Deeper Dive into NYSSLS

Note:  Check out more pictures from this event here.

This past week, STANYS and the New York State Master Teacher Program co-sponsored  professional development workshops in three regions in New York State. The first of its kind model, allowed for teachers from across the state to experience the same two-day workshop. The consistency of the professional development was helpful as New York teachers came together to start to build a collection of lessons and ideas using a common understanding and template.  Key to any professional development is the quality of the presenter. Luckily, for New York, Paul Andersen, who has created countless videos on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and has led teacher training sessions all over the world was on hand to provide a deeper dive into New York State Science Learning Standards (NYSSLS).

The workshop began with “The Wonder Tube”. During this exercise, teachers wore their “student hats” to experience firsthand modeling instruction from the other side of the desk. Teachers were provided with a demonstration of the Wonder Tube and individually developed a model for what they perceived to be the mechanism by the which the tube functioned. Key to utilizing phenomena such as this is that students are not able to google the answer and find out how it works. Participants individually drew what they believed the model to be, followed by group questioning of each individual’s model to understand what that person was thinking when they made that model. Teachers had a hard time with this task, wanting to state what they thought was happening. The pedagogical shift calls for group members to come to a consensus through the constant questioning of individual group members regarding their model, with no one group member simply telling “the answer”.  Models were presented, and the audience was given the opportunity to ask questions.  Amazingly,  no two models were the same. Paul asked the entire group to find similarities and differences within the models.  Modeling instruction is one vehicle by which teachers can begin to incorporate science practices into our classrooms. For more support with modeling, the American Modeling Teachers Association runs workshops to assist teachers.

Another teaching tool introduced by Paul called Question Formulation Technique calls for students to generate a list of questions surrounding an observable event; a phenomena. To do this participants observed termites following black lines that created the pattern of Olympic rings. Participants then brainstormed as many questions they could about the regarding the behavior of the termites they had just witnessed for five minutes. This was followed by labeling the questions as open or closed and determining which open ended question the group should investigate. The technique is easily applicable to teachers who would would like to try a NYSSLS aligned student driven inquiry approach.

Another means of rolling out NYSSLS to the participants was the Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) framework, which focuses on the conclusion component of a laboratory report. After the students have completed the experiment, in essence collected their evidence, they are ready to make a claim. The teachers had the opportunity to experience this framework by investigating the question: “Are skew dice fair?” Groups then created large posters with their claim as well as a display of the supporting evidence via words, tables and graphs, followed by the reasoning which included scientific principles surrounding the experiment. Posters were stuck to the wall and shared with others through  a gallery walk and critique with post-its by other groups. Paul also provided his inquiry lab format as a resource to assist teachers in NYSSLS implementation via CER. This starts with an explanatory model, students then sort the variables in order of importance, after which comes data collection, a graphical representation and then the exercise concludes with the CER framework.  

When starting the workshop, Paul asked for what the teachers wanted to get out of the professional development and on the second day, he came back to address the topics that were of greatest interest to the attendees. One such NYSSLS concern was how to incorporate engineering design in your classroom by first defining criteria, followed by developing a solution and then refinement of that solution. Anderson suggested an activity that gave the participants the task to make a tower as tall as possible with only two pieces of computer paper, 10 cm of tape and five minutes. All participants were engaged as the clock displayed in the front of the room counted down the time. All groups frantically rushed  and at the end Paul claimed that was just the prototype and now participants were given the same task after observing what other groups had done to engineer the actual tallest tower. The activity could be utilized in any STEM classroom and adapted to a variety of tasks.  

Teachers are eager to learn about what assessments will look like with the new standards. There are a variety of resources available to help teachers get started. Paul recommends starting by printing out  cards with practices and crosscutting concepts to help generate ideas for student assessments. On the second day of the workshop, teachers of the same content area worked to create an assessment aligned to one specific performance expectation. By laying out the cards on the table, teachers were able to unpack the the practices and cross-cutting idea that could be used to assess the particular disciplinary core idea. Large posters of assessments were created and hung on the walls. Groups then gallery walked and gave feedback with post-its to improve the questions which were photographed and collected in a google drive to serve as a resource as teachers present go out and turn-key aspects to their colleagues. For additional resources on assessments, Paul suggested looking into and for NGSS bundles and storylines for example assessments.

If one thinks of the level of comfort of the new standards, there is still much growth for all parties involved. Paul discussed how the implementation of any new teaching methodologies have an initial dip prior to rise is success rate and the same should be expected as teachers start to incorporate the NYSSLS approach. The workshop concluded with groups of the same discipline creating lessons using a common template.

Are you interested in diving even deeper? Then consider joining your fellow STANYS members at our state conference this November 4th- 6th in Rochester, where teachers will have the opportunity to learn more through a more extended content specific teacher institutes. Additionally, on the Monday of the conference, Paul Andersen is slotted to provide further workshops on NYSSLS. If you are unable to travel to Rochester please consider attending the Suffolk STANYS Fall Conference, which will be held on October 16th at Hofstra University where there will be more opportunities to learn about some of the NGSS best practices through modeling and questioning workshops.

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Attendees work together to create NYSSLS assessments.
More attendees having an (obvious) good time!
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Teachers utilize Paul’s cards for science practices and crosscutting concepts to design assessments.
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Paul provides feedback on teacher created assessments.

Tips on Teaching Astronomy

Teaching astronomy seems like it should be an exciting topic. However, the deeper one goes into the subject, the more we realize how little we actually know! The students, however, are armed with smartphones and many apps that illustrate and map the night sky using quite effectively. I remember doing a ‘star party’ for the Montauk Observatory at night, some ten years ago. I was accustomed to being the authority on the night sky. That was the first night I saw an adolescent hold up a smartphone and tell me where the objects were. That gave me an idea, before starting an astronomy unit, have all the students bring in their smartphones, and load them with fun astronomy apps that can be used during your lesson planning or night sessions.

Depending on the smartphone operating system will dictate which apps you use. However, many of the apps are similar, so they can be used the same way. Having the students load a sky map of some sort, will allow most of the kids not to get bored if you do an observing session at night with limited telescopes. Better yet, include an app that detects the position of the International Space Station, and plan an observing night that coincides with a flyby of the ISS. Students and parents always marvel at the sight of it as it brightly passes overhead. Passing Iridium satellites can also be predicted and observed.

If I’m teaching astronomy, I always ask the students to load a program onto their laptops, it’s called Stellarium. Stellarium allows students to see their sky at night, for that date and time (or any date and time), and illustrate it many ways. It also shows other cultural constellations, not just western culture. Stellarium can be used for H.W. Assignments, teaching constellations, mythology, teaching star circles, and learning about deep space object classification systems. Another laptop program that’s free and is a great tool for showing our place in the universe is Where is M13? It is a program that maps out our galaxy, and most of the visible celestial objects in deep space that you might discuss. It is also useful for showing the structure of our galaxy.

Now telescopes, if you are considering purchasing equipment the first thing you should buy is a solar telescope. Meade is producing a low-cost solar telescope called the PST. If you are new to solar observing, you can easily see sunspots, prominences, and solar flares with these solar telescopes during the day! For night, skip the refractors, because good ones are a fortune, and cheap ones are good for the moon only. A planet will look like a small dot, and the planet will rotate away before a student has a chance to see. At night, diameter counts, and the cheapest way to get diameter is with reflecting or Newtonian style telescopes. A 10” or 12” reflecting telescope will not break the budget and is not too heavy to move. If you get an equivalent catadioptric, it’s a back breaker and very expensive. Used equipment can be found online, so if your district is willing to but that way, you can save money by shopping on Cloudy Trussed reflectors are a little cheaper than catadioptric but more expensive than Dobsonians (Newtonian version), however, they are easy to set up and are light. OK, you keep hearing me mention catadioptric. I’ll save this one for last, as they are expensive. I just saw new 9.25-inch listing for $3000.00. That is a starting point, they get more expensive. They are also heavy and delicate. The advantage is that most catadioptric are compact in length, are GoTO, and most have a GPS to do self-alignment. Having a big heavy mount is important for these instruments, otherwise they will vibrate and so will your object in the eyepiece will too.

Just a few more tricks, I use Google Earth and a solar system scaling Excel program (Google it) to create a scale model of the solar system if the sun has a 9” diameter. I usually will have the class on the athletic field to build the model. I like using solar system and constellation flash cards during lessons as a quick segue into lessons. Most of my students love Scale of the Universe, and I as a teacher love UNL Astronomy Simulations. Well, that’s it for now, enjoy the rest of the summer and don’t forget the August 21st solar eclipse!

Change is Blowing in the Wind

This past December the NYS Board of Regents approved the New York State Science Learning Standards (NYSSLS); STANYS was one of the lead partners in developing NYSSLS and the plan for implementation in New York.

STANYS’s Annual Conference held in Rochester spans three days with workshop opportunities over ten sessions, keynote speakers, exhibits, and field trips. The 122nd STANYS Annual Conference, November 4-6, 2017, will be the best place in New York State to find out what is going on in science education. The focus of the Conference will be on Science – Now in 3-D (Three Dimensional Learning) as teachers begin to prepare for the NYS Education Department’s implementation of the NYSSLS. What better place to learn about this new constructivist approach!

At the Annual Conference’s Exhibit you will have an opportunity to meet with company representatives and learn about their company’s:

  • Advancement of scientific products / technologies aligned with the NYSSLS
  • Impact on the environment
  • Educational programs/activities for K-12 science teachers and or students
  • Scholarships for high school to attend summer science workshops / research programs

We hope you will make every effort to attend this year’s Conference so you will be able to share the information you acquire with you colleagues.

Cool Tools: Loopy

Systems thinking is as important as it is hard.  As we look at the New York State Science Learning Standards, we see a clear role for systems thinking.  Systems and System Processes is one of the Cross-Cutting Concepts, and Developing and Using Models is a Science Practice.  It should be obvious to all of us that where we are going as a state is very much to system-land.

There are many ways that we can model system dynamics.  Many of us model systems in our classrooms whenever we engage in “simulations”, or other types of modeling activities.  And I’m sure most readers are well aware of the various interactive computational simulations that have been created for students to work with.  But there are not a whole lot of computational resources that allow students to construct relatively robust models of systems for their own investigation.  This is mostly because programming computers is relatively difficult. As such it’s not often tenable to train students in how to create a computational tool prior to having them use it.

Which is where Loopy comes in.  Loopy is a very simple systems dynamics modeling tool where anyone can create a system and then see how its dynamics affect the system.  No programming is required, and the tutorial should take anyone <5 minutes to be able to render a system of their own interest.

Here’s an example of Loopy at work in a simple food web model that I created for this article:

See?  Not that hard (also, I totally understand that it’s “not that good”).

Tools like Loopy can help give students opportunities to model systems, without the high cost of entry that usually accompanies computational model construction.

Upcoming Summer Professional Development

Summer is almost here! While summer is most definitely a time for relaxation and recharging, it is also a time for reflection. It is the ideal time, away from papers to grade, meetings to attend and the many distractions that can interrupt the creative process, to think about how to improve our lessons and expand our knowledge of pedagogy. While the first week or two of summer, we may just be exhausted and need to unwind from the hectic pace of the school year, mid-summer is the perfect time to start thinking about how we would like to elevate our instructional practices for the upcoming school year.

Paul Anderson working with teachers at the American School in Dubai

Suffolk STANYS and the New York State Master Teacher Program are co-sponsoring a visit by Paul Anderson to “Take a Deeper Dive into NYSSLS” this summer. The conference will be offered at three locations. The first will take place July 31-Aug 1 at Stony Brook University, followed by August 2-3 at SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury and August 4-5 at Monroe Community College in Rochester. The cost of registration is $125, which includes continental breakfast and lunch both days. Twelve hours of CTLE credit is available. Space is limited, so register ASAP!  You can register here.

If you are not familiar with Paul, you may want to check out his vast array of videos on all fields of science and science education at his website,  or on his YouTube channel. Paul was a classroom science teacher in Bozeman, Montana for twenty years and has created countless videos for his students. Paul has shared his informative and engaging videos on all four basic science classes, including videos for science topics at the AP level. Both teachers and students have found his videos to be helpful additions to the classroom experience. Paul also collaborated with SCSTA’s own David Knuffke on a podcast “Horizontal Transfer” available on iTunes, and other podcast places. For more information on the podcast visit their website. Paul now consults on science education at schools around the world and has offered professional development in New York State at the STANYS Conference and at the Commack High School STEM conference in November 2016.

Paul’s website offers several videos that explore the NGSS including the Science and Engineering Practices and Cross-Cutting concepts as well as a close look at the Disciplinary Core Ideas for physical, life and earth and space sciences. The videos are an easy way to gain an understanding of the NGSS, which are the basis for the NYSSLS and are recommended viewing whether or not you are able to attend this summer’s professional development. The videos are relatively short in length and focus on one central theme…a perfect accompaniment to your morning coffee and an easy way to become familiar with the NYSSLS!

Paul is an engaging speaker and you will most definitely leave this program with a deeper understanding of how the new standards will influence the future of science education in New York State. You will have a better idea of how to transform lessons to align with the NYSSLS approach to science education. You will have an opportunity to meet fellow content area teachers and share ideas to bring back to the classroom. I was present when Paul spoke at the annual STANYS conference in Rochester in November of 2016 and held the entire audience of science educators captive with his keynote presentation on “Unlocking the Power of the NGSS”. As his presentation started to wind down and the hour for dinner was approaching, the entire room remained attentive and came away excited to make the changes to our lessons that would not “kill the wonder” of science. I can honestly say that his keynote address was among the best professional development that I have ever attended! I can guarantee that you will both enjoy this conference and return home excited about the transition to the NYSSLS!

The Science Event of the Summer

It is difficult to get the Sun, Moon and Earth to align for a total solar eclipse. The last total solar eclipse to cross a large portion of the United States was in 1979. The last annular solar eclipse to cross New York was May 10, 1994, when I was in 8th grade. That was amazing to see and since then, I have waited patiently for 2017’s totality event.
After a year of planning our eclipse trip, our path is set. On August 21, 2017, we will be in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, northeast of Nashville, nearly on the centerline of totality! There is a lot to do in the area, and when I searched for hotel rooms in late April, there were still many available.
Originally, we intended to view the eclipse from Carbondale, Illinois. A shady hotel cancelled the reservations I made a year in advance, and left us scrambling for a new location. Luckily, it is not too late to find a room, or a campsite, and see one of nature’s rare and beautiful events.

Eclipse Resources:

General Eclipse Info and Maps: 

NASA’s Eclipse Page: 

Rice Space Institute’s Eclipse Page (sign up for the eclipse listserv!): 

Totality App (from Big Kid Science): Free!

Safe Viewing Practices:

NASA GSFC’s Eclipse Safety Page (with links ranging from eye protection to taking travel precautions): 

Purchase your Eclipse Eyewear ASAP, before they sell out! 

Eclipse Lesson Plans:

NSTA Eclipse Booklet:

Big Kid Science Lesson Ideas:

NASA/JPL Eclipse Yardstick Model:

Other NASA Activities: 

Eclipse Animations:

Eclipse as viewed from the Earth, accounting for the Earth’s topography and Lunar Rim features from the LRO: 

2017 Eclipse Shadow Cones (my students thought this was so cool!): 

Other NASA Animations (a treasure trove of resources from the Scientific Visualization Studio): 

What will you see from New York?

Depending on your latitude, you will see 70% (southern New York) or less of the Sun covered by the New Moon this coming August.

Finding a Place to Stay on Eclipse Day:

Camping (and Glamping) at the Oregon SolarFest: 

Casper, Wyoming Eclipse Festival: 

Nebraska Sandhills: 

St. Louis, Missouri Eclipse Day: 

Tennessee State Parks: 

Mount Juliet, TN (where we will be stationed): 

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What if you miss the eclipse this summer?

The next American total solar eclipse will be Monday, April 8, 2024. This will take a different path from the 2017 eclipse, with the Moon’s shadow crossing over far western and northern New York State! We will have to work on our local school boards to plan our spring break that week, so we are all able to travel for the event.

Spring Conference Recap

On Friday, April 21, Suffolk STANYS held their annual “Spring Into STEM” conference at Brookhaven National Laboratory.  Attended by over 140 science teachers from around Long Island, it is one of the premier events for science educators of all grade levels and content backgrounds.  Presenters came from a variety of organizations and institutions, including the Long Island Association for Chemistry Teacher Support and the Long Island STEM Education Leadership Association.  Participants had the opportunity to participate in a wide array of workshops – there was even a Makerspace!

One of the overarching themes of the conference was informing and preparing teachers about the New York State Science Learning Standards (NYSSLS).  With its roots in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), NYSSLS is not just a change in content; NYSSLS will change how educators teach science to their students.  As a result, STANYS made sure to offer sessions in these methods such as question formulation technique, science and engineering practices, and modeling.  here was even a session that discussed the possible upcoming changes to science assessments that educators could expect see.

Since this conference is held at Brookhaven National Laboratory, educators had several experiences that are unique to the lab.  Teachers were able to tour the National Synchrotron Light Source II, which is currently the brightest synchrotron in the world! Additionally, Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Office of Educational Programs also offered a variety of workshops that were in the spirit of the NGSS.

 One of the highlights of this conference was our feature keynote speaker Chris Paparo.   Not only is he the manager of SUNY Stony Brook’s Southampton Marine Science Center’s web and the center’s resident naturalist, he is a well-respected speaker and advocate for Long Island’s natural environment.  His talk, “From Plankton to Whales – Why Our Local Waters Are Worth Protecting”, captivated many of our attendees, especially since he included many of his personal photographs of Long Island.  Many of his photographs, as well as his adventures with his red-tailed hawk Emmy, can be seen on his online photo gallery, Fish Guy Photos.  It can be found on both Facebook and Instagram.    

In closing, the conference was a success.   Special thanks go out to our Vice President of Programs, Matthew Christiansen for all his hard work putting this conference together, the STANYS Suffolk Board for volunteering in assisting in this conference, and all the presenters who came together to offer a high-quality conference.  We hope to see you soon at our fall conference, which will be taking place on October 16, 2017 at Hofstra University.  Be on the lookout for a postcard this September with more details!

A Couple of New Websites

This is the moment of the year when I can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel so they say. AP Exams are around the corner and I often forget the stress not only on the students but on myself as well. I am often thinking “Wow, I am not sure I will be ready for this in September again,” but then after recharging over the summer I find myself excited to start all over again.

I do try to use my time after the AP Exam to finish, start, continue with the things that have been placed on the back burner during the rest of the year. I have found two great resources I would like to pass on to the membership:

  1. An online library full of resources for biodiversity produced collectively by the California Academy of Sciences and Khan Academy. This is an online virtual expedition for high school (and adult) learners and covers more than 30 specific tutorials. It ranges from topics like why biodiversity is important, where it is found, specific case studies and how it can be protected. Each of the tutorials includes videos, articles, a glossary, quiz questions, activities, and references to dive deeper into content.
  2. A youtube channel that covers teacher tools. It is a mixed collection of teaching tools and websites that students can learn from. Each week the author, Jamie Keet presents a short (~10 minute) video on his picks of the week. I often play this in background while I am working on something else so that I can pause when something peaks my interest and pick up a new tool. Here’s a recent video from the channel:

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Bioengineering New Fertilizers

Researchers from Harvard have recently unveiled a new method in bioengineering a bacteria-based fertilizer that has shown tremendous increases in the biomass of selected crops.

Nocera Lab, Harvard University

The Nocera Lab gained recognition in the past in the development of the artificial leaf, which is capable of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen through the use of different catalysts. The researchers have now used this technology to develop the bionic leaf: the artificial leaf used in concert with a particular microorganism capable of using the hydrogen gas evolved from the artificial leaf and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce a stored biofuel in the bacteria. When this Xanthobacter bacteria is placed in the soil, it is capable of undergoing nitrogen fixation with the stored biofuel and nitrogen in the air to produce natural ammonia to fertilize the crops. As seen in the image above, the soil with the nitrogen-fixing bacteria (right) had a considerable increase in the biomass of the planted crop.

For more information about the study, check out the press release on the American Chemical Society’s website.

In thinking out the transition to the new standards, this could be an interesting example of an investigative phenomenon or just a great article to bring into the classroom on how scientists are currently trying to solve either the energy crisis or the food demand of our ever-increasing human population.

News and Notes for the STANYS Suffolk Section