Science Fair Season


This year, I have had several people ask me if I had any ideas about Science Fairs.  I have always loved the idea of Science Fair and Family Evenings.  There are great ways to pull in the community, guest speakers and rich opportunities for students to show what they know.    Unfortunately, Science Fair can also turn into a strict set of rules that takes away from students thinking and creativity.   We also know that when Science Fair becomes a homework assignment it can turn into Mom & Dad’s Greatest Hits.

How then, can we use Science Fair to engage students, families and the community in Science and STEM experiences?

The starting point should be in clearly defining the purpose for Science Fair.  And, let’s be honest, if the purpose is to regurgitate “the scientific method”, we should cancel the Science Fair.  We need to blow the dust off the traditional “find a project online, follow someone else’s steps, build the same tri-fold as every other student”.   Rather, let’s consider the purpose as being a way to engage families and the community.  Or a challenge to student inventors.  Or participation in a school-wide theme, such as solving a problem in a fairy tale.  Once the purpose has been set, you’re ready to organize the Science Fair.

With NGSS in mind, let me suggest promoting two options for students – a science investigation or an engineering challenge.  Connecting to the Science & Engineering Practices  provides a context for students to ask authentic questions, develop their own process, analyze their data or efficiency and communicate their results.

Check out more of my ideas and some excellent resources I found here:






How far away is the Moon?


As you become more familiar with the NGSS, you’ll find patterns in performance expectations across grade bands. One of those patterns is they way in which students engage in understanding and describing the Sun-Moon-Earth system.  Connecting those big ideas to a phenomena students observe and describe is one way to both elicit student current understanding (or misconceptions)  and to provide a context in which they can observe, argue or develop a model of the phenomena.

The question, “How big is the moon?” can help us understand how students think about scale.   We can extend this assessment probe with older students by asking them how they might measure the moon.   Consider the assessment probe from Uncovering Student Ideas in Astronomy (Keeley 2012, p. 95)


Asking students, “How far away is the moon?” also taps into their understanding of scale.  It also gives us a context to talk about the limitations of models and diagrams such as the image used at the top of this post.  Derrek Mueller at Veritasium has a video that elicits and explains this phenomena.

Below are the performance expectations from each grade band that could are connected to this phenomenal question.

First Grade: Use observations of the sun, moon and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted(1-ESS1-1)

Fifth Grade: Support an argument that the differences in the apparent brightness of the sun compared to other stars is due to their relative distances from the Earth. (5-ESS1-1)

Middle School: Develop and use a model of the Earth-Moon-Sun system to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the sun and moon, and seasons. (MS-ESS1-1)


Vocabulary for Experiments in NGSS

Science Fair

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had several questions about the vocabulary used in NGSS that is comparable to our previous Washington State Standards (2009).  You know what I mean…manipulated variable, responding variable, field study etc…  Where is the comparable vocabulary in the NGSS?

If you’ve been looking, you probably couldn’t find what you were looking for in the standards because this vocabulary is articulated in the Science & Engineering Practices.    You may remember that each standard (or performance expectation) connects a practice with content.  They are 3-dimensional on purpose, intentionally connecting practice, content and cross-cutting concepts.  None of these is meant to be taught in isolation. Considering the specific vocabulary then, of the MSP or Biology EOC, may sell us short in planning a comprehensive interpretation of the NGSS.  I caution you, as I point out the vocabulary, not to fall in the trap of isolating the Science & Engineering practices to the detriment of the other dimensions.

In this document, I have highlighted the comparable vocabulary you’re looking for in the context of the Science & Engineering practices.  Variables are called out as dependent and independent.  They also differentiate between qualitative and quantitative observations and relationships between variables.  There isn’t a specific hypothesis protocol called out, and usually use the refer to prediction instead.  There also isn’t a specific protocol for writing because the practices are trying to broaden the work of science rather than narrow it to only controlled investigations (as we have been in the past).   Students understanding from an investigation or activity is summarized typically in an “explanation” and the format referenced is claim-evidence-reasoning.  Students are also prompted to articulate arguments and refine / revise explanations.

Qualities of a STEM lesson…

You need only to Google STEM lesson to get 23,000,000 ideas.  There are Pinterest boards, Teachers pay Teachers activities, Science Museums and publishers lining up to share their STEM lessons with you.  With all of those ideas, how can you identify the best lessons?  What are the qualities of a STEM lesson?


While there are many ways to define STEM, and many ways to incorporate STEM thinking and learning into your classroom, I would argue that there are a few key qualities that should be built into every STEM lesson.  Whether you are considering a STEM lesson you’ve found or developing your own, consider the following questions:

  • Are students presented with an authentic problem to solve or question to answer?
  • Do the Science & Engineering practices drive the work students do in order to solve the problem or answer the question? More to the point, are students making decisions about how they will solve the problem rather than following a step-by-step procedure?
  • Are students engaged in an application of mathematics skills?  Are they using the mathematics in order to solve the problem or answer the question?
  • Are students using technology as a tool to understand the problem, collect data or report their findings?  Is the technology an integral, irreplaceable part of the process?
  • Is there more than one way to solve this problem?  Can students develop a solution with an iterative process, such as an engineering design process, in which they area also learning from their mistakes and reflecting on their success?
  • Will students have an opportunity to more deeply understand a big idea in science or to apply their current understanding?
  • Does this experience support student-to-student discourse or maybe argumentation?  Are students supported in a collaborative environment with their peers?

The big idea behind STEM isn’t to engage students in lessons using science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  In fact, STEM is much more than connection to four subject areas.  The true application of STEM is one in which the four components cannot be isolated without damaging the integrity of the students’ critical thinking, problem solving and ways of sharing what they have learned, built or discovered.


It is important to note that in 2019, Washington State will be requiring teachers with several different certificates to have 15 STEM clock hours or a STEM-based goal on a PGP every 5 years for certification renewal.  When granting STEM clock hours, there are three guiding questions that must be considered:

  1. Will the STEM activity have an impact on STEM experiences for students?
  2. Does the STEM activity provide examples or resources to use with students or with other educators?
  3. Does the STEM activity provide examples or resources about STEM-related career choices to use with students?

While these guiding questions definitely provide a layer of cohesiveness for STEM clock hour opportunities, I think the deeper consideration of the qualities I’ve outlined will result in stronger student learning experiences.  Zipline

More Resources…

I’ve been organizing & facilitating iTeach STEM workshops for a couple of years now.  Those resources have been sitting in a Google Classroom, only available to participants of iTeach STEM.  Recently, I created a new Google Sites site – iTeach STEM as a way to share and archive the investigations, challenges and resources we’ve shared. Just click on the picture below to check out the new site!

iTeach STEM

What’s the BEST way to teach Science?

This is a question I have been asking myself for years.  Really, it’s the question that has motivated me for my entire career and it motivates me still.  Imagine how excited I was to find such a smart and articulate answer.  You have to watch this video!

Check this out…

Are you looking for ways to increase STEM- centered lessons, phenomenon-based explorations or engineering in your classroom?  Did you know that the Science Kit Center has materials available for check-out?  Here’s a few of the items you can borrow:

  • Density tank for density tank demonstrations (see the video above)
  • Tree Swing Engineering Kit file_003.jpeg
  • Ball & Pipe / Well Rescue Engineering Kit
  • Dissecting Kits
  • Zipline Engineering Kit
  • Film Canister Chemical Reactions Kit File_007
  • UV Sensitive Beads / Shade for Lizards Kit Shade for Lizards
  • Vernier Technology  – Wireless Temperature Probes, Go Link! & Light Sensors
  • We also have a variety of books including the books for Science Online, Understanding Student Ideas in Science, Formative Assessment in Science and the book study books for our curriculum teams – “Science for the Next Generation” and “Teaching for Conceptual Change in Science”

Please contact Jen Chase for more information about these materials, to check something out or for more ideas to support your science instruction!

Digital Notebooks

Digital Notebook

I have always been an advocate of science notebooks.  I think the use of a notebook can help a teacher shift to more student-centered practices and I think keeping a notebook can help students to be much more meta-cognitive of what they are learning.  A question that is asked most frequently is about the structure of the notebook.  There are many articles and books on this topic, and I think the bottom line is that the structure is dependent on the purpose of the notebook, how students will be managing their work and how teachers will be providing feedback.

One format I have been playing with recently is building a digital notebook using Google Slides.  Students can easily start their notebook within any Google Drive folder.  Content can be added in a variety of ways:

  • Teacher creates a template and students add content
  • Students create or import information to demonstrate their thinking
  • Students can import collaborative slides from group work
  • Students can embed photos or video
  • Links can extend student thinking and resources to anything online

I’m excited about the prospects of digital notebooks and there are a few examples already in the adapted science GVC.  I will also be including opportunities to think about digital notebooks in the next session of Science Notebooks in Spring Science Online.  I would love to see your examples too!

Elementary Curriculum


Why can’t I have my GVC and supporting documents printed in a binder?

In all of our content areas we are moving away from printing GVC binders and towards sharing our curriculum resources via the Google Drive.  There are a couple of reasons for this shift:

  • We are able to hyperlink the GVC documents to give you greater access to lesson plans, background information, student pages and multi-media
  • We are able to devise a GVC document with more choices following a formative assessment or options for differentiation. Again, using hyperlinks, this allows a teacher to focus on the lesson pieces that are most relevant for his or her students.
  • We are able to make quick revisions or add resources more easily. Once a document is printed it becomes static, with a digital GVC we can add additional resources, Teacher Notes or fix broken hyperlinks easily.


Isn’t this just stuff from the internet?  Why isn’t it formatted similar to Science Anytime?

The curriculum team has been working to curate science lessons with strong alignment to the NGSS to supplement our Science Anytime curriculum and support a strong standards alignment within the GVC.  Rather than creating curriculum, we are using an adaptation protocol to select Open Educational Resources from credible sites.  You will see resources from NSTA, Better Lesson, Teach Engineering, NASA, the American Chemical Association and other sites with a vetting process to ensure alignment to NGSS.

Our curated lessons aren’t formatted to match Science Anytime for a couple of reasons.  In many cases the student worksheets and lab sheets are already a part of the lesson and to reformat them would be redundant.  Also, Science Anytime was specifically formatted to match the format of the 5th grade MSP, a test which will not be given after spring 2017.


Why aren’t there more rubrics and better assessments?

In this draft of the NGSS Adapted GVC, we are focusing on curating lessons that are aligned with NGSS and fill in gaps in Science Anytime. We are identifying Performance Expectations for summative assessments and, where they exist, we are including specific assessments and rubrics.  In the review process next year, we will be adding additional lessons for differentiation, additional assessments, and rubrics based on student work samples.


Can we use more of the state assessment language in worksheets and prompts for students?

This was a strength of the Science Anytime curriculum, that it was well-aligned to the MSP.  Washington State has not yet released items from the NGSS-based state assessment, which will be given across the state for the first time in spring 2018.  When we have released items we can use or on which we can base additional assessment items, those will be included in the GVC.



Why isn’t there professional development to support the new GVC?

In third – fifth grade, the biggest shift when considering NGSS is in instructional practices.  With that in mind, most of the available PD has been focused on instructional practices.  There are six online classes available:

  • Science Notebooks
  • Constructing Explanations in Science
  • Formative Assessment in Science
  • STEM Online
  • Science A to Z
  • NGSS 101

There are also two afterschool options available for professional development; iTeach STEM and Science-after-School workshops.  Prior to each of these events, a survey is sent out to registered participants and the content of the workshop is based on the needs assessment.  Please visit the Science Website for additional information.

Finally, Jen is available for small group and 1-on-1 professional development.  You can arrange for grade level support during Thursday morning collaboration, before / after school or during a prep period.


What if I need additional background knowledge or information to teach a unit or a lesson?

In talking with teachers using the NGSS adapted GVC’s and in reading the surveys embedded in each GVC, we’ve learned that we did not offer enough information or background support in the Teacher Notes column.  As you begin to teach the third trimester GVC’s, you should find more support in this area.  In addition, feel free to reach out to Jen via phone or email.  We are all called upon to be science generalists, which means we’re almost guaranteed to be asked to teach something outside our comfort zone and background knowledge.  Jen has additional resources to share and is available to meet in person to support your learning and teaching.

Blog at

Up ↑