Category Archives: Classroom Content

Transitioning from State Content Standards to the NGSS

While many science teachers have already embarked on the journey of “how to deal with the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards)”, others are just starting to wrap their minds around the shift or are perhaps in a state that has not yet adopted the standards. Wherever you are in your journey, I think it wise to focus on the process, where it takes your teaching, and to begin small. I myself have just finished the second year of a continuing process of understanding the NGSS, what they mean, how they are organized, and what it looks like in my classroom and in my own teaching. With lots of patience, collaboration, and professional developments, it can be done!

Two years ago, my science department and I started by working on two things:

  1. Identifying which lessons, labs, and activities already achieved the NGSS
  2. Developing a new way of teaching the scientific method.

I mention the second step because it was important for us to all be on the same page about what we were teaching as the process of science, and to establish a common language amongst students throughout each grade level (especially since I worked at a 6-12th grade school). This is especially important since secondary science education does not always necessarily progress in the same way as a math class.

Science Cycle (1)Developing a new way of teaching the scientific method

After much debate and discussion, we eventually developed our own science cycle where we identified 10 terms, such as “question”, “model”, “design”, and “justify”, put them in a context (such as “identify limitations”), and produced posters and handouts for all students. We even had several heated debates on where to place the terms within the cycle. Having this done, however, helped tremendously when we began to shift our perspective on how this was all going to look in our classroom. Any time the students did an activity or lab, we referred them back to the science cycle to help them identify how they were doing science. This also helped us to further align with the science and engineering practices of the NGSS.

Identifying which lessons, labs, and activities already achieved the NGSS

Okay, now back to the first step. If you are just starting out with the NGSS, see what you are already doing at the beginning of each unit, because I am willing to bet that you are doing more than you think. Align the NGSS with your state content standards by looking for common language. Then, take out your post-its! I stuck them all over my hard copies to help me remember how each activity aligned for the following year. Then, repeat the above steps until you have gone through all units. This process will help you get more familiar with the language of the NGSS and how it relates to your classroom.

Now, you might be thinking, “I cannot even read these things to understand where my activities align!” You wouldn’t be alone. I was fortunate enough to attend an NGSS rollout session in California that was worth the time and money to figure out just a few little things that I do not think that I would have noticed.  For example, the letters and numbers separated by dashes at the top of each subset of standards are the performance expectations (what students should be able to do), but letters and numbers separated by periods in orange are the corresponding disciplinary core ideas, or the content standards (the “what” we are supposed to teach). Understanding these little nuances is a tremendous help and will continue to be as assessments are developed. I find this page to be the most helpful for understanding how the standards are organized (I am a visual learner):

Learn from my experience

While I could go on and on about the standards, I want to mention one final thing to keep in mind while you roll out this process in your schools and classrooms: teaching inquiry is not for the faint of heart. One thing that my colleagues and I learned this year is that you will now have TIME to teach science in the way that it should be taught. Not through a list of facts, lectures, and textbook notes, but through hands-on, thought-provoking, real-world problems. You will need to let go of the expectation that you will be keeping on pace with how you have taught in the past, because you won’t. Teaching through inquiry and through the use of the NGSS takes much, much longer. But the amount of learning that takes place, exciting discoveries, and in-depth discussions that your students will experience is so much more valuable. So, be patient. Let go of your internal timelines, and make goals that focus on how the students can have a meaningful experience in your classroom that they will never forget.

If you are reading this and thinking that you do not have the luxury to take the time at your own school to implement NGSS, work towards this goal by becoming a voice in your department. It took me three years to get my department on board with getting rid of teaching a linear scientific method that was outdated and unrealistic. Take some risks and show your school and administrators data that teaching in this way really works.

Picture of Shannon Baird

Shannon Baird has been teaching 7th grade life science and high school biology for the past five years in San Diego, CA. She recently moved to Tucson, AZ to teach biology and earth science in high school. Throughout her career, Shannon has focused on primarily using inquiry-based strategies in her classroom. Shannon was a 2014-2015 APS Frontiers in Physiology Research Teacher Fellow and is a LifeSciTRC Community Member.

Women’s History Month
Photo by George Joch / courtesy Argonne National Laboratory via Flickr.

Photo by George Joch / courtesy Argonne National Laboratory via Flickr.

March is Women’s History Month and what better time to introduce your students to some exceptional female scientists? Here are some short, informal video interviews of female scientists:

  • TanYa Gwathmey – TanYa is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Find out what inspired her to study physiology and what some of her other interests are.
  • Carmen Troncoso Brindeiro – Carmen is a Postodoctoral Fellow at Dartmouth Medical School. Originally, she didn’t like science but now she studies cystic fibrosis.
  • Johana Vallejo – Johana is an Assistant Professor at Midwestern University College of Osteopathic Medicine who studies insulin resistance. She provides information on her research and career in both English and Spanish.

If your students get inspired and want to read about more female scientists, point them to these two Archive collections:  Biographies of Female Biologists I & Biographies of Female Biologists II.

Share with the Community: Who are some of your favorite female scientists? Are you doing any fun activities with your class to introduce them to women in STEM careers? Leave a Comment!

Why You Should Teach Developmental Biology (and How to Do It!)
origami chicken

Image by RangerRick via Flickr

Developmental Biology is the study of how a single cell changes into a complex plant or animal.  Although many K-12 students will observe plants growing from seeds or have an animal in their classroom that goes through its life cycle under supervision of the students, developmental biology isn’t typically a subject that K-12 classrooms realize they are studying. Yet the study of development can address many of the National Science Education Standards (NSES) for science content, such as:

  • Science as Inquiry:
    • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry (K-12)
    • Understandings about scientific inquiry (K-12)
    • Unifying Concepts and Processes:
      • Evidence, models, and explanation (K-12)
      • Form and function (K-12)
      • Systems, order, and organization (K-12)
  • Life Science:
    •  Reproduction and heredity (5-8)
    • Structure and function in living systems (5-8)
  • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives:
    • Science and technology in local, national and global challenges (9-12)

Developmental biology is full of beautiful images of embryos, and is of interest to most students because it relates to their wonder about plants and animals, new brothers and sisters, and their own bodies.

One of the Archive resources that could be used with middle and high-school students who are incubating chick eggs in their biology classroom is the Origami Embryo Demo Movie. This resource shows how to fold paper to change a flat and simple embryonic disc into a complex, 3D body structure that humans, chickens, and all vertebrates share. It models morphogenesis, the process by which body structure arises during egg incubation for their chicks, and during the first few months of pregnancy for a human fetus. The folding exercise, which students can do themselves, is paired with photos and diagrams of body tissues showing the relationship between their paper folding and real chick embryos.  The exercise takes red, pink and yellow colored printer paper, a stapler, tape and a pencil or other rod, and so it pretty low budget. It wasn’t made with K-12 students specifically in mind, so some of the terms may be beyond what those students are learning.  The general principles are sound even without those terms. Are you ready to get started? Here are some resources to help you:

Origami Embryo Resources:

So, what do you think? Are you ready to give Origami Embryo and Developmental Biology a try in your classroom?

Quality Control can be a Killer!

scared bacteriaResearch by a team of Penn State scientists has found an important extra step in protein synthesis that bacteria use to assure quality control. The extra step, called “trans-translation” keeps the protein manufacturing process in bacteria moving along smoothly. However, since the trans-translational step is NOT found in plant or animal cells, this step opens the door to a whole new type of antibiotic. The research team, led by Kenneth Keiler, tested more than 600,000 small molecules and found 46 that disrupt the trans-translation process. One promising candidate, called KKL-35, has proven especially effective. Initial testing against bacteria that cause food poisoning, anthrax, and tuberculosis were very promising.  What about antibiotic resistance? The team found no mutant strains of the bacteria they tested that were resistant to KKL-35. Promising indeed! Perhaps a new generation of antibiotics is on the way!

That would be good news. The increasing prominence of “superbugs” that are resistant to many antibiotics has health care workers worried. John Rex of the pharmaceutical company AstraZenica pointed out that, while we let research on new antibiotics lag, bacteria were mutating to develop resistance to existing drugs. He noted new antibiotics are hard to discover and develop, and that users expect them to be low-cost. However, this wouldn’t allow companies to cover the development cost of the drug, much less fund research for the next generation of antibiotics.

A 2009 Time magazine article cited the lack of research monies available for drug development: “New antibiotics are desperately needed, but the amount of money being spent on the research and development of these drugs is woefully inadequate.” With tight federal budgets and sequestration cutting the work of federally-funded researchers, new antibiotic development is caught between a time-crunch and a budget crisis. To speed up the development, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services awarded $40 million to pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline to develop “medications to combat antibiotic resistance and biological agents that terrorists might use” with a promise of more money to come. Legislators and policy makers also are reviewing procedures for drug review and testing to find ways to speed up the process while assuring product safety.

Hopefully, with additional grants and funding, the work of researchers like the Keiler team at Penn State will be supported, and their findings will move forward through a streamlined development process. Watch out bacteria…we are on the lookout for your weaknesses and are ready to exploit them!

Learn more about protein synthesis, bacteria, and Immunity from the Archive: