Science, Education, and Science Education

classroom applications
March 31st, 2015 by Luann

A Perspective on STEM in the US and Interesting Implications

Today, I read this article from the Washington Post. The author’s opinions of STEM are interesting. The connection to STEM as I know it is pretty broad. Some claims are backed up with evidence, some simply reinforce his stance on a liberal education for all.

The author made some great points. I read with interest.  The twelfth paragraph really jumped out at me.

“No matter how strong your math and science skills are, you still need to know how to learn, think and even write. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon (and the owner of this newspaper), insists that his senior executives write memos, often as long as six printed pages, and begins senior-management meetings with a period of quiet time, sometimes as long as 30 minutes, while everyone reads the “narratives” to themselves and makes notes on them. In an interview with Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky, Bezos said: “Full sentences are harder to write. They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

Writing clearly is important to many careers. It’s an obvious goal of CCSS. Even those who argue against CCSS will agree that writing clearly is an important skill in today’s world.

Not only must one be able to write a lengthy memo/narrative, one must be able to make notes on the memo/narratives. One must be able to read the memos and narratives written by others, for deep meaning.

Isn’t this kind of like…… close reading?  While the term “close reading” does not to my knowledge appear in the Next Generation Science Standards,  the term “read closely” appears in the Science and Engineering Practices section (see page 2 of this document.)

My administrators are emphasizing literacy this year – reading and writing. We got our feet wet last year, integrating writing into our PBL pilot. I’ve known since my first year teaching that students are challenged by reading science. They are used to reading stories and novels for a different kind of meaning.  Every year since, I’ve given students support in reading and writing science.

My goal is morphing to include still more reading and writing. Any resources you recommend?

December 23rd, 2014 by Luann

NBPTS v3.0 Selected Response Item Review: A Trip to The Dark Side

I field-tested the National Board v3.0  AYA Science Constructed Response and  Selected Response Assessment Center components. I was then invited to the Item Review, to happen here:


Know thine enemy, I’d been told. Besides, if I didn’t go check this out, how would I ever be able to comment with credibility on the process?

I went.

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November 1st, 2014 by Luann

The Dollar Tree and The Scientific Method Poster

You log into Facebook, and there’s THAT friend, the grammar expert.  The well-meaning grammar cop who is on a personal mission to correct every grammar or spelling error, ever.  The friend who would bring together the programmers who created Autocorrect for a workshop.  We accept that person. We love that person, and sometimes we learn from that person.  Some of us may or may not recognize ourselves in that person. I am not that person. Oh, no. I have a far more nerdy mission.

I went to Dollar Tree last summer. I was doing some classroom redecorating, and wanted some of those huge cutout letters that elementary teachers always have. I found the letters (I’ll post about that when it’s done, but I’m waiting for my school supply order to be filled to finish decorating). And I found this, on an endcap.  (Apologies for the lousy photo. The aisle was kind of busy.)

I may have cringed a little. While I am eternally grateful to the Dollar Tree for providing great stuff for my classroom (more about my other great purchase of the day later) Local children might be exposed to this, and later end up in my classroom, where I’ll have to spend hours of time we could otherwise spend doing cool things to erase this idea from their minds.  I posted it on Instagram and Facebook, where a few former students and science teacher colleagues offered up critiques, such as, “That’s an old, incorrect model of the atom.”   “Where is the data that will be interpreted?” and, simply. “Ugh.”  Can you spot the misconceptions?

Then, I posted on Twitter:  

And I got a reply.

I was quite impressed that someone monitoring their twitter account was interested in updating their products.  An interesting conversation took place, ending with my agreeing to suggest updates to the poster.  The science community has begun to refute any one single “scientific method.” Rhett Allain, in Wired, explains how some scientists work – and how they do not.

The new Next Generation Science Standards offer up a set of  Science and Engineering Practices outlining what students should know and be able to do when learning science, listed below.

  1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Note the lack of a set process with the terms hypothesis, conclusion, and surprisingly, inquiry. Not all investigative work students do in science is hypothesis-testing; in fact, very little inquiry involves writing an hypothesis.

The “old,” traditional, textbook version of the scientific method lacks at least two major components: flexibility, and the formation of a model.  A model is, simply, a proposed description of explanation of a phenomenon or why or how it works. Once the model is proposed, it is tested with a great many scenarios or situations and modified as needed to explain. The limitations of the model, or aspects that can’t readily be changed, are listed, described, and their impact on understanding are explained. The model can then be a useful learning tool.

A familiar example of a model is our idea of the atom. Dalton proposed an atomic theory, but did not describe the atom itself. Thomson found electrons and proposed the addition of negative charge to the atom. Where was the mass?  The positive charge?  Rutherford et. al. located a massive, positively charged nucleus, and James Chadwick proposed the existence of a particle having mass but no charge – the neutron.  Many other iterations of the structure of an atom were proposed, questioned, investigated, and documented until the currently-held quantum mechanical model of the atom was developed.

The scientific method, then, is officially dead in states who have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards. I know I’m not the only one happy about that. You?




October 4th, 2014 by Luann

About NBPTS V3.0 Field Tests

I field-tested the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards assessment center exercises that make up Component 1, Content Knowledge, Adolescent and Young Adult Science, Chemistry. While I can’t tell you about the content, other than it was exactly as outlined here  (Note: The documentation is not yet complete as the item review is still in process), I can tell you about the testing experience and give you some hints on scheduling and taking the assessments.

The assessment has 2 parts: Constructed Response and Selected Response. The Constructed Response section has 3 “exercises.”  You have 30 minutes to complete each one,  so allow yourself 2 hours and 15 minutes at the testing center, including arriving 30 minutes early to check in. The Selected Response section has approximately 45 Selected Response Items (SRIs) to be completed in up to 60 minutes.  Here’s my experience. DISCLAIMER: This was a field test. There may be changes before the actual roll-out. There may be differences in the test center check-in and process. Read your own cert area directions and test center protocols carefully.

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September 23rd, 2014 by Luann

Lab Clean-up

This is the year I organize the lab.

Teaching kids to work efficiently and keep their work area neat is pretty intuitive. Washing glassware, however, is not. I’ve outfitted every station with a small plastic bin that contains a sponge, a towel, and a spray bottle of table cleaner provided by the custodial staff. There’s nothing to clean glassware. So, I added a medium-sized test tube brush to the can in each cupboard, and placed a salt shaker (2/$1 at The Dollar Store) filled with Alconox in each bin:



Alconox is my glassware-cleaning detergent of choice, when a cleaner is needed. Students usually wash their own glassware at their lab benches. They will dump a handful of Alconox in one beaker when only a sprinkle is needed. The shakers are about 12 cm tall, plastic, easy to refill, and yes, they are color-coded to match the table color scheme.

Update, November 24: Working quite well.

September 10th, 2014 by Luann

Thirteen years ago today

Thirteen years ago, I was in Ohio, teaching a class of Chemistry students to set up their lab books for our first lab.

NYC Skyline *

(Some of my current FB friends were in that class…) when our principal, Dan Griffin, announced that a plane had struck one of the World Trade Center towers. Then, in disbelief, we listened as he announced that the second tower had been hit. I had only one old, slow computer in my room, but all the news sites were too jammed for us to get any information. As I struggled to find words to calm my frightened, confused students, Mr. Griffin announced that a third plane had hit the Pentagon, and that all three flights had originated in DC. A student, white-faced (you know who you are) stood up and said, “My mom was flying out of DC this morning. I need to go to the counselor’s office.”

Mike was having his hip joint scoped a few blocks away at the local hospital. When I went to see him during lunch/prep, I caught a bit more news. As he awoke and saw the TV in his room, he thought he was watching a horror movie. We kept hearing about terrorist involvement.

Our thoughts then turned to our younger son, Geoff, who was in basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood. Although we didn’t get to speak to him for the next few weeks, somehow, we knew there would be a consequence for him. We were right.

A hundred-plus lab books bear the start date of 9/11/01. Thousands of families, and our entire world, were never the same again.

*I stole this photo from a friend’s Facebook page. If it’s yours and I’m using it wrongly, please let me know and I’ll take it down.

June 24th, 2014 by Luann

Skillz for the Future


Framework for 21st Century Learning, Charles Fadel, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

We are asked to teach 21st Century Skills – Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication and Citizenship, to name a few. The last two schools in which I’ve worked have advisory classes. The point is career education and the relationship-building that increases chances for student success. We do prescribed career activities. We do grade checks and students reflect on their progress. I’ve been through many iterations of advisory during my tenure in 2 schools in 2 states over the past 10 years; and we are not yet sure what shape  I’ll be getting a brand-new batch of grade 9 lambs this year, and I intend to help them become as successful as possible.

To support these skills, and  state/district/building career-related activities and relationship-building activities, I’d like to suggest we consider the following possibilities for valuable use of advisory time:

Digital Literacy, Part 1

I see two components to Digital literacy. The first, easy component is establishing some accounts and learning to use current tools. At our school and in my classroom, as a minimum, these would currently be

  • Google apps including Blogger,
  • Prezi, and
  • Evernote
  • Disqus


My building has dabbled in Project-Based Learning. A part of our work, an authentic audience is important. It’s amazing how the quality of students’ work becomes a big deal to them when they know it will be seen by others.

As digital portfolios become important, students could maintain their portfolios easily in Google sites, and later transfer them to a personally owned account. The advantage to Evernote is its portability and flexibility with media. Evernote could be used for quickly storing info from recordings, links, photos and clipped images such as those students take of their lab work and whiteboarding adventures (see Plagiarism, below) and drafts of projects and work. Many teachers ask students to use Prezi, and class/project time is used just setting up an account and learning the app. Prezi could also be a platform for the digital portfolio. Many classes, particularly art, also use Blogger for photoblogs.

Digital Literacy, Part 2

Safety and etiquette.  That is all. No student may publish anything in my class to a public account with his/her name on it without parent permission, signed, and in my file.

Plagiarism: It’s not just for English class anymore.

Students must learn to vet every source they use for licensing. Creative Commons wasn’t around when most of us were in college, so we first need to learn the ropes.  Wikimedia Commons is a great starting place for images. Google Search now offers the capability to find usage rights (in search, select images > search tools > usage rights and then follow the rights granted for your intended use.)

Financial literacy:

As 9th graders, perhaps a look at the cost of a cell phone contract, fast food, and driving a car, including a look at the good driver discount they get on auto insurance for keeping a B average. By 10th grade, looking at how to budget money from a part-time job, including savings, and the cost of college. By 11th grade, a look at taxes and more college costs. As seniors, they need to be looking at their actual expenses vs income after graduation. And then, there’s my personal beef that we’re teaching kids there’s actually such a thing as “good debt.”  Hello.

There are others, of course.  What are yours?


March 28th, 2014 by Luann

One More Request, Mr. Gates and Mr. Duncan

I want this:

Library of Congress

Library of Congress, via Wikimedia Commons

Okay, maybe not this particular library. I want access to my Ball State University Library account; the account that went away a year or so after I was awarded my EdD.

These accounts cost money. All the while I was a student, I paid $50 per semester for this access. It was heaven. I could read almost anything anyone wrote about science, education, or science education, whenever I wanted. After I moved across the country while writing my dissertation, I could still use this access.  I loved this privilege.  My students and colleagues benefitted from my learning. But now, access is gone. It’s expensive; I understand that. Certainly, Mr. Gates, there must be a way for you to fund this.  Mr. Duncan, your pledge to support quality teaching and learning at this conference in March certainly includes supporting educators as we search for and share best practices.

I can get this, from Ball State;  this, from The Ohio State University, and this, from Wright State University. The best any can do is access to ONSITE services. I now live 2400 miles away from these universities. In the digital age, this shouldn’t be an issue.

What might you be willing to do to support this request? How could you work together with universities to allow teaching alumni to access their resources?

March 22nd, 2014 by Luann




I’ve been pretty amused by the mania to turn our science and math curricula into “STEM.”

My path to the science classroom was unconventional. I took my Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from The Ohio State University straight to a chemistry lab. I used atomic absorption spectroscopy, gas chromatography, and Kjeldahl digestions to analyze everything from the protein content in alfalfa to pesticide residues in soil. I had to be creative. I had to invent things. I had to mess things up, to do things that didn’t work, and then I had to make them work. Then, I ran the quality control department in a food production facility (human, this time.) If someone had gotten sick or died from consuming our product, I would have been responsible. I got pretty good at creative troubleshooting. I left that job when our first son was born. A bit bored, I joined up with 3 other scientists and a salesman to start a company. We collected soil and crop samples from dairy and hog farmers, analyzed the samples for nutrients, and then manufactured custom fertilizer for the soils and nutritional supplements for the animals based on the feeds they grew. I remained a partner until our last child was ready for preschool. I was at work until about 4 hours before his birth. I returned to work with baby in tow when he was 5 days old. But I digress. And, by the way, was any of this STEM?

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March 1st, 2014 by Luann

Instead of an instructional coach…

Here’s what I’d like to have instead of an instructional coach:


Instead of a coach…. an assistant*.

Yup.  That’s right.

I want an assistant. Not actually an assistant for demos and teaching, although that could work. I want more of a, well,  lab manager.

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