Transforming science education through research-driven innovation



Darwin Day 2022


“I have been very fortunate to meet amazing women trying to make progress in science. It has been easy for me to encourage and empower them in their career, just by explicitly recognizing their excellent skills and aptitudes.” – Dr. Carolina Vera

Dear Friends,

Each Darwin Day, BSCS celebrates the impact of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. We also celebrate the unlimited possibilities of what a diverse and inclusive scientific community can achieve. So now, we use this occasion to highlight scientists who at times have been overlooked or undervalued due to their positions in society.

Carolina Vera is one such scientist. Today she is one of the most influential meteorologists and climate scientists in South America. And it’s because during her childhood in Argentina, she often wondered “why.” Why were some summers hot and dry, with little to no rain? Why were others filled with flooded fields? With plenty of encouragement from her mother, she was inspired to investigate.

Image of Carolina Vera outside

Carolina’s research focuses on climate variability and simulation—and has been applied to help improve mathematical models used to make forecasts. She also serves as a leader on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and contributes to knowledge on our capacity for climate resilience. Perhaps most importantly, she uses her position to advocate for underrepresented groups of scientists.

As a female scientist in South America, she has experienced her fair share of challenges. There were times when she was the only woman in a meeting and felt pressure to prove that she deserved to be there based on merit, not representation. There were other times when she was asked not to speak up if it meant contradicting her male peers. But with a strong female support system of her own, she overcame these challenges and has become an important voice for other female climate scientists.

At BSCS, we made a commitment long ago to educate students about the science they need for life. That includes both evolution and climate science. Today, we are equally committed to educating all students about the value of their voices in the scientific community. As we face some of the most pressing societal challenges of any generation, we need more scientists like Carolina Vera—scientists who are advancing the field through innovation and inclusion.

Sincerely,

Daniel C. Edelson
BSCS Executive Director

“Over its 60+ year history, BSCS has had only a few opportunities to create a brand new high school biology program. When we learned two years ago that we were getting that opportunity again, we decided to focus on how to prepare students for life in our complex, interconnected world.” – Dr. Daniel C. Edelson, BSCS Executive Director

Dear Friends,

Think back to high school biology class. Were you a dutiful student who took careful notes on your teacher’s lectures and textbook readings? Did an ability to memorize facts allow you to earn an A?

If so, you probably would have found BSCS Science Learning’s new high school biology program frustrating. At least at first. Like Sam, a student in Jim Lane’s class, did.

Jim Lane, a high school biology teacher in Minnesota, is one of the first educators to use BSCS Biology: Understanding for Life. He’s had his fair share of students, like Sam, begging for lectures and notes at the start of Unit 1–to which he responds, “Nope!”

In this unit, students learn about Zach, a healthy boy who becomes deathly ill with an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection. At first, students only know that Zach’s medication isn’t helping. As they follow Zach’s journey, they do the work themselves to figure out why bacterial infections make us sick, and why they are becoming harder to treat.

At the beginning of the year, the only thing Sam was interested in “figuring out” was how to get an A. Sam had learned how to play the school game of listen, read, and retain. But in Jim’s class, he was being challenged to investigate. And he was being asked to share his ideas in drawings. This approach was different. And it required a different kind of work. Sam didn’t like it.

Jim admits, “It’s hard to articulate why you know something, not just what you know. But this modeling process challenges students to understand their own thinking in this way.” As Sam learned more, he was able to include more details in his drawings, and he became more comfortable with figuring things out for himself. He started to understand science, not just know science. This new approach enabled him to uncover a larger story about bacterial infections and antibiotic resistance. And ultimately, it changed how he makes sense of complex ideas.

Faith Nelson, a teacher in Illinois, has one student who is already using her deeper understanding of biology to take action in the real world. Amy recently took to a doctor’s appointment a checklist of questions about infections that she and her classmates developed as part of this unit. After the doctor ran the same immune response tests Amy learned about, they had an informed discussion about the antibiotic her doctor prescribed.

And that’s what our new biology program is about–preparing students for life in the 21st century. In their lifetimes, today’s students will face pressing societal challenges like antibiotic-resistant infections that will require them to have scientific understanding. Sadly, these societal challenges affect underserved communities disproportionately. So how do we ensure all students from all backgrounds are prepared for life in the 21st century?

At BSCS, we believe science education is the key. We have a 60-year history of research-driven innovation. And right now, we are focused on bringing our programs to districts and schools that are being left behind. Your support is critical as we strive to innovate and broaden access to outstanding science teaching and learning. Will you support this priority with a donation today?

Thank you,

Daniel C. Edelson
BSCS Executive Director

Help us design a climate education unit that your students will find interesting and connects to your community’s priorities.

If you are a high school teacher, please ask your high school students to complete this survey. By administering this survey to your high school students, you agree that BSCS may use student responses to inform the development of a new unit. In addition, administering the survey to students implies that you have permission from your school administrators to do so.

You may access the High School Student Survey here.

If you would like to share your opinion as an educator, parent, and/or community member, please use the adult survey link below.

The Adult, Parent, Educator Survey can be accessed here.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Sept. 15, 2021 – BSCS Science Learning and Kendall Hunt are pleased to announce BSCS Biology: Understanding for Life, the next generation in a line of BSCS Biology programs. This newest offering meets the needs of a changing discipline and is ready for implementation now through a staged release process during the 2021-22 school year.

Understanding for Life advances the mission of BSCS to transform science teaching and learning through research-driven innovation by integrating the three-dimensional disciplinary shifts called for in the latest Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

This full-year, high school level biology program presents inquiry-based, research-driven curriculum that has been designed for the (NGSS). Real-world phenomena and challenges motivate learning of scientific concepts and practices, enabling students to build a deep understanding of life science that will serve them for life. Understanding for Life’s labs, activities and assessments build 21st century collaboration skills while allowing teachers to track students’ progress toward science learning outcomes.

BSCS Executive Director Danny Edelson said, “This program is the next step for BSCS and for high school biology teachers across the country. In it, we have combined the rigor and inquiry that teachers expect from BSCS with the three-dimensional pedagogical approach called for by the Next Generation Science Standards.”

“Throughout the years, Kendall Hunt has been proud to work with BSCS to emphasize the development of students’ problem-solving and inquiry skills through programs such as A Human Approach and Science Tracks,” said Kendall Hunt K-12 Vice President Charley Cook. “The addition of Understanding for Life strengthens our science offerings as well as meets the needs of classrooms nationwide.”

Dear Friends,

At 95 years old, Ed Drexler still remembers what it was like to teach high school biology in the 1950s. “Biology was based on a rhetoric of conclusions. Everything was ‘known,’ and I was simply teaching what we knew.” What most students learned was how to memorize facts from the textbook.

Things changed when BSCS entered the scene in 1958. Drexler pilot tested BSCS’s first biology program and investigated countless unknowns with his students. “I loved the idea of teaching students science from an inquisitive point of view, as opposed to lecturing them on supposed ‘facts.’ This was a much better way of teaching. Kids would leave my class with both more knowledge and more questions.”

Six decades later, BSCS is still helping teachers bring inquiry-based science learning to their students, but the world we are preparing them for feels more complex.

That’s why we’re conducting rigorous research to understand “what works” in 21st century science classrooms. We’re supporting teachers with effective instructional approaches and programs that maximize student curiosity and engagement in science. And we’re preparing students to use science throughout their lives, in response to today’s most pressing societal challenges.

For example, Senior Research Scientist Brian Donovan is exploring the role science education can play in reversing two societal challenges: racist and sexist thinking. His research reveals that the way students learn about genetics can increase their tendency toward both. However, Brian’s research has also uncovered an approach to genetics instruction that reduces this tendency. And this summer, Brian and BSCS colleagues Monica Weindling, Dennis Lee, and Awais Syed are working with middle and high school biology teachers across the country to prepare them to implement this approach in their classrooms.

Paul Strode recalls a time when he, like many others, was teaching an oversimplified version of genetics—a version that could contribute to students’ misconceptions about the role genes play in human characteristics and abilities. “With Dr. Donovan’s guidance, I am now teaching more complex models to help my students understand that genes matter, yes, but so does the environment and a lot of other ‘unknown’ factors. Yet there are limits to our knowledge of genetics and it’s important to teach what we don’t know.”

At BSCS, we believe science education is the key to making our world better. So we’re grateful for researchers like Brian, who are willing to ask tough questions. We’re grateful for educators like Paul, who are willing to teach tough topics such as race and genetics. And we’re grateful for supporters like you, who contribute to programs that will help students tackle tough challenges throughout their lives.

Sincerely,

Daniel C. Edelson
BSCS Executive Director

Read more about this line of work and how you can get involved.

“We want to highlight and create a safe place for Black people who love plants.” – Dr. Tanisha Williams, founder of #BlackBotanistWeek

Dear Friends,

Each Darwin Day, BSCS Science Learning celebrates the impact of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution on science and society. For the last few years, we have used this occasion to share stories of scientists who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) as part of our efforts to educate to advance social justice.

This year, we are excited to highlight scientists who themselves have been working to raise the visibility of BIPOC scientists and expose the biases they face. One such scientist is Tanisha Williams, a plant ecologist and botanist who is studying the effects of climate change on plants, among other research topics. Dr. Williams understands the challenge of “botanizing while black.” After being questioned by strangers when doing her fieldwork in public places, she’s learned to always carry books with her so she looks the way people expect a scientist to look.

To raise awareness for her field and the challenges she and other Black botanists face, Dr. Williams founded the social media campaign, #BlackBotanistsWeek, last summer. The campaign had an immediate impact. Other botanists responded by listening to botanists of color and connecting with them. The Botanical Society of America even added a new BIPOC event to their annual conference in 2020.

Similarly, Chelsea Connor co-founded #BlackBirdersWeek. This event led non-Black allies to step up in support of their BIPOC peers like never before. In astronomy, Ashley Walker founded #BlackinAstro, which inspired students across the country to communicate openly with faculty about the struggles BIPOC scientists face. They and the many other scientists and science educators who are working to reveal and redress racial injustice inspire us.

At BSCS, we are actively pursuing a more-inclusive, meaningful, and effective science education. We remain committed to learning from and amplifying the critical voices of BIPOC scientists and educators.

Of course, we all have much more work to do.

Sincerely,

Daniel C. Edelson
BSCS Executive Director

Dear Friends,

Three years ago, BSCS Science Learning embarked on one of the most exciting instructional materials development projects in our history. The OpenSciEd Initiative invited us to partner with fellow developers, educators, and leaders across the country to create a middle school science program that would change the way students learn and apply science in their lives.

We are more than halfway through this endeavor–and 16,000 teachers across all 50 states are using the freely available 6th, 7th, and 8th grade units today.

Gretchen Brinza discovered how to create a more equitable science classroom culture for her students in Chicago. Kris Grymonpre believes these units are the key to making his Boston students from underserved communities love science. And in New Jersey, Tommy Clayton has seen students from diverse backgrounds be engaged and challenged.

Tommy recalls when Maya was terrified of science at the beginning of 8th grade. She claimed she was not good at it, did not understand it, and considered it her least favorite class. But then she learned why her phone broke during the Contact Forces unit, and something clicked. The investigation made her realize that she could “do science” and that it was actually “pretty cool.” Maya earned the highest grades in science during her middle school career and even went on to a more advanced science class in high school.

Then there’s Tommy’s student, Jerome, who raved about how much fun he had in science this year. Every day he felt like he was trying to figure out a puzzle. And he loved learning stuff that mattered to him, like how his headphones work in the Forces at a Distance unit. Jerome isn’t a great test taker, but in this class he could draw models and do experiments. It made him feel like he was good at science.

Gretchen, Kris, and Tommy are among the many educators nationwide who are currently seeing dramatic shifts in their teaching practice and student engagement. Their stories of impact keep us invigorated as we lead OpenSciEd’s consortium of developers in completing the three-year middle school science program by 2022.

We are grateful to be a resilient organization that has continued moving forward during this pandemic. Still, our ability to be flexible across all areas of our work is more important than ever. And that ability depends on our support system, made up of individuals like you.

A donation from you is a direct contribution to the more-inclusive, meaningful, and effective science education that we’re pursuing in good times and bad.

Can you make an investment to help create a higher-quality science education for the teachers and students who need it most today?

Sincerely,

Daniel C. Edelson
Executive Director

Photo credit: OpenSciEd and the Dana Center

BLACK LIVES MATTER and silence is complicity. BSCS is in mourning. We stand in solidarity with Black communities in the struggle against injustice, and we believe that the role of our work in science education must include preparing our youth to redress injustice. As an organization we have a lot of listening, learning, and work to do right now.

What is the best time of year to host a lilac blossom festival? Does a plastic bag tax work to reduce litter in the environment? Students now have the opportunity to explore large data sets to answer questions like these and ultimately increase their confidence in analyzing data…

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 21, 2020 – BSCS Science Learning has launched a set of instructional activities designed to introduce middle and high school science students to data analysis. Called Invitations to Inquiry, these activities are short learning experiences that engage students with community and citizen science data from projects hosted on BSCS’s FieldScope platform.

“FieldScope is an interactive platform for collecting, visualizing, and analyzing data–and many teachers and students are currently using it to participate in local and global citizen science projects,” said Dr. Audrey Mohan, BSCS research scientist & project director. “With our new Invitations to Inquiry, students can explore FieldScope’s advanced mapping and graphing tools to dig deeper into data in the context of meaningful science classroom lessons.”

The 11 Inquiries are designed for 1-3 days of learning and support the Science and Engineering Practices from the Next Generation Science Standards. They include teacher guides, slides, handouts, and other instructional resources and supports.

“These Inquiries align really well with the NGSS data analysis learning goals,” said Rachel Buckley, a seventh grade teacher in Massachusetts who used the Inquiries with her students as part of a field test.” In the past, I didn’t have a good way to be able to go through data. FieldScope is ideal because it provides large data that students can access. My students aren’t using large sets of data in their math class, so this aligned to the hardest NGSS practice to hit.”

Each lesson engages students in interpreting graphs and maps to learn about where the data are collected and what they mean. Students explore questions such as “What is the best time of year to host a lilac blossom festival?” using plant life-cycle data and “Does a plastic bag tax work to reduce litter in the environment?” using data collected during volunteer river cleanups in the Washington, DC, area. In another local project, students use data from the Chesapeake Bay estuary to determine suitable sites for oyster reef restoration. And in the Globe at Night Inquiry, students investigate what contributes to light pollution using data collected internationally.

“It is crucial for students to be able to analyze and interpret data in today’s world,” said Dr. Daniel Edelson, BSCS executive director. “In this project, we are focused on skills that students will use throughout their lives. We want to prepare students to not just interpret the graphs and maps they see in the media but to be able to create their own.”

Although the Invitations to Inquiry are designed for classroom learning with computer access, each activity presents an opportunity for teachers and students to get outside and collect data for the citizen science projects.

“Citizen science has become evermore popular and commonplace over the last decade thanks to increasing access to technologies like FieldScope,” said Sean O’Connor, BSCS citizen science program manager. “It’s great when classrooms can participate in the collection of data from the environment around them, but also when our students can use data sets generated by citizen science projects to learn with data and use data to better understand our interconnected world.”

Access the Invitations to Inquiry here.

Nature Connection

BSCS Science Learning has developed this resource to help students, parents, and teachers get away from technology and formal learning and spend some time connecting with nature. Spending time connecting with nature and experiencing the life going on around us can give the brain a rest. Even if you don’t have access to much outdoor space, you can still connect with nature.

NOTE: When considering spending time in nature, we urge families to carefully follow regulations and public health guidelines that apply to their locations.

Why It’s important to spend time in nature: As the recommended resources below explain, there is evidence that spending time in nature is good for the immune system and the nervous system.

Recommended Individual Practices and Exercises (approx. time needed): We recommend the following activities that can be done daily as an anchor during this time of uncertainty (or any time).

  • Sit Spot (10-20 min) Find a spot (ideally outside, on a deck or porch, or by an open window) that you can visit daily. Sit quietly in that spot for 10-20 minutes and notice what is happening there. Just notice. Who moves through? What sounds do you hear? Is the wind blowing? What shapes and shadows exist there? What else do you notice? Every day will be a different experience. After you are through noticing, you may want to journal about what you noticed.
  • Watching Sunrise and/or Sunset (10-20 min) Go outside or watch through a window. Do not look directly at the Sun while any part of it is visible above the horizon. Do look at different parts of the sky and your surroundings to observe the patterns of light. Do nothing but pay attention to the changing light. Use it as a time to pause and notice. Reflecting on the day just beginning or ending is an additional bonus.
  • Orienting to the Four Cardinal Directions (3-4 min) Go outside if you can, but inside is OK, too. You might need to initially orient using your phone’s built-in compass or a handheld compass if you have one. Start with east and face your body in that direction. Notice what east feels like. Turn to the south; same thing. Turn to the west; same thing. End by facing north. This can be paired with watching the sunrise or sunset. You might want to do research on what other cultures or traditions associate with each direction and bring that into your experience. If you feel like it, you can journal about what you learn and experience.
  • Soft vs Focused Visual Attention (5 min) This can be paired with the Sit Spot activity but can also be done on its own. In the space (ideally outside) you find yourself, sit down on the ground and look in one direction. Focus your visual attention on something within 2-3 feet of you. Then, release that focus and let your eyes go into “soft focus.” You’ll still have the thing you were focusing on in your field of vision, but it might be fuzzy. Go back and forth between sharp focus and soft focus. What do you notice? If you like to journal, you can record your experience.
  • Tree Talk (open-ended, but 10 min at low end) Go outside and find a tree that you can sit nearby and feel undisturbed for a while. Sit facing the tree at a distance that feels good. Talk to the tree (either out loud, in thought, or via a journal). Tell it something you are struggling with, worried about, or want to celebrate. Get it all out in the open. Then sit for a while. What do you imagine the tree would tell you if it could talk? What insights come about your struggle, worry, or celebration? Feel free to journal about this experience.

Resources and Organizations to Help You Learn More