested in getting some great brain breaks ideas specifically for the science classroom, you can join my email list for access to my bi-monthly newsletter. It’s full of ideas for brain breaks, anchoring phenomena, formative assessments, science literacy highlights, and engaging projects and instructional strategies. It also provides you access to my All The Things Library (aka free things for you)! [And don’t worry, I won’t blow up your inbox.]

Teacher Benefit:

Students want – even need – to move. You are structuring and controlling that movement, instead of letting it sneak out in unproductive trips to the pencil sharpener, bathroom, or the ’round-the-room wander.

Student Ownership:

Lastly, classroom stations put ownership of the learning back into students’ hands. They must take responsibility for their work, for completing it on time, and for doing their best to make sense of the material. Stations require students to do a bit of puzzling it out on their own, since you can’t be there for every student at every second. While students may resist at first, this will benefit them (and you!) in the long run. To ease the transition, I suggest starting with simple activities that have crystal clear instructions.  You can also set up Support Stations or Cheat Sheets to reduce content-related frustration.  Lastly, I highly recommend instituting a “Ask Three Before Me” rule.

Teacher Benefit:

The more you can put on your students, the less you have on you. It’s every teachers dream to have their students engaged and motivated, working hard to understand the content and complete the learning task. Utilizing high-quality activities and classroom stations in your instructional routine can move you in that direction.


Using classroom stations is a valuable instructional tool that every teacher can utilize.  That’s not to say it is an easy practice to establish, though.  To be effective, it requires a strong classroom management system, clear procedures, and positive student rapport.  It also requires a good understanding of the types of activities that lend themselves well to stations.  I have found that it is well worth the challenges, though.  Once established, classroom stations drastically reduce the work of the teacher by shifting it to the students.  No longer is it the “one man (or woman) teacher show.”  The students are responsible for the learning.

has station work improved your classroom experience? Have you run into challenges with station work? Please join the conversation in our facebook community!

Both teachers and students benefit from using science stations in their instructional routine! I love using stations - find out why in this blog post!

Biomes: Teaching An NGSS-Aligned Unit

While you won’t find biomes in the NGSS, you can still fully align a unit on biomes to the NGSS. Check out how in this blog post about teaching biomes.Biomes is a topic I have often seen on the course curriculum sheets provided by schools and districts, yet it is not a topic that is anywhere in the Next Generation Science Standards.  Whether it is on your mandated course curriculum or you just like the topic, you may be wondering — how can I reconcile teaching this topic with the NGSS?

Don’t worry, you can! And I’m going to show you how.

The Standard

Biomes (the topic) doesn’t easily align with any particular standard, but there’s obvious connections to ecology and climate.  Because I am working with a life science course, I decided to go with the ecology connection. (Plus, the PEs that relate to climate don’t really apply to biomes well.)

The standard I identified that most easily aligned was:

LS2.A.1 Organisms, and populations of organisms, are dependent on their environmental interactions both with other living things and with nonliving factors.  with the accompanying Performance Expectation:

MS-LS2-1 Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.

So biomes is the lens through which I will be teaching that standard. Since the thing that makes one biome different than another biome is the nonliving factors in the environment (particularly the climate and geology), my focus is on how organisms and populations interact with factors related to the climate and geology.

[Note: This unit is based on the 5E Model. If you are not familiar (or find yourself confused as you read on), you may want to check out this Quick Guide to the 5E Model.]

Engage with Biomes:

I chose as my anchoring phenomena, Why can’t a cactus live in Pennsylvania? because I live in Pennsylvania.  We often have cactus plants inside, but you’re typically not going to find any outdoors. (I know there are technically some exceptions in some mountains somewhere in eastern Pennsylvania, but I’m ignoring that.)  As an anchoring phenomena, this connects to prior knowledge (cacti, home state) and gets them wondering.  I start the unit by discussing this idea with students, giving them time to generate and record their ideas.

Then, they dive into a jigsaw activity where they are introduced to one biome.  They learn about their assigned biome and decide, can a cactus live here? Then, they present their biome to the class along with their conclusions.


Introduce students to interactions between biotic and abiotic factors in this NGSS-aligned unit on biomes.

This gives students a quick overview of the biomes, and it gets them thinking about the interaction between living things and their nonliving environment.


Explore Biomes:

In the Explore phase, students are introduced to the idea that there are two types of factors within an environment (or biome or ecosystem).  Labels are not yet applied in this phase.

I love doing card sorts during the Explore phase, especially in relation to classification or organization. I think it’s a great way for students to begin making sense of the different categories.  If they begin to identify those differences themselves, they are more likely to remember those categories later.

For this activity, I had students identify factors in the biome. I provided them with a bunch of words – some were nonliving things (abiotic factors) and some were living things. My initial instruction was just – sort these cards into two groups. I did not even tell them living vs nonliving.  My goal is to see, what can they come up with?

Card sorts make great Explore activities in your 5E instructional sequence. This card sort focuses on biotic and abiotic factors in biomes.

After giving them a few minutes to do this, I would typically ask students to share their ideas.  Hopefully, a student suggests sorting the items into living and nonliving (although they may not use those exact terms).  If students don’t suggest that, I would try to guide them to that idea.

See It In Action


First, I might break apart the classifications students came up with by identifying cards that don’t fit. I don’t recommend saying, “You’re wrong. Where does this one go?” Rather, I might say, “That’s an interesting way to sort the cards! Where did you put _____?”

Alternatively, if students came up with a category that was too specific, I might try to broaden their category by building on their response.  If they said “animals,” I might say: “I like that you identified a few of those cards are animals. I wonder if there’s a way we could combine your category with this card that says trees?”

Once students are all on the same page – our two categories are living and nonliving – I would make sure we all are in agreement on which cards are living and which cards are nonliving.  Then, the goal is to move students back toward the standard – interactions between living factors and their nonliving environment.

See It In Action

I would ask students to examine the living factors. I might say, “  What are some things these organisms need to survive? What are some things they have that help them to survive in their environment?” I always have students at least jot down some key points of our discussion in their notebooks.

Then, we would look at the non-living factors we identified — temperature, precipitation, latitutde, etc. I would ask students, “How do you think these non-living things connect to the living things we just discussed? How might temperature affect an animal’s survival? What might an animal do or have that would help them to survive in certain temperatures? How might water or sunlight affect an animal’s survival?” My goal is for students to connect some of the characteristics and needs of living things to the environmental conditions of the biome we are examining.


Explain Biomes:

Explain is where you are going to start applying labels.  I vary my Explain phase activities. Sometimes, I use PowerPoint presentations.  Other times, we will analyze an image, graph, or text using a document camera. I typically also incorporate some sort of stations activity, where students can work independently to develop their own explanations.  This may be by taking notes from a video they watch on iPads or creating a graphic organizer with student-constructed definitions.

how to teach biomes with the NGSS


Introduce students to interactions between biotic and abiotic factors in this NGSS-aligned unit on biomes.



Students need time to work with the concepts independently to really reinforce their learning.  The Elaborate phase allows for this. For my first Elaborate activity, I break students into groups and give each group a Biome Card and Sort Terms very similar to the previous Explore activity.  Students are asked to apply that same process – sorting the cards into biotic and abiotic factors – using new information. To connect the interactions aspect, I asked students to answer a few analysis questions. Using an example from your cards, how might organisms interact with abiotic factors in your biome?


Explore biomes again:

Wait, what!? You may be asking, why are we back to Explore? Well, the 5E Model is NOT linear.  It is cyclical, in the same sense that the rock cycle or carbon cycle are cyclical. There are many paths that you can follow.

After students have mastered (more or less) biomes and biotic and abiotic factors, students can dive deeper into the interactions between those factors within a biome.

Again, I break students into stations. (I LOVE stations.  If you do – or if you don’t – stay tuned on the blog to learn about some tips and tricks for implementing stations in your classroom.) At this point, I bring in the SEP “analyzing data” as well.

The NGSS performance expectations are designed for three dimensional learning. The Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts are already bundled right into the standard!

In their groups, students develop visual literacy and explore cause and effect relationships.  They are asked to read an introduction/background information card and then to examine the graphs provided.  The analysis sheets I provide walk students through this data analysis process. (If you’d like to get your hands on a Data Analysis freebie that you can use with ANY graph or map, subscribe to my email list. You’ll get it right in your inbox, along with access to a bunch of other resources!)

These Explore activities are vital, because they provide additional, real-world examples of the phenomena we are studying – the interaction between abiotic and biotic factors in a biome.


Explain biomes again:

After an Explore activity, you always have to have an Explain. Students must digest what they have encountered and make sense of what they observed.  While the student analysis sheets in the Explore activity walk students through the process, it’s important to make sure they “followed the right path” — aka their conclusions made sense.

I typically use a document camera to essentially repeat this process with students. Students share their observations and the conclusions they came to, and we simply discuss their ideas.  If necessary, we correct misconceptions. Students record this all in their notebooks, so that they have a hard copy they can refer back to and draw from later.

This Explain activity breaks down the concepts students explored related to the interactions between biotic and abiotic factors. It also ties in the Science and Engineering Practices by focusing on analyzing data.

These two activities directly build towards their unit Performance Expectation MS-LS2-1.


Elaborate on biomes:

I like to give students another opportunity to apply their new understandings before any summative evaluations, so we are back to Elaborate.  Again breaking students into small groups (I love collaborate work!), students discuss scenarios about changes to abiotic factors in a biome and make predictions about the effects on the growth and reproduction of biotic factors.



Evaluate student understanding of biomes:

Evaluate should really be occuring throughout the unit.  I am constantly looking at Science Starters, Exit Tickets, and student responses during activities and discussions to formatively evaluate understanding. That said, the summative assessment comes at the end of a unit.  I typically assess students in two ways — a project of some sort and a traditional paper/pencil quiz or exam.

For the biomes unit, I decided to build on an old favorite of many teachers – the biome diorama – to create a project better aligned to the NGSS. The project is an opportunity to integrate the SEPs and the content.  I ask students to research a biome, which aligns to the Evaluating, Obtaining, and Communicating Information SEP, and then construct a Biome In A Box to present their findings. In order to truly meet the SEP, students must not just “google” information but also evaluate their sources.  I provide resources for the research portion of this assignment that scaffold students through this process.

Biome In A Box Project is an opportunity for students to demonstrate their understanding of Earth’s biomes and the interactions between biotic and abiotic factors to address the Next Generation Science Standards Disciplinary Core Idea: LS2.AThe Biome In A Box project itself incorporates the content – the biome they were assigned, the idea of biotic and abiotic factors, and how those factors interact. A written component ensures that this is not just an art project. It asks students to use the model they created to understand interactions and make predictions should changes occur.

I use a rubric to evaluate the project. By providing this to students at the start, students know exactly what to do. We also explicitly discuss what an A+ project would look like (I even show examples, if I can!).  I also add authenticity to the project by incorporating a gallery walk assignment, and I am sure to tell students about this component at the beginning.


Why do a gallery walk?  Displaying student work is something most of us probably do in our classroom, but oftentimes, no one actually looks at it once it’s hanging up.  Gallery Walks are a way to focus student attention on the hard work of others. It adds legitimacy to tasks, because let’s be honest – who wants to invest time and energy into something NO ONE is going to see? Plus, doing a gallery walk here benefits other students, because they get a review of the content.  If you can do this prior to the test, you’re in even better shape!


Wrap Up

So that is my Biomes Unit.  I typically spend about 1-2 weeks, depending on whether or not students complete most of their project at home or in class.  I can finish the actual activities in about 5 days with my typical students (urban school). If you have high achievers, you may be able to power through it even more quickly, while slower learners may need additional time.

Biomes (the topic) is tricky, because it is not an area that completely aligns with the NGSS — at least, not in the same way that things like “photosynthesis” and “natural selection” do.  That said, the NGSS is not a curriculum. They are standards, and you can be creative with how you teach those standards. So if you really love biomes – or if you have to teach it as a part of your school’s curriculum – you don’t need to quit the NGSS to do it.

Easy Strategies to Implement Three Dimensional Learning

Incorporating three dimensional learning can feel like trying to put together a million-piece puzzle. But relax, it's not as hard as you think!There’s a good chance the Next Generation Science Standards are unlike any standards you’ve used to teach in the past.  Old school science standards typically outlined content students needed to know, and separately, skills students needed to master.

“Students will be able to… explain how sedimentary rock forms.”

“Students will be able to… balance a chemical equation.”

“Students will be able to… graph data collected from an experiment.”

These standards not only lacked depth, but they also failed to demonstrate to students the interconnectedness of the natural world and the science and engineering fields that investigate it.  Students and teachers were getting hung up on minute details they didn’t need to know (hey, Google!) and completely missing out on the big picture concepts that foster engagement and deeper understanding.  And skills? Typically taught in a SINGLE unit as the “scientific method.” We were failing to develop science practices in our students.

Enter the Next Generation Science Standards.  These standards are literally designed to blend three important aspects of science and engineering education: the content, the skills, and the big picture ideas. The content is contained in the Disciplinary Core Ideas.  The skills are represented by the Science and Engineering Practices. And you can find the big picture ideas in the Crosscutting Concepts. There’s your Three Dimensions.

Breathe. I know, it’s a lot.  And the thought of figuring out how to weave it all together is probably overwhelming.  Check out three easy strategies below to begin integrating Three Dimensional Learning in your own classroom.

Side Note: In addition to your basic Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts, the NGSS also identifies two other “connections.” The first is Connections to Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science. And the second is Connections to the Nature of Science. I’ll be honest – I don’t want to overwhelm you or make this more confusing than necessary, so I have not included those in this post.  That said, ideally you will want to incorporate these understandings into your instruction. But, one step at a time!


1 – Three Dimensional Learning From The Standard

For one, you don’t technically have to weave anything together yourself.  The Performance Expectations are written in a way that blends it for you. Your job is just to pick the standard and identify the important parts (again, mostly done for you!).

The NGSS performance expectations are designed for three dimensional learning. The Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts are already bundled right into the standard!In the example above, you can see that the obvious SEP is “analyzing and interpreting data to provide evidence.”  Right off the bat, you know you need to include some activities that focus on using data tables, graphs, maps, etc.  Whenever I see a standard like this, I automatically integrate data (in whatever form makes sense) into all stages of my 5E instructional sequence.

I also take a look at the Crosscutting Concepts.  For this standard, “cause and effect” is the primary focus. As I think of the examples I will use to teach the content, I will want to focus on examples that show a very clear cause and effect relationship.

See It In Action:

I’m currently working on a unit that focuses on this very standard (as well as MS-LS2-2), and my Engage activity has students dive right into the data.  I chose as my introductory example the interaction between the snowy owl populations and Arctic lemmings. This example shows a very clear cause and effect relationship, which makes it perfect to emphasize that Crosscutting Concept.

The Activity

Students are divided into two groups, and each group is given a different graph.  One graph looks at the snowy owl population, while the other looks at the lemming population.  Working with their groups, they try to make sense of the changes in population shown on their graph by making observations and generating questions of their own. (Side Note: “Asking questions” is another SEP! See what I did there?!)

After students have some time to talk about their ideas, the groups are brought together and shown how the data looks when the graphs overlap.  They realize that the populations are rising and falling together. So when you throw in the fact that snowy owls feed on lemmings, they can begin to make the connection that populations change based on the resources available. Changes in one population CAUSE changes in another. (Oh hey, Crosscutting Concept!) This is three dimensional learning in action.

Students investigate data to determine cause and effect relationships in this NGSS-aligned activity.

Right from the beginning, my students are working with data, trying to puzzle out its meaning.

If you’re interested in the strategy I use to help students breakdown data presented visually (graphs, maps, etc.), you can sign up for my email list. You will get my free data analysis strategy guide, Activity Pack: Making Meaning From Data immediately.  Stay subscribed to get access to additional resources and teaching ideas.

It doesn’t end there, though.  The rest of the unit is likewise filled with data-related exercises.  In Explore activities, students repeat this process with data they collect themselves as they investigate relationships in ecosystems.  Then, in the Explain phase, students analyze their data to support claims about the effects of resource availability in ecosystems. Students repeat similar activities in the Elaborate phase.  They work independently now and extending their learning by making connections to previously learned material about biotic and abiotic factors. Finally, the assessment is taken right from these tasks.  Students analyze data to support a claim that organism interactions affect individuals and populations. Again, three dimensional learning. SEP: analyze data. CC: cause and effect. DCI: interactions between organisms.

Sum It Up:

After identifying the SEP that my Performance Expectations focus on, I attempt to incorporate some aspect of that SEP into the majority of my activities. Knowing the Crosscutting Concept (cause and effect), I choose examples that show cause and effect. I use the practice to teach the concepts.  In this case, I use the data we are analyzing to teach the core concepts:

– that the growth of organisms and populations is dependent upon resource availability,

– and that the interactions between organisms in an ecosystem affects the survival and growth of organisms and populations.


2 – Sprinkle On Some Extra Three Dimensional Learning

In addition to the SEPs and CCs that the Performance Expectation focuses on, I try to sprinkle in some “extras” to really integrate three dimensional learning.  The more I can do it, the more of a habit it becomes.

For example, it may mean simply taking two extra minutes to have students generate some of their own questions about a phenomena. Why does the snowy owl population rise and fall every four years?  Or it could mean adding a short research component to a homework assignment.  The first example touches on the Asking Questions SEP, while the second addresses the Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information SEP.  I might ask students to draw a picture with captions to explain something we observe (Developing and Using Models). Or make a claim to explain something observed (Constructing Explanations).  Or provide evidence for a claim I provide (Engaging In Argument From Evidence). As you become familiar with three dimensional learning – and the three dimensions themselves – you will begin to see opportunities to incorporate a practice in each and every activity, even if it’s not the focus of the activity.

In terms of Crosscutting Concepts, I try to look at the activity I have envisioned and ask myself, what CC aligns? Are we discussing cause and effect relationships? Is this a system we are talking about? Based on my interpretation, I throw in a question or two that directly addresses the CC.

How can you sprinkle in Crosscutting Concepts to better implement 3D learning? Check out these sample questions to get your brain in gear.

See It In Action:

For example, I might ask:

Patterns What patterns do you notice in the locations of earthquakes?
Cause and Effect In your opinion, did the introduction of cane toads cause a decline in native frogs? What could be another cause for the population’s decline?
Scale, Proportion, and Quantity How do populations grow?
Systems and System Models What is the role of living things in the movement of carbon?
Energy and Matter Can you describe how energy is moving through this ecosystem? Where is it entering? Where does it go?
Structure and Function How does the structure of H2O explain adhesion?
Stability and Change How does an increase in atmospheric carbon result in changes in ocean salinity?


3 – Direct Instruction On The Three Dimensions

While the goal is to integrate the three dimensions into your curriculum and daily lessons, your students may benefit from occasional direct instruction on a SEP or CC.  This may occur during the Explain phase of a unit, or you could allot a “random day” to focus on a specific SEP or CC. Really, you could be doing both.

See It In Action

For example, in my Interactions in Ecosystems unit, the emphasis is on the CC of cause and effect.  I take some time during the Explain phase to directly teach this concept. We discuss what a cause and effect relationship is, how we can determine cause and effect relationships, and then explore some examples of cause and effect relationships.  Throughout the remainder of the unit, I incorporate the concept into activities to reinforce their understanding. I ask, do you think this is a cause and effect relationship? Why or why not? Or students may be asked to highlight the information that suggests a causal link in a text.

Alternatively, I may utilize an entire day to teach a SEP or CC when we have one of those random days between units, right before or after a break, or when the schedule gets all wacky with assemblies or other disruptions.

See It In Action

In this case, studying forces in a physical science classroom is a perfect opportunity to discuss stability and change.  The motion of an object is determined by the forces working on it. When those forces change, the system becomes unstable, and there is a change in motion.  Forces can build up slowly, or they can change suddenly. And small changes in one part can cause big changes in another.

Students could explore this concept by playing with dominos.  A sudden application of force to the first domino can have big repercussions down the line as it takes down an entire series (of potentially even larger dominos)! After introducing the concept in this initial activity, I could follow up with other examples and lead students in a discussion of the CCC’s main ideas.  Instead of wasting a day watching a movie or filling it in with busy work, I’ve taken advantage of another opportunity to integrate three dimensional learning.

Three ways to integrate 3D learning? Use the NGSS standards. Sprinkle it in. Teach it directly. Learn more here.

If you want to learn more about integrating engineering practices specifically, check out these recent blog posts:

Engineering In Science: Why You Should Be Teaching It

Teaching Engineering: What NOT To Do

Integrate Engineering: A How To Guide For Science Teachers

Integrate Engineering: A How To Guide For Science Teachers

So far we’ve discussed WHY you should integrate engineering and how NOT to integrate engineering… so what SHOULD you do?! I’ve compiled a few ideas to get you started!

First, let’s define what engineering IS. According to the National Research Council’s “A Framework for K-12 Science Education” — which the NGSS are based on — engineering means “any engagement in a systematic practice of design to achieve solutions to particular human problems.” I know I have always thought of engineering in the sense of – let’s build something. While that is certainly a part of engineering, “engineering” encompasses a whole bunch more skills than just “building stuff.” So you can put that hard-hat wearing, steel-toed manufacturing man out of your head right now! Engineering is MORE than that.

Essentially, an engineering activity could be anything where students are working toward solving problems using a “systematic practice” — aka, not just blindly throwing things together but rather, approaching the task in a structured, focused way.

When you think of engineering in this way, it opens up TONS of opportunities for incorporating the engineering end of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). So let’s dive in!

1 – Integrate Engineering as Practices

You don’t have to engage students in the entire engineering design process to integrate engineering. You can incorporate different parts of the process or just the skills that are used in the process through the very same activities that students are doing to explore the science content. How could that work?

Example 1: Defining Problems

The SEPs expect students to define problems. This is not quite as simple as telling you there’s a problem, but that’s a start. Students must take that a step further in middle school and specify criteria and constraints. Criteria are the requirements that would make the solution a success, while constraints are the limits on the solution.

How to integrate engineering into your science curriculum.

In practice, you could see students doing this when discussing earthquake safety measures. The problem people want to solve is earthquake-proof homes.  Criteria might include that it (obviously) can remain standing through an earthquake.  Additional criteria could be that it has several floors, doors, and windows. Why? Because these are all things that people would likely want to have in their homes. Constraints could relate to aesthetics, the technology and materials available, and the cost. Engaging students in discussions like these is one way to integrate engineering practices into your daily classroom. Plus, this type of activity would not take very long at all.

Example 2: Optimize A Solution

Another engineering practice that students can engage in is optimizing solutions. To build this skill, students would examine existing solutions, and identify their strengths and weaknesses. “Existing solutions” can be pieces of technology, systems, or even processes. They would consider how each solution stands up to the criteria and constraints in a structured manner.  They might use an evaluation tool or matrix to do this. To take the activity a step further, students could actually test several different designs against a set of criteria. They may then consider and develop ways to improve the proposed solutions.

For more ways to integrate engineering practices into your classroom, be sure to tune in to the workshop on July 12! Subscribe to the email list here to receive a reminder.

2 – Emphasize the Engineering Standards

The Next Generation Science Standards really set you up to integrate engineering, even if you may never have planned on it. How? They directly incorporate those practices into the content standards. Both the Middle School Physical Science and Life Science standards contain PEs that directly assess engineering practices.

A quick list of middle school NGSS standards that focus on engineering practices.

The best way to address these standards (actually, ANY NGSS standard) is to examine the Evidence Statements. These can help you structure the assessment and guide your instructional sequence.

Example 1: MS-LS2-5
Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.*

In the past, I have met this standard during my ecology unit through an Invasive Species Project. While it is the capstone activity of the ecology curriculum, I interweave the issues and practices through all of the instructional sequences leading up to the project. So before we even dive into ecology, we do some current events work with the issue of invasive species.  We get out into the community and do some service learning (want to pull garlic mustard, anyone?). And we set the stage for discussions of ecosystems by talking about disruptions in ecosystems. Only then do we dive into learning about ecosystem organization, interactions in ecosystems, food chains and food webs, and the cycling of matter. We wrap up the entire learning sequence with this project.

You can learn more about the project in my blog post, Teaching With Invasive Species. The gist is that students research an invasive species and then design a community action plan to address the problem of its presence or spread. Looking at it, you may be surprised this qualifies as an “engineering project” because it does not always involve designing some sort of prototype or tech gadget. Some students design their plans based on education or altering human behavior, while others may design an actual device to remove or prevent the spread of the invader — or otherwise aid native species. If you think about it though, either approach is developing engineering skills. Students identify and define problems. They describe criteria and constraints — economic, social, or technological.  They brainstorm and create solutions. Then, they evaluate the solutions proposed in relation to the criteria and constraints identified. In that sense, even the groups that focused on education and human behavior were working those engineering muscles.

Teaching with invasive species creates a connection to the local environment AND engage students in real world problems!

That said, a more traditional approach to an engineering standard would be something like the Save Peter Penguin! activity.

Example 2: MS-PS3-3
Apply scientific principles to design, construct, and test a device that either minimizes or maximizes thermal energy transfer.

In this project, students are tasked with building a home for a penguin ice cube that minimizes the transfer of thermal energy — and keeps Peter from melting. Before engaging in this project, students would undertake a unit that investigates thermal energy, temperature, the conservation of energy, energy transfer, and conductors and insulators. In order to fully align this project to the NGSS engineering practices, instruction and implementation should emphasize two things.  First, students should have a scientific rationale for design decisions and engaging students in a structured redesign process — not something added on “if there is time.” Evaluating and then redesigning solutions is a KEY part of the engineering process, and it should be a key part of the project as well.

3 – Connect With The Community

Lastly, you can integrate engineering into your curriculum by bringing your students into the community — from local to global. Locally, you can reach out to companies with a presence in your area and see if they offer any educational programs, field trip opportunities, or partnerships. In my hometown, there are a number of companies that love to pair with schools — from Eriez Magnetics to GE Transportation to BASF Corporation. You may even have some parents who work for companies like this that would be interested in making connections for you or even guest-speaking. The value here is that students can see the types of work and career options available to them if they pursue STEM fields.  Plus, these partnerships could lead to significant other opportunities for your classroom or district, in terms of programs and funding in the long run.

Beyond the corporate world, colleges and universities that offer engineering and technology majors may also have opportunities to work with their students or faculty. In Erie, Penn State Behrend offers engineering programming for preK through 12th grade students — both on-campus field trips and off-site school visits. Students get a taste of a college campus and get to work with real scientists and engineers in hands-on activities. You may be surprised what your local universities offer.  And if they don’t, you might be able to create your own opportunity by reaching out to faculty and staff. Don’t be shy! The worst they can say is no!

4 – Compete

On a more global scale, students can participate in national and international STEM competitions. My fifth grade students participated in Toshiba ExploraVision, where students research and design cutting edge technology to solve a real-world problem. A similar competition, eCybermission, asks students to work in teams to investigate and solve pressing international issues — from food security to energy resources to water quality.

Engage your students in engineering by participating in national and international competitions!

So What’s Next?

There are so many ways to integrate engineering into your classroom. You DON’T need to be an engineer yourself to succeed. Start with baby steps.  Incorporating engineering as practices. Then, work your way up to designing instruction to meet the engineering standards. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for advice, support, and learning opportunities. Whatever you do – just do SOMETHING. Give it a try – it’s what engineering is all about!


If you are looking for support in incorporating the NGSS into your classroom, I’d love to have you join the community, NGSS for Middle and High School Science Teachers.

Teaching Engineering: What NOT To Do

Someone once told me that the things you dislike most about other people are actually the things you dislike most in yourself.  I’m not a psychologist or anything (obvi), but I can say that from my own limited experience, I can see some truth in it. Some of my biggest “teacher pet peeves” are things that I have struggled with in the past, and one of those things? Teaching engineering.

If you’re familiar with the Next Generation Science Standards, you’re aware that the “Scientific Method” is a thing of the past and has been replaced by the concept of Science and Engineering Practices.  The key difference is that these practices don’t have to follow a linear progression — they can be incorporated at any stage of learning. While the “scientific method” was typically a one-and-done lab or project, the Science and Engineering Practices (henceforth SEPs) can – and should – be incorporated in some way into ALL of your lessons and activities. (If you aren’t sold on WHY, check out last week’s post!

What are the SEPs?

                         Teaching science and engineering practices should be a part of every class. Teaching engineering practices and science practices should be a part of every class.

Ok, so those are the SEPs, but that’s not what we are chatting about today. Today, we are looking at – basically – how NOT to teach the “engineering” part of the SEPs. By observing other teachers, administrators, curriculum creators, and so on and so forth, I’ve identified a few big “NO NO’s” when it comes to teaching engineering – and trust me, I did ALL of these things.  But just because you did them before doesn’t mean you should keep doing them, right? So stop. Stop them right now.

Three mistakes you might be making when teaching engineering - ok, actually, it's FOUR ways! This guide will tell you what NOT to do when it comes to engineering!

Way # 1 – NOT TEACHING Engineering

Ok, so this is actually like Way # 0 because it’s not actually a way at all… but a lot of teachers do this (again, myself included). I didn’t know how to teach engineering, I didn’t really like teaching engineering, and so I just didn’t. I ignored the engineering standards, I ignored the engineering SEPs, and I just skipped over all that. Oh, I had my excuses. “Engineering takes too much time.” “It’s too messy.” “It requires supplies I don’t have.” “It isn’t really a part of my curriculum.” (LIE!) But basically the gist was, “I don’t know what to do, and I don’t want to figure it out.”

Here’s the problem — your students are missing out.  YOU might not like teaching engineering. But THEY might like learning it. In fact they probably do.  And even more than that, your most difficult kids? Those are the ones who would probably LOVE an engineering activity, and they are the ones who need those positive experiences most. It has absolutely been my experience that the most “difficult kids” are the ones that excel at engineering challenges – they bring creativity, innovative thinking, determination, and enthusiasm, and their projects generally ROCK.

Way # 1 (The Real #1) – Using Engineering As A Filler

Been there, done that.  Engineering activities are always a filler, right? You need something to do before the classroom Halloween party or on that weird half day before Spring Break.  Engineering is perfect for that! Quick activity, fun and hands-on, and it keeps them busy and entertained on those days where you probably won’t get much work done anyway. Eeeeexcept that’s not showing our students what engineering is, why its valuable, and how it is completely intertwined with the study of science (and basically all other fields, too).

Engineering activities are fun, but they are more than that.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t incorporate engineering as a filler activity ever – I’m on board with you using it on those off-schedule days.  But that should not be the PRIMARY way you teach engineering. Or you’re going to find your students value it just as much as you do… (which is obviously not a lot).

Way # 2 Teaching Engineering As A Unit

I actually haven’t done this one, BUT I have fallen for the “Scientific Method Unit” early on in my career. And um, FAIL. Neither of those things should ever be a stand-alone unit.  When you do, you’re conveying to students that those things happen independent of all other things. That is simply NOT the case. I think this is why we have moved away from talking about the “scientific method” in favor of SEPs.  You’re not going to teach a whole unit on SEPs. You’re going to use them as they are intended, as PRACTICES that students PRACTICE throughout the year.

Engineering works the same way.  Engineering is not a unit in and of itself. The activities you engage your students on should not just stand alone with no context or reason.

I see this happen ALL THE TIME. I’ve gone to so many “engineering workshops” where students “build a parachute to hit a target.” Ok, great. Why?

Why? Why? WHY? WHY? WHY?!?

Why are we building parachutes? Why should I care? What’s the point?

Oh, and designing that parachute… I just use stuff? I just put things together? Is there a rhyme or reason to this activity? (Real Talk: There isn’t.)

And that’s NOT ENGINEERING! Engineers solve PROBLEMS – so if there’s not a problem, it’s just a fun craft.  And engineers use SCIENCE to solve PROBLEMS. So where’s the science?

When you present engineering as a stand-alone unit, you’re not tying it to the science that engineers use or the real-world problems that engineers are trying to solve.  You’re creating fun craft projects that maybe? will help students understand how the world works — but you haven’t set a real learning target there so who knows if you’ll hit it.

Way # 3 – Tack It On At The End

This is probably the most advanced way to fail at teaching engineering.  Teachers (again, like me!) who simply “tack it on at the end” have at least incorporated engineering, woven it into their curriculum, and connected it to actual content.  So for all that, I do say YAY! Kudos! You’re totally on the right track, and you’re probably way more advanced than most! You are engaging your students in engineering projects and giving them real-world problems to solve related to the content.  This is PROGRESS.

But how can you take it further? Well, right now, you’re squishing all of those SEPs into a culminating project without (theoretically) exposing students to the SEPs – and giving them time to practice them – throughout your unit.  You’re assessing the SEPs through the project without teaching them during the instruction. Uh oh!

Just like our science content, the SEPs must be directly taught if we are to expect students to learn them.  Obviously, they aren’t going to be the focus of EVERY activity. But we should be embedding activities into our curriculum that put the SEPs in the foreground, while allowing them a place in the background of other activities.


A Better Way: Teaching Engineering Throughout Your Unit

I just finished a unit for my middle school life science curriculum about biomes.  The core content of the unit is biomes, biotic and abiotic factors, and how organisms depend on abiotic factors for survival, growth, and reproduction.  The unit addresses the crosscutting concepts of cause and effect relationships and systems/system models.  It also incorporates the SEPs of analyzing and interpreting data and designing models.  Some of the activities in this unit focused on the content — learning about the biomes and figuring out what abiotic and biotic factors are.  These activities included some data — graphs that shows temperature and precipitation, maps of the biomes, etc.  But the focus of these activities was the content.

On the other hand, I also included activities where students analyzed data to understand the relationships between abiotic and biotic factors.  The focus here was on analyzing data, because – to be honest – I don’t care that students know that mosquitos grow faster when the temperature of their pond increases.  My goal was for students to be able to interpret the data and draw conclusions from it. Yes, I wanted them to come to that conclusion, because that showed that they appropriately demonstrated the practice… buuuuut the conclusion itself was not something I really cared that they remembered.  When it came time to assess their learning, the mosquito development and water temperature case study was just one of SEVERAL examples they could have used in their discussion of the interactions between biotic and abiotic factors.

See what I mean? I incorporated SEPs (analyzing data) into both activities, but it was clearly in the background of the first and in the foreground of the second.  In the same way, you can incorporate the engineering SEPs into your daily lessons so that students are building the skills well before they are asked to complete an entire engineering project.

So now what?

So now that we’ve figured out what NOT to do — what DO you do!? I’m going to dive deeper into this subject over the next few weeks to give you some practical tips, tricks, and resources to integrate engineering into your curriculum this year.

If you’d like to be notified of future blog posts, be sure to subscribe to the blog.  You can also follow me on Instagram to stay in touch!

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Engineering In Science: Why You Should Be Teaching It

Why you should be incorporating engineering standards and practices into your science classroom. For the science teachers amongst us (me!), engineering can be pretty intimidating.  There’s a very real possibility that your education did NOT prepare you to teach it. Yet if you’re following the Next Generation Science Standards, it’s your JOB to.  Engineering is woven into the NGSS across the board:

  • standing alone as Disciplinary Core Ideas,
  • represented in the Science and Engineering Practices,
  • popping up in a number of Performance Expectations,
  • and integrated into some of the Crosscutting Concepts.

You can’t align to the NGSS without addressing engineering.

But if that’s not enough to convince you to jump on the engineering bandwagon, here are THREE more reasons to get your butt in GEAR. (Does that count as an engineering joke?!)

1. engineering Engages students with Real-World Problems

Engineering activities are a great way to lend authenticity and urgency to your science content, because you can engage students in solving real-world problems. Even simply DEFINING the problems is an engineering practice that students can get into!

I firmly believe middle school students want to do things that matter. Both my own memories of middle school and my observations of my middle school students have proven this to me time and again.  Engagement skyrockets when middle school students have a real-world rationale to understand and apply, and engineering can be the vehicle through which you accomplish that.

Sure, learning about thermal transfer is great — but wouldn’t it be even more awesome if they had to use their understanding of thermal transfer to design a house for some over-heated penguins?

Science concepts are so much more engaging when students can apply them to solve real world problems — like learning about thermal transfer to design homes for over-heated penguins!


2. Engineering develops 21st Century Skills

I know we are all working really hard to move away from “drill and kill” methods of teaching, trying to pour content into empty receptacles (aka student brains) and hoping they can spit it back out when test day comes.  That’s what the NGSS is all about, right? Less content, bigger concepts, more depth, and more practices.  But even so, many of our classrooms still probably look pretty traditional.  We have students working at desks with pen and paper, reading and writing, some computer work, with the occasional presentation or project.  I get it. Not only is this how we were taught, but it’s also how most of our curriculums have been designed.  And on top of that, reading and writing is absolutely a critical skill our students must master.  No argument here.

But there are some other skills, too — like creativity, problem-solving, determination, and teamwork — that need to have a place in our classroom.  These skills are really just as vital, but they often don’t receive the focus they deserve.

Engineering develops ALL of those skills.  When you give students engineering challenges, they must think creatively to solve the problem.  They must work as a team.  They are bound to fail the first time around (especially if you throw in design changes, my favorite!), so they have to develop that grit and determination to keep on going and keep on trying.  In fact, engineering normalizes failure and can help develop the growth mindsets we all want our students to have! (For a free growth mindset poster set, be sure to access the Free Resource Library!)

The great thing about teaching these skills through engineering is you’re never sacrificing content for character. Students are learning and developing both simultaneously.

3. engineering is a lucrative career option

… that we aren’t preparing our students for.  Let’s be honest – engineers can make a lot of money.  They can make a lot of money with just FOUR years of post-secondary education.  I have a Bachelor’s, a Master’s, and some post-Master’s credits… and I made a third of what some engineers with a four year degree are making coming out of college. When I worked at a private, school, some engineers made EIGHT TIMES what my annual salary was! WHAT!?!

I’m not saying that all of your students are going to – or should – be engineers. But by failing to expose our students to the field, we are failing to prepare them for a career they may be perfect for.  On top of that, engineering might just be the perfect field for that student who can’t get into the novel you’re teaching or the documentary you showed, the student who can’t follow the step-by-step instructions you printed for that lab today.  By exposing them to a different kind of “science,” you could be opening a door to their future.

Great! I’m on board… now what?

I’m going to dive deeper into this subject over the next few weeks. My goal is to give you some practical tips, tricks, and resources to integrate engineering into your curriculum this year.

If you’d like to be notified of future blog posts, be sure to subscribe to the blog.  You can also follow me on Instagram to stay in touch.

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Connect with a community of middle and high school science teachers to discover and share NGSS aligned and 5E model based instructional strategies and teaching resources.

Finding A Good Anchor Phenomenon For Your NGSS Unit

How to find a good anchoring phenomenon for your NGSS unit!One of the big shifts with the Next Generation Science Standards is that you are no longer teaching content for content’s sake — science instruction is no longer based around a list of facts, but rather, the focus is on the broader concepts that connect those facts together and the skill development necessary to investigate and understand those concepts. One way of focusing students on the “big picture” in a unit is to present an anchoring phenomenon that students work toward understanding and explaining.

When I first learned about anchors, I will be honest – I didn’t know what the heck they were talking about. I mean, I understood that doing a demo in a physical science classroom could be an anchor that students could explore throughout the unit — but what about my life science class? What about my earth science class?

Since then, I have spent some time learning about anchoring phenomenon, and I really feel my students benefited from what I was able to implement. Whenever we started a unit, students were immediately engaged in the content and prior knowledge began to surface. They were able to connect with what we were learning about, and they were able to see how one concept connected to the next by seeing how it all related to our anchor.

And in terms of planning, I actually always identify the anchoring phenomenon before I develop any activities in a unit. I want to be sure that my activities are tied into the anchor and providing the information they need to solve that problem or answer that question. The anchors literally hold the content together, in a way.

Obviously, choosing a good anchor is important!

So What Is An Anchor?

An anchoring phenomenon (or “anchor”) is either a fascinating natural phenomenon or a meaningful design problem that studnets must engage in science and engineering practices to investigate. Anchors can keep instructional sequences coherent and on target, allowing a storyline to develop that help students understand the concepts they are learning and how they are all interconnected.

What Makes A Good Anchor?

Choosing an anchor is an important step when you are designing your units and instructional sequences, and not every natural phenomenon makes a good anchor. So what does make a good anchor?

  • an anchor builds upon student experiences. Ideally, students should have some prior knowledge of or experience with the material. This does not mean they must fully understand it or be able to explain it — in fact, that wouldn’t be a good anchor at all! — but they should be able to connect with it in some way. For example, all students have probably watched rainwater run down the road, carrying dirt and debris with it. An anchor for a watershed unit could simply be that very description, along with the question: where does all the water go?
  • an anchor connects multiple NGSS performance expectations. When you lay out your units, you should be developing a storyline that takes you from one performance expectation to another. The anchor phenomenon should be able to flow through each of those PEs. For our watershed example above, your instructional sequence may move from the properties of water and their effects on Earth’s surfaces (HS-ESS2-5) to how changes in Earth’s surfaces affect water resources (HS-ESS2-2) to reducing the impact of human activity on watersheds (HS-ESS3-4).
  • an anchor is too complex to explain or solve after just one lesson. Students aren’t able to figure out an answer without instruction, and an online search can’t provide a quick answer that students could copy.
  • an anchor is observable — whether it is through a demo, a video presentation, through the use of a scientific procedure or technological tool (telescope, microscope, computer to see patterns, etc.).
  • an anchor should have resources available that students can explore for themselves: data, images, and texts that can provide students with what they need to know to explain the phenomenon or solve the problem. Students should be able to learn about the anchoring phenomenon and related concepts through first-hand or second-hand investigations. (First hand investigations: students conduct the investigation and collect the data; second-hand investigations: students utilize others data to draw their own conclusions or examine others’ conclusions to evaluate their reasoning.

Give Me Examples, Please!

My husband can attest to this – I am an examples person. I really need examples to understand what someone means. So what are some types of anchoring phenomena that I use in my lessons?

  • case studies (pine beetle infestation, cane toad invasive species, algal blooms in the Great Lakes, water shortages in California),
  • a problem and a challenge (how to eradicate an invasive species? how to provide clean water after a natural disaster?)
  • something puzzling (is there life on other planets? or why is Earth the only planet with life? why aren’t earthquakes common here? why do we get so much snow?),
  • or something students may be curious about (how do we know what Earth was like millions of years ago? how do we know what’s inside of Earth? why do I have blue eyes but my parents don’t? why does a giraffe have a long neck?)
  • demos (Newton’s Cradle and the transfer of energy; using elements to change the color of a flame; changing the color of flowers; osmosis demo)

What are your favorite anchoring phenomena to use in your classroom? Hop over to our Facebook COMMUNITY to join the conversation. I’d LOVE to hear what’s working for you!