Category Archives: In the Classroom

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!

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:

NYSSLS Was Approved, Now What?

Floating on Water?!

I’ve been listening to many of my classroom teachers and other teachers from around my region. Many teachers at all grade levels are concerned about making the transition to the New York State Science Learning Standards too soon. To their credit, their concerns about the current assessments are very convincing since many teachers’ APPR scores are tied to the Regents or 8th Grade assessments linked to the current core curriculum. However, many of the slow transitions can be made while still maintaining the integrity of our instruction now so that students will still be successful on our assessments now.

First, we can begin to think about using anchoring phenomenon in our everyday instruction. What are anchoring phenomenon you may ask? When I started out planning my units of study as a wide-eyed first-year teacher, I used the chapters in the textbook to guide my sequence of lessons. With the NYSSLS grounded in the ideals of the Framework, the new learning standards call for sequences to be grounded in an overarching natural phenomena instead of the traditional chapter approach. Don’t get me wrong: many of these unit sequences may still revolve around a similar thematic approach like textbook chapters, but the unit plans will piece-by-piece unpack the three-dimensions needed to fully answer this anchoring phenomenon, like the image above with the man seemingly floating on water.

According to Penuel & Bell (2016), anchoring phenomenon should possess the following characteristics:

  1. Build on student everday experiences. This brings in a local dimension to our everyday instruction. Being on an island facing many environmental issues, these phenomena could be linked to perhaps groundwater resources, the formation of Long Island itself, or the loss of shark nurseries in the South Shore bays, for example.
  2. Incorporate multiple performance expectations. Bundling at least two similar performance expectations from the standards will not only help cut down on instructional time, it will also allow students to make deeper connections between multiple areas of the life sciences, physical sciences, and earth and space sciences. Furthermore, bundling could present a way to incorporate the engineering practices from each grade band.
  3. Complex. Students should not be able to answer the questions surrounding the anchoring phenomenon in one lesson or a simple Google search. Investigative phenomenon lack the complexity of anchoring phenomenon since they could be answered by the end of the lesson, so they add an overarching question to the learning objective and allow us to move toward an eventual understanding of the anchoring phenomenon at the end of the unit.
  4. Observable. Students should be able to confront the phenomenon through their everyday observations, laboratory investigations,  or through some form of multimedia presentation. Again, if the students cannot relate somehow to the anchoring phenomenon and are interested in finding out more about it, the unit of study may need to be changed to grab their attention.
  5. Can Be a Case Study or Wonderment. The pine beetle infestation of Long Island could be a very interesting anchoring phenomenon to investigate ecosystems and how the ecosystem can be adversely affected through the introduction of an invasive species. Or students may be interested in the evolution of the Big Bang over the past billions of years. The teacher could then frame the anchoring phenomenon around the formation of our universe, tying in investigative phenomenon as the students move through the sequence of lessons that break down the DCIs into observable chunks for students to dive in deeper.
  6. Include data. Students need to be confronted with real-life messy data in order to make sense of the world around them. Understanding how global climate change affects different aspects of our natural world is a highly complex process with many different variables that always don’t present themselves in a perfect straight line. Students should also be expected to deal with imperfect data and how to make valid conclusions from these experiments. The science and engineering practices, along with cross-cutting concepts, are the perfect vehicle to assist the students in designing and making sense of these investigations revolving around phenomena.

We can begin to take a look around us to see if we can find any everyday phenomenon that could drive a full unit (anchoring phenomenon) or an individual lesson (investigative phenomenon) that meet not only the current standards on which students will still be accessed, but also link well to the New York State Science Learning Standards (NYYSLS). If you find something, see if it meets the criteria listed above. Test it out now to see if students are able to make the connection. Use them as pre-assessments, formative assessments, or post-assessments in your current instruction. Test drive them now and modify them as we get closer to seeing how the new assessments will unfold and as we gain more professional learning opportunities linked to unpacking these exciting new standards. For an example of a storyline incorporating an anchoring phenomenon  in a DNA unit, please check out the Teaching Channel link here. Also, for tools on how to develop storylines (or some already piloted storyline units), please check out this website.

Penuel, W. R., & Bell, P. (2016, March). Qualities of a Good Anchor Phenomenon for a Coherent Sequence of Science Lessons. Retrieved from