Category Archives: Curriculum

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 gene (LCT) is a 55 kilo-base pair 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.

Teaching about water quality and the importance of fresh water

A new resolution may overturn the Interior Department’s “Stream Protection Rule,” which required coal mining companies to monitor and test the quality of local streams and rivers before, during, or after mining operations. There is no better time than the present to learn about the importance of water issues in our communities and environment. Three Concord Consortium projects focus on teaching middle and high school students about their local watersheds, careers in environmental conservation, and freshwater availability, and all of them offer free, high-quality resources ideal for classrooms or informal education settings.

The Teaching Environmental Sustainability: Model My Watershed project, a collaborative research project at the Concord Consortium, Millersville University, and the Stroud Water Research Center, has developed curricula for environmental/geoscience disciplines for high school classrooms, using the Model My Watershed (MMW) web-based application. The curricula also integrate low-cost environmental sensors, allowing students to collect and upload their own data and compare them to data visualized on the new MMW.

In Supporting Collaborative Inquiry, Engineering, and Career Exploration with Water (Water SCIENCE), middle school students from southern Arizona, central valley California, southeastern Pennsylvania, and eastern Massachusetts complete hands-on science and engineering activities, receive guidance and instruction from undergraduate and graduate student mentors, interact online with STEM professionals, and learn about careers in environmental conservation and engineering while investigating their community’s local water resources.

Melinda Daniels, Associate Research Scientist at the Stroud Water Research Center, describes her work. Watch additional videos about water scientists and environmental conservationists »

And in our High-Adventure Science project, we’ve developed a unit entitled “Will there be enough fresh water?” Students explore the distribution and uses of fresh water on Earth. They run experiments with computational models to explore the flow of groundwater, investigate the relationship of groundwater levels to rainfall and human impact, and hear from a hydrologist working on the same question. Students think about how to assess the sustainability of water usage locally and globally while considering their own water usage. Use these great resources today to help students understand critical water issues!


Students use computational models to explore water extraction from aquifers in urban and rural areas.

High-Adventure Science Partnership with National Geographic Education

We are excited to announce that the Concord Consortium’s High-Adventure Science modules are now available on the National Geographic Education website, thanks to a National Science Foundation-funded partnership with National Geographic Education. High-Adventure Science modules have been used by thousands of students so far, and we welcome the opportunity to share our modules with a wider audience of middle and high school teachers and students. All modules will continue to be available on the High-Adventure Science website.

High-Adventure Science: Bringing contemporary science into the classroom

Each week-long High-Adventure Science module is built around an important unanswered question in Earth or environmental science; topics include fresh water availability, climate change, the future of our energy sources, air quality, land management, and the search for life in the universe.

Throughout each module, students learn about the framing question, experiment with interactive computer models, analyze real world data, and attempt to answer the same questions as research scientists. We don’t expect that students will be able to answer the framing questions at the end of the module (after all, scientists are still working to answer them!); rather, we want to engage students in the process of doing science, building arguments around evidence and data and realizing that not knowing the answers (uncertainty) drives scientific progress.

To that end, each module (and associated pre- and post-tests) contains several scientific argumentation item sets. The argumentation item set, with multiple-choice and open-ended questions, prompts students to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the provided data (graphs, models, tables, or text). Our research has shown that, after using High-Adventure Science modules, students improve both their understanding of the science content and their scientific argumentation skills. Register for a free account on the High-Adventure Science portal for access to pre- and post-tests.

Expanded teacher resources through National Geographic Education

Partnering with National Geographic Education has allowed us to provide more support for teachers. On the National Geographic Education website, you’ll find in-depth teaching tips, background information, vocabulary definitions, and links to the standards (NSES, Common Core, ISTE, and NGSS) to which our curricula are aligned. Additionally, each module is linked to related resources in the National Geographic catalog, greatly expanding the resources available to both teachers and students.

Teachers have been excited about the models, real world data, and the argumentation prompts that get students to focus on the evidence when making a scientific claim. (You can hear directly from one of the High-Adventure Science field test teachers at NSTA!)

Come see us at NSTA in Nashville, TN, this week! Stop by the National Geographic booth or come to a presentation about using High-Adventure Science modules in your classroom:

  • “High-Adventure Science: Free Simulations Exploring Earth’s Systems and Sustainability” on Thursday, March 31, from 12:30-1:00 PM in Music City Center, 106A
  • “Integrating Literacy Standards in Science” on Sunday, April 3, from 8:00-9:00 AM in Music City Center, 209A


How to Teach About Climate?

Global temperatures in the year 2010 are on course to be the highest ever in 130-year record. This is the consensus of recent three different analyses by NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center and a joint record kept by Britain’s Met Office and the University of East Anglia. While these results do not prove that the long-term trend will continue, the conclusions add to a growing mountain of data and models that do predict catastrophic global temperature rise over the next half-century. Scientists who specialize in climate have carefully weighed all the evidence and an overwhelming number agree.

A snapshot of the stylized model of the atmosphere and oceans that students can investigate from the High Adventure Science activity on Climate Change. Programmed in NetLogo  by Bob Tinker. A snapshot of the stylized model of the atmosphere and oceans that students can investigate from the High Adventure Science activity on Climate Change. Programmed in NetLogo by Bob Tinker.

There is a rising chorus of “deniers,” people who deny the data and projections. These are not skeptics who look at the data and draw serious opinions. Serious skepticism is an important part of science. The deniers are “contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks, and industry [spokesmen, who have] created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change.” The deniers claim, without proof, that the scientific case has not been made, that certain scientists are lying, even though investigations have cleared them, assert that climate change is benign, and even claim that the covenant God made with Noah will protect us. This is not science, it is propaganda.

The public is confused about these public debates and is increasingly convinced that they reflect true scientific uncertainty. Gallup polls show the percent of the population that thinks that the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated has grown from 30%in 2006 to 41% in 2009.

It is important to go to the root of the problem: a poorly educated nation that is unequipped to tell the difference between science and propaganda. An example of what is needed is an engaging activity we created on climate that is designed to help students understand the possible causes of climate change and appreciate the issues involved. Our key innovation is an interactive model that incorporates many of the important factors that influence climate such as clouds, CO2, water vapor, ice sheets, ocean absorption of greenhouse gasses. Students can learn for themselves about the interactions of these factors by experimenting with the model. The model is not intended to be predictive—that requires the most powerful computers that exist—but it does illustrate many of the dynamic features in the scientist’s models.

Materials based on this model should help students understand the science, but science educators need to go one step farther and help students understand the difference between science and propaganda. We need to engage students in thoughtful debate about the issue so they can form their own opinion. We should care less about what those opinions are than that they are backed by an understanding of the science and the process of science. This is why every student needs a better understanding of science.