Friday, July 31, 2015

Writing in Project-Based Science

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about project-based science. That is, engaging students in a long-term, data collection project outside. It’s a way to teach science through an authentic context, with outdoor investigations that are conducted over time, peer collaboration, communication of results, and implications for a wider audience. Slightly different than Project-Based Learning, it shares its pedagogical roots.

An example of a project might be: After learning about watersheds on a field trip, students are interested in keeping their watershed clean. They do one schoolyard cleanup and notice that a lot of the trash is plastic water bottles. Students then embark on an awareness campaign and do another few clean-ups and trash audits throughout the year. They notice a reduction in the amount of water bottle litter from the data they collected. They share this information with the PTA and administration and get a water filtration station installed at their school.

The parts of a project-based science project usually include some sort of entry event, investigable question generation, planning the investigations, carrying out the investigations, data analysis, communicating results, and taking action based on results from all investigations.

There’s a lot to manage and plan to help facilitate such a project and the literacy integrations is a layer unto itself. So how and when do you read, write, and science talk throughout your project?

Entry Event
Examples of project entry events might include a structured exploration of your schoolyard. It might be a particular phenomenon that you engage your class with. A science talk is a great fit here to help students wonder, question, build off of each other’s ideas, and learn how to speak in a respectful, academic fashion.
Another great fit is an observation-wonder T-chart. This helps students (and teachers) see that observation time is necessary to develop questions. You can also turn these t-charts into sentence scaffolds (great for ELs) using this frame:

I observed ______________ and that made me wonder ______________________.

Question Generation
Allowing students to develop testable questions is a powerful experience. They can sort which questions they can actually investigate, which they should just Google, and which are impossible or off-topic. Afterwards, students can take one question and explain why it is testable and why it is connected to the driving question or phenomena you are trying to learn more about. Another science talk is helpful here to narrow down the testable questions into just a few you have time and resources to work on throughout the year.

Planning the Investigations
Often, we give students a step-by-step procedure to complete an investigation. But real scientists have to develop this protocol on their own, often through trial and error. When you have students create the protocol, try it out and then revise it, it is not only more authentic, but it also provides for a terrific opportunity to visualize their change in thinking though writing about the experience. In addition, in scientific papers, authors rarely describe the method step-by-step, instead it is put in narrative form. This checklist may help students write the methods section of a paper.

Carrying out the Investigation
One issue of long-term data collection projects is that a lot of the writing comes before and after the data is collected. However, students’ interest and motivation for learning is enhanced by content introduced as it comes up during data collection. For instance, if your project includes a monthly trash audit to collect data on the amount of plastic water bottles thrown away, then content on the properties of matter (plastic), watersheds, plastic in the ocean, human impacts on the environment, and community resources will naturally come up as you discuss your monthly results. Introducing science reading on these topics naturally will give your students context and motivation to read and apply the content to constructing their own understanding of the project. This is in stark contrast to more traditional front-loading of content.

Data Analysis
As you and your students collect more and more data, a data analysis talk is helpful. Another way to integrate literacy in to this stage of the project is by helping students write captions for the graphs they are creating to show their data. Caption writing is a terrific tool because it is an authentic endeavor (all scientists must have captions for their graphs in peer-reviewed journals) and it is a great scaffold before writing longer explanations of the data itself. Captions often include three to four main parts: label, title phrase, explanation of the graphing notations (may not be needed for a 3rd-8th grade project graph), and a big idea sentence. Here is an example caption from an actual scientific paper:

Figure 4. Plastic concentrations in open ocean areas. Upper line in both plots is total pieces per square kilometer. Lower line is pellets per square kilometer. Vertical scale is logarithmic for both plots. The data show highest concentrations of both total pieces as well as pellets in the central gyre, particularly the northern part.

Communicating Results
Using project to help students practice communicating their final explanations as a scientist is essential to the project process. A round of peer-editing can also help students argue from evidence, give respectful feedback, and learn to read critically. There are a variety of explanation graphic organizers out there to help here and here.

Taking Action
This final stage of the project cycle proves the importance of the project itself. The results and analysis of those results impact more than just the students in the classroom. The work they do should have implications for a larger audience. Because of this larger audience, students can take what they’ve written in academic format and come up with a way to disseminate those same results in a more informal style. This is an opportunity for students to think about how they can share what they’ve learned and the action people should take because of it to both younger students (maybe through a buddy class activity) as well as adults (the PTA, school administration, or community partners). It is also a way to help your students create content using technology applications. Here’s an example from my second grade Girl Scout Brownie Troop based on their beach clean-up data. Or there’s this school project video.

Of course science talks, reading, and writing should be integral to your curriculum. Being purposeful about how, when, and why you are using these important literacy tools will help make project-based science more robust, connected to the Next Generation Science Standards, and authentic to the true nature of science.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

NSTA Chicago!!!

Tomorrow, I get on a plane to fly to Chicago for the National Science Teachers Association national conference. I haven't been to the national conference since 2006 during my first solo year teaching. That year was incredibly memorable (especially meeting Bill Nye) and started me on a path of continuous reflection and professional growth. 

This year, I'm overjoyed to be presenting Write Like a Scientist! A session that grounds literacy integration in the experience of outdoor data collection. Please come!

Write Like a Scientist!
Friday, 5:00—6:00
(Grades 2–8) W178b, McCormick Place
Science Focus: GEN, SEP4
Joey Lehnhard (@joeyelle), Monterey Bay Aquarium
Explore the biodiversity of California’s rocky shores and use your data and observations to motivate students to write authentically about science. Then, plan a biodiversity project at your school site! Led by education staff of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Resources posted here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

CSTA/NSTA Regional Long Beach, CA

I'm super excited to be able to attend and present at CSTA/NSTA Regional this year! I'll be presenting two sessions:

Write Like a Scientist! 
Thursday, December 4th
8:00 AM - 9:00 AM
Casablanca Room, The Westin Long Beach
Grades 2-6

Otters in Action!
Friday, December 5th
3:30 PM - 4:30 PM
Centennial Salon D, The Westin Long Beach
Grades 2-6

All resources will be posted here. They are also on the NSTA learning center site.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Place-Based Education

Getting kids outside to do science contextualizes the content and motivates kids to learn, but it also inspires the next generation of environmentalists.

Take a look at this video that talks about why taking our kids outside to do instruction helps the whole child.

Friday, August 29, 2014

NGSS Elementary Content Shifts in California

Most of my work with teachers on preparing for NGSS is focused around the Science and Engineering Practices. But some teachers are really interested in understanding the content shifts- the answer to the ever-present "Yeah, but what am I going to have to teach?"

So, I'm working on this document that shows the topic shifts for elementary teachers in California. Take a look, and comment!

CA NGSS Content Shifts

UPDATE: A colleague on the NGSS NSTA listserv fleshed this out a bit:

Content Shifts Expanded

Friday, August 8, 2014

Science Notebooks, Blogs, and Portfolios

The literature on the efficacy of using science notebooks to increase students conceptual understanding, language ability, and internalizing science habits of mind are substantial. It should absolutely be one of the first steps elementary teachers take in integrating literacy and science in their classrooms. But what makes notebooks so powerful are also a weakness: ownership, safety, reflection.

These are key ideals when setting up and using a science notebook. Students need to feel like their notebook is a place they can make mistakes, a place where they can look back on their learning and on the progression of their learning. And it's also inherently their's and their's alone. We have them decorate the cover just to solidify this feeling.

Finding a real voice

But then we talk about audiences, writing to different audiences, writing to communicate, writing to persuade or refute - all important science skills that can be honed in the notebook - but, the notebook isn't the place for publishing. A partner might read it, a teacher, a parent, but honestly ... no one else will.

First, we have to stop pretending to write for audiences. We have to show students that they really do have a voice. I've seen so many persuasive essays on school uniforms or healthier lunch options that go no where. I've done it myself. Students wrote and revised and wrote and revised, even made a poster. I put it on the wall of my classroom. And, "wow, isn't that great" my principal said. But really, when we do this, we end up teaching the skills in a vacuum. And we've been doing this for decades. We can't afford to do that to students, especially not in science. Let's be more authentic. 

I work with an amazing teacher (no really, she's amazing) and her class did a project on the snowy plover. Her kids wrote about the detrimental effects of planned construction on their habitat. They sent it to local politicians and news outlets. They got some press about it, her students spoke on the topic on the news. They felt heard.

We can't all do that. And even if we could - it's probably not something that we could do all year long.

Finding an audience can be hard. And it is super scary to think that strangers are reading your work. But that is what scientists do. They send their papers off to journals. Peers and experts review and comment. So what can we do? Where do we put the final drafts of our science writing? How can we complete the writing process while still using the notebook to its fullest capacity?

Blogging for authenticity

Blogging is a transformative experience. It gives students a voice, the opportunity for anyone, all over the world to read what they are thinking. It is the ultimate motivator. It motivates students to actually revise. And to be excited about the response they might get from their work and effort. It can also engage students in conversations of creating a safe online presence. But it's not the place to put just any piece of writing. It's a place to put products. But it's also a place that needs to be updated with new content regularly. Monthly at minimum (perfect for checking out that computer cart.)

Finalized lab reports, compare/contrast pieces, claims and evidence writing, detailed observations (with a scientific illustration), discussions of how they progressed through the science process and more can all be terrific opportunities to blog.

Structured time to comment on each others blogs is also helpful to hone review, comprehension and questioning skills. The power comes from the fact that it is not just the teacher that reads it. That anyone in their class, their school, their extended family anywhere in the world, in addition to other students working on similar projects at different schools can read their blog.

From Blogs to Portfolios

The blog lies between the science notebook and the performance portfolio. A teacher and student might pick one of the 5-10 blog posts to put in a portfolio - a place to put their absolute best work. A portfolio (especially in elementary school) might be interdisciplinary and therefor include pieces from ELA, math, art, etc.  Traditionally, we put these pieces in their cumulative folders. And then where do they go? A deep, dark filing cabinet in the office somewhere. Not to be looked at again. It is completely useless to the student and their families. Often, teachers don't even really look at the contents - merely the students picture and grades. But it could be a really powerful tool. We would just need access to it. And ways to use it.

What if the portfolio was a folder on Google Drive? It could be easily passed on to teachers, administrators, families, support providers but still stay safe. And it would still be available to students. It would be worth it even if your whole school doesn't go for it. Even if it's just you.

You could use it at parent-teacher conferences, you could use it during IEP meetings. You could have your student's look through their own and write about one transformation they saw. One thing their proud of improving upon.

Start now

It is the start of the new school year and a perfect time to set up science notebook, blog, and portfolio routines and expectations. But even if this finds you half way through your school year ... start now! Try it out, have fun with notebooks, blogs, and portfolios. Enhance your day-to-day science teaching with notebooks. Engage your students in real audiences and provide your students and families with an interdisciplinary portfolio.

Resources to help:

Are you a Google school? Try Blogger with your students.

Need something other than Blogger? 

Get an audience for your students:

Need some science notebook motivation and advice? 

Real science blogs to emulate?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Refutation Writing

I've been reading a lot about refutation writing lately and its role in overcoming students misconceptions. I see a lot of similarities between how we teach persuasive argument in ELA and how we can teach refutation writing in science. Writing refutation texts can aid students in seeing the connection from language arts writing skills to science writing skills. It is also a great way to continue to practice arguing from evidence, making students thinking visible, and directly addressing common misconceptions. This could be especially helpful when discussing the nature of science in the beginning of the school year. Students could refute the common misconception that there is a single scientific method that all scientists use or that scientific ideas are absolute. You can find more common misconceptions from Cal, here. Below is a quick summary of the standards, structure, and basic uses of both a traditional "persuasive" or argumentative essay and writing refutation texts.

Refutation Writing
According to the Common Core, starting in 6th grade, students are to:
Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
Introduce claim(s) and organize the reasons and evidence clearly.
Support claim(s) with clear reasons and relevant evidence, using credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.
Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from the argument presented.
According to the Common Core, starting in 6th grade, students are to:
Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.
In the Next Generation Science Standards, – Connects to NGSS Science and Engineering Practice #7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence and starting in grade 3, students are to:
·   Compare and refine arguments based on an evaluation of the evidence presented.
·   Distinguish among facts,
reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in an explanation
1. Claim
2. Evidence – text-based
3. Counterclaim (starting in 7th grade)
4. Conclusion
1.    Counterclaim
2.    Claim
3.    Data – investigation, text
4.    Evidence
5.    Reasoning connected to science concepts
6.    Conclusion
Best Uses
To help students evaluate others’ claims and clarify their own thoughts.
To spur conceptual change, to address misconceptions.

To help our students start to write refutation texts, I've used this simple graphic organizer with sentence starters:

Students jot down ideas in each of the four boxes, share their ideas with a partner, then go on to translate this organizer into a more formalized piece of writing. To continue the conversation, students could post their writing on a blog and comment on the strength of their peers' refutations.

This is a writing activity that could result in real conceptual change for our students - can't wait to see how it turns out!

Here's my current Prezi on Refutation Writing: