Transforming science education through research-driven innovation



Engineering in the Garden


How can we design a stable trellis to support our climbing pea plants? How can we attract bees to our garden? How can we keep our plants warm in the cold winter months? These are important questions for farmers or gardeners trying to cultivate food.  Students in 3rd-5th grade are now addressing these questions too. 

Elementary educators are encouraged to facilitate students in engineering design to meet the expectations of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). BSCS Science Learning, in collaboration with Life Lab, developed the Engineering in the Garden program to help 3rd-5th grade teachers and garden educators engage students in designing solutions to address real-world problems that arise in schoolyards and school gardens.

The program is designed to enhance educators’ understanding of the engineering design process and their confidence to facilitate engineering in the garden. Engineering in the Garden centers around the “Designing Trellises” unit, a model garden-based engineering unit in which students design trellises to support pea plants. Students consider how to design and build trellises that will stay stable and support peas as they climb. Students research peas’ needs, develop prototypes, design and build full-size trellises in the schoolyard, test those trellises in a range of likely environmental conditions, revise their designs, and plant and grow peas. The unit demonstrates how to use gardens as an authentic context for integrating science with engineering.

The program also offers resources to help educators design and facilitate their own garden-based engineering units, including an engineering process framework, guiding principles for garden-based engineering, planning tools, and videos of educators in action.  

Life Lab offers the 2-day Engineering in the Garden workshop annually at their educational garden classroom in Santa Cruz, California. All the program resources are also freely available.

What do teachers and students think about Engineering in the Garden? Check out this video about the program (which is referenced in the video by its original name, TiLLAGE)

This work is supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s Professional Development for Agricultural Literacy Program [(award no. 2020-67037-31047/project accession no. 1021998)] from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and should not be construed to represent any official USDA or U.S. Government determination or policy.

Introducing BSCS’s New Flagship Biology Program 

Teachers are being asked to do a lot in today’s science classrooms. That includes teaching the Next Generation Science Standards, which are challenging in both depth and breadth. BSCS has responded to this need by creating a brand new high school biology program that supports teachers in meeting these standards. But we didn’t stop there. 

Our new program, BSCS Biology: Understanding for Life, has a greater purpose. It is designed to prepare students for life in our complex, interconnected world.

The program includes four units, each centered around a 21st century societal challenge that we can no longer ignore, such as antibiotic-resistant infections. Students are challenged to investigate. They “figure out” rather than “learn about” scientific phenomena. This approach is different. It requires a different kind of work. And the unfamiliar can be frustrating, at first–especially for students who have learned to play the game of school by memorizing facts to get an A. 

However, as we’ve seen through field testing and initial program adoption in 2020-2021, this approach is powerful. And teachers believe this program is going to change the way students learn and use science throughout their lives. 

Key Program Features

  • Introduces BSCS’s new Anchored Inquiry Learning instructional model, which builds on the strengths of our globally-recognized 5E model, while drawing on contemporary research about the social, cultural, and emotional aspects of the learning process
  • Designed from the ground up to support teachers in meeting the Next Generation Science Standards
  • Specifically integrates supports for English language learners and students with below-grade-level literacy skills
  • Directly addresses societal challenges we can no longer ignore, while allowing students to investigate compelling and relevant phenomena that will keep them from ever asking, “Why do I need to know this?” 
  • Equips students with abilities and inclinations to act on what they’ve learned well beyond high school biology class and into their future personal, professional, and civic lives

Inside the Units 

BSCS Biology: Understanding for Life includes four units, each centered around a societal challenge. Students investigate an anchoring phenomenon while developing the knowledge, abilities, and inclinations to take positive action on behalf of themselves, their communities, and the natural world.

Unit 1: Infectious Diseases

How can bacterial infections make us sick, and why are they getting harder to treat? 

Key Concepts: 

  • Body systems & specialized cells
  • Homeostasis & feedback 
  • Natural selection

Unit 2: Hereditary-Genetic Disease

Why are some people at higher risk for heart disease than other people?

Key Concepts: 

  • DNA structure determines protein structure 
  • Meiosis & crossing over
  • Mitosis & differentiation
  • Environmental influence on traits

Unit 3: Matter and Energy

How can we sustainably feed our growing population a nutritious diet? 

Key Concepts: 

  • Photosynthesis & cellular respiration
  • Matter & energy flow
  • Trophic levels
  • Carbon cycle

Unit 4: Biodiversity and Humans

Why are coyotes expanding their range while so many other organisms are becoming endangered? 

Key Concepts: 

  • Ecosystem interactions & carrying capacity
  • Disturbance & anthropogenic change
  • Speciation, extinction, & evolution 
  • Biodiversity & ecosystem services

“The Infectious Diseases unit is very relatable to students because we’ve all experienced illness. I have not had one student ask why we need to know this. I actually had a student that went to a doctor who ran the same immune response tests we had learned about. My student felt good about understanding what the doctor discussed.”

-Faith Nelson, high school biology teacher in Illinois

Learn more about this new program on Kendall Hunt Publishing Company’s website HERE.

The OpenSciEd initiative was launched to address a critical need in science education: the need for high quality science instructional materials that are standards-aligned and practical for broad implementation. Led by BSCS Science Learning, a national consortium of curriculum developers and researchers is currently creating a three-year middle school science program to be distributed for free.

The program’s classroom materials and associated teacher professional learning materials are:

  • designed to align with the NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS),
  • based on research on student learning and teacher practice,
  • developed in collaboration with teachers and field-tested in hundreds of classrooms in ten states across the United States,
  • open-source and locally adaptable, and
  • continuously improved based on feedback from teachers and field testing.

The complete, three-year middle grades science program is now available for free download at openscied.org.

Learn more about select units below.

Weather, Climate & Water Cycling 

Weather, Climate & Water Cycling

This 6th grade unit on weather, climate, and water cycling is broken into four separate lesson sets. In the first two lesson sets, students explain small-scale storms. In the third and fourth lesson sets, students explain mesoscale weather systems and climate-level patterns of precipitation. Each of these two parts of the unit is grounded in a different anchoring phenomenon.

The unit starts out with anchoring students in the exploration of a series of videos of hailstorms from different locations across the country at different times of the year. The videos show that pieces of ice of different sizes (some very large) are falling out of the sky, sometimes accompanied by rain and wind gusts, all on days when the temperature of the air outside remained above freezing for the entire day. These cases spark questions and ideas for investigations, such as investigating how ice can be falling from the sky on a warm day, how clouds form, why some clouds produce storms with large amounts of precipitation and others don’t, and how all that water gets into the air in the first place.

The second half of the unit is anchored in the exploration of a weather report of a winter storm that affected large portions of the midwestern United States. The maps, transcripts, and video that students analyze show them that the storm was forecasted to produce large amounts of snow and ice accumulation in large portions of the northeastern part of the country within the next day. This case sparks questions and ideas for investigations around trying to figure out what could be causing such a large-scale storm and why it would end up affecting a different part of the country a day later.


Matter Cycling & Photosynthesis 

Stack of pancakes

This 7th grade unit on matter cycling and photosynthesis begins with students reflecting on what they ate for breakfast. Questions about where their food comes from lead them to consider which breakfast items might be from plants. Then students explore (and taste) a common breakfast food, maple syrup, and see that according to the label, it is 100% from a tree.

Students apply what they learned in the previous unit to argue that they know what happens to sugar in syrup or other foods when they consume it. Students explore what else is in food and discover that foods from plants not only have sugars but proteins and fats as well. This discovery leads them to wonder how plants are getting these food molecules, why a plant needs food, and where a plant’s food comes from in the first place. Students figure out that they can trace all food back to plants, including processed and synthetic food. They explain that the pieces of their food are constantly recycled between living and nonliving parts of a system.


Forces at a Distance 

Compass

This 8th grade unit launches with a slow motion video of a speaker vibrating. After developing a model of sound in the previous unit, students now have the chance to explore the cause of a speaker’s vibration as opposed to the effect.

Students dissect speakers to explore what’s inside, and they build homemade cup speakers. They identify that speakers of all kinds have some of the same parts—a magnet, a coil of wire, and a membrane. Students investigate each of these parts to figure out how they work together in the speaker system. Along the way, students manipulate the parts to see how this technology could be modified to apply to systems in very different contexts, like MagLev trains, junkyard magnets, and electric motors.


Thermal Energy 

Cover TW Thermal Energy

This unit on thermal energy engages students in a design challenge to create a cup that keeps drinks cold longer. They identify the features that make some cups better at keeping drinks cold, and they construct their own models to explain how those features prevent the transfer of thermal energy.

In this unit for 6th grade, students build an understanding of energy transfer within and between materials based on a particle model, and they work on the practices of modeling, conducting investigations, constructing explanations, arguing from evidence, and designing solutions.


Metabolic Reactions 

Woman eating a lemon

This unit on metabolic reactions in the human body engages students in an investigation of a real case study of M’Kenna, a 13-year-old girl, who reported some alarming medical symptoms to her doctor. Her case sparks questions and ideas for investigations to figure out which parts of M’Kenna’s body are functioning differently from a healthy person’s system and why. Through the work of investigating M’Kenna’s symptoms, the class constructs a model to explain what happens to food after it enters people’s bodies, and they use it to explain M’Kenna’s symptoms.

In this 7th grade unit, students build an understanding of how body systems interact to process food and use the energy stored within it. They work on the practices of developing models, interpreting data, and arguing from evidence.


Sound Waves 

Hands hitting a drum

In this unit, students investigate how sounds can cause objects at a distance to move. Motivated by a video of windows shaking when a truck outside plays loud music, students investigate what happens when an object makes sound. Over the course of the unit, they build a model that describes what happens when sounds are created that can explain the shaking windows and other examples of sounds causing objects to move.

In this 8th grade unit, students use a particle model of air to build an understanding of how sounds move that explains the effect of sounds on other objects. They work on the practices of planning and conducting investigations, using mathematical and computational thinking, and evidence-based argumentation.


The OpenSciEd Middle Grades Science Program is being released in phases. The final phase of the program will be complete in early 2022. The consortium of curriculum developers includes BSCS, Boston College, the Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin, Digital Promise Global, Northwestern University, and a broad network of leaders in science education. This developers consortium works in close collaboration with a state steering committee representing ten partner states from across the United States.

OpenSciEd is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Middle school educators across the US are expected to dive into next generation science. However, high quality NGSS-aligned materials and professional learning opportunities are scarce. That’s why BSCS’s 3D middle school science program — A Medical Mystery — is valuable. It supports teachers in the effective instruction of an NGSS-aligned, EQuIP-reviewed body systems curriculum unit.

Intrigued? Learn more about A Medical Mystery!

Students using this program are immersed in an online environment that challenges them to solve the medical mystery: “What’s Wrong with M’Kenna?” Over the course of several lessons, students investigate how and why M’Kenna is constantly sick, unable to keep her food down, and losing weight. They use scientific reasoning skills and argumentation to identify the digestive system as the problematic organ system—and then engage with a series of interactive experiences, simulations, and animations to observe and analyze the differences between M’Kenna’s digestive system and a healthy person’s digestive system.

Ultimately, students solve the mystery and explain all of M’Kenna’s symptoms based on how body systems interact. More importantly, they learn to use the inquiry-based practices of scientists and crosscutting concepts of systems and system models to construct their own understanding of complex phenomena.

This resource includes the complete middle school science curriculum unit, a teacher’s guide, and an online professional learning course. The curriculum received a high rating of E/I on the EQuIP Rubric, before final revisions.

Planning for online instruction? This document will help you quickly adapt A Medical Mystery for your new online classroom setting.

This resource was developed in partnership with OPB.

NGSS Design Badge

Awarded: Jan 4, 2022

Awarded To: A Medical Mystery

VERIFY

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. (DRL-1502571). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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.

BSCS Science Learning has launched Invitations to Inquiry to help middle and high school students work with community and citizen science data from projects hosted on FieldScope. Teachers and students use FieldScope to collect, visualize, and analyze data. Using these new Inquiries, students can explore FieldScope’s advanced mapping and graphing tools to dig deeper into data in the context of meaningful science classroom lessons.

Intrigued? Learn more about the Inquiries in this interview with Colorado & Company!

Each lesson engages students in interpreting graphs and maps to learn about where the data are collected and what they mean. In one Inquiry, students use data from the Chesapeake Bay estuary to determine suitable sites for oyster reef restoration. In another, students investigate what contributes to light pollution using data collected internationally.

The 12 Inquiries are designed for 2-4 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. Although the Inquiries are designed for classroom learning with computer access, each activity presents an opportunity to get outside and collect data for local and global community and citizen science projects.

These Inquiries, designed for the classroom, can be accessed HERE. Educators and parents navigating at-home learning can access modified, student-directed versions of the Inquiries HERE .


This work is funded by a grant from the Pisces Foundation .

How can people help end pandemics? Educators and students across the country are currently investigating important questions like this in the classroom (in-person and online!) while navigating COVID-19 in their own daily lives.

BSCS Science Learning has created free units on COVID-19 & Health Equity for middle and high school. This fall, teachers and students can work together to make sense of the pandemic and how it disproportionately affects underserved communities by engaging in science inquiry and social and emotional learning.

BSCS worked closely with OpenSciEd  and experts to develop the multidisciplinary middle and high school units. OpenSciEd is distributing these units along with units for grades K–5.

High School Science Unit

Woman wearing mask

The high school unit focuses on the question, “What can we learn from the spread of the COVID-19 virus to protect our communities? ” It is designed to teach students about the COVID-19 pandemic, transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and the impacts of the pandemic on communities, especially communities of color.

The unit employs an inquiry-based approach, and is designed for 14 class periods of instruction, with several optional extensions. There are four broad areas of learning goals targeted in this unit:

  • virus transmission between people and communities,
  • mitigation strategies and using probabilities to explain how we can lower the chance of transmitting the virus between people and across communities,
  • understanding disproportionate impacts on communities and the policies and practices that lead to those impacts, and finally,
  • development of two social emotional competencies–self awareness and social awareness.

The high school science unit was developed in a partnership between BSCS Science Learning and current classroom teachers from across the country. Epidemiologists, public health experts, equity and antiracist education experts, community groups, as well as social-emotional learning experts contributed to the material development.

Middle School Science Unit

Workers boarding a train

The middle school unit focuses on the question, “How can people help end pandemics?” It is designed to teach students about the COVID-19 pandemic, transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and the impacts of the pandemic on communities.

The unit employs an inquiry-based approach and is designed for 15 class periods of instruction, with optional extensions. Students will study the COVID-19 pandemic in light of historical pandemics to develop two social emotional competencies, self awareness and social awareness, and to build an understanding of the following key concepts:

  • how the COVID-19 virus spreads from person to person and through communities,
  • how strategies to reduce transmission of COVID-19 work, and
  • how the actions of individuals can help to end pandemics.

The middle school science unit was developed in a partnership between BSCS Science Learning and current classroom teachers from across the country. Epidemiologists, public health experts, equity and antiracist education experts, community groups, as well as social-emotional learning experts contributed to the material development.

Funding for the COVID-19 & Health Equity Units was provided by a generous donor, who prefers to remain anonymous.

Children are naturally inquisitive. That is one of the many reasons why it is important to engage students in science at a young age. With access to a high quality science education, students can channel their curiosities to help make sense of the world around them.

BSCS Science Learning’s elementary program allows preK through grade 5 students to interact like scientists, participating in inquiry-based activities while also developing important reading, writing, and critical-thinking skills. BSCS Science Tracks: Connecting Science & Literacy offers four modules—life science, earth & space science, physical science, and science & technology—for each grade level.

BSCS recently revised two units to align with the Next Generation Science Standards. These units are: Investigating Properties Student Guide and Investigating Ecosystems Student Guide. All units are available for purchase through Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.

Educators in central O’ahu want to immerse students in traditional and next generation science learning in a way that deepens their connection to the place of Hawaiʻi. With this goal in mind, the Leilehua-Mililani-Waialua Complex partnered with BSCS Science Learning to co-design and field-test a new curriculum unit for middle school students.

The resulting science unit, Restoring Ea, is place-based, three-dimensional, and phenomenon-focused. While specifically designed for seventh grade teachers and students in central O’ahu, Restoring Ea could be adapted and used by middle school teachers across the country who are looking to engage their students in meaningful, next generation science learning.

The Restoring Ea unit includes classroom materials and associated professional learning resources. It is now freely available.

About the Unit

Tropical landscape

Restoring Ea is a place-based middle school science unit exploring management strategies that could be used for the Loko ea fishpond to sustainably feed people and ensure the ecosystem is healthy and pono (balanced). This unit honors and leverages traditional and scientific ways of knowing to create experiences that connect students to ‘āina (land) through investigations of place. Focused on ecosystems and food sovereignty, students begin with an exploration of food shortages during emergencies and learn that Hawai’i imports most of its food, including fish. Students wonder how their kūpuna (ancestors) fed themselves prior to importing food. They learn that loko i’a (fishponds) used to feed many people, and one fishpond, Loko ea, is being restored to improve the ecosystem and feed people. Local teachers and students visit Loko ea to kilo (observe), hear mo’olelo (stories) about her past and present, and participate in stewardship activities. In the classroom, teachers help their students investigate the relationships between the desired fish and other key organisms that live at Loko ea. Students consider the ideal environmental conditions for the desired fish and how changes to the environmental conditions affect Loko ea and her organisms.

This unit leverages BSCS’s FieldScope  interactive community & citizen science platform to allow students to investigate environmental data previously collected at Loko ea over time and also to collect additional data themselves.


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funded the co-design and field-testing of this unit.

Allergies affect more than 50 million Americans, and are among the leading causes of chronic disease in the US. One in every 13 children, roughly two students in every classroom, have allergies to food.

To help middle school teachers more effectively teach about food allergies, BSCS Science Learning has developed an online curriculum supplement called Allergies & Scientific Inquiry. Students using this multimedia resource learn how to distinguish food allergies from other negative food reactions. They explore the role of the immune system in causing allergy symptoms and learn how medical research is contributing to better allergy management.

Lessons engage students in the practices of scientific inquiry, and are aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards. Teachers can access instructions for navigating the classroom lessons once logged into the teacher portal.

Is this the right resource for your classroom? Here’s a sample of what students will learn:

  • Allergies involve inappropriate reactions of the immune system.
  • Scientific medical diagnosis of food allergies is critical.
  • The main management option for people with food allergies is avoidance.
  • The management of food allergies is improved if people know how to correctly read food labels.
  • Individuals with food allergies should not be stigmatized.

This resource was supported by a grant (R25 A1098674-01) from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Building upon the success of the BSCS Science: An Inquiry Approach high school program, BSCS Science Learning has developed and field tested* a multidisciplinary science program for middle school students.

BSCS Middle School Science is a standards- and inquiry-based program comprised of four units: Earth/Space Science, Life Science, Physical Science, and Science and Society. Designed for maximum flexibility, the units are grounded by the BSCS 5E Instructional Model and can be adapted for various teaching styles and classroom settings.

The curriculum is available free online for teachers.

*The field test results demonstrated significant content gains across all four units.

This resource was funded by the US Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.