Tag Archives: NGSS

New Grant to Improve Assessment and Instruction in Elementary Science Classrooms

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia, representing more than a third of the U.S. student population, have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) since their release in 2013, and more are expected to follow. To make the most of NGSS, teachers need three-dimensional assessments that integrate disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and science and engineering practices.

We are delighted to collaborate with the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago and UChicago STEM Education on a new grant funded by the National Science Foundation to build teacher capacity and develop and test classroom assessments for formative use that will promote high-quality science instruction and student learning in grades 3-5. These assessments will enable students to put their scientific knowledge into use through engaging in science practices and provide teachers with insight into students’ ability to address specific three-dimensional NGSS standards.

The project will work with teachers and other experts to co-develop formative assessment tasks and associated rubrics, and collect data for evidence-based revision and redesign of the tasks. As teachers are using the assessment tasks in their classrooms, the project will study their usage to further refine teacher materials and to collect evidence of instructional validity. The project will also develop teacher support materials and foster a community around use of the assessment tasks. The goal is to build the capacity of teachers to implement and respond formatively to assessment tasks that are diagnostic and instructionally informative.

The project will seek to answer two research questions:

  • How well do these assessments function with respect to aspects of validity for classroom use, particularly in terms of indicators of student proficiency, and tools to support teacher instructional practice?
  • In what ways do providing these assessment tasks and rubrics, and supporting teachers in their use, advance teachers’ formative assessment practices to support multi-dimensional science instruction?





CODAP Helps Students in Puerto Rico Understand the Effects of Extreme Weather

Students in the Luquillo Schoolyard Project in Puerto Rico are jamming on data. Large, long-term environmental data! And our free, online tool CODAP (Common Online Data Analysis Platform) joined their Data Jam to help students visualize and explore data in an inquiry-oriented way.

El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System, was hit hard in 2017 by Hurricane Maria. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service.)

Data has become increasingly critical to understanding countless issues from business and politics to medicine and the environment. It’s hard to imagine a profession in the future that will not require data analysis skills. But while the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) feature data analysis and interpretation as part of the science and engineering practices, it’s hard for teachers to develop realistic activities using large datasets.

The Luquillo Schoolyard Project has developed a unique way to engage teachers and their students in local environmental issues while learning about big data, science, and research—and they draw and sing, too—all part of a Data Jam!

Data Jam is an outreach project of the National Science Foundation-funded Luquillo Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program in the El Yunque tropical rainforest. Students in a Data Jam work together on real data analysis projects, learning to formulate research questions, explore, analyze, and summarize environmental data, and come up with interpretations.

Students using CODAP to investigate environmental data from El Yunque National Forest during a Data Jam. (Photo: Noelia Báez Rodríguez)

Having recently experienced a drought followed by a Category 4 hurricane, Puerto Rico’s middle and high school students know firsthand the impact of weather on the environment. “It’s extremely impressive how resilient these kids are,” said Steven McGee, research associate professor of learning sciences at Northwestern University and president of The Learning Partnership, during a recent Concord Consortium data science education webinar. “We have kids whose school doesn’t have electricity, but they’re so devoted to science that they are coming out to the rainforest to do research.”

Led by teachers who have completed professional development training, students dive into authentic long-term research data from the Luquillo LTER, the Luquillo Critical Zone Observatory, and the U.S. Geological Survey. “Giving students real scientific datasets to explore introduces the messiness of data analysis that motivates the reasons why students should be engaging in basic data analysis strategies,” says McGee. “If students are only exposed to artificial datasets, the learning of basic analysis techniques seems like school exercises.”

Originally the project used Excel to created graphs, but they recently switched to CODAP, our web-based data analysis and visualization tool. “CODAP provides a platform for students to explore different ways to analyze the data,” McGee explains. “It’s easy for students to generate different types of graphs as a means to examine the data from different perspectives. This feature hopefully enables students to reflect on the type of information that can be gleaned from different types of graphs.”

A student presents her research data at the annual student symposium at the University of Puerto Rico. (Photo: Carla López Lloreda)

Successful Data Jam projects present their findings at a public symposium and poster session at the University of Puerto Rico. “A large number of scientists involved with the LTER program come and interact with the kids,” said Noelia Báez Rodríguez, coordinator of the Luquillo LTER Schoolyard program, during the webinar. Students also develop creative ways to communicate their results, including skits, drawings, short stories, poems, and songs—even a rap.*

If their goal is to get students interested in STEM careers, the Luquillo Schoolyard Project has a lot to jam about. Even in the midst of an ongoing environmental crisis, they’re getting students and teachers excited about data science. We’re proud to be a part of their success.

*By students Paul Ortiz and Jonathan Rodriguez as part of the 2016 Data Jam.


The importance of scientifically literate citizens

At the Concord Consortium our goal is to prepare students to ask questions and use mental models to answer them. Students who develop this habit of mind early on will, we hope, become engaged and scientifically literate adults. And surely they will not lack for important questions to ask!

Here’s an example: According to a recent study published by the National Academy of Sciences, global sea level has increased by more than two inches in this century alone! Why is that happening? People who live on low-lying islands or in coastal cities around the world would really like to know.

Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL), a member of the House Science and Technology Committee and Vice Chair of its Subcommittee on Space, recently proposed a model for this phenomenon. He offered the opinion that a significant cause of the rise in sea level is falling rocks and other erosion, pointing specifically to the California coastline and the White Cliffs of Dover. This debris “forces the sea levels to rise because now you have less space in those oceans because the bottom is moving up,” he explained.

Is he right? Can erosion be causing the rise in sea level? Most important: do you have to be a scientist to address that question?

Actually, anyone can do it. All it takes is a little physics, a little math, and Google.

First, the physics:

  1. When you throw a rock in the ocean, the volume of the ocean goes up by exactly the volume of the rock because…
  2. the water displaced by the rock pushes on the surrounding water and ends up being spread evenly across the surface of the ocean (remember, water is a liquid!).
  3. So the increase in sea level ends up as a thin layer of water—a layer whose volume is equal to that of the rock itself. And the volume of that little layer of water is the vertical rise in sea level times the surface area of the ocean, and that equals the volume of the displaced water, which is just the volume of the rock itself.

Let’s write that up as an equation:

(volume-of-rock) = (surface area of ocean) x (increase in sea level)

Now we need to know the surface area of the ocean. We could estimate it (4/5 of the Earth’s area is ocean, the radius of the Earth is 4000 miles…), or we could Google it.

From Google: The surface area of the Earth’s oceans is 510 million square kilometers.

So to make the sea level rise by one inch we would need to throw in a lot of rocks—or one REALLY BIG rock—whose volume is 1 inch times that surface area. How big is that? Here comes the math!

Let’s put everything in feet, so we can compare. A kilometer is 1000 meters and a meter is about 3.28 feet, so a kilometer is 3280 feet, which makes a square kilometer roughly 10.8 million square feet, which makes 510 million square kilometers, which works out to 5500 million million or 5.5 X 1015 square feet.

So the volume of rock required to raise the ocean level by one inch (1/12 of a foot) is

(5.5/12) X 1015 cubic feet or 0.46 X 1015 cubic feet or 460 trillion cubic feet

How big is 460 trillion? Is it a mountain or a molehill? Turns out, more like a mountain.

Back to Google: The volume of Mount Everest (starting from its base, not from sea level) is 2.1 trillion (2.1 X 1012) cubic feet. So to cause a one-inch rise in sea level you would need to push into the sea

460 / 2.1 = 220 Mount Everests

That’s a lot of rock! Can erosion possibly account for the equivalent of 220 Mount Everests in just a few years? Back to Google…

There’s not a lot of information concerning falling rocks, it turns out, but topsoil erosion is a major concern to a lot of people, so we do know something about that. The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre on Sustainable Resources estimates that 36 billion tons of soil are washed away, worldwide, every year. A cubic foot of rock weighs 150 pounds so all those Mount Everests (2.1 trillion cubic feet’s worth) weigh over 300 trillion pounds. At that rate, it would take almost 9000 years for soil erosion to raise the ocean level by an inch. If rocks and other non-soil debris contributed a similar amount it would still take thousands of years.

The Next Generation Science Standards call for students—and that really applies to all of us!—to learn to use models to answer questions. When we do that it becomes clear that erosion isn’t to blame for the rise in sea level. And the best part? We don’t need to rely on experts, we can figure it out for ourselves!

14 Chances at NSTA 2018 to Learn about Our Work

Are you attending the 2018 NSTA annual conference in Atlanta March 15-18? We’re leading 10 presentations at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) and the Omni Atlanta Hotel at the CNN Center and one short course at the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel. Something for everyone, from modeling science in kindergarten to data science education. Join us for one or more sessions. We’re giving out free STEM resources for K-14! Schedule is below.

Calling all teachers! We want to talk with you at #NSTA18. Tell us what you like about our STEM resources and what could be improved. Don’t miss this chance to give us a piece of your mind! Please complete this short survey to register your interest in connecting with us. We’ll contact you to arrange a short meeting in Atlanta.

You can also tweet your thoughts to @ConcordDotOrg or email projects@concord.org.

THURSDAY, March 15

8:00-9:00 AM, GWCC, A401
“Sensing Science Through Modeling Matter for Kindergarten Students”
Discover models, probes, and online interactive stories.

12:30-1:00 PM, GWCC, A410
“Argumentation and Modeling in Earth Science Using Free Online Modules”
Free Earth system and environmental science simulations and curricula.

3:00-6:00 PM, Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel, Chastain C
SHORT COURSE SC-1: If You Can Think It, You Can Model It
Use our popular SageModeler for modeling complexity and examining behavior.
You can purchase tickets online for this course.

5:00–6:00 PM, GWCC, A408
“Using Models to Support STEM Learning in Grades K–5: Examples and Insights from NSF’s DRK–12 Program”
Discussion centers on research-based examples of how students can engage in modeling in the elementary grades.

FRIDAY, March 16

8:00 AM, GWCC, A301
“Precipitating Change: Embedding Weather into the Middle School Science Classroom”
Everybody has weather! Make meteorology part of STEM learning.

8:00 AM, GWCC, A402
“Using Models to Support STEM Learning in Grades 6-12: Examples and Insights from NSF DRK-12 Program”
What does the research say about modeling practice?

9:30 AM, GWCC, C213
“Powerful Free Simulations for 3-D NGSS Teaching”
Free tips and resources for molecular simulations and curricula.

9:30 AM, GWCC, A301
“Teaching Environmental Sustainability Using a Free Place-Based Watershed Model”
Explore your local watershed with a web-based application.

2:00 PM, GWCC, B102
“NGSS@NSTA Forum Session: Interactions – A Free 3-D Science Curriculum for 9th Grade Physical Science
Atoms and molecules are the foundation to explaining scientific and everyday phenomena.

4:00 PM, Dantanna’s Downtown, One CNN Center, Suite 269
Join our informal Data Science Education Meetup. Get a bite to eat and talk with others about how to empower students with data science skills. And don’t miss tomorrow’s 9:30 AM presentation on data science and CODAP. RSVP dset@concord.org

5:00–6:00 PM, GWCC A301
“Model My Watershed: Using Real Data to Make Watershed Decisions”
Learn about an exciting free online modeling application that gives anyone the ability to use STEM practices to explore their local watershed.

SATURDAY, March 17

9:30 AM, Omni Atlanta Hotel at the CNN Center, Dogwood A
“Introducing Students to Data Science with Simulations & Interactive Graphing”
No coding required! Learn about CODAP (Common Online Data Analysis Platform), a free online tool for data analysis.

12:30 PM, GWCC, A313
“Systems Thinking, Modeling and Climate Change”
Explore a free, open-source modeling tool for climate change. Free e-book, too!

2:00 PM, GWCC, C206
“Liven Up Your Labs with Free 3-D Learning Tools and Resources”
Learn science by doing science. Adapt your labs using new tools.

Lights, camera, action: A video that introduces the NGSS practice of scientific argumentation

Following the recommendation to incorporate the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) science and engineering practices in their classrooms, schools across the country are looking for ways to integrate scientific argumentation into their curriculum. Since 2012 the High-Adventure Science project in collaboration with National Geographic Education has offered free online modules for Earth and space science topics—including climate change, freshwater availability, the future of energy sources, air quality, land management, and the search for life in the universe—that include multiple opportunities for students to engage in argument from evidence.

Over 67,000 teachers and students across the globe have used High-Adventure Science modules. Based on teacher feedback, classroom observations, and analysis of student data, we have learned that when students engage in argumentation from data and model-based evidence, they need a lot of support on how to write a convincing argument.

Last year, we added an introductory activity to each module where students learn about the component parts of a scientific argument before they are asked to write one. In this highly scaffolded task, students see written examples of a claim and explanation and learn about uncertainty in scientific data and how to express this uncertainty. In High-Adventure Science, argumentation takes a special form, including a multiple-choice structured claim, open-ended explanation, five-point Likert scale uncertainty rating, and uncertainty rationale.

In this introductory activity, students learn about the components of a good explanation.

Even with this new activity, some students still struggled, so we recently created an animated video to introduce the scientific practice of developing an argument. We start by helping students identify the difference between a scientific argument and so-called “arguments” they may have with their friends (e.g., arguing about favorite ice cream flavors!), and making the distinction between claims backed by evidence and opinion. The goal is to introduce students to scientific arguments in a fun and relatable way and to make the terminology and process of scientific argumentation less daunting.

We’re piloting the video in our Will there be enough fresh water? module for select students. We’re looking forward to student and teacher feedback and may revise the video based on their comments. We want everyone to be able to engage in the critical practice of arguing from evidence.

We welcome your comments about our video, as well as your challenges and successes with incorporating the NGSS practice of engaging in argument from evidence.

Exploring hurricane datasets in the classroom

In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey evolved from a series of thunderstorms to one of the first major hurricane landfalls in the United States since early 2005. Right on the heels of Harvey, Hurricane Irma blasted through the Caribbean and onto the U.S. mainland, striking Florida in early September.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which aims to understand and predict changes in weather, provides educational resources and datasets about hurricanes.

The dataset for 2005-2015 is available in our Common Online Data Analysis Platform (CODAP), a free and open-source web-based data analysis tool, geared toward middle and high school students.

Screenshot of NOAA hurricane data embedded in our Common Online Data Analysis Platform.

With all the current catastrophic news about hurricanes, students have lots of questions. Use the data to help them understand the history and characteristics of storms.

  • To investigate the paths that hurricanes generally follow, use the slider to change the year from 2005 to 2015, and watch the data points on the map, which represent the general path of the storms.
  • To determine the storm with the highest wind speed, click the top data point in the wind speed graph, which plots year against highest wind speed. Since data is linked across multiple representations, the data point is highlighted on the graph and in the table, so you can find the name and date of that particular storm (e.g., Wilma, October 15, 2005, with top wind speeds of 160 mph).
  • To learn which year had the most or least number of storms, look at the storms per year graph. Notice an outlier in the data with year 2005, which had 15 storms during that season. (Note: This was the same year as Hurricane Katrina. Select KATRINA in the table and make sure the slider is set to 2005, then see the path of the hurricane graphed on the map.)
  • To see a relationship between wind and pressure, click on the Graph button. Drag the Maximum Wind column header from the table to the vertical (y) axis until the axis turns yellow. Drag the Minimum Pressure to the horizontal (x) axis until the axis turns yellow. (Note: you may need to scroll to the far right of the Case Table to see these columns.) 

Analyzing and interpreting data is one of the key science and engineering practices of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and representing and interpreting data are featured throughout the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for mathematics. Students can use publicly available datasets from storms and other weather events to learn more about the world around them.

Chinese translation of SageModeler systems dynamics modeling tool

In June, Professor Silvia Wen-Yu Lee and her team at the National Changhua University of Education in Central Taiwan offered a 10-hour modeling curriculum to approximately 100 seventh grade students. Students used a new Chinese language version of SageModeler to model the relationship between marine biology and human activity in a unit about environmental conservation.

SageModeler is a free, web-based systems dynamics modeling tool for middle and high school students to construct dynamic models. SageModeler is being developed by the Building Models project, a collaboration between the Concord Consortium and the CREATE for STEM Institute at Michigan State University (MSU).

Professor Lee met Joe Krajcik, one of the lead writers of the Next Generation Science Standards and Principal Investigator (PI) of the Building Models project at MSU, where she had served as a visiting professor in 2014. Dan Damelin is the project’s PI at the Concord Consortium. Thanks to this fortuitous collaboration, Lee and her team translated SageModeler into Chinese, and her students are now taking advantage of this easy-to-use tool to create dynamic systems models.

Students building models with SageModeler. 

“The students learned how to draw models instantly after a brief demonstration,” Lee noted. “Our teachers were amazed by the students’ level of engagement and by the students’ attention to the relationships when they are working together on the SageModeler. ” Professor Lee and her colleagues at the National Changhua University of Education hope to understand how the students develop competencies in model building and whether they develop clear understandings of the causal and dynamic relationships in marine biology and human activity (fishing) through modeling.

Sample student model from a seventh grade Taiwanese student.

You can build your own model in five easy steps.

  1. Open SageModeler (in English or Chinese)

  2. Add variables to the canvas
    First, brainstorm factors that affect marine biology. What contributes to it and what is affected by it? Now, add images for each variable to the canvas.

  3. Link variables and set relationships
    Draw links from one variable to another and select from a menu to set the relationships between those variables. By using words and pictures of graphs, students can define the underlying equations that will be used to run the model.

  4. Run the model
    Open the simulation controls and run the model to collect data. Adjust the model settings to see how changing the variables affects the outcome. Does the model output data make sense? Does it match real-world data? Are the relationships between variables set up appropriately?

  5. Revise and expand your model
    Revise your model to better match the phenomenon you are modeling. For example, you may want to add more variables. As you continue to ask new questions, you can revise your model and deepen your understanding of the system.

We are currently working on additional internationalization efforts, including Turkish and Spanish translations. Interested in learning more or contributing a translation? Contact us.

National Teacher Appreciation Day & Teaching System Modeling with SageModeler

We are delighted to highlight the work of Erin Cothran from Hudson (Massachusetts) High School, for National Teacher Appreciation Day! Erin is teaching a 10th grade chemistry unit she developed based on the driving question, “How can something that can’t be seen crush a 67,000 lb. oil tanker made of half-inch steel?” The unit includes four activities:

  • Why do my ears hurt when I dive in the deep end of the pool?
  • Why do I have to let air out of my car tires in the summer but add more air to my tires in the winter?
  • Why does a soda can explode if it is left unopened and in a hot car?
  • How can a big metal drum be crushed using air pressure?

Each activity includes opportunities for students to build, test, and revise systems models using our free, web-based SageModeler dynamic modeling software.

Erin said, “Using SageModeler has changed how I teach about systems modeling. With the the Next Generation Science Standards being adopted by many schools, modeling has become a main focus of lessons. Working with SageModeler over the past year has allowed me insight into how computer models can be used to help answer questions.”

“I am able to facilitate my students’ learning about the components that make good models effective,” she noted. “Even more importantly, students are discovering that models need to be adjusted as science evolves, that it is okay to not get it correct on the first attempt. Through learning how to build models they are able to define relationships between variables and test their ideas. They love picking custom images, making links, and running the simulation to see the outcomes.”

Dan Damelin, a Principal Investigator of our Building Models project, which is developing SageModeler, reports, “Erin is a very thoughtful teacher who engages students by using the models they generate to drive class discussion.”

The Building Models project is a collaboration between the Concord Consortium and the CREATE for STEM Institute at Michigan State University. The project is researching how the use of a semi-quantitative systems dynamics tool to construct external models helps students build mental models as well as how teachers and curriculum materials can support and scaffold student learning with respect to the interplay between external and internal models. We look forward to learning more from Erin and all the Building Models research teachers.

Evo-Ed Integrative Cases will be enriched to address NGSS

A new collaborative research project at the Concord Consortium and Michigan State University will develop and research learning materials on the molecular and cellular basis for genetics and the process of evolution by natural selection. These two areas are both difficult to teach and learn, and although they have been historically taught separately, they are interlinked and span multiple levels of organization. The goal of Connected Biology: Three-dimensional learning from molecules to populations is to design, develop, and examine the learning outcomes of a new connected curriculum unit for biology that embodies the conceptual framework of the Next Generation Science Standards.

Peter White, science education researcher and entomologist at Michigan State University (MSU); Louise Mead, Education Director at the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action at MSU; and postdoctoral fellow Alexa Warwick at the BEACON Center visited the Concord Consortium recently to plan our joint work together. Frieda Reichsman and Paul Horwitz will serve as the Principal Investigator and Co-PI at the Concord Consortium.

The new units will leverage the contextually rich Evo-Ed Integrative Cases, which build directly on the interlinked nature of evolution and genetics and connect the science ideas with meaningful real-world examples. The Evo-Ed case studies track the evolution of traits from their origination in DNA mutation, to the production of different proteins, to the fixation of alternate macroscopic phenotypes in reproductively isolated populations. For example, the Evolution of Lactase Persistence case study examines the genetics, cell biology, anthropology, and biogeography of this system.

The human lactase protein, above, is made from the lactase gene, a 55,000 basepair segment of the second chromosome.

The curriculum will integrate the three dimensions of science—the core ideas of biology, the science and engineering practices, and the crosscutting concepts—to support all students in building toward deep understandings of biological phenomena. The project will be guided by two main research questions:

  1. How does learning progress when students experience a set of coherent biology learning materials that employ the principles of three-dimensional learning?
  2. How do students’ abilities to transfer understanding about the relationships between molecules, cells, organisms, and evolution change over time and from one biological phenomenon to another?

Note: If you’ve used the Evo-Ed cases in your classroom, we’d love to get your feedback! Please respond to this short survey to be entered into a drawing to receive a $50 Amazon gift card.