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: www.greatamericaneclipse.com 

NASA’s Eclipse Page: https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html 

Rice Space Institute’s Eclipse Page (sign up for the eclipse listserv!): http://space.rice.edu/eclipse/ 

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): https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety 

Purchase your Eclipse Eyewear ASAP, before they sell out! https://www.greatamericaneclipse.com/eclipse-viewing/ 

Eclipse Lesson Plans:

NSTA Eclipse Booklet: http://static.nsta.org/extras/solarscience/SolarScienceInsert.pdf

Big Kid Science Lesson Ideas: http://www.bigkidscience.com/eclipse/classroom-activities/

NASA/JPL Eclipse Yardstick Model: https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/download-view.cfm?Doc_ID=327

Other NASA Activities: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/activities 

Eclipse Animations:

Eclipse as viewed from the Earth, accounting for the Earth’s topography and Lunar Rim features from the LRO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJgXaqW3md8 

2017 Eclipse Shadow Cones (my students thought this was so cool!): https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4321 

Other NASA Animations (a treasure trove of resources from the Scientific Visualization Studio): https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/index.html 

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: https://www.oregonsolarfest.com/ 

Casper, Wyoming Eclipse Festival: http://eclipsecasper.com/ 

Nebraska Sandhills: https://2017nebraskaeclipse.com/ 

St. Louis, Missouri Eclipse Day: http://www.missourieclipse2017.com/ 

Tennessee State Parks: http://tnstateparks.com/activities/solar-eclipse-at-the-park-2017 

Mount Juliet, TN (where we will be stationed): http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/wilson/mt-juliet/2017/02/27/mt-juliet-jumps-city-view-total-solar-eclipse/98274534/ 

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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.

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 goo.gl/jGGGTe

News and Notes for the STANYS Suffolk Section