MainePSP: a test bed for teaching practices aligned with A Framework for K-12 Science Education

Thank you to our friends at the University of Maine RiSE (Research in STEM Education) Center for this post to the SciTech Framework Blog. 



As readers of this blog already know, A Framework for K-12 Science Education describes an approach to science teaching that differs from traditional instruction. Traditional approaches focus primarily on students’ learning about science content. With a traditional approach students might also learn about scientific practices, but the tendency in many classrooms has been to treat scientific practices as a topic to learn in addition to the content.

The vision of the Framework promotes instruction where “students, over multiple years of school, actively engage in science and engineering practices and apply crosscutting concepts to deepen their understanding of each field’s disciplinary core ideas (p. 2).” The Framework requires that students demonstrate understanding of core ideas through engagement in practices and crosscutting concepts.

Teacher and students at Troy Middle School measuring.

Teacher and students at Troy Middle School measuring. – From Bangor Daily News files.

The Maine Physical Sciences Partnership (MainePSP) brings together rural Maine school districts, the University of Maine, the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education, the Maine Department of Education, and several education- focused nonprofit organizations to build a sustainable infrastructure that strengthens rural science education. Supported by a $12 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the key initiatives of the MainePSP include science teacher recruitment, retention and preparation, teaching and learning of physical science in the critical grade range of 6th-9th, and research informing future rural education initiatives. Some of the work now underway addresses aspects of the K-12 Framework.

Troy Howard student pouring water.  - From Bangor Daily News files

Troy Howard student pouring water. – From Bangor Daily News files.

One of the MainePSP project’s core innovations is the selection and collective implementation of research-based science curricular materials. The middle school partnership selected two different sets of materials: Issues and Earth Science from SEPUP (Science Education for Public Understanding Project) for grade 6 and PBIS (Project-Based Inquiry Science) for force and motion, energy and chemistry, typically in grade 7 or 8. Grade 9 teachers selected EarthCOMM (Earth System Science in the Community) as the set of foundational materials. Each set of materials contains elements that are aligned with aspects of the Framework.

The common instructional resources in the MainePSP provide a basis for shared experiences and rich conversations among teachers and University of Maine STEM and education faculty as they discover together how to strengthen science teaching and learning. The most important conversations reflect the Framework’s increased priority on the learning of scientific practices and on the integration of those practices with science content learning. With the collaborating teachers, the MainePSP faculty is studying and working through some of the issues that allteachers will face as they implement Next Generation Science Standards, built upon the ideas expressed in the Framework.

Many findings are emerging from the MainePSP study. One important finding suggests that there are three commonly held conceptions of learning progress that are potentially at odds with framework instruction. They are that learning should be Definite, Rapid, and Extensive:

• Definite – students should learn something once correctly, and  then and move on. They should have a visible gain in proficiency or knowledge over a short time period.

• Rapid – Students should have rapidly expanding experience and a rapid progress through the curriculum.

• Extensive – should have exposure to a large volume of content.

On the surface, these three conceptions of progress are attractive. Of course we all would like definite, rapid, and extensive progress that results in a lot of learning! Framework-aligned learning, particularly the learning of science practices and the critical thinking that the practices require, develops slowly over many repetitions; its progress is sometimes difficult to perceive, and it is, of course, not voluminous.

The MainePSP’s work with teachers across many different schools also provides evidence that it is not just the teachers who will need to develop new ways to think about student progress as science instruction aligns with the Framework. The teachers work in contexts that are shaped by expectations from building administrators, parents, school districts, state standards, and state assessments. The MainePSP sees the adoption and enactment of Framework-style instruction as a community-driven endeavor that will take place over a period of years.

The MainePSP, with its engagement from curriculum coordinators and whole school districts, provides a unique opportunity to encounter and work through the challenges of moving toward Framework-aligned instruction across the whole system of supports for science education in Maine school districts. It is our hope that lessons learned from this Partnership will inform the adoption and enactment of instruction congruent with the new Framework and the forthcoming Next Generation Science Standards.


Tools to enhance Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Practice 4

This practice is all about making the thinking visible and we are lucky!

The MLTI tools provide a rich set of tools to support analyzing and interpreting data AND provides a great context for collaborating with teachers of mathematics. Some of the tools offer similar features so you and your students can choose the one that is the best fit.

As always let’s consider what the Framework says about the progression of analyzing and interpreting data from the elementary level through high school.

At the elementary level, students need support to recognize the need to record observations—whether in drawings, words, or numbers—and to share them with others. As they engage in scientific inquiry more deeply, they should begin to collect categorical or numerical data for presentation in forms that facilitate interpretation, such as tables and graphs. When feasible, computers and other digital tools should be introduced as a means of enabling this practice.

In middle school, students should have opportunities to learn standard techniques for displaying, analyzing, and interpreting data; such techniques include different types of graphs, the identification of outliers in the data set, and averaging to reduce the effects of measurement error. Students should also be asked to explain why these techniques are needed.

As students progress through various science classes in high school and their investigations become more complex, they need to develop skill in additional techniques for displaying and analyzing data, such as x-y scatterplots or cross- tabulations to express the relationship between two variables. Students should be helped to recognize that they may need to explore more than one way to display their data in order to identify and present significant features. They also need opportunities to use mathematics and statistics to analyze features of data such as covariation. Also at the high school level, students should have the opportunity to use a greater diversity of samples of scientific data and to use computers or other digital tools to support this kind of analysis.

Students should be expected to use some of these same techniques in engineering as well. When they do so, it is important that they are made cognizant of the purpose of the exercise—that any data they collect and analyze are intended to help validate or improve a design or decide on an optimal solution.

Screen shot 2012-11-25 at 5.02.53 PM

Numbers – Students can use this software to enter, display, and analyze data in tables, spread sheets, and variety of graphs.

Screen shot 2012-11-25 at 5.04.02 PM

Data Studio – Students can collect realtime data using PASPORT sensors OR  enter data from other sources to create graphs.   Students can use a variety of tools to analyze, summarize, and display their results.

Screen shot 2013-01-06 at 6.57.20 PM

Students can quickly sketch a graph and then extract data from it in a number of ways. It is very useful as a way to show trends and concepts without needing extensive data sets.

Screen shot 2012-11-25 at 5.04.42 PM

Logger Pro – Students can collect realtime data using Vernier probes OR enter data from other sources to create graphs.   Students can use a variety of tools to analyze, summarize, and display their results.

Screen shot 2012-12-31 at 1.22.07 PM

Bento – This is a database  management tool. Students can sort and create reports from their data.  There are a number of templates that students can customize.  For example, could image students modifying the Exercise Log to collect data for a heart rate lab. The program creates entry sheets for data that are dropped onto a spread sheet.

Screen shot 2012-11-25 at 5.07.27 PM

GeoGebra – Students can use this geometry software to create and analyze constructions. This is a powerful geometry, algebra and calculus application and a perfect complement to science.

Screen shot 2012-12-31 at 1.24.19 PM

Grapher – This tool is pretty sophisticated.  It can create 2D and 3D graphs from simple and complex equations. It includes a variety of samples including differential equations.  It is also capable of dealing with functions and compositions of them. Grapher is able to create animations of graphs by changing constants or rotating them in space.

Screen shot 2012-11-25 at 5.09.53 PM

MyWorld GIS – Students can import GIS databases from the web and analyze geographic data. This offers a very different window on data visualization.

Screen shot 2012-12-31 at 11.50.22 AM
PhotoBooth – Students can record and compare photographic observations.

Sketch Up Pro Logo

SketchUp – This program should also be considered an analysis tool. Students can use Sketch up to test 3D models. By making creating prototypes in SketchUp students can test the practicality and feasibility of their ideas.
And . . . don’t forget that you can listen to the NSTA webinar on Analyzing and Interpreting Data with Dr. Ann Rivet from Teachers College Columbia University.

Tools to enhance Planning and Carrying Out Investigations: Practice 3

Happy 2013!

I am kicking of the New Year with the third in a series of posts designed to identify MLTI tools that can be used to enhance science practices.  Teachers throughout the Maine already support students to plan and carry out investigations. The good news is that are several GREAT tools on the MLTI device that you can use to expand the ways you can engage students directly in investigation.

First, let’s take a moment to consider what the Framework says about planning and carrying out investigations. The excerpt below describing the progression of planning and carrying out investigations includes teacher-guided and student-directed experiences.  Virtual investigations can provide more opportunity for both.

Students need opportunities to design investigations so that they can learn the importance of such decisions as what to measure, what to keep constant, and how to select or construct data collection instruments that are appropriate to the needs of an inquiry. They also need experiences that help them recognize that the laboratory is not the sole domain for legitimate scientific inquiry and that, for many scientists (e.g., earth scientists, ethologists, ecologists), the “laboratory” is the natural world where experiments are conducted and data are collected in the field. . .

Students should have opportunities to plan and carry out several different kinds of investigations during their K-12 years. At all levels, they should engage in investigations that range from those structured by the teacher—in order to expose an issue or question that they would be unlikely to explore on their own (e.g., measuring specific properties of materials)—to those that emerge from students’ own questions. As they become more sophisticated, students also should have opportunities not only to identify questions to be researched but also to decide what data are to be gathered, what variables should be controlled, what tools or instruments are needed to gather and record data in an appropriate format, and eventually to consider how to incorporate measurement error in analyzing data.

Older students should be asked to develop a hypothesis that predicts a particular and stable outcome and to explain their reasoning and justify their choice. By high school, any hypothesis should be based on a well-developed model or theory. In addition, students should be able to recognize that it is not always possible to control variables and that other methods can be used in such cases—for example, looking for correlations (with the understanding that correlations do not necessarily imply causality).

Screen shot 2012-11-25 at 4.49.40 PM

NetLogo – Students can manipulate variables in existing models to explore phenomena in biology, chemistry and physics, and systems dynamics to name a just a few of the collections in the models library. Students can also adapt and develop models to test new assumptions.

Maine Explorer – Students can run, and see the effects of, preset investigations for five ecological scenarios.  Students can also investigate the effects of changing the rules of the scenario in Program a Bunny.  Teachers may download a full curriculum from the project website.

Molecular Workbench – Students can manipulate the models to investigate aspects of molecular interaction.  As an example students can manipulate the influence of the number of  atoms and the temperature to better understand Brownian motion.

Geniquest – Students can design their own crossbreeding experiments with  fantasy dragons. The ability of this program to “see” chromosomes, alleles, and genes in addition to the physical features of the dragon make the investigations appropriate at a variety of levels, from discussions of the heritability of traits at middle school to discussions of cross-over at high school .

Screen shot 2012-12-31 at 11.49.45 AM

Wolf Quest – Let me start by saying I LOVE this simulation (game)!   By becoming immersed in a model of “being” a wolf, students can investigate the complexity of a wolf’s ecological niche and investigate what happens when a wolf changes its interaction with the environment.

Screen shot 2012-12-31 at 11.50.22 AM

PhotoBooth – Allows students to investigate phenomenon around them by recording photographic observations comparing changes.

MyWorld and Google Earth – Allow students to investigate relationships among many different types of datasets. This tools provides a great way to develop the understanding in the Framework “that it is not always possible to control variables and that other methods can be used in such cases—for example, looking for correlations (with the understanding that correlations do not necessarily imply causality).”

Suggestions for reviewing and providing input to the next public draft of the Next Generation Science Standards

Reviewing the NGSS can be an overwhelming task, particularly if you do not have a significant amount of time to do so. This post provides suggestions that may be helpful to encourage quality input to the standards. Individuals may review only a portion of the standards but collectively many people across the state will have contributed to the review of the entire document.

In your review I encourage you to:

  • remember that standards are an articulation of desired student outcomes; standards are not an articulation of curriculum or instructional methodology; and
  • comment on both specific standards (performance expectations) and broad design features or assumptions.

To pull this off, I suggest three key steps to effectively provide input: 1. Chose a focus; 2. Collaborate and discuss with others (if possible); and 3. Provide input via the NGSS survey.

I.  Choose a focus.

The NGSS is fairly lengthy and may be too much for one individual to review the entire set in the time available. Below are three suggestions for reviewing a subset of the NGSS document. You may want to review the survey questions (see III. below) and the broad design features or assumptions prior to doing your review.

Review the K-12 progression of standards through a particular core idea or topic.

For instance, review all the standards associated with the core idea Physical Science 1: Matter and its Interactions. Through all grades. This would include any standard aligned to PS1.A: Structure and Properties of Matter; PS1.B: Chemical Reactions; and PS1.C: Nuclear Processes in all grade levels. Alternatively, follow the progression of the topic Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems (IRE). This would include all the standards in that topic through the grade spans.

Review the full set of standards (all disciplines) at a particular grade or grade span.

For instance, if you teach 5th grade science, you might review all the 5th grade topics: 5.SPM; 5.MEOE; 5.ESP; 5.SS.  I recommend that you also review the same topics in grades 3 and 4 to understand and consider the progression of learning that leads to the grade 5 standards.

Review a particular discipline (LS, ESS, PS) at a grade span you are knowledgeable about.

For instance, if you are a 6-8 teacher, you might begin by looking at the 6-8 Life Science topics, including Structure and Properties of Matter, Chemical Reactions, Forces and Motion, Interactions and Forces, Energy, and Waves and Electromagnetic Radiation. Please review the similar topics for grades 3-5 to understand and consider the progression of learning that leads to the 6-8 standards.

II. Collaborate and discuss with others (if possible)

Everyone benefits from discussion their thoughts and reactions with others. If you review the NGSS individually, I encourage you to discuss your review with others. As you engage with your colleagues, please discuss both specific standards (performance expectations) and broad design features or assumptions.

The National Science Teachers Association provides one example of how to form study groups to discuss the second draft NGSS.

Whether you review the NGSS individually or with colleagues, the NGSS survey will allow you to indicate whether you are submitting an individual or organizational response.

III. Provide input via the NGSS survey.

Go to to access the survey. Detailed instructions for accessing, completing and submitting the survey will be available there. Please look for the sections of the survey that correspond to the sections you have reviewed. Also look for sections that ask for input on the overall NGSS or broader design features. Each section will have open comment boxes to include your thoughts not solicited in the specific questions.

Please complete the background information to indicate that you represent Maine, and whether you are responding as an individual or representing a group or organization. All responses that are submitted from Maine reviewers will be compiled by Achieve and returned to the Maine Department of Education. This feedback will be important to inform next steps here in the state.

Many thanks to Jake Foster of the Massachusetts DOE for his support with this post.

Update on second and final public draft of NGSS


I just learned from Achieve that the release of the second and final public draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is set for the first week in January.  In recognition of the hectic schedules in December and the approaching holidays, the NGSS staff wanted to ensure all educators, stakeholders. and the public had appropriate access to the draft.

I will be sharing more information about the release of the second NGSS draft in the upcoming weeks and I encourage you to review the NGSS draft as an individual or in groups and provide feedback. The National Science Teachers Association has developed an NGSS study group packet to support educators in forming reviewing the NGSS draft.

The NGSS will be completed in March of 2013.  Since the May draft release, the Lead States and the writers evaluated all feedback and worked on revising the standards.  As a result, over 90% of the standards have been revised.  In addition, the lead states charged the NGSS team with finalizing the definition for college and career readiness in science.  The NGSS then went through a second round of revision to ensure the standards supported this definition.

Please stay tuned for more information and encourage others to become followers of the SciTech Framework website.

What teachers of English language learners should know about NGSS and CCSS for math

Last week Michele Mailhot and I offered a webinar for teachers of English Language Learners (ELL).

This webinar addresses the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Math and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), including a brief history and review of similarities and differences with the Maine Learning Results.  Building background knowledge to improve communication between EL and content teachers, the webinar looks at how content teachers work with these standards, build lesson plans and apply the standards to instructional practices. The presentation highlights the MANY similarities between CCSS for Mathematics and the NGSS.   At the end of the webinar we point to a variety of resources that teachers can use to learn more and gain a better understanding of CCSS and NGSS.

The webinar and resources are archived for your use. Please share them with others.

Later next week I will post materials from my upcoming presentation for the Maine Principals Association Conference on March 16, 2012,  “What Every Principal Should Know about STEM Education”.

Update on release of second public draft of NGSS

Many of you have asked me to post the slides that Stephen Pruitt, Vice

Stephen Pruitt, Vice President for Content, Research, and Development,
Achieve, Inc.

President for Content, Research, and Development at Achieve, shared during  the Maine Science Teachers Conference.  I have posted them as Pruitt 2012 MSTA Presentation on the Resources page.

During the conference Stephen announced that we can expect to receive more details about the release of the second public draft after the election. Stephen also shared that Achieve hopes to release the second and final public draft of the Next Generation Science Standards by the end of November and that the final document is expected to be completed by end of the first quarter of 2013.


Certainly the strongest message that Stephen delivered at the conference is that Maine educators are doing the right thing and supporting implementation of the NGSS the right way with two actions:

1.  Getting familiar with A Framework for K-12 Science Education, and

2.  Providing feedback on the second draft of the NGSS.

I will share information about the how to provide feedback when Achieve provides the details.

In the meantime, National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) just published an article called “Exploring the New Standards: How to form a study group to examine the Next Generation Science Standards, second public draft.” My thanks to NSTA for their leadership in producing this great resource.