How Do We Get Middle School Students Excited About Science? Make It Hands-On

Eighth-grader Liam Bayne has always liked math and science — that’s one reason his family sent him to The Alternative School For Math and Science (ASMS). But he was surprised and excited when his sixth-grade science class started each new topic with experimentation, not lecture or textbook learning.

“I was really excited because the first thing we did was experiments and hands-on stuff, which is my favorite part,” Liam said. At ASMS the teaching philosophy centers around giving students experiences that pique their interest to know more. Their science curriculum is based on a program called Full Option Science System (FOSS), but has changed over time as teachers bring new ideas to the curriculum and focus on meeting the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Click here to read the full story featured on KQEW Radio (April 14, 2019)

Utah Parents and Residents Criticize Proposed Classroom Science Guidelines on Evolution and Climate Change

Nearly every person who grabbed the microphone at a state education hearing Tuesday night offered a different reason why they believed the proposed standards for teaching Utah students about science were faulty, inaccurate or skewed.

The public meeting Tuesday was the final of six for Utah parents and teachers to comment on the science standards after the state Board of Education voted to release them in early January for feedback. For more than 90 minutes, the attendees waved peer-reviewed journals and flashed credentials to argue their opposition.

The new standards, though, were based on guidelines set by the Next Generation of Science Standards developed by a consortium of national experts. And science educators throughout the state were largely behind the push for the updates, appealing to school board members for months to say that their classroom learning goals were outdated and some were based on since-disproven material.

The teaching guidelines, if approved by the board, would apply to Utah students in kindergarten through fifth grade, with the last changes made in 2010, and in high school, with the last revisions made in 2002. Middle school guidelines for the state were approved in 2015, setting the stage for much of the current debate.

Click here to read the full story in the Salt Lake Tribune (March 27, 2019)



Demanding New Science Test is Teed Up As a Maryland Graduation Requirement

Officials want to delay the roll out of a high school graduation requirement tied to a demanding new science test could be delayed for at least two more years, following a preliminary vote of the Maryland State School Board on Tuesday.

The board voted to change a regulation that would have made passing the Next Generation Science Assessment a requirement to obtain a diploma beginning in 2020.

The new test, which replaces a decade-old biology test, was “field tested” last school year. The test was supposed to count as a graduation requirement for students who begin taking the test in January 2020. But Maryland Department of Education staff recommended continuing to have students take the test but delay making passing it a requirement for two years.

The new standards encompass physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences and engineering.


There’s growing concern on the part of educators and legislators that the latest version of tests that high schoolers will be expected to pass are more difficult than the old Maryland State Assessments given in four subjects — algebra 1, English 10, government and biology — beginning in 2008.

Click here to read the full story in The Baltimore Sun (March 27, 2019)

Forum on the Road: Checking In on Next Generation Science Standards

Listen to this special forum by KQED radio that gives an update on the Next Generation Science Standards, how they are changing what goes on in the classroom, and what the challenges are to implementation. (please note a news segment leads the program)


Rob Semper, executive associate director and director of Program, Exploratorium; member, National STEM Education Advisory Panel

Jessica Parker, director of teaching and learning, Exploratorium

Lauren Brown, science teacher, Madison Park Academy in Oakland

Jill Tucker, K-12 education reporter, San Francisco Chronicle

Norwalk High Chemistry Teacher Finds Winning Formula

Norwalk (Connecticut) High School teacher Samantha DeMatteo is on a quest to make chemistry less scary, teaching hands-on lessons with real-world applications.

She’s teaching her students about stains and how to most effectively remove them using different cleaning products. DeMatteo distributed T-shirts stained with chocolate, hot sauce and tea and asked students to determine why some cleaning products were more effective than others. It’s a more modern way of studying molecular shape and chemical bonding and helps students “learn with a purpose instead of learning it for the sake of learning it,” she said.

The 25-year-old Penn State graduate is one of six teachers chosen nationwide to participate in creating Next Generation Science Standards lessons with other educators at the University of Colorado Boulder in July.

Succeeding in the competitive selection process means, for one week, DeMatteo will work with Inquiry Hub, a research team of educators from Northwestern, University of Colorado Boulder and Denver Public Schools to develop chemistry units eventually used by teachers across the country.

Click here to read the full story featured in The Hour (March 13, 2019)

Science Curriculum Reviews Are Out, and Results Aren’t Great

The first independent review to weigh whether new science curriculum series are truly aligned to a set of national standards was issued this morning—and mostly, the materials fell well short of expectations.

Four of the series—Discovery’s Science Techbook, Carolina Biological Supply Company’s Science and Technology Concepts, and two versions of Teachers’ Curriculum Institute’s Bring Science Alive!—were deemed insufficiently aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards. One series, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Science Dimensions, was considered partially aligned. Only one series, Amplify’s Amplify Science, got top marks for alignment, coherence, and usability, according to the nonprofit and curriculum group EdReports, which conducted the reviews.


Click here to read the full article by Ed Week‘s Stephen Sawchuck as he answers the follow questions:

  • Who are these folks, and how did they conduct these reviews?
  • What’s in these standards?
  • Where did EdReports think these materials fell short?
  • What do the publishers say about these findings?
  • Where do these findings fit in with other science reviews?


And, stay tuned for more as he explores what the science education field thinks of these results. Readers can leave a comment, or email him directly at



NGSS Science Promotes Phenomena-Based Learning

An emerging science concept called phenomena-based learning—backed by the NGSS—taps into students’ natural desire to make sense of their world.

This approach encourages students to observe natural phenomena, such as a rising tide or a glass shattered by sound. They can then investigate why it occurs.

Students also learn that the approach mirrors how actual scientists find answers through reasoning and inquiry.

“I like to think of phenomena as breadcrumbs that teachers are going to use to guide students along learning paths,” says Ted Willard, assistant director for science standards for the National Science Teachers Association.

Unlike in a traditional teacher-led lesson, students in NGSS phenomena-based learning lead by asking questions.

They also collaborate, discover connections, design models, and ultimately, make sense of what they observe.

“This inquiry-based approach avoids ‘intellectual bulimia’ in which students just learn words to spit back out on a test,” says Willard.

“By teaching them the reasoning process, they get a deeper understanding of science concepts.”


Click here to read the full story in District Administration magazine (February 14, 2019)




Long Game: Inside the Carnegie Corporation’s Quest to Improve Science Education

A nonprofit working on open-source curriculum that aligns with state standards is the latest development in the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s 10-year effort to improve science education in the United States. OpenSciEd, the new nonprofit, and the decade-long journey that led to its founding lend insight into how one of the oldest foundations in the country sees its role and future within an increasingly crowded education philanthropy landscape.

The nonprofit has been tasked with creating curriculum to align with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which Carnegie was instrumental in developing. So far, Carnegie has put $4 million into the organization through the National Center for Civic Innovation at the Fund for the City of New York.

“The quality of the curriculum a teacher is working with makes a difference,” said Jim Short, program director of Carnegie’s Leadership and Teaching to Advance Learning portfolio.

“We know that the quality of teacher matters. We know that having a good principal, instructional leader in the school to support the teacher matters,” said Short. “But I think there’s enough data now showing that the quality of the instructional materials—the curriculum the teacher is working with—is the third thing that equally matters.”

Developing a framework for science education and overhauling outdated state standards to reflect the framework were the first steps to improving how science was taught in classrooms. The result was the Next Generation Science Standards, released back in 2013. Now, about two-thirds of students attend school in states that have adopted the NGSS or standards that closely resemble them.

Click here to read the full story by Inside Philanthropy. (February 20, 2019)

California Students May Not Be Ready For New Science Test

In March California students will start to be tested on the state’s new science standards for the first time, but with little instruction in the subject in elementary school and few aligned textbooks they aren’t likely to be ready.

The state had to develop the new test aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards, adopted in 2013, to replace the old standards put in place in 1998. The new standards emphasis critical thinking over rote memorization, more hands-on science projects and require students to investigate, collect and use data, and give evidence-based explanations for what they discover.

Although students will begin taking the California Science Test in March, most school districts have yet to approve textbooks or materials aligned to the new standards adopted six years ago by the State Board of Education. Still, federal law is requiring California to begin testing this year.

Click here to read the full article in Ed Source (February 18, 2019)

Phenomena-Based Approaches Transform Interest in Natural ‘Mysteries’ Into Understanding

In the February 20 issue of Education Dive, writer Lauren Barack explores the use of phenomena to support science understanding of natural “mysteries.”

Turning interest into understanding is a critical component of engaging students in their educations. Phenomena-based learning fits into this mission by having students observe something in nature and delve into the processes behind it for better understanding.

In line with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a phenomena-based approach changes the focus of science education so students aren’t passively “learning about a topic” but rather “figuring out why or how something happens.” The NGSS details in a three-page primer, designed for educators, how to weave phenomena-based learning into their own classrooms.

This approach takes advantage of students’ innate curiosity, which can then fuel further interests in science and math — and perhaps even stretch to other subjects including history and literature.

Click here to read the full article in Education Dive (February 20, 2019)