NEW PD SESSION: Introduction to Formative Assessment to Support Equitable 3D Instruction

Posted on December 21, 2016

We just posted our first STEM Teaching Tools open educational resource (OER) for a professional development session! Our STEM Teaching Tools have been used to support extended professional development (PD) sessions for a long time. We are now posting OER versions of those PD sessions. This first resource comes from the Advancing Coherent and Equitable Systems of Science Education (ACESSE, or “access”) project team focused on promoting equitable and coherent 3D science instruction at systems-level scale. This first OER resource is an Introduction to Formative Assessment to Support Equitable 3D Instruction. The resource is for a 60-70 minute, and it includes all of the resources that PD facilitators need to adapt and run the sessions—including slides, speaker notes, facilitator guide, and embedded resources. Other resources are in active development. 

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NEW TOOL: How can students’ everyday experiences support science learning through engineering design?

Posted on November 15, 2016

Students should engage in engineering design projects each year as part of the new vision for K-12 science education. Students often bring relevant design-related experiences and expertise to those instructional moments. This tool lays out an instructional approach for leveraging that design knowledge as students learn and apply science principles. This is a crucial part of the cultural learning process since it recognizes and connects to the educational assets and interests that learners bring to the classroom.

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New Tool: Using Phenomena in NGSS-Designed Lessons and Units

Posted on November 05, 2016

Science education started to shift instruction to focus students on exploring and explaining natural phenomena when it shifted to inquiry-based science instruction starting in the 1960s. This focus on having students learn and apply science ideas by making sense of phenomena has continued to deepen—including with the new vision for K-12 science education. Philip Bell worked with staff from Achieve and the Next Gen Science Storylines project to distill in this STEM Teaching Tool how a phenomena-centered approach to science instruction fits with the 3D learning model in the NRC Framework and the Next Generation Science Standards. There are additional resources to go with this resource, including an overview video and other related professional learning resources.

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NEW TOOL: Prompts for Integrating Crosscutting Concepts Into Assessment and Instruction

Posted on October 14, 2016

The new vision for K-12 science education includes a focus on helping students understand conceptual ideas that show up across the disciplines of science. These seven cross-cutting concepts hold the potential of helping students see connections across the physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences, and engineering, technology, and applications of science. But, how should teachers help students make sense of these conceptual ideas? This new STEM Teaching Tool highlight specific ways that prompts can be used in assessments and instruction to help students understand these cross-cutting concepts.

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NEW TOOL: How can I foster curiosity and learning in my classroom? Through talk!

Posted on August 03, 2016

Are you trying to get your students to talk more about the science phenomena they are investigating? Are you looking for ways to cultivate a learning culture in your classroom? This new STEM Teaching Tool will help you do that by describing 10 different kinds of talk-focused activities that can be integrated into science investigations. Our interactive flowchart maps the different talk activities to specific pedagogical goals. There are instructions linked off of each activity describing how to run it in your classroom.

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NEW TOOL: Beyond “misconceptions”: How to recognize and build on Facets of student thinking

Posted on June 10, 2016

There is a classic tension in science teaching—we have too many important topics to teach and not enough instructional time to help students conceptually understand those topics in deep ways. That said, we know that the way the human mind pieces together an understanding of the natural world within communities is a complex and multifaceted process of articulation, testing, and refinement. This new STEM Teaching Tool describes an instructional approach for how teachers can support students in refining their scientific understanding and develop more coherent instructional sequences to support that process.

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NEW TOOL: How to design assessments for emerging bilingual students

Posted on May 28, 2016

Formative assessment is a critical teaching practice for supporting student learning (see our short course on developing 3D formative assessments to learn more). However, written assessments can be confusing and frustrating experiences for emerging bilingual students as they attempt to express their developing understanding of a technical subject like science in their second or third language. In order to provide some guidance from research and practice, Kerri Wingert developed this new tool to highlight specific strategies for designing assessments that are more fair for emerging bilinguals and that provide more useful information to teachers.

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NEW TOOL: Qualities of a Good Anchor Phenomenon for a Coherent Sequence of Science Lessons

Posted on April 07, 2016

Instructional sequences are more coherent when students investigate compelling natural phenomena (in science) or work on meaningful design problems (in engineering) by engaging in the science and engineering practices. We refer to these phenomena and design problems here as ‘anchors.’

This short tool, “Qualities of a Good Anchor Phenomenon for a Coherent Sequence of Science Lessons,” outlines criteria to consider when selecting an anchor phenomena or design problem for Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) instruction.

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SHORT COURSE: How to Use Curriculum Adaptation to Adopt the New Vision for Science Education

Posted on April 05, 2016

This short course will help you learn how to implement the new vision for K-12 education through a curriculum adaptation strategy. The course links off to an extensive Curriculum Adaptation Toolkit that includes a broad set of materials to support teams in adapting instructional materials.


There are multiple approaches for implementing the new vision for K-12 science education across schools and other learning venues. This short course highlights a range of relevant ideas for curriculum adaptation and links off to supporting resources to help teams engage in this work. This approach helps educators adapt instructional materials for use in the classroom while also supporting teachers in learning about how to teach in support of equitable, "three-dimensional," NGSS-aligned instruction.

Research shows that students learn science best by engaging in three dimensional science learning — that is, by engaging with science and engineering practices (SEPs) as part of sustained and meaningful investigations, as they learn and apply disciplinary core ideas (DCIs) and cross-cutting concepts (CCCs). This integrated approach to learning has major implications for how instructional materials should be written in order to support students as they learn science. This three-dimensional model is also the basis of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

This short course offers activities with linked resources to help you learn how to adapt curriculum materials to fit with this new three-dimensional vision. The sequence assumes that you are familiar with the basics associated with the new vision and the associated equity goals for science education.

Curriculum Adaptation Activities

Activity 1: What is a Curriculum Adaptation Strategy? (30 min)

Using curriculum materials aligned to NGSS is a crucial part of implementation, but there are very few aligned curricula to choose from, districts may not have resources to purchase new materials, and teachers typically don't have time to develop new curricula from scratch. However, teachers can effectively adapt existing curriculum materials and instruction to better align with NGSS. This can help them learn about important parts of the NGSS vision for learning—and result in instructional materials for use across classrooms.

Activity 2: How can Districts Focus PD to Implement the NGSS? (30 min)

The changes called for in the Framework for K-12 Science Education and NGSS require teachers of K-12 science to learn new concepts and take on new stances. Teacher learning will take time. It needs to be sequenced so that topics addressed can be put to immediate use and also fuel professional learning into the future. Long-term professional development (PD) plans should be informed by emerging developments in NGSS-aligned resources and instructional materials as these tools are shared across states and networks.

Activity 3: Learn About and Consider Different Instructional Approaches (60 min)

There are multiple instructional models that fit with the new vision . Curriculum adaptation should be focused on one instructional model that fits the local context and existing instructional materials (assuming they are going to be amended). These different instructional models all engage students in three-dimensional instruction—which involves engaging them in the science and engineering practices (and not the traditional scientific method)—and build on student’s prior interests and experiences .

Activity 4: Learn About Supporting Diverse Learners in Meaningful Science Learning (90 min)

There is a strong argument to be made that curriculum adaptation should be focused on differentiating instruction in order to engage all students in meaningful science learning. Chapter 11 of the Framework for K-12 Science Education lays out the broad vision for engaging all students in meaningful science learning. Read the section on inclusive instructional approaches section and reflect on how instructional materials can be developed to take up those approaches.

Appendix D of the NGSS and the associated case studies take an examination of inclusive instruction to the next level of detail for different demographic groups. For example, there are specific ways to scaffold the participation of English Language Learners in the science and engineering practices. As another example, there are instructional approaches for respecting and engaging youth from indigenous communities in science learning. The goal here is to adapt instructional materials in a way that allows classroom learning to overlap with the lives of the students to whatever degree possible while supporting their learning through active sense-making of natural phenomena.

Activity 5: Explore and Make Plans to Use the Curriculum Adaptation Toolkit (60 min plus ongoing work)

Based on several years of curriculum adaptation work in Seattle Public Schools and Renton School District, the STEM Teaching Tools team has developed a set of materials that can be used by others to launch and support curriculum adaptation projects in support of the new vision.

Read and reflect on this article that describes this multi-year effort. What is similar or different about your context if you were to launch a similar project?

Then explore the Curriculum Adaptation Toolkit to familiarize yourself with the range of resources available. These materials should provide a starting place for finding your way into the work. That said, there are different choices that could have been made for the focus of the work, so you may want to adjust your strategy given your context and purposes.

Activity 6: Supporting Teachers as they Adapt Curriculum (30 min)

These two tools offer insights into how leadership can best support teachers in PD or curriculum adaptation work.

  • Professional Development that Supports Teacher Learning about the New Vision for Science Education
    Curriculum adaptation should depart from the "information delivery" format; don't just tell teachers about new curricula or instrucitonal strategies. Instead, we recommend centering PD days on creating opportunities for teachers to analyze and engage with "rich images" from the classroom, such as video or student work. This will help teachers make sense of three-dimensional learning for themselves and gain a richer understanding of what it looks like.
  • Research Brief: Supporting teacher professional communities to implement school-wide initiatives
    This short summary of a research study outlines strategies that tend to make PD more successful. The study found that improvement initiatives are more successful when teachers share their expertise and resources, in formal or informal settings. This brief outlines what factors help build teacher relationships and professional communities.

Activity 7: How to Tell if Materials are Aligned with the New Vision for Science Education (30 min)

Many teachers, schools, and districts are now challenged to identify curriculum materials that support the vision of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and A Framework for K-12 Science Education. Whether adapting existing materials or adopting new ones, it is important to evaluate all curriculum materials for deep alignment to multiple dimensions of the new vision. This tool highlights how the Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products (EQuIP) Rubric and support videos can be used to guide that process.

Curriculum Adaptation Extension Activities

The following materials may be of additional interest to those leading curriculum adaptation efforts.

Adapting Curriculum for Equitable Three-Dimensional Learning (60 min)

This presentation was created by Philip Bell, Shelley Stromholt, William Penuel, and Katie Van Horne in March 2016 for the CSSS Annual Conference. The slides can be used to guide educators in a brief introduction to the new vision for science education, the curriculum adaptation model, grounding instruction in everyday science phenomena, changing classroom discourse patterns, analyzing student work, and creating three-dimensional formative assessments and tasks. The presentation also links off to even more great resources on these topics.

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SHORT COURSE: How to Develop 3D Formative Assessments for the Science Classroom

Posted on April 05, 2016

This short course will help you learn how to develop and use 3D formative assessments in the classroom.


Formative assessment in the classroom is crucial because everyone engaged in complex learning benefits from timely and focused feedback from more expert others. The process also promotes important processes of self-explanation, reflection, and learning. One powerful approach to formative assessment is to develop short tests of student understanding that get embedded into an unfolding curriculum unit—allowing for instruction to shift to support student understanding of specific learning goals.

The new vision for K-12 science education calls for a new three-dimensional model of science learning. From this 3D integrated perspective, research shows that students learn science best by engaging in science and engineering practices (SEPs) as part of sustained and meaningful investigations as they learn and apply disciplinary core ideas (DCIs) and cross-cutting concepts (CCCs). This integrated approach to learning has major implications for how formative assessments should be developed and used.

Here are some activities with linked resources that can help you learn how to develop or refine 3D formative assessments. The sequence assumes that you are familiar with the basics associated with the new vision and the associated equity goals for science education.

Formative Assessment Activities

Activity 1: Getting Oriented (30 min)

To learn more about the overall approach to assessment for K-12 science education, read about Designing an Assessment System that Measures Three-Dimensional Science Learning and think about what parts of the recommended "system of assessments" that you will be working on.

Activity 2: Learning about Formative Assessment (15 min)

If you need some background on formative assessment, skim this report on Attributes of Effective Formative Assessment and think through how the definition for formative assessment and five attributes relate to the work that you do or could do.

Activity 3: Learning About the Very Idea of 3D Assessment (20 min)

To get oriented to 3D assessment development, read about How teachers can develop formative assessments that fit a three-dimensional view of science learning and explore the embedded examples. How similar or different are they to the formative assessments you are familiar with?

Activity 4: Learning How to Build 3D Assessment Clusters (20 min)

To get started developing 3D assessment items, read How can assessments be designed to engage students in the range of science and engineering practices? and start to map out an assessment cluster you would like to build.

Activity 5a: Engaging in a Procedure to Develop 3D Assessments (30 min to orient plus ongoing work)

To get detailed guidance on a process you can use to develop assessment clusters, sink into Steps to Designing a Three-Dimensional Assessment and use the five steps to guide the development of your assessment cluster.

Activity 5b: Learning How to Design Assessments for All Practices (ongoing)

To design assessment items for the range of science and engineering practices in the new vision, use these Task Formats for Science & Engineering Practices to scaffold your design of specific assessment items. This tool get used in Step 3.

Formative Assessment Extension Activities

The following materials come from teacher workshops focused on the development of 3D formative assessments. The slides and resources are worth exploring and leveraging in your own work.

Workshop: How to Make Science Instruction Compelling to Students: Designing Formative Assessments to Build on Learners’ Interest AND Knowledge (30 min + possible ongoing work)

Building on students' prior content knowledge is a key strategy for promoting deep learning in the classroom. The NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education -- that guided development of NGSS -- highlighted how it is equally important to build upon students' prior interests and identities during science instruction. Research has shown that building on student interests and experience can make science more relevant, help them identify with science, and learn how science is a human endeavor that has an important role in society. In this workshop, participants will learn how to use different formative assessment approaches to support interest-driven learning in their classroom. These general strategies help students make meaningful connections between the science concepts they are learning and the application of those ideas to their own lives and to other everyday situations -- including the many careers and pursuits that leverage STEM knowledge and practices. The approaches you'll learn in this workshop can be used with any curricula, at any grade level, and in all subjects of science and engineering.

Workshop: How to Assess Three-Dimensional Learning in Your Classroom: Building Tasks that Work (30 min + possible ongoing work on posted items)

How is assessing three-dimensional science learning different than we how we have thought of science learning in the past? How can we design assessment tasks that elicit the core ideas, practices, and crosscutting concepts in the NGSS performance expectations (PEs)? There are very few examples of elementary and middle school assessments completely aligned to NGSS, so people will need to adapt the ones that exist. Performance expectations also under specify the nature of evidence needed to draw inferences about student learning. This workshop aims to help participants identify assessment components that focus on individual practices, core ideas, or crosscutting concepts, and understand how, taken together, the components can support inferences about students’ three-dimensional science learning as described in a given performance expectation. We guide participants through an analysis of common assessment tasks to identify components and qualities of these tasks that support assessment of practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Tasks examples will will be drawn from all four domains of disciplinary ideas linked across elementary and middle school. Through this activity, participants will review tasks that aim for assessing PEs, discuss strengths of these tasks and gain practice with adapting them to better elicit three dimensional science learning.

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NEW TOOL: How can assessments be designed to engage students in the range of science and engineering practices?

Posted on March 25, 2016

Students learn science best by engaging in science and engineering practices in sustained investigations as they learn and apply disciplinary and cross-cutting concepts. The practices described in the new vision for K-12 science education outlines the intellectual work students should engage in as they learn science.

To help educators implement the practices, researchers in the Research + Practice Collaboratory have developed a series of “task format” tables, which suggest different possible templates for student activities that integrate real-world science and engineering practices. These were designed to help groups design assessment items—although they can be used to inform curriculum as instruction as well. This new tool describes how to use these task formats to design 3D NGSS assessments.

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NEW TOOL: How can formative assessment support culturally responsive argumentation in a classroom community?

Posted on March 12, 2016

The learning of all complex knowledge benefits from timely and focused feedback from a more expert other. That is why using formative assessment practices in the classroom are so powerful. Formative assessment techniques can be used to improve how students engage in the science and engineering practices. In this new tool formative assessment is used to engage students in a culturally responsive form of the argumentation practice. It was co-authored by Deb Morrison and Angela DeBarger.

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NEW TOOL: How Teacher Social Networks Support and Constrain Sustainable Reform

Posted on February 06, 2016

If you are a classroom teacher, the support and resources you get from any given educational improvement project tend to come and go over time as the project starts and stops. But, how can teachers continue to improve their teaching practices after a reform project ends? This new tool describes a research study that highlights how teachers can work with each other to continue to take up new practices—or how particular approaches get in their way of doing that ongoing work. This summary of this social network study comes from colleagues Vanessa de León and Annie Allen.

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NEW TOOL: How teachers can develop formative assessments that fit a three-dimensional view of science learning

Posted on January 09, 2016

Learning any complex subject matter or practice is aided when the learner receives timely, quality feedback about how they should refine their understanding. This is what makes formative assessment such a powerful part of a teacher's day-to-day practice. Over the coming months we will be posting a series of STEM Teaching Tools on formative assessment. This new brief kicks off the series by highlighting what formative assessment looks like given the three-dimensional view of learning in the Next Generation Science Standards. We think it is a great starting place for thinking about how classroom assessments can guide the learning process of students with respect to this new vision. We want to thank Erin Furtak, Marian Pasquale, and Rachel Aazzerah for pulling it together.

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NEW TOOL: What school building administrators should know about the new vision for K-12 science education

Posted on November 25, 2015

We recently learned that people have been using some of our STEM Teaching Tools to orient groups of principals to the Next Generation Science Standards / NRC Framework vision. In October, I heard Zoe Evans, a school administrator from Carroll County Schools and NGSS writer, give a fabulous keynote on what school-building administrators should know about NGSS. So, I pulled together this tool as a briefing document for school-building administrators wanting to learn about how the NGSS / Framework vision is different and what is involved with implementing it. When used with principals, it would be well-paired with STEM Teaching Tool 14 (what is NGSS / Framework), 15 (how to promote equity in science education), 32 (why engage students in practices and not the "scientific method"), and 6 (what does productive science talk look like).

-- by Philip Bell

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NEW TOOL: Getting their hands dirty: Engaging learners in authentic science practices outside the classroom

Posted on November 13, 2015

The place where learning happens can matter a lot. The new vision for K-12 science education encourages learners to investigate and make sense of phenomena of the natural world. Sometimes in science it is productive to isolate phenomena and systematically study it in a lab or classroom setting. At other times it is crucial to investigate phenomena as it occurs in its natural context. This kind of place-based education often involves having students engage in science investigations outdoors—which has a range of other benefits. This new brief presents the research-based rationale and a set of strategies for having students engage in science investigations in outdoor settings and to connect that to classroom learning in ways that make sense.

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New Tool: The new vision for science education calls for a 5-D view of learning. Shhhh....!

Posted on November 05, 2015

The NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education calls for engaging students in the intellectual practices of science engineering as they learn and apply disciplinary core ideas and make connections to cross-cutting concepts. This is the 3D model of learning in NGSS that has been getting a lot of press. Importantly, the Framework also highlights research showing that connecting to the interests and identities of learners is equally as important. Students engage and learn more when the phenomena are personally relevant. They should conduct investigations where the results are meaningful to them. In this new brief we highlight an instructional technique called self-documentation that can be used to focus classroom science and engineering investigations on student and community interests and expertise.

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New Tool: Scientific literacy involves understanding global climate change & what people can do about it

Posted on May 21, 2015

Global climate change is arguably the leading environmental, social, cultural, and economic problem of the 21st century. The NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education frames it as a central component of basic scientific literacy. It is important for all citizens to be able to make scientifically informed decisions about the consequences of climate change. However, many elementary, middle, and high school teachers have not previously taught this interdisciplinary topic. This new STEM Teaching Tool provides guidance for how to teach different aspects of climate change from the perspective of different science subjects. It also pulls together relevant science and instructional resources that might help educators teach about the topic.

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New Tool: Research Brief—The Informal Formative Assessment Cycle as a Model for Teacher Practice

Posted on May 16, 2015

All learning of sophisticated ideas and practices benefits from feedback and guidance from a more expert other. Formative assessment is a powerful way to use student performances of understanding to gauge and guide their future learning. But there is a mis-perception that all assessment must take some kind of formal approach—like a test or quiz. In this research brief, researchers summarize an article that highlights a powerful model of informal formative assessment that involves teachers engaging in conversations with students and carefully listening to their ideas and using that information to guide instruction.

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New Tool: Why should students learn to plan and carry out investigations in science and engineering?

Posted on April 29, 2015

In the new vision for K-12 science education, the science and engineering practices can be thought of as a platform for empirical investigation and knowledge-building. Students need to learn how and when to engage in the science and engineering practices in order to accomplish specific investigations. This is a different instructional approach than only providing students with designed sequences of practices to engage in in order to pursue a predetermined question. There are good reasons for engaging in some confirmatory or demonstration labs / investigations. But the NRC Framework argues that it is crucial for students to learn how to pose testable research questions and then plan and carry out investigations as they attempt to engage their questions. With this specific learning goal in mind, this brief highlights strategies for having students plan and carry out investigations based on their own interests and questions.

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New Tool: Professional Development that Supports Teacher Learning about the New Vision for Science Education

Posted on April 15, 2015

The new vision for K-12 science education highlights important changes for how science teaching should be practiced. This includes focusing teaching on a 3-D integrated perspective of learning through extended investigations, using science-specific strategies for making learning experiences inclusive for all learners, and embedding a deep focus on engineering design across each grade. Professional development becomes a crucial strategy for supporting implementation of this new vision. This new STEM Teaching Tool highlights what is known about high-quality professional development with a special focus on science education.

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New Tool: Beyond the Written C-E-R: Supporting Classroom Argumentative Talk about Investigations

Posted on April 01, 2015

Some of the practices in the new vision for K-12 science education are new to many teachers and less common in existing science curriculum materials. Argumentation and causal explanation are two such practices, although research shows that they support very important science learning processes in the classroom. Using scaffolds to support productive student engagement in new practices is a powerful implementation and teaching strategy. The Claims-Evidence-Reasoning (C-E-R) framework is very helpful in this way to support students in argumentation and explanation. But sometimes C-E-R has become the endgame of instruction (e.g., as a culminating way for students to conclude what they have learned from an investigation) and that is the extent of how the argumentation and explanation practices are framed in instruction. Argumentation has a much broader role in science learning. This problem of pracitce led to the development of this STEM Teaching Tool that shows that argumentation can show up in a range of different ways as students plan for, conduct, and make sense of natural phenomena.

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New Tool: Teaching STEM In Ways that Respect and Build Upon Indigenous Peoples' Rights

Posted on March 27, 2015

Many of the deep challenges of education are the result of historical processes that have unfolded over decades and even centuries. Some of these issues are specific to science and science education and should be worked on by science teachers. In this STEM Teaching Tool researchers who partner with Indigenous communities highlight the specific rights that Indigenous students and communities have with respect to STEM education.

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New Tool: How to focus students’ engineering design projects on science learning

Posted on February 27, 2015

According to Henry Petroski in The Essential Engineer: "Science is about knowing; engineering about doing." He argues that while scientific research can lay the foundation for new technology, it is engineering development that allows ideas to become reality. It is the inherent practicality of engineering that makes it vital to addressing our most urgent concerns, from dealing with climate change and natural disasters, to the development of efficient automobiles and renewable energy sources. The new vision for K-12 science education has embedded a focus on engineering throughout the K-12 grade span. In this new tool we discuss the connections between science and engineering and highlight strategies for making the science central to students' engineering design projects.

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New Tool: Research Brief on "Designing an Assessment System that Measures Three-Dimensional Science Learning"

Posted on February 16, 2015

The Next Generation Science Standards demand new kinds of assessments and new assessment systems. The NRC research consensus report, Developing Assessments for the Next Generation Science Standards, calls for assessments that align with the new, three-dimensional vision of science learning in A Framework for K-12 Science Education. We developed this new STEM Teaching Tool Research Brief to summarize the NRC Assessment report. Assessment tasks are needed that give educators information on student mastery of performance expectations that blend science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. The report calls for starting with improving classroom assessment and for gradual implementation of new system of assessment at the district and state levels. To promote equity in science learning, assessments must be fair and unbiased, connect with and value students' cultural and linguistic resources, and include efforts to monitor and ensure all students have access to adequate resources and opportunities to learn.

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New Tool: What is the role of informal science education in supporting the vision for K-12 science education?

Posted on February 06, 2015

STEM learning happens everywhere. Sometimes we talk like it only happens in the classroom. Leveraging the everyday STEM-related interests and knowledge of youth is a crucial educational equity strategy. Helping youth have redudant supports for their learning across different settings is a powerful equity strategy. We wrote this STEM Teaching Tool to help educational staff and community leaders working at the system and neighborhood level to leverage the role of informal science education in supporting the goals of the NRC Framework and NGSS.

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New Tool: Why focus on science and engineering practices—and not "inquiry?" Why is "the scientific method" mistaken?

Posted on January 29, 2015

There is a basic tension between providing clear supports to students about disciplined inquiry (e.g., in science education) and the actual complexity of professional disciplined inquiry (e.g., in science fields). The new vision for K-12 Science Education involves getting a more complex view of scientific investigations in play in classrooms by focusing on the eight core science and engineering practices. This approach is at odds with some versions of "science inquiry" and "the scientific method" as typically taught. There have been a lot of questions and concerns about this transition to practices. Teachers and researchers came together to create this new tool to try and provide some clarity about this shift to science and engineering practices.

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New Tool: Overview: How can we promote equity in science education?

Posted on January 22, 2015

Teachers routinely work to support all of students in learning complex science. It is hard and complicated work. The new vision for K-12 science education opens up specific opportunities to make science learning more engaging, inspiring, respectful, and meaningful for students. We wrote this brief to try and summarize these opportunites and link off to resources that can help inform classroom practice. We plan to author and post additional briefs about specific aspects of this work in the near future.

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Want to easily download the entire collection of STEM Teaching Tools?

Posted on January 17, 2015

People have asked us if there was a way to easily grab the entire collection of tools. So we have made the entire collection—in the "pretty", ready-to-print PDF format—available in one easy place for browsing and downloading. Follow the link below to the new Google folder and off you go. If you want ready access to the new tools as they come out, just add that folder to your Google drive. Here's the link:

We are gratified to hear that so many people have been using the tools. Some people are printing out the PDF versions and reading and discussing them in PD sessions or at science department / PLC meetings. Others are putting the PDFs on tablet devices for people to read during these meetings—so people can browse the links. Some are broadly sharing the PDF versions electronically with colleagues. That is all great to hear.

Please drop us a note at if there other ways we can make the site more useful.

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New Tool: What is meant by engaging youth in scientific modeling?

Posted on January 16, 2015

Scientific modeling is one of the eight core practices of science and engineering in the new vision for K-12 science education. Science curricula has routinely included descriptions of the accepted scientific models of natural phenomena. It is less common for curricula to engage students in the practice of modeling as part of an unfolding investigation, but it is a very powerful way to learn science concepts and about how science and engineering work. A team of practitioners and researchers wrote this STEM Teaching Tool to provide an overview of how modeling can support student learning.

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New Tool: Engaging English Learners in the Science and Engineering Practices

Posted on December 17, 2014

Research and practice has repeatedly revealed that students learn and apply science concept best by routinely engaging in the science and engineering practices. This makes it an equity imperative to make learning environments inclusive of as many students as possible, especially youth who come from non-dominant communities. Leveraging and expanding the language repertoires of learners in the context of personally meaningful investigations is a crucial strategy related to promoting educational equity. We hope this new tool is a useful introduction to teaching techniques and ideas for deeply engaging English Learners in the science and engineering practices.

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Background on STEM Teaching Tools

Posted on December 14, 2014

This site was in development by staff at the Institute for Science & Math Education for the better part of a year before we formally launched in October. We deeply appreciate all of the help and feedback of our educator and researcher colleagues as we developed the approach and continue to develop tools. As we were launching, the communication staff from our College of Education here at the University of Washington approached us and asked us why we were launching this initiative and what we were hoping to accomplish through this kind of partnership between research and practice. This is the story they developed that provides background on the STEM Teaching Tools effort.

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New Tool—Failing Forward: Managing Student Frustration During Engineering Design Projects

Posted on December 13, 2014

Are you teaching engineering design in the classroom? Do some of your students become overly frustrated and shut down during the design process? We have been working with teachers implementing engineering design in the context of science kits in elementary and middle school classrooms. The work led to this new STEM Teaching Tool that highlights how to manage student frustration in the classroom.

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New Tool: How should districts and schools focus professional development when starting to implement NGSS?

Posted on December 02, 2014

You might find yourself being responsible for implementing the new vision for K-12 science education outlined in NGSS and the NRC Framework in your school or across your district. There are different implementation strategies you might consider. Dan Gallagher is the Science Program Manager for Seattle Public Schools. In this STEM Teaching Tool, he describes how he is working with his team, collaborators, and teachers from across the district to implement NGSS within this school system. This tool offers specific advice about where to focus professional development efforts, what to think about in the process, and how to coordinate the NGSS initiative with others that might be happening at the same time. 

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New Tool: Why should students investigate contemporary science topics—and not just "settled" science?

Posted on November 20, 2014

Across a number of curriculum projects, we have worked with teachers who have engaged students in investigations of current topics in science—from human influences on climate change to social network modeling of pandemics to the reasons for global declines in amphibian populations. All of these project-based learning curriculum efforts have highlighted the powerful effects on student learning and identity development from putting youth in the roles of developing experts. This is especially true for youth who are otherwise not to be asked to conduct authentic science investigations that have local and/or broad relevance. When students are designing and conducting investigations at the frontiers of science they come to see that they can engage in such intellectual work and come to understand the role of science in society. In this new tool we talk about the benefits of engaging youth in investigations of contemporary science.

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New Tool: How Can I Get My Students to Learn Science by Productively Talking with Each Other?

Posted on November 15, 2014

The NRC Framework and the Next Generation Science Standards call for routinely engaging students in the practices of science and engineering—so they can learn and apply scientific knowledge and learn about the science and engineering enterprises. The practices are primarily social. Learning is also a fundamentally a social process. For these reasons, this group of teachers and researchers thought this tool about how students can learn science through talk would be broadly useful.

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New Tool: Implementing Meaningful STEM Learning with Indigenous Students & Families

Posted on November 07, 2014

The Next Generation Science Standards include a rich set of learner case studies that highlight how to differentiate instruction in order to support all students in science learning. Based on our research partnerships in the UW Institute for Science + Math Education and that of our collaborators, we thought that specific attention should be given to students coming to science learning experiences from Indigenous communities.

Marissa Spang authored this tool—in collaboration with Professors Megan Bang and Andy Shouse—for educators who teach science to Indigenous students and engage Indigenous families in science learning. It offers strategies that teachers can use to make science learning inclusive and meaningful for students and community members. Check it out.

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New Tool: Learning STEM Through Design: Students Benefit from Expanding What Counts as "Engineering"

Posted on October 29, 2014

The new vision for K-12 science education in the NRC Framework and the resulting Next Generation Science Standards call for engaging all young people in meaningful forms of learning experiences involving engineering design, technology and applications of science across the K-12 grade span. This is one of the significant new goals of this new vision, and it will require significant new efforts to create new instructional tools and learning experiences.

As we have worked with teachers on different NGSS implementation projects, we have realized it is important to realize that many students bring significant experience and expertise with engineering design. Sometimes youth have been involved with complex design efforts in their community, and sometimes they have participated in design-related hobbies for years. We wrote this new STEM Teaching Tool to highlight how productive it is to leverage this design experience of learners and to focus classroom engineering tasks on design projects that they find to be compelling -- like those that might benefit their communities.


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New Tool: Next Generation Science Standards: What’s different, and do they matter?

Posted on October 24, 2014

At this point in time, nearly one-third of all K-12 students in the U.S. live in states that have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). But, many teachers and school district staff have asked, so what? Are they really that different than what we have done before? My team and I get this question a lot, and tithis is a great question to ask. Education certainly seems to feed on launching new initiative after new initiative. But, we think learning about and implementing this new vision for K-12 science education is worth your time. It is primarily focused on working to equalize opportunities for all students to learn about fundamental concepts about science and engineering — and about the actual intellectual work of contemporary science and engineering. So, we wrote this STEM Teaching Tool to try and make the argument about "what is new here?" and to point to a range of helpful resources so that teachers, district staff, PD providers, parents, and everyone else who has a stake in K-12 science education. Standards have the opportunity to shift the entire educational system. We think there is great work to be done to engage more students in compelling, relevant science and engineering investigations and to support their learning in a more coherent way across K-12 both in and out of school. — Philip Bell

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New Tool: Using curriculum adaptation as a strategy to help teachers learn about NGSS and developing aligned instructional materials

Posted on September 28, 2014

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) call for learning experiences for students that are significantly different than most existing science curricula and programs. At the same time, districts and other educational providers are typically limited in their ability to adopt new curricula or to build out whole new programs. And that even assumes that there is new curricula that match the new vision called for in NGSS and the underlying NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education. At this point in time, focusing NGSS implementation on curriculum adaptation work is a powerful option for districts and other educational organizations. We developed this STEM Teaching Tool to describe what this can look like and to highlight important things to consider if you choose to go this direction in your organization. Although the tool’s primary audience is educational leaders (e.g., supporting improvement within a district), we believe it might also be useful to teams of teachers who are doing instructional planning at a local level or as part of an extended learning network.

Photo by Institute for Systems Biology

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New Tool: Are there multiple instructional models that fit with the science and engineering practices in NGSS? (Short answer: Yes.)

Posted on September 26, 2014

Engaging students routinely in specific science and engineering practices is one of the signature elements of the new vision for science education in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education, which provided the conceptual foundation for NGSS, describes each of the eight practices in science and engineering and dimensions of those practices. As people have started to implement NGSS, many conversations that we have been privy to about the practices implies that there specific instructional ways to engage students in the practices instructionally. Not surprisingly, the particular model of instruction described relates to the history, commitments, and context of the person talking. This could lead some people to think there is only a single way to "teach" the practices. Now, not all forms of instruction map onto the new vision, but it occurred to us and our collaborators that multiple forms of instruction can be used to engage students meaningfully in the science and engineering practices. So we crafted this STEM Teaching Tool to make this point and to highlight some of the leading instructional models that conceptually align with the 3-D model of learning in NGSS. Students can engage in the practice, learn and apply disciplinary core ideas, and make connections to cross-cutting concepts through project-based instruction, through emergent investigations, through a modified form of inquiry kit instruction, and many others. Details matter, of course. How the instructional approach gets enacted for students as part of the learning exeperience is the crucial place to watch for alignment with this 3-D model of learning. 

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New Tool: Practices should not stand alone: How to sequence practices in a cascade to support student investigations

Posted on September 22, 2014

The NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education called for engaging students in 8 practices of science and engineering as they learn, apply and make connections to scientific concepts. Engaging students routinely in these practices is one of the signature elements of this new vision for science education. But, teachers would often ask how should students be instructionally engaged in the practices? Are they things that students should engage in in abstract and stand-alone ways? (No.) Should students engage in them for extended periods of time in instruction? (No.) As we were crafting an article for NSTA on the information practice, we decided to describe the "cascade model" for engaging students in sequences of the practices as ways to accomplish investigations. This idea was taken up in the Next Generation Science Standards in the practices section of the appendix, and we presented about the idea in an NSTA webinar. We decided to summarize what is known about sequencing and overlapping the 8 practices in non-routinized ways in a new practice brief

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New Tool: Is it important to distinguish between the explanation and argumentation practices in the classroom?

Posted on September 03, 2014

We were working with the Seattle and Renton school districts to design a year of teacher professional development to support the implementation of the Next Gen Science Standards (NGSS), and we ran into a problem. The NGSS focuses on explanation and argumentation as separate practices to engage students in while some leading PD resources combine the two practices into a "claim-evidence-reasoning" (CER) framework and call it "explanation." We were using an excellent book by our colleagues Kate McNeill and Joe Krajcik—which framed the CER work as an explanation framework (because that is how the National Science Education Standards from 1996 had framed it). But given how the practices show up in NGSS, is it important to distinguish the explanation and argumentation practices with students? What is the difference? How do the two practices fit together? These questions led to our first STEM Teaching Tool. Check it out! 

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Welcome to STEM Teaching Tools!

Posted on September 01, 2014

We are happy to announce our new web site of tools to support the teaching of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The tools are designed to leverage the knowledge derived from practice and research around the most pressing issues of STEM teaching. 

We hope that it will help teachers find new ideas and tools they can use in their classrooms and afterschool programs. Some of the tools are for district staff and professional developers who are trying support ambitious and equitable STEM teaching across organizations. We want to thank the practitioners and the researchers who have helped us develop these tools. 

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