Inquiry Science

The Transition to teaching with the Next Generation Science Standards NGSS

As a science teacher, I am so excited to see the transformation of our state and national science standards. These standards where developed through the collaboration of 100’s maybe even thousands of experts in science and education and truly represent the major shifts in science and society since our first attempts to establish standards for science education. They map our a transformation in how we teach and learn science.

As an educator who builds and implements lesson plans, I am challenged. Now I am balancing Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI) (content??), with Science and Engineering Practices (SEP) and Crosscutting Concepts (CC). Did someone mention phenomena and storylines? Oh my! How do you I fit this into my district lesson plan template now?

So I have been putting on my design and engineering cap and asking myself, “what does an NGSS lesson look like?” What does an NGSS science classroom look like?

If I look at our traditional resources. That would be a text book. While many text book company’s have “aligned” their content to the NGSS. Most have done so as an after thought and not a redesign of their strategies and teaching. The have aligned their traditional books to the DCI’s and inserted ideas for doing Science and Engineering and CrossCutting Concepts as labs that follow a traditional course outline. But if you try to line these up with the NGSS Performance Standards it’s a bit awkward and a stretch to say “aligned”

As I started looking deeper into the resources on the Next Generation Science standard website and the National Science Teachers Association. I started to notice that there is a new breed of science curriculum emerging. One that starts with A Phenomena and tells a story. I have found some resources that are helping to transform my teaching, especially Argument Driven Inquiry. As I begin my implementation of these new resources, I am connecting with my students at a deeper scientific level and it is invigorating and exciting.

But as a rural science teacher its’ often tough. If you are the only science teacher in your building, how do you stay connected and grow?

#1 Become a National Science Teacher Association Member –
A great way to stay connected when you work in rural Alaska is to join the National Science Teachers Association. Once you are a member you can join a listserv for every science content are you teach. Yeah, that could be all of them, LOL. One of the best perks is the ability to browse their old journal issues which are full of excellent lesson plans.

#2 Become a member of the Alaska Science Teachers Association
This group sponsors $500 mini-grants for professional development and classroom supplies. All thoughtful proposals get serious consideration

#3 Check out these lesson plans and resources. They are not all NGSS formatted, but each one has elements that help build a storyline. I will be adding to this list as I collect new resources throughout the year. Feel free to email me with more ?

Alaska Resources

National Links


Open Source Science Teaching Tools

One of my personal challenges is to teach using only free, open source classroom tools. I love science texts, but I don’t love the cost. I would much rather have more lab supplies and training. I am so thankful to our school for investing in training as opposed to books. With this in mind I want to share an example of how I am using “open source” science resources in my Biology Class.

We just finished a unit on DNA:The code for life. I really like teaching genetics and unraveling the mystery of life. I am using Google Classroom to link students to all of my classroom resources. We use our text book for background information. books are great. They are up to date, interesting, easy to read, and accurate. They are as good as any text on the market.

We use our book as an informational text. I present the content as an interactive lectures using Nearpod. I use the book as an outline and the students take notes in sketch note style as we explore the material. Students then complete the Adaptive Practice and Quizzes on All of these resources can be linked to in Google Classroom. The Adaptive Practice and Quizzes are self grading and give students immediate feedback and scores are recorded in Google Classroom.  There are interactive PLIX to reinforce ideas through manipulatives with challenge questions. All of these tools are free and customizable.

I use web based multimedia tools to enhance my presentations. HHMI Biointeractive has a wonderful video called Gene’s as Medicine. I use Playposit to embed questions throughout the video. It has a unique broadcast mode that allows just the presenter (me) to show the video. The students log in to the broadcast and see a question dashboard. The video automatically stops the and pushes questions to the student dashboard. This allows me a chance to check for understanding and add discussion. The students get instant feedback unless it’s an open ended question.BS Learning Media also has a really good movies called A Mutation Story. I try to search for 3-5 minute videos that tie our topics into current medical research and career information. ( The broadcast mode in Playposit is a paid feature, the free mode operates like EdPuzzle)

I also want to thank the Biology Corner for supplying us with the DNA and Transcription and Translation coloring worksheets. This website has some of the best free Biology activities on the web. I teach the students about protein synthesis by completing the Investigations, Proteins and Mutations worksheet. Then we apply this to the DNA in Snorks lesson.  It’s such a great way of making connections between DNA and proteins that produce traits.

As an evaluation of our learning, we complete an Argument Driven Inquiry(ADI) Lab 15: Mutation in Genes from ADI’s Life Science Book. ADI is transforming my teaching. It’s the first instructional model I have used that truly supports my growth in facilitating inquiry learning as opposed to concept based text book approaches. I remember struggling with the 5 E model, when I was first introduced to it. I could understand the parts and the approach, but I couldn’t see how I was supposed to facilitate it. The 8 stages of ADI give me the framework for teaching any lab through inquiry. The student lab handouts are available free online at NSTA Extra’s.

This lab asks students to study mutations using the Protein Synthesis model from another one of my favorite sources for open source web based models. the Concord Consortium. This model allows students to work through the steps of DNA transcription and translation. They can edit the DNA code and visualize the effect of different kinds of mutations.

I have embedded an example of how I introduce this lab using Nearpod below. If the code to this Nearpod expires before you stumble upon it. email me and I will renew it.


Hacking Template Tab for ADI Science Lab

I have been exploring ways of using Google Tools to increase interaction and feedback in my distance learning classes. This is a cool way to collect and monitor student work, even if you are not teaching at a distance. I use Alice Keeler’s Template Tab. Here is how I modify it to work with Science Lab groups within the Argument Driven Inquiry Process.


Toolik Lake Field Station- Day 2

My work team includes an outreach educator from the University of Colorado, a kindergarten teacher from Falmouth, MA, and about a dozen graduate students from Norte Dame and the University of California – San Luis Obispo. We had a camp orientation the night before to learn the in and outs of camp life. I am impressed with the organization and creature comforts. The food is fantastic. I wasn’t expecting 8 flavors of homemade ice cream in a remote tundra camp.

Our day started with a walking tour and overview of the history of Toolik Lake Field Station. There is an impressive board walk that connects the research plots across the tundra. Our first stop was one of the first projects to build artificial warming chambers to study the affect of warmer temperatures on arctic vegetation and soil ecosystems. The first chambers where established in 1986. You can see a dramatic difference in height and composition of plants inside the greenhouses. There are enclosures that test a variety of variables including increased nitrogen and phosphorous production that occurs when bacteria increase their growth in warmer soils and longer growing seasons.

Our first project is called a PLUK study.  We will be sorting plant samples from an area burned in a tundra fire in 2008. Researchers are studying how composition and speed in which the plants grow back after such a disturbance. The fire was started by a lightening strike. Thunderstorms are uncommon in the arctic, but their frequency is increasing as the average temperature increases.

We spent time reviewing how the samples where collected. It was a hot day. 70 degrees in the tundra seems like 90 elsewhere. It was a relief to escape the heat and mosquitos to help with samples collected before we arrived. Fifteen of us squeezed into a lab tent to learn how to sort and label samples, working in groups of three. We started at 11 am and finished our sample at 8 pm. There was a break for a wonderful dinner of seafood scampi and more ice cream.  I may brave the mosquitos to take some evening photos.


Toolik Lake Field Station – Day 1

This summer I was invited to join researchers as at the Toolik Lake Research Station. Each year researchers invite educators to work on their Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) projects. I jumped at the chance to travel to this outpost above the Arctic Circle, on the north side of the Brooks Range. My job will be to develop a lesson plan to share what I learned with my students.

I arrived at Toolik Lake Field Station after a 2 hour flight from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay. I was greeted at the airport by the Toolik Taxi drivers. Two station staff, who’s duties include driving a largely unpaved 130 mile section of the Dalton Highway from Prudhoe Bay to this remote research camp. I had met some of the scientists and teachers I would be working with in Anchorage.  It was relatively easy to pick out the science types from the crowd of workers flying into to work in the oil fields. My group included 2 other teachers, and an assortment of researchers and graduate students. We threw our bags in the back of the truck and split up between a passenger van and the truck space for our trek down the haul road. Two Muskoxen, 4 cranes, 4 Northern Harriers, 1 Gryfalcon, several Glaucaus Gulls, 2  ground squirrels and many bumps later brought us into camp.

I love the colors and the smells of the Tundra. The Brooks Range provides a dramatic background to the somewhat familiar Arctic terrain. The mosquitos are fierce and I look forward to starting our projects tomorrow.

11pm sun across Toolik Lake

The sleeping accommodations have comfortable beds and electricity. Quite luxurious.