Sunday, March 18, 2018

NSTA 2018 - Final Reflection

I'm at the airport, waiting for my delayed airplane to get to Atlanta so that I can get back home to my amazing three kids and husband.  I am trying to process the incredible few days I just experienced at NSTA 18.  My brain is going 100 miles a second with ideas.  I have already been hitting up the presentations posted on the conference site, reading everything that I missed.

Could the people of Atlanta be any nicer?  When I first landed, it was midnight and I took the MARTA rail into the city.  When I got downtown I wasn't quite sure where my hotel was and the nicest homeless man helped me out.  The receptionist at the hotel was as sweet as pie, lady at CVS bubbly and kind, people called me ma'am, would hold the door open for eachother, smile kindly, say hello....I miss southern hospitality.  Californians need to watch southerners and pick up some of these amazing attributes.  

The Food...oh sweet angel kisses...the food.  I had BBQ pulled pork, collard greens, grilled pork chop, whipped potatoes, fried chicken, fried okra, fried green tomatoes, pralines.  They have a Waffle House!  Sweet Georgia's Juke Joint had the MOST delicious food for a decent price and the ambiance was incredible (live music).  Our server, Eddie, was so nice!

For the most part, every single session I attended was awesome.  I think I broke twitter with how much I tweeted.  I'm not gonna lie, I almost had to run from one session to the next because of how large the conference hall is, but I made it on time to my sessions.  Wi-Fi pretty much sucked at the conference (as always).  So, writing my blog as "live" as possible was a bit challenging.

The exhibitor hall was fun and the exhibitors brought an engaging energy and excitement!  However, I am going to rat out an exhibitor from a pretty big science publisher (I won't use the publishers name...your welcome, publishers).  I was talking to this gentleman who works for the publisher about NGSS.  He indicated that he used to be a teacher then stated that lots of teachers don't like NGSS because the standards are missing things like density.  I responded that if people don't like the standards and are upset that density is missing that they didn't really understand NGSS.  He looked at me funny, and disagreed.  I had to walk off because it was evident that he didn't understand NGSS.  Here's my unsolicited advice to science companies:  If you are going to have someone sell a product for your company and you have a line of NGSS materials, it would behoove you to make sure your employees understand the standards they are selling products for.  Very disappointing.  

I had amazing conversations with teachers from across the world...yes...WORLD!  Being around all of these educators is inspiring.  Hearing their stories, their successes, their inspiring and a nice reminder that I'm not alone on this journey.  It is interesting to see how many people are doing NGSS, transitioning to NGSS, struggling with NGSS and even defiantly ignoring NGSS.  One lady told me that she is glad her state is not adopting NGSS.  It's just, "standards we've always had, rebranded."  Wow.  But, it took me time to finally understand NGSS, so I will try not to judge those around me for not knowing and experiencing the awesomeness of NGSS.

I met the incredible Em who is doing standards based grading in her classroom and was willing to share all of her resources.  THANKS, Em!!!!!  Their website is

I chatted with a k-12 science coordinator about how the struggle is real with the implementation of inquiry based learning.

I talked to a middle administrator about her concerns and transitions to standards based grading in their classrooms.  She had so much insight.

The leaking pipe in the exhibitor hall!  BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

I made a bunch of new Twitter friends and look forward to following them in the Twitter-verse.

At one point my amazing educator friend and I got to meet Ted Willard!  Even took our pic with him!

I got to watch the HHMI movie:  The Farthest Voyager in Space  Listening to the team from the Voyager talk after the movie was truly a gift.  THESE people are famous.  So inspiring!

Overall, this was a PHENOMENAL educational experience.  I have learned so much.  I have so many tools and ideas to bring back my school district to share with my coworkers.  I will write up a proposal to present next year...maybe on a unit of study, maybe increasing students talk, maybe standards based grading!  

THANK YOU NSTA and ATLANTA for a great experience. 

Until next year...NGSS on!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Day 3 NSTA 2018

It is Day3...I am totally rested and READY TO ROLL.  Let's do this, NSTA.

An NGSS Bonding Experience

Aliza Zivic (@alizazivic)
Josh appuhn (@Josh_Rappuhn)

Learning chem can be tough.  It is really challenging to understand the deep understanding of concepts.  Kids just aren't making the connections with bonding.

They are focusing on HS-PS1-4.

The anchoring phenomena is an endothermic reaction. (two room temp powders...what will happen if we mix?)  The spritz some water on the block, they put the beaker on the block.  The block freezes the the beaker sticks to the block.  They ask what you notice?  What do you wonder?  The students asked a lot of questions.

Next...does mixing other thing cause temp to drop?  Dissolving something in water makes the temp drop.  The students reasoned that the item must be breaking apart, so what must have been holding them together?

What could we use as a model for how atoms stick together?  Students really liked picking magnets as a model.

Kids go into this being told that molecules move slower when they are cold and warmer when they move fast.  SOOOOO....

Does the connection between atoms have anything to do with the temperature change?  They gave us some rulers with magnets on them and a marble, and a magnetic ball.  You put the magnetic ball (Cl) on the ruler  with magnet (K) then try to break the bond using the marble (water).  The water only breaks the weaker bond BUT if you increase the angle (add more energy), it can break the stronger bond.  WHEN the marble hits the magnetic ball, the marble slows down (lower motion therefore "decrease temperature").

They do more for their learning series and the students generate drawings as well.  HERE is the entire storyline.

Great session guys.  Your activity is pretty darn cool and there is definitely a place for it chemistry classes.

Assessing and Grading in the Three Dimensional Classroom

Jim Clark (He is a BIG deal)
Samantha Johnson (teaches AP Bio and Bio)

They started off with sharing their 4th dimension for NGSS:  ETHOS.  They then shared with their rules of engagement (NORMS):

They asked...WHAT IF...
  • We didn't grade?
  • We didn't do assessments?
3D Assessments and 3D learning is for all students:  SPED, ELL, Poverty, Gender equity, students of color, GATE, Alternative Ed...and designing assessments for all of these unique students is a challenge.

Formative assessment is assessment FOR learning.  Summative assessment is assessment OF learning.

FYI...if you are an administrator, ask the students these questions:

  • What question are you trying answer?  
  • What problem are you trying to solve?

If they can't answer these, they might not be doing an NGSS aligned activity.

They passed out a few unpacked PEs and we had to circle the ones we liked.  We then had to bullet point what we would like to see in a student response.  Now that we know what we want from a student response, what's next?

Our grading COULD:

  • improve learning and act as artifacts of learning
  • inform teaching
  • align with class ethos
Our grading MIGHT:
  • sort and select students
  • reflect behavior, effort, compliance or extra credit
For the gradebook, they track homework but don't count it as a grade.

They believe that Grades have to engender HOPE.  AGREED!

Great session guys.  Great conversations with the people around me.  I learned a lot!

Argument for ALL:  Engaging English Language Learners in Scientific Argumentation and Explanation
Kevin Fleming
Dina Secchiaroli

Considerations for inclusive science classroom:
·        provide learning support to build self-accountability
·        Develop higher order thinking skills as part of a mindset
·        Evoke multiple modalities while engaging in iterative practices of argumentation and explanation.

They use UDL (Universal Design for Learning) to remove barriers.  We need to give students critical academic language which includes all three tier words.
·        Tier 1 words are basic, everday words that Els need for academic conversation/explanations (i.e. cat)
·        Tier 2 words with a different meaning in different contents and context.  Example:  root (square root, root for plant, root words, etc)
·        Tier 3 words are content specific like Deoxyribonucleic acid.

Academic language concept mapping.  You can build it throughout the unit.  We then did a design activity and did a feedback protocol where someone from the group would share their design and then other groups would give feedback but the first group could NOT speak back. Each group in the class would then receive feedback in the same manner.  Due to time constraints in the classroom, I would have teams pair up and give feedback then modify their models.

Their presentation can be found here:

Excellent presentation with lots of good resources/activities.  THANKS GUYS!

Building Bridges to Science:  Inquiry Across Disciplines
Nicholas Balisciano (director of programs at Mandell Academy) - Connecticut
Dr. Gail Emilsson (Professional development specialist) – Connecticut

We started with:
·        What is inquiry?
·        What do other people think inquiry is?
·        What should the role of inquiry be?

We did an activity with an inquiry starter.  I was at the ELA station which was super cool one.  I got pics of the different starters. So creative.

They provided us with 5 essential features of inquiry.
1.      Empower students
2.      Intellectually engage students
3.      Provide students with authentic experiences
4.      Uncover and develop student ideas
5.      Connect to students and the real world

We then dove into the activities and identified next steps then identified features of what the 5 essential features.

Incredible session with lots of amazing conversations.  THANKS GUYS!

Carrying a Phenomenon Through a Unit:  Day One to Day None @Quest_LC
Heather Toothaker @htoothaker13
Cindy L Kern @cindylkern

This team of rock stars came into the room with energy, charisma, and amazingness.

Heather shared with us her lesson set up for the “Wolves of Yellowstone” activity series.  She explained that this was a work in progress and a reflective tool about where her unit might need to change for the next year.  She uses a KLEWS chart to help her create her lesson series:
·        What do students KNOW?
·        What will the students LEARN?
·        What EVIDENCE will you have students understand in the lesson?
·        What questions or WONDERINGS do you predict your students might have?
·        SCIENTIFIC Principles, Understandings, Sense-making (connection to phenomena)  I love graphic organizers and she literally has this as a graphic organizer.  JOYOUS!

She then had us watch the Yellowstone wolf phenomena.  She then has student define the problem for Yellowstone.  Heather facilitated us using cards to map out the problems surrounding the removal of wolves from Yellowstone.  She has them specifically looking for cause and effect but doesn’t TELL them that.  She asks them to write the relationships they see…but brief writing.  Nothing killer.

After Heather introduces the phenomena to her class and students have a basic understanding of the problem, she has them generate questions using QNG (Questioning for the Next Generation).  She KNOWS the question she wants them to but lets them guide the question.  The students will then look at data and generate a CER (with scaffolding).  The scaffold is great for ALL learners, including EL students.  (Providing EL students with a word bank would be useful too!)

With her rubric, she only shows them what she wants them to accomplish (the 3 on her 0 to 3 rubric).  She does NOT show them 0, 1, or 2.

Had some fantastic conversations with the ladies at my table!  Incredible presentation from a passionate educator.  Really got me thinking….wait…isn’t that one of the purposes of NGSS?!  I see what you did there. 
Heather's Epic CER Rubric

You can access their presentations and awesome materials at this site: 


Equity Based NGSS Implementation Through Research Practice Partnerships
Henry Suarez
Heena Lakhani
MaryMargaret Welch
Alisha Taylor

MaryMargaret shared about how her district has a grant to form a partnership to look at student learning, teacher development, and evaluation of assessments.  Their obligation as a district:

Heena shared the practical measures.  They survey the teachers about 3D teaching and learning, modeling, discourse strategies and formative assessments.  She specifically shared the data from the 3D teaching/learning from chemistry teachers in the Renton School District.  She said that they collected teacher and student data.  The students specifically were asked about science and engineering practices.  They answered a few likert scale questions then open ended questions.  The data was fascinating.

Alisha supports teachers to implement NGSS in Seattle.  She shared with us the data to see if the PD is effective, are students engaged, etc.

MaryMargaret then shared about the Tools for practice.  They developed a storylining tool.
  • anchoring phenomena --> driving question --> series of lessons --> check for knowledge
They did some CER work, talk strategies, check for knowledge strategies, whiteboarding, etc.

They basically used this entire process to guide PD and student learning.  Excellent presentation and fascinating results!  THANKS guys.  Glad to see we aren't the only district trying to collect data.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Day 2 at NSTA 18

I finally got a decent night of sleep and I am ready to rock Day 2 and NSTA 18.

Freshwater STewardship:  Equip Your Student-Scientists with Cutting-Edge Resources from NOAA   (@NOAAeducation)

NOAA is all about taking care of our earth (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

Activity:  Can you Spare a dop?
We started with this fun activity, you can do this activity.  Instead of showing the classic image of "Where is earth's Water?", you can do this activity HERE.  A great hook when starting your unit.

Activity:  What a cycle
This fun activity allows students to act as water molecules and experience the water cycle as if they were a water molecule.  What I LOVED about this activity, is there in a picture you can use to mark where you are traveling.  Activity can be found HERE.

A great resource can be found HERE:

ACTIVITY:  D.I.Y. Watershed can get students to see where they FIT into the watershed.  They make a Do-it-yourself watershed with a bunch of junk on the ground and put a shower curtain on to. You can put mini houses, cars, factories, identify farms, etc on this surface.  They can sprinkle water on it to identify where the water flows.  YOu can put food coloring on objects that indicate pollutions or fertilizers so students can see where those pollutants flow. can use this resource here to find guest speakers, field trips and PD in your area at NOAA in your Backyard.

You can get DATA for the classroom HERE.  Comes with lesson, teacher guide, ppt, student activity sheets (all linked to standards).

Learn about chemicals/meds in water here:


  • Put a rain gauge at your school and upload to community, collaborative rain, hail and snow network.  SUPER COOL!  Site HERE.
  • You can get trained for how to collect the data (soil, water, phenology, etc) and they collect and share. It gloes to the GLOBE program.
  • BWET:  Allows students to do meaningful watershed experiences.

AP Biology Unwrapped:  Discover the Keys to the AP Exam Success
Gordon Massengill

Gordan is an AP Biology teacher who apparently is a big deal.   This is his 29th year teaching AP Bio. He has set up a solid system of learning and his scores keep going up year after year.  He teaches at the Lyceum Academy.

10:00 – 10:30 Gordan talked about the school that he works at.  Though a cool school, I didn’t come to this session to hear about a school program.

He then shared with us the AP Advantage program.
·        On board – student assessment coming into the class
·        AP Core – the textbook (digital), which has practice built in (there are not EL supports built into it)  He uses the online quizzes of a homework grade.  This would allow a teacher to assign reading to see if the kids are reading and understanding.  You can also build assignments into the online environment.  Students can attempt an assignment multiple times.

I had to leave early because this session was not about unique pedagogical strategies to use to help AP students improve.  It was a pitch for a product.  Though the product is super cool and I really like it, I don’t know if this is the best approach for me.  Clearly this is a useful tool for some but this wasn’t why I came to this session.  Oh well.  Thanks, Gordon.  You are good presenter, but this wasn’t what I was hoping for.

Measuring Mastery in 3D:  A Tale of Two Districts’ Integration of Standards Based Grading and the NGSS
Kelly Jones (Assistant Principal)
Megan Walker (6-12 Science Facilitator)

Renton School district and Federal Way Public Schools worked together to tackle this problem and make this happen.

Standards Based Grading (SBG):
·        Grades based on specific learning goals and performance standards
·        Evidence used for grading should be valid
·        Not everything should be graded
·        Grades should be based on most recent work
·        Behavior analyzed separately

Federal Way:  They identified their power standards, which are the performance expectations.  When they adopted NGSS in 2013, they were already doing SBG.  They score 1-4 on assignments then average the 1-4.  The teachers develop their own assessments and rubrics/checklists.

Renton School District:  Only elementary and middle school are doing SBG.  Their high schools probably won’t shift to SBG. They did a full implementation of NGSS SBG gradebook in 2016-17.

We looked at student work and attempted to assess it using a teacher created rubric.  Both approaches of both districts are good but the rubrics are still needing some work (in my opinion).  <I’m becoming a rubric snob!>

I met some amazing people at the workshop and they shared with me info about SBG from another workshop they attended.  They shared the website

BREAK:  So I finally hung out at the exhibitor booth for awhile.  SO MUCH brain hurts.  Some of my highlights.

Developing NGSS Proficiency Scales using Marzano’s Taxonomy

AKA:  "How do translate NGSS standards into something you can grade"

Sariah Bujanda (former civil engineer)
Tomas Atencio-Pacheco
Julia Dumars (former wildlife biologist)

We started off with a fun candy activity.  "Sort the candy into two groups."  WE sorted by shape and candy you can see/not see.

Sariah shared that her rubrics are built on what students CAN do and NOT on what they CANNOT do.  She bundles performance expectations then identifies and unit learning goal then build her rubric based off this learning goal.

How to do this...ya gotta know 
  • DOK
  • NGSS
  • Grading scale
  • Bundling
  • student needs
  • assessments
  • key ideas
THEN - create rubric (DOK 1-4), identified what is considered passing, what is proficient, identifying instructional gaps

Tomas does PBL.  He builds a proficiency scale for each PE using Marzano's DOK to describe student work.  He also designs his different formative assessments.

They then gave us time to work on a rubric.  I had some great conversations with the people at my table about standards based grading and rubrics.

Some of their resources:  HERE

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Day 1 at NSTA 2018

I woke up at 6:15 a.m. which is actually 3:15 a.m to my body.  I got all of four hours of sleep due to my flight being delayed.  But I woke up ready to learn and rock out with science.  

Medicine Without Evolution is Like Engineering Without Physics
Mark Friedman from Los Angeles Maritime Institute (
Charles Nunn (Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University)

This was my first session at NSTA18.  It was all about Evolutionary Biology. Why teach this approach?   It is conceptual, inspires interest, and has real world context that motivates youth. Questions about why does anxiety exist, why do antibiotics fail and has evolution made us vulnerable to disease need to be addressed.

Interestingly enough, Charles Nunn brought about the idea of using sleep to engage students.  SLEEP!  Here are some questions to engage:
·        What is sleep?
·        What does sleep look like?  Variations?
·        Can natural selection eliminate sleep? 
·        Are that any animals that don’t sleep?
·        What is unique about ape sleep? Human sleep?
·        What is the one behavioral trait that unites the great apes?
o   They sleep in “beds”.  This could have something to do with our brain size.  Sleeping in a bed could allow for less sleep fragmentation.  They perform better on cognitive tests after sleeping on a nest!
·        How is sleep different from our ancestors’ sleep?
·        What are implication of sleep to health.  Does decreased sleep make us more vulnerable to disease, like Alzheimer’s?

Fun facts:  Randy Gardner, a high school student in the 1940s, held the record of the longest time without sleep (264 hours…11 days).  Holy nap time!  Apparently, the elephant seal only sleeps for about 20 minutes at a time.  Fascinating!  Did you know that all great apes behaviorally sleep in beds?  WOW!  Had no idea.  Humans sleep the least of all primates; however, when we are asleep we use the highest proportion of REM.  There is something called the Glymphatic system…it is the lymphatic system of the brain!  It flushes the brain and is most active during sleep, ridding neurotoxic waste, including beta myloid.  WHAT!!!!????

 “If sleep does not serve an absolute vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process has ever made.”  Rechschallon

Here are some websites they suggested:
·        I might have found a really cool anchoring phenomena for evolution….maybe even a hook for the entire school year.
·        Thanks, guys!  Great session.

Hands-On:  Exploring Enzymes the NGSS Way (Pasco Scientific)

This fun session was led by Ryan Reardon (@trg_ryanreardon). We used the gas pressure sensor from the Pasco collection to study enzyme kinetics.  We did a fun, simple activity adding hydrogen peroxide to yeast culture (our enzyme source) and we ended up seeing instant data!  A beautiful linear relationship was observed.

The tools are simple to use.  The experiment is easy to set up and manipulate.  If you are looking for a way to collect quantitative data, their tools will definitely do that. 

I had a nice time chatting with my table mates about different enzyme activities we have done in the past:
·         Toothpickase
·        Starch – amylase (spit in the cup or on a petri dish with starch/agarose substrate and punches to add spit)
·        Pineapple and agar to observe breakdown of gelatin
·        Dipping discs in catalase solution (chicken liver ground up) and putting in a container of H2O2 to measure how fast it rises
·        Apple pieces treated with different things and asking:  what is causing the browning?

Thanks for a great session, Ryan and Pasco.  The learning was engaging and the excitement was buzzing through the room.

Cultivating a Culture of Argumentation in Your Classroom (Pearson Learning Services)

“Learning is the consequence of thinking.” David Perkin and Ron Ritchhart

The presenter started us with discussing an experiment we did at a K-12 learner and identify the purpose.  All I could remember was how unbelievably boring most of the experiments were…how there were prelab readings, quiz, lab, then post lab questions.

·        How do we develop a culture where thinking is valued?  How do I MAKE THINKING VISIBLE?
o   Give them time to talk
o   Facilitate the discussion
o   Allow them to struggle productively
o   Invited students into the discussion
o   Make sure students are not relying on you for answers

This makes me realize that we need to have powerful questions to get students thinking.
·         Easy starters:
o   What do you notice?
o   What do you wonder?

But then we need to have back pocket questions that lead students in a direction to deeper understanding.

·        See – Think – Wonder
o   We watched an Abbett and Costello skit on 13x7 = 28  HILARIOUS if you haven’t seen it.  That man was arguing from evidence.  We then did the following…What do you notice?  What do you think?  What do you wonder?

A key finding from How People Learn:  Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works.  If their initial understanding is not engaged they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information that are taught, or they may learn for the purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside of the classroom.

A HUGE takeaway for me was this:
·        Thinking is a rehearsal for discourse.
·        Discourse is a rehearsal for writing.


I had to leave this session early to make my 12:00…but wish I could have stayed.

Phenomena Based Teaching in Mastery Based School (Jessica Smith)

This session was about doing standards based grading through the lens of NGSS. 

Jessica explains that she breaks up her gradebook into these 3 topic categories and weighted as followed:  50% SEPs, 20% CCC and 30% DCIs.

Why SBG?  This allows students to be self-directed, life-long learners and critical thinkers.  She identifies the SEPs, DCIs, and CCCs that will be assessed on each unit.  She also identifies the activities/labs and assessments.  For her rubrics, she goes to appendix G and F from the NGSS framework and the evidence statements.

She had very good information and can be found at this link:

Super bummed that NSTA only gave her 30 minutes to present.  It wasn’t enough time to really dive into her material.  Luckily, I now follow Jessica on Twitter.  WOOHOO!

Reframing Reading as an Inquiry Practice of Science
Cynthia Greenleaf

Students should be reading in science because there is synergy, economy and necessity in doing many things at once.  NGSS is all about authentic science learning.  Science and literacy should be integrated: 
  • Science is an investigation to explain the world around us
  • Literacy is an investigation into the construction and meaning in text

By reading, students can engage in making sense of science text in order to investigate and explain phenomena.  Doing this benefits student’s literacy and science understanding.

Students need to become independent learners that can think criticially.

We can present an image from the book and ask a student, “What do the different colored arrows mean?”

We can have them read.  Then ask:  What was confusing?  How did you figure that out?

We can introduce an article and show them the title and share with students the wondering we have just from the title.  Then have them identify their wonderings.  They can then read the article and write down the wonderings.  Very much an “I do, you do, we do.”

We should be building knowledge, not just testing knowledge.  Our assessments should value the learning process. (lots of wonderful data and text)
Text based investigation modules on:

Pay attention to what you are reading, why you are reading it, how you are reading.  Remember WHO is doing the reading and when they are reading during the learning process.

Resources for science literacy:

Great session, Cynthia.  THANKS!!!!! 


I am exhausted.  I am literally going off of four hours of sleep and though I have absolutely enjoyed what I have experienced thus far, I know that tomorrow will be filled with even more awesomeness.  Oh, and my dinner at Max Lagers was SO FREAKIN' DELICIOUS!  whipped mashed potatoes, pork chop, collard greens...southern to the MAX!  So far, I'm likin' Atlanta and lovin' NSTA 18.

NSTA 2018 - Final Reflection

I'm at the airport, waiting for my delayed airplane to get to Atlanta so that I can get back home to my amazing three kids and husband. ...