Category Archives: Science Instruction

Teaching Common Core Thinking Skills in Science Class [LESSON]

Over the past several months, I’ve been working to figure out how to best integrate the Common Core State Standards into my sixth grade science classroom.  Given the literacy-heavy nature of the Common Core, integrating the new standards into science classes can be pretty darn intimidating for most of us non-language-arts folks.

A book that I’ve embraced, though, has made the process easier and more approachable.

Titled How to Teach Thinking Skills Within the Common Core, it argues that all teachers can make contributions to student mastery of the Common Core by systematically introducing students to the kinds of thinking skills that are scattered throughout the new curriculum.  Look closely at any of the standards and you’ll see that students are asked to analyze, synthesize, compare and contrast, and evaluate time and again — and analyzing, synthesizing, comparing and contrasting and evaluating can happen in every single class, every single day.

So what I’ve started to do is develop lessons that give students to practice these skills on a regular basis in my science class. Here are two examples:

Determining the Best Way to Build a Pizza Box Oven

As a part of our required science curriculum, students have to learn about the Law of Conservation of Energy — or the notion that energy is never created or destroyed, it just changes forms.  To demonstrate this concept in action, we made pizza box ovens to cook S’mores right before Thanksgiving.  My primary goal was to help students recognize that light energy can be converted into heat energy.

To jack the Common Core value of this lesson, I borrowed a strategy from How to Teach Thinking Skills Within the Common Core and taught my students a systematic process for making a determination.  You can see the handout I used for the lesson here.  You can see student responses to the handout here and here.

Evaluating Pizza Box Ovens

When our pizza box ovens were complete, we took some time to evaluate the effectiveness of our design.  Not only is this a good practice that science teachers often use in their classrooms, it is a thinking skill that students are expected to master as a part of the Common Core — and it is a thinking skill outlined in How to Teach Thinking Skills Within the Common Core.

You can see the handout that I used to guide the students through a more formal set of steps for evaluating here.  You can see student responses to the handout here and here.

What I like the best about the strategies outlined in How to Teach Thinking Skills Within the Common Core is that I’m already teaching these kinds of skills in the science classroom.  Determining and evaluating have always played a role in the work that I do with kids.  If a first step towards integrating the Common Core into my science classroom is as easy as working to show my students a more formalized process to tackle these skills, then I’m in.


Semi-snarky Author’s Note: In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that How To Teach Thinking Skills in the Common Core is a Solution Tree title and I am a Solution Tree author.  Could be a conflict of interest, right?  Maybe I’m just recommending the book because I want to push profits into the corporate maw?

They didn’t make me write this post, though.   Nobody makes me do anything — except for my 4 year old daughter and sometimes my wife.

If you reckon that I’m biased, then don’t use the free lessons I’ve just given you!


Related Radical Reads:

What Role Should Standards Play in Your Teaching? [SLIDE]

Teaching Nonfiction Reading Skills in the Science Classroom [LESSON]


Introducing Common Core Reading Skills to Teachers [ACTIVITY]

In April, I’ll be delivering a two-day training session in California that is designed to introduce science and social studies teachers to the role that they can play in implementing the Common Core.

My goal is to help skeptical teachers better understand the kinds of literacy skills that the Common Core expects students to master and then to identify activities that can be easily integrated into the work that they are already doing in their classrooms.  Given my extensive background as a middle grades language arts teacher and my current position as a middle grades science teacher, I’m having a ton of fun pulling materials together for this workshop.

If you are working to help teachers better understand the Common Core, you might be interested in the activity that I plan to open my workshop with:

In it, participants wrestle with whether or not national standards are a good idea for America by exploring a New York Times Room for Debate segment that spotlights several different perspectives on the issue.  While reading, participants are asked to complete four different tasks ranging from finding common arguments in the positions of different authors and identifying tangible evidence used to defend those arguments to spotting gaps in the logic of each author and summarizing what they’ve learned.

All of the tasks are tied directly to one of the Common Core Literacy in History/Social Studies standards, making them perfect for introducing teachers to the core behaviors that students should be mastering as readers of nonfiction content.  Better yet, all of the tasks are likely to be approachable to science and social studies teachers because this is the kind of work that we’ve done informally with our students for years.  My hope is that once participants see a tangible example of a Common Core lesson in action, they will be FAR less intimidated by the thought of incorporating more literacy work into their daily planning.

If you decide to use this with your teachers, I’d LOVE to hear how it works.  More importantly, I’d love to hear how you modify it to make it better.


 Related Radical Reads:

Teaching Nonfiction Reading Skills in the Science Classroom

Teaching Innovation with the Curiosity Box

More on Teaching Innovation with the Curiosity Box

Five YouTube Channels for #scichat Nation

I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m looking to learn something new, one of the first places that I turn is YouTube.  The quality of the video content uploaded there every day just plain blows my mind.  Not only can I find information on darn near anything, most of the time the content that I am finding is polished better than the video content I find in education-specific video libraries.

Here are five YouTube channels that members of #scichat nation are bound to find interesting and/or useful in their daily instruction:

Steve Spangler Science – I really hate to admit it, but since stumbling across his YouTube channel a few months back, I’ve become a bit of a Steve Spangler groupie.  Steve’s goal is to share examples of short demonstrations that model key science concepts in action.  What I love about the videos is that they are all INCREDIBLY doable — especially considering that Steve includes links to further directions and descriptions of the science behind what you are seeing in each video.

I’ve probably used four of Steve’s demos this year — and could see myself sharing this channel with students looking for a good science fair project to tackle.  Need an example of Spangler Science in action?  Then check out this video on microwaving Ivory soap.

ASAP Science – ASAP Science has a simple goal:  To introduce viewers to the science in their own lives through weekly videos.  Using hand-drawn graphics that are visually engaging, they explain difficult concepts by answering interesting questions in short video clips that can hold the attention of any student.  Need an example of ASAP Science in action?  Then check out this video on why people’s ears get worse over time.

Head Squeeze – Self-described as a mix of science, technology, history and current affairs, the Head Squeeze station — led by James May of Top Gear fame — whips up engaging videos that are related to trending topics happening in the news.  Need an example of Head Squeeze in action?  Then check out this video on how to survive a volcanic eruption.

Crash Course – Like the Head Squeeze channel, Crash Course isn’t JUST for science teachers.  In fact, brothers John and Hank Green are regularly producing videos about US History, World History and Literature too.  The videos on Crash Course are different, though, in that they are designed to give viewers a 10-minute animated introduction to important concepts.  Need an example of Crash Course in action?  Then check out this video on the Periodic Table of the Elements.

VSauce – VSauce, a channel created by Michael Stevens of TedxVienna fame, is probably one of the most content-heavy channels on this list of recommended sites.  Tackling the science behind interesting questions asked by viewers, Michael and his team of contributors are one of the places where I learn the most as a teacher.  While I don’t always share his videos with my middle schoolers simply because they are too complex, each view pushes my own thinking around the science in the world around me.  Need an example of VSauce in action?  Then check out this video on the way that our eyes process color.

I also check out the following channels on a pretty regular basis — both for ideas about activities that I could use in my classroom and for inspiration:

Household Hacker – A cool site that shows you how to use ordinary household objects to do downright remarkable things.  Great for engineering and design ideas.

Earth Unplugged – A site dedicated to giving people an amazing look at the beauty in the natural world around them.

SciShow – A side project of Hank Green, one of the brothers involved in the Crash Course site listed above, that is focused only on the answers to interesting science questions.

The Discovery Slowdown – A Discovery Education channel that is accurately described as “awesome brain-candy.”  Takes slow-motion footage of cool things like burning whips and then explains the science behind what you are seeing.

So what YouTube channels are you watching?  Share the best in the comment section below!


Related Radical Reads:

Resources for my Scichat Homies: Introducing the Elements

Resources for my Scichat Homies: Student Project Challenges

Teaching Innovation with the Curiosity Box