Dr. Lindsey Mohan, BSCS Director of Instructional Materials Development, shares insight on two major program launches on the horizon.
BSCS was founded more than 60 years ago to design and develop innovative instructional materials. We continue with that work today. Since our founding, BSCS materials have been designed to support student curiosity and student-driven investigation. We believe that the most successful learning experiences are ones in which students fully engage in the inquiry process and find value in what they are learning about.
The release of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) gave us an opportunity to reimagine what inquiry learning could look like at the nexus of disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts. For the past few years, our teams have been collaborating with other curriculum designers, teachers, and experts to produce two new instructional materials programs that not only embody the NGSS but also build upon research-based approaches to supporting equitable learning in classrooms.
We are excited to share BSCS Biology: Understanding for Life, our new, full-year high school biology program, and OpenSciEd Middle School, a three-year, open-access middle school science program. These programs are designed to support a classroom culture that elevates students’ voices, ideas, and experiences in all their forms. They contain learning experiences that aim to empower students to ask scientific questions, pursue those questions, and contribute as valued members of a classroom community. Our intention is for these programs to support larger efforts to transform the teaching and learning in science.
At the end of February 2022, the development work on these brand new programs will be completed. We are excited to enter a new phase in which our efforts will focus on sharing and disseminating these programs as widely as possible.
Jean Flanagan, a BSCS Science Educator who led the materials development, shared, “As a development team, we identified areas where key science concepts overlap with the types of decisions that students might have agency in. We then designed activities that would help students and teachers see these connections and work together to figure out how they might take action in their local context. Ultimately, it was important to us to develop a program that prepares all students from all backgrounds for life in the 21st century.”
The BSCS Biology program is also the first of many programs to come that is designed using BSCS’s new instructional model: Anchored Inquiry Learning. In this approach to instruction, student learning is anchored in the context of explaining phenomena and/or designing solutions to problems. Learning is driven by students’ questions as they conduct investigations to develop more-sophisticated models and explanations over time. Implementation of Anchored Inquiry Learning is supported by a set of routines that are used in different combinations in different types of lessons. The routines serve as scaffolds that allow students to engage in increasingly sophisticated inquiry over time.
“Teachers and district leaders are excited about the collaborative classroom culture emerging from Anchored Inquiry Learning,” shared Cindy Gay, BSCS Science Educator and co-lead on the project. “They report high engagement because students are grappling with issues that matter to them, their families, and their communities. Teachers have noted their students sharing their learning with their families and making connections to issues beyond the course. Further, built-in supports contribute to teachers’ professional learning in both NGSS content and pedagogy.”
For the past four years, BSCS has been at the center of a monumental effort. In 2018, a group of national funders invited us to take the lead in a consortium of five organizations and dozens of individuals to produce a high-quality, open access science program for the NGSS that could be implemented at a national scale. It’s called the OpenSciEd Middle School program. It required significant investment, time, and collaboration across funders, educational designers and researchers, and state partners–along with a brave group of classroom teachers and their students willing to take a chance on a very new way of teaching and learning science. Our role was to lead the design and development of the instructional materials and accompanying professional development programs.
Audrey Mohan, a BSCS Senior Research Scientist who led the OpenSciEd materials development team, shared, “Our vision was to create accessible, engaging, and coherent units for students and their teachers. Throughout the development, we took time to survey hundreds of field-test teachers and students to help design and revise these units. By bringing all of these voices and experiences to the table, we were able to accomplish this ambitious goal of designing a high-quality, three-year program, free to anyone.”
OpenSciEd Middle School program now provides 18 middle school science units that have been recognized through peer review as “high quality NGSS design” units. These materials are completely free to educators and schools around the world.
BSCS Senior Research Scientist Dr. Brian Donovan is exploring the role science education can play in reversing racist and sexist thinking. He provides insight into this line of work in an article and webinar below.
Genetics education needs to move beyond Mendel to combat white supremacy.
I know that’s a bold statement. But it’s a statement I feel confident making based on my humane genetics research and development program.
Five years ago, I brought this program to BSCS Science Learning, when I became a research scientist at the organization. My goal was to build our knowledge about how to teach students genetics in ways that reduce social prejudice.
When I arrived at BSCS, I had already designed, implemented, and experimentally tested a short instructional unit on racial difference and genetics that had this purpose. The results of that study suggested that teaching high school genetics with this unit could significantly reduce some cognitive forms of racial prejudice among middle and high school aged students. This pilot study helped me to secure over a million dollars in funding from the National Science Foundation to explore how to teach about genetics to reduce racism.
Since then, my research team at BSCS has figured out a lot about how to teach genetics to challenge prejudiced thinking about race. When students learn from a curriculum that moves beyond Mendelian genetics, it allows them to develop a more complex understanding of genetics – one that explains how genes, the environment, and several unknown factors all play a role in complex human characteristics and abilities. It is necessary to teach students about genetic complexity to reduce racial prejudice. However, we have found that complexity alone is not a sufficient cause of such change. For a true change to occur, genetic complexity needs to be taught to students for the purpose of helping them to identify and criticize the flaws in prejudiced arguments. In other words, helping students learn about genetic complexity for an anti-racist purpose appears to be the special sauce that leads to the reduction of racial prejudice in the genetics classroom.
I call this special sauce “humane genetics.”
Our latest research suggests that if all high school students in the United States received a humane genetics education next year, then it could protect 65% of them from believing in genetic misinformation about race spread online by white supremacists.
So where do we go from here? We rely on courageous educators, leaders, and supporters who will continue to work alongside us to reduce social prejudice in America.
About the Humane Genetics Research Team
In recent years, many people have become involved in the humane genetics line of research at BSCS and elsewhere. Inside the organization, our research and development efforts are being pushed forward by Dr. Dennis Lee, Monica Weindling, Awais Syed, Molly Stuhlsatz, Jean Flanagan and Andy Brubaker. Outside of the organization, the humane genetics team is collaborating with scholars at Cornell University, Harvard University, MIT, Rutgers University, New York University, and the University of Texas at Austin. We have three new grants with our outside collaborators and each of them is pushing humane genetics in new directions.
In work we are doing with Harvard, MIT, and Rutgers, the humane genetics team is exploring if the humane genetics educational program can help more students change their racially biased beliefs by developing their abilities to interpret, integrate, and analyze data about human genetic variation. In work we are doing with Cornell University, we are exploring the impact of humane genetics education on college students to see if it changes their beliefs about science ability and interest in STEM careers. And, in work we are doing with UT Austin and NYU, we are exploring if and how genetics education influences the development of sexism. The initial results of our studies have indicated that the genetics curriculum tends to exacerbate gender stereotypical beliefs about men and women in students because of the way it discusses the genetic basis of sex differences.
After teaching high school biology for 30+ years, Cindy Gay joined BSCS in 2016 as a Science Educator. She currently leads teacher professional learning and instructional materials work, and is the Principal Investigator for the project Connecting Our Youth to ‘Āina Through Investigations of Place. This is a story about her experience learning from kilo alongside the wonderful people in Hawaii.
All my life, my most influential mentors in art, science, and education have pressed me to look. Look carefully. Across scales and over time. Look again. More deeply. Look yet again. When I was introduced to the Loko ea fishpond ecosystem and one of her caretakers, Sayo Costantino, Kupuohi Education Program Director, I knew I had found mentors from whom I would learn much when they immediately invited me to look. And look again.
I arrived at the gates of Loko ea on the North Shore of O’ahu with my colleague Emily and six middle school science teachers from the moku (district) for the first day of our co-design conference. The conference marked the start of a NOAA-funded B-WET project to develop a 7th grade ecosystems unit exploring the intersection of traditional and scientific ways of knowing and incorporating both the NGSS and Nā Hopena A’o outcomes (Hawaiian cultural standards).
Sayo met us at the gates and we were invited to oli (chant) E HŌ Mai before entering Loko ea. This ancient Hawaiian oli is a powerful practice that creates deep resonance and vibration within the body, used as a way to clear space to call forth wisdom. As we entered Loko ea, I was struck not only by her beauty but by a sense of calm punctuated only by the sounds of bird calls and wind through the trees. I realized I had driven by her many times over the years—even eaten dinner in the restaurant in front of her gates—and never observed her presence. I was not looking.
After introductions, Sayo invited us to get to know Loko ea through kilo. Sayo shared that kilo refers to a Hawaiian approach of observing the environment and resources by listening to the subtleties of place to help guide decisions for management and pono (balance, prosperity) practices. Individually, we slowly moved around her fishponds observing living and nonliving, from lani (sky), ma uka (towards the mountains), and ma kai (towards the ocean) to small Samoan crabs feasting on algae at the edges of her ponds. Large kākū (barracuda) slipped silently past pua ‘ama (young mullet). As we came together and shared our kilos, our list was long and diverse, just like the Loko ea ecosystem.
Throughout the co-design of the unit, we continued our kilo by examining and reexamining the goals of the project to develop a common vision for the unit’s phenomenon and storyline. An important goal was to foster student understanding of ecosystem interactions through both traditional and scientific ways of knowing. During development of the unit, Sayo helped me look and look again at how traditional knowledge of fishponds was represented throughout the unit. Because my own understanding of ecosystems was first developed through scientific ways of knowing, I followed that pattern in writing student handouts, providing science ideas before traditional ideas about the role of abiotic factors in ecosystems. Sayo gently invited me to look again at the handouts to observe that presenting scientific ideas before traditional ideas was not only an inaccurate chronological portrayal, but it also implied traditional ways of knowing as secondary to scientific ways of knowing. Looking more deeply at my own implicit biases helped me elevate traditional ways of knowing throughout the unit.
Our partnership with Sayo and Loko ea produced a unit more robust than envisioned in the original proposal. Students begin the unit with their own kilo of Loko ea. At multiple photo stations, they document changes in Loko ea resulting from management practices designed to restore the ecosystem. Using the FieldScope platform students gather and analyze data from Loko ea’s waters to use as evidence in arguments for management strategies. They participate in stewardship activities to remove invasive California grass. Sayo has offered Loko ea as a host site for hoikas (public sharing of knowledge) for the unit’s culminating task: present an argument for a management strategy for Loko ea so we can sustainably feed people and the ecosystem is healthy and pono.
I am grateful to Sayo and Loko ea for helping me begin to learn Nā kilo ‘āina (traditional Hawaiian observation approaches). They represent the strengthening of community watchers and observers who understand the needs of community (people and place) and provide direction to ensure the ‘āina (land) is able to sustain us into the future. I am excited that our unit will help seventh grade students begin to learn about the importance of place through their own kilo.
About the Unit
The Restoring Ea Middle School Science Unit is a place-based, three-dimensional, and phenomenon-focused unit specifically designed for seventh grade teachers and students in central O’ahu. It is now freely available.
Dr. Sherry Hsi joined BSCS Science Learning last fall as a Principal Scientist. She is a distinguished researcher in informal learning environments, engineering education, and educational technology–areas that are important to BSCS’s mission and will allow us to expand our impact on science learning.
Hsi is currently leading the Making Waves* project. Read her article below for insight on this work.
Radio frequencies enable us to use our cell phones every day to communicate to people around the world. Radio frequencies are also enabling our wireless laptops, remote-control car locks, Bluetooth air pods, and Internet-of-Things devices to function. In society at large, radio is used for air traffic control, spacecraft communications, and astronomical research. Because there is more and more demand for utilizing the radio spectrum, the crowded airspace around us is getting even more crowded with radio signals.
As a national resource, how does society decide who owns and responsibly manages our airspace of invisible yet important radio frequency communications?
A team at BSCS Science Learning launched the Making Waves project in fall 2020 to improve public awareness, science understanding, and societal impacts of radio frequency communications and wireless technologies. Our multidisciplinary team is developing a suite of mobile professional learning resources for informal educators to support learning in museums and youth programs.
“Five big ideas” about radio frequency communications are guiding the development of a suite of informal learning resources. We are drawing concept sketches of floor demonstrations, mobile apps, and professional learning supports while concurrently developing an equity-oriented, culturally responsive co-design process for instructional materials development. Data gathered from co-design sessions with different groups of informal educators as well as from interviews and a front-end survey with youth, families, educators, and the public will ensure that we include the voices of learners and educators across the communities these resources will support.
With science centers and museums carefully reopening to the public during the second year of COVID-19, our teams are eager to get our prototypes into the hands of users for testing. The invention and continuous innovation of radio frequency communications are a science and engineering marvel. Because these communication technologies fundamentally shape our lives and communities, we want to support others in effectively teaching and learning about them.
Learning about Radio Frequency Communication
In science class, students commonly learn that air is a mixture of different gases. However, viewed from an engineering perspective, air is not only a gas but a medium and the space around us where we find the electromagnetic spectrum. We are immersed in invisible radio waves that inhabit, spread, reflect, and bounce around like multiple virtual Ping-Pong balls, around buildings, up to orbiting satellites, around the world and back thanks to technological innovation.
On the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes microwaves, visible light, and x-rays, radio waves have the longest wavelength and as a result can travel long distances with the lowest energy. Cell phones and other wireless mobile devices use these waves to carry our information from one place to another. Electric charges are accelerated back and forth along a physical wire using a system of a power source, antennas, and some electronics to create a standing waveform. By manipulating the wave’s amplitude, wavelength, and frequency, a cell phone encodes, encrypts, and sends data, like my voice, airborne from Berkeley to Colorado Springs. Simultaneously, my phone is receiving and decoding signals, allowing me to hear a colleague’s voice (often along with a funny digital picture of a recent meal or pet).
There are no crossed wires in mobile communications! This is not a coincidence but an incredible feat of design and engineering involving planning, ingenuity, and cooperation to build a national and international telecommunications system.
*The Making Waves project is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Informal Science Learning (AISL) and Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program. Partners include the NISE Network (nisenet.org), Georgia Institute of Technology, Children’s Creativity Museum (San Francisco, CA), Knight-Williams Communications, Sciencenter (Ithaca, NY), Museum of Nature and Science (Durham, NC), The Concord Consortium, UC Santa Cruz Girls in Engineering & MESA program, and the Global Alliance for Community Science Workshops (Watsonville, CA).
What a year! It may not have gone exactly as planned, but our BSCS staff persevered to make this year a successful one. For every professional learning institute we postponed, we hosted an engaging virtual gathering. For every project timeline we had to delay, we expedited the development and dissemination of timely resources. It was a trying year, but we are proud of what we accomplished.
So cheers to sharing “20 BSCS accomplishments in 2020” with all of you who support our work! This year, our staff…
- released two new OpenSciEd middle school science units. More than half of the three-year program for grades 6-8 is now available and being used by more than 17,000 teachers.
- studied the effectiveness of a fully online version of our signature teacher professional learning program, STeLLA®, for fourth and fifth grade teachers. We are currently building leadership capacity so that we can offer Online STeLLA more broadly for increased access and impact.
- released A Medical Mystery, a digital, middle school body systems unit. We are also offering an online professional learning program for teachers who want to use A Medical Mystery as a focus for learning how to implement Next Generation Science Standards.
- launched a public beta test of BSCS Science Learning Videoverse , an online library of our high quality science classroom video resources and associated materials.
- supported educators during COVID-19 by consolidating all of our free online resources. We even developed a few rapid-response resources to address urgent needs.
- developed an open source COVID-19 & Health Equity unit for high school teachers and students.
- collected more evidence that well-designed and executed genetics education can reduce racial bias among adolescents–and used those insights to support middle and high school teachers in navigating topics of race and genetics in biology class.
- began the field test for an exciting new high school biology course that will enter the marketplace in 2021.
- launched a new, modernized version of our FieldScope platform for community and citizen science projects. FieldScope supported thousands of citizen science volunteers from classrooms and public programs who contributed over 38,000 observations this year.
- released 12 Invitations to Inquiry with FieldScope lesson plans to engage middle and high school students with community and citizen science data sets. Versions of seven of these Invitations are available for asynchronous, at-home learning.
- partnered with Mālama Loko Ea Foundation and the Leilehua-Mililani-Waialua Complex on Oahu to develop a place-based unit that integrates traditional environmental knowledge with the Next Generation Science Standards. The seventh-grade unit explores how restoring the ecosystem of Loko ea, an ancient fishpond on the North Shore of Oahu, can help restore food sovereignty to Hawaii.
- provided a leadership development program to 24 leaders from across the country on facilitating our signature STeLLA teacher professional learning program. Most of these leaders are participants in our buzz-worthy STeLLA Scale-Up & Sustainability program in Tennessee and Kentucky.
- worked collaboratively with colleagues at WestEd on key leadership development initiatives. Together, we developed a virtual version of one Phase of NextGen TIME , and designed the NEXUS Academy for Science Curriculum Leadership.
- advanced our Equity & Social Justice work and made it visible on our website. This included developing a land acknowledgment and a statement of our commitment to antiracism.
- published a wide array of research findings in publications, including Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness , Journal of Research in Science Teaching , Science & Education , Studies in Educational Evaluation , and The Learning Professional .
- received 11 new federal and foundation grants–two of which were awarded to first-time Principal Investigators at BSCS.
- expanded our capacity to transform science teaching and learning through research-driven innovation by hiring 10+ new research and science education staff members.
- hosted a virtual “BSCS Family Science Night” to immerse families near and far in a puzzling natural phenomenon. Participating families engaged in inquiry, developed questions, made predictions, and planned and observed an investigation to help answer their questions.
- connected with teachers across the country like Kris Grymonpre in Boston, who shared, “OpenSciEd units are going to make students love science,” and Judy Barrere in Seattle, who shared that “A Medical Mystery is especially helpful for students who struggle or think of themselves as lesser learners.” Their stories of impact keep us motivated to produce high quality science programs for students who need it most.
- remained a resilient nonprofit organization amidst a global pandemic–thanks to our valued grantors and donors who invest in the more-inclusive, meaningful, and effective science education that we are actively pursuing every day.
Meet Holly Hereau, a BSCS Science Educator focused on instructional materials development. Before joining the team, she spent 14 years teaching high school and community college science. She was recently named a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) recipient for her outstanding work inside the classroom. PAEMST is the highest award given by the United States Government to kindergarten through 12th grade teachers of mathematics and science, including computer science.
What drives you as an educator, both inside and outside the classroom?
Until relatively recently, I probably would have given the same “when the students get that ‘aha’ moment” answer that most teachers say when asked this question. I think my answer is still that… but it means something different now than what it would have before. The ‘aha’ moment now for me is when students realize they have the power to figure things out. It’s not just getting that tough concept, or getting a good grade, but it’s the confidence that they can get all kinds of hard things by asking questions and investigating.
How did you make an impact as a teacher?
I facilitated projects that gave students agency, as well as the opportunity to connect with their place by planning environmental stewardship action projects, engaging in citizen science, and presenting their work to the larger community. The science experiences I was able to provide for students positioned them to see that the entire class was an important part of the ideas we were putting together — and that their own ideas were unique and valuable. My classroom was always a safe place for students; they knew I cared about them and would go to bat for them. I practiced empathy. I listened to student ideas and responded in ways that showed I was listening carefully to understand what they were thinking so we could build from that. While the “big” things like “detracking” science in our building may not continue to have an impact now that I’m gone, my interactions with students will hopefully stay with them and inform how they interact with the world.
How has your teaching experience shaped your approach to instructional materials development at BSCS?
Since I started doing work with NGSS designed materials and storylines, I started to see students who didn’t think they were good at science (or good at school even) realize they actually WERE good at science, and they were really good at figuring stuff out. I had several students enroll in AP Biology and AP Environmental Science after taking my Biology class who had never taken any honors or AP classes before. When asked about it, one student said it’s “because of the way we learn in here. We get to answer our own questions. I never thought I was good at science before. I wish all of my science teachers would have taught like this.” (if only we knew then what we know now!!) On the flip side, I also had 4.0 students who were “good at school” start to relax about their grades and focus on what and how they were learning. I felt like I could spike the football when an AP Bio student (who previously asked me about their grades every other day as a Biology student the previous year) was helping a new-to-our-school student who was frozen when asked to create an initial model to show what happens to a sandwich when we eat it. “Oh it’s OK, you’re not really supposed to know the answer right now. Just put down what you think. We’re making these models so we can figure out what we don’t know.” Those experiences don’t necessarily speak to my skill as a teacher, but to the quality of the materials I had access to. Using high quality materials (with an understanding of how and why) is the extended professional learning necessary to REALLY understand what phenomenon/problem based learning FEELS like, and I want all teachers to have access to that experience.
As I am writing instructional materials at BSCS — whether it is for middle or high school science — I constantly think of what it felt like as a teacher to realize how big this shift was. I think about the huge potential for all students to engage in and be interested in science in a way that I really hadn’t seen as a teacher before.
Times are tough. What advice do you have for teachers today?
Stop letting the stress of the “thousand little cuts” get to you. You know what is best for students. Do that. This year will be tough, and everyone has a different hard situation. Don’t let content dictate the way you interact with students. Rushing through a lot of material is not good for learning or for happiness. If a student gets to college without learning the phases of mitosis, it’s not the end of the world. Make sure students feel safe, and that they are learning about things they care about.
What most excites you about the future of science education?
I am so excited about the materials we are developing and the idea that so many students will experience science learning in this way. I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens with the OpenSciEd project in the future–for High School because that is the grade level I taught most, but also for elementary teachers and students. For too long, science has gotten pushed aside for math and reading — and there wasn’t much of a fight because there aren’t as many elementary teachers that are science specialists. I think having access to these materials removes part of the barrier to kids getting science. I’m excited to see how we can highlight math and literacy in those lessons to help convince teachers and districts that math and literacy learning can be supported and enhanced by DOING science!
Written by: Dr. Chris Wilson, BSCS Director of Research
As DRK-12 researchers conducting empirical studies of interventions in science education, the findings from our studies are important to multiple audiences. While the dissemination plan might be one of the last sections we write in our proposals, and one of the last pieces we consider during the timeline of a project, it is probably the most important activity we engage in. I’ll always remember the advice my wife’s PhD advisor gave her during her studies on adolescence and animal behavior: “If you’re not publishing, you’re not doing science, you’re just watching hamsters mating in a basement.” The former presumably more justifiable than the latter.
At BSCS Science Learning we’re finding that the results from our research studies are important to an increasingly broad range of audiences. In the past we might have begun projects with the expectation that in the final year we’d be starting the often-endless process of publishing papers in research journals, and presenting findings at national research conferences. Remember those? In more recent years, as the evidence base for the efficacy of instructional materials or professional development programs has become more established, we’ve become more involved in scaling up these effective interventions. Successful scale-up requires that all elements of a program are communicated effectively to decision makers at multiple levels, such as teachers, principals, district science leads, and state science supervisors. That includes the structure of the program, the learning theory behind the program, and importantly, research on its impact. Demonstrated evidence of effectiveness, particularly on student achievement, is an increasingly important consideration for decision-makers tasked with choosing between adopting different interventions, and in investing sparse district resources.
Needless to say, research findings need to be presented differently for different audiences. Most science education researchers shudder a little when presented with hierarchical linear models, never mind those who work closer to the classroom. Presenting a series of Greek letters with multiple subscripts rarely indicates that one is concerned with the findings being accessible to a wide range of audiences. Graphing data to show differences in means between groups can make findings infinitely more digestible. The same goes for measures of statistical significance or effect sizes, which can be quite abstract. Instead of p-values and Hedges’-g, we often strive to demonstrate impacts in more meaningful units, such as…
Continue reading this blog post here.
This blog was written by Dr. Chris Wilson, BSCS director of research, for the Community for Advancing Discovery Research in Education (CADRE) July 2020 Newsletter.
Meet Rachel Buckley, a 7th grade science teacher at Knox Trail Middle School in Spencer, Massachusetts. As a field test participant, she played an invaluable role in helping BSCS Science Learning launch our new Invitations to Inquiry. These Inquiries are designed to help middle and high school students work with citizen science data from projects hosted on FieldScope.
Why did you become a teacher, and where are you now?
I always knew I was going to be a teacher. In first grade, my teacher told my parents that she thought I would end up teaching, but they already knew that because I spent my free time playing school with my younger sister. The road to science teacher was less obvious, because I didn’t have a lot of great science opportunities in high school. It seemed boring and dry to me. That changed in college when I found some awesome professors, and now I try to infuse my love and excitement for science into my 7th grade classroom in Spencer, Mass.
How did you become familiar with BSCS Science Learning?
I have a tendency to sign up for every science professional development email list I can find. I had been looking into OpenSciEd for my school and I believe an email later came with the opportunity to work with BSCS Science Learning, and I am very glad that I did!
Tell us about your experience teaching the Invitations to Inquiry. Any highlights or “AHA” moments? How were your students’ experiences working with data?
The part of the NGSS practice Analyzing and Interpreting Data that talks about large data sets has always been one of the hardest things for me to teach. Using the data in the Invitations to Inquiry lessons made this easy for me and the students. At first they looked at the amount of data with wide eyes but once we went through how to actually use the data, it became much easier. By the end the students were able to manipulate the tables to find specific information that a week before they would have thought impossible.
Which Inquiry are you most excited to try next and why?
I teach watersheds and human impacts on our water cycle, so I would love to try the healthy watershed inquiry! I also have standards about ecosystems and invasive species, so I am looking forward to Frog Symphony and Frog Eat Frog World!
What would you say to a teacher who is thinking about exploring Invitations to Inquiry with middle or high school students?
I would say do it! The lessons are well written, easy to follow and engaging for the students. They are real world examples with actual data which makes it real for the students. The lessons take difficult concepts and present them in meaningful, accessible and engaging ways.
What is one educational resource or tool that you love and cannot live without?
I love Google Classroom. For me, it is a super easy way for kids to stay organized and have all they need in one spot. It also makes it convenient for students to collaborate on work or share things with me!
What excites you most about the future of science education?
Our students. The kids we are teaching now are one day soon going to be the ones out there teaching others about science. As long as we can help get them to buy into scientific literacy, then the entire world will be a better place.
Meet Brittany Hubert, an 11th grade biology teacher, whose story we share in our 2019 Annual Appeal.
Why did you become a teacher, and where are you now?
I can remember wanting to be a teacher as far back as elementary and middle school. I would come home after school and reteach the concepts I’d learned to my class of stuffed animals—I even had a grade book! Then in 6th grade, I had the most amazing science teacher, Ms. Hedrick. She was so passionate and energetic and genuinely excited about the content she was teaching. Years later, when I would start teaching, I would strive to emulate Ms. Hedrick in my own classroom until I could develop my own “teacher identity.”
In high school and college, I veered away from the teaching path. Instead, I dove deeper into science, working in two separate biological sciences research labs and considering careers as a public health worker, epidemiologist, doctor, or research scientist. On a trip to Ghana that centered on surveying public health systems, I had an opportunity to teach integrated sciences at a middle school called Zo-Simli-Naa Girls’ School. This is where my passion for teaching was rekindled. I loved the relationships that I fostered with the students and how interested they were to learn new ideas and apply them to experiences they had and observations they made in their own lives.
In my final year of college, a very impactful mentor that had worked with me throughout the last four years convinced me that I didn’t have to wait until the end of a career in one of the aforementioned pathways to become a professor; he reminded me that teaching in middle school or high school was also an option—albeit not one that I had considered in the last 10 years. So in my final semester of college, I changed all my plans and applied to the College of Education at University of Louisville through a program called Teach Kentucky.
As I’m now in my 6th year of teaching Biology and Anatomy and Physiology, I am beyond grateful that I was able meet so many excellent mentors and to have been through these special experiences that guided me to a career that I am now so passionate, energetic, and genuinely excited about—just like Ms. Hedrick and so many other teachers that I encountered along the way!
How did you become familiar with BSCS Science Learning?
During my second year teaching in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), the district science department lead advertised the STeLLA research program that would be taking place over the following two years. I signed up for three main reasons: first, we got paid a stipend; second, my history in research made me very intrigued by the research component of the program; third, I felt like I needed more guidance in effective science teaching—there were so many areas in which I knew I needed improvement but had no idea where to turn for guidance.
What would you say to a teacher who is considering whether or not participate in the STeLLA program?
What are you waiting for?! Seriously though, STeLLA has been the single most impactful experience in my career as a teacher. My entire approach to teaching has changed—for the absolute better—since starting STeLLA. The interactions I have with my students, the interactions my students have with each other, my excitement about teaching the content, and the success I have while teaching the content and my student have while interacting with the content have all improved tremendously since I’ve implemented STeLLA.
What is one educational resource or tool that you love and cannot live without?
EDpuzzle is my favorite resource to use to supplement the lessons that have been developed my BSCS and JCPS teachers as well as other lessons that I’ve developed myself. It’s a way for me to upload videos and embed quizzes within the videos. This is very helpful for my students who have a hard time focusing for long periods of time or who need a review!
What excites you most about the future of science education?
The shift from “sit-and-get” learning to lessons that are more interactive and that encourage students to think critically and develop their own ideas and independent thoughts. I’m constantly surprised by the ideas and questions my students have about how what they’re learning applies to current events in the science world!
Interview with the team’s research leaders, vertebrate paleontologist Tyler Lyson, and paleobotanist Ian Miller
By: Denver Museum of Nature & Science
Sixty-six million years ago, a meteorite larger than Mount Everest slammed into Earth and 75 percent of species went extinct in a geologic blink of an eye, including nonavian dinosaurs. For decades, scientists worked to determine how the planet and living creatures rebounded, yet continued to know very little about the recovery. Until now.
Q: How big a deal is this discovery?
Miller: 66 million years ago, the course of life on Earth changed fundamentally. We were hit by a massive asteroid that wiped out ecosystems across the planet. The time afterward has been shrouded in mystery. We haven’t had a good collection of fossils to really understand the very bottom of the tree of life that leads to the present day. And this incredible discovery is shedding new light on that time period.
Lyson: All modern mammals – including humans – can trace our origins back to those earliest survivors of the impact. Now we have the animal fossils, the plant fossils, and we have an amazing timeline from the first one million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs, which just happens to be the origin of the modern world. We found these amazing fossils in one of the most poorly understood intervals of time.
Q: So this is the first time that scientists have been able to piece together a coherent picture of that first million years after the dinosaur extinctions?
Lyson: Yeah, definitely. It’s the first time that we can piece together four key things: the animals, plants, temperature, and then the timeline. We can really look at the recovery of a whole ecosystem for the first time.
Q: The discovery site – Corral Bluffs – is not exactly terra nova for fossil hunters. How were these specimens overlooked?
Miller: Scientists exploring this area 100 years ago commented on the fact that they weren’t finding any fossils.
Lyson: Our first time out at Corral Bluffs, we hiked around for a few days and found basically nothing. I could fit all the fossils I found in one hand.
Q: What changed? What was your Aha! moment?
Lyson: All paleontologists have what we call a search image. We key in on certain rocks or color of rock, certain depositional environments. Vertebrate paleontologists usually look for bone weathering out of the ground. That wasn’t working at Corral Bluffs. I started thinking, “there’s got to be a different way of looking for these fossils.”
Then I had an experience looking for fossils in South Africa. There my colleagues look for a certain type of rock, not for bone. They search for concretions, which is a kind of rock that forms around an organic nucleus. Sometimes that organic nucleus can be bone.
Miller: Tyler came back from south Africa with this idea for a new search image and was like, “I’m going to knock it out of the park. We’re going to find this stuff.” And I’m like, “Yeah, sure, Tyler. That sounds great.” We had some hints we were on the right track, and Tyler had found a couple of really cool things in our museum collections that indicated this might be possible. Putting those pieces together, we went back out to Corral Bluffs in the fall of 2016. That’s when it all kicked off.
Lyson: I had changed my search image from bones to concretions. That’s how we cracked the code and blew it wide open. I split open a concretion and saw a mammal skull smiling back at me. And then I looked around and saw concretions just littering the landscape and was like, “Oh man, here we go.”
Once you have the right search image, you could see fossils everywhere. But if you didn’t have it, you were blind to them.
Sure enough, we found like four or five mammal skulls within a few minutes. That was one of the most remarkable moments in my life.
Q: You realized you’d hit the jackpot?
Lyson: That first week felt like anything was possible, because we just kept on finding one crazy fossil after another. We found a jaw, and then we found a skull, and then we found more skulls, and more skulls. It was a goose-bumps moment for me.
Miller: You could spend a whole career and not find a single skull from that time in Earth’s history. We were finding a skull about every 15 minutes once we figured out what to look for. It happened that quickly.
Q: Then I suppose the fun was over?
Lyson: Right? We just found all these cool fossils. It’s like, now what do we do? That winter, we sat down and hammered out a plan.
We’re all specialists in our own little area. I study reptiles, and here I found all these amazing mammals. One of the first things we needed to do was to identify the mammals. Also, we needed to figure out the age of the rocks, and we needed to figure out where the K-T boundary was at Corral Bluffs. I reached out to a handful of folks that I went to grad school with.
Q: What was their reaction?
Lyson: It came as a shock to a lot of them. In this interval of time, you just don’t find mammals like that, and that complete. They were like, “Where?” And I said, “Near Colorado Springs.” And they were like, “What? That area’s been looked at over and over again.” Usually we think of big discoveries happening in a new area, and this was by no means a new area.
Miller: Scientists are usually really excited to be part of a project that’s going to change the way we think about life on Earth, about the story of how we got to this moment. If you had to choose one million years in Earth’s history that you really want to look at carefully, this would be it.
Lyson: We knew virtually nothing about this interval of time. Here we are finding all these amazing fossils from right smack dab in that critical interval. People were certainly energized by it.
Q: As a team you could then make sense of what you’d found?
Lyson: No one scientist could put this story together – it’s impossible. Everybody worked together to make it happen. There was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. We ended up collecting nearly a thousand vertebrate fossils, over 6000 plant fossils, and our colleagues counted over 37,000 pollen grains as part of this study! That just blows me away!
Miller: We documented changes in the landscape after the impact, from a world dominated by palms to a world dominated by a more diverse group of trees. And then we saw the animal species change in lockstep fashion. And then we lined that up with changes in the environment, temperature. Putting all those pieces together, I was like, “Holy cow, is this possible? Is this really true?” It turns out we really were able to paint a picture of the emergence of our modern world – and that’s phenomenal.
Q: What’s next?
Lyson: This recovery pattern we’re seeing at Corral Bluffs is the gold standard for one area, and now it’d be great to see if it’s normal or abnormal.
The exciting thing is that this is not the end of the story. This is the start of something big.