September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Reading and Engineering: The Perfect Pair

Posted: Monday, October 19th, 2015

By Cynthia Berger

Reading is a clear priority in elementary classrooms across the nation. According to the 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education, the average K-3 elementary student gets nearly an hour and a half of instruction in reading and language arts each day. Meanwhile, that same student averages less than 20 minutes of science instruction per day. And until recently, engineering instruction was not even a part of the curriculum in most elementary classrooms.

But engineering IS becoming a routine part of elementary instruction, especially in states that have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards or updated their own science standards based on NGSS. It’s easy to see how hands-on engineering activities can support science and math learning: for example, kids who are engineering a bridge must call on what they’ve learned in science lessons about forces, and about the properties of materials; they also need to apply their math skills, measuring as they build or calculating as they conduct tests and analyze data. But engineering can also support reading instruction, in significant ways.

Two curricula serve as good examples. Both Engineering is Elementary (EiE), developed by the Museum of Science, Boston and Novel Engineering, developed at Tufts University, use storytelling through works of fiction to set a real-world context for learning. This approach is especially effective for young students.

Each EiE curriculum unit starts with students reading a storybook about a young child who solves a problem through engineering. After they read the storybook, students engineer their own solutions to the same problem. With Novel Engineering, students use the books they’re already reading for English Language Arts as inspiration for their own engineering projects.

The EiE storybooks intentionally present engineering challenges that young children can readily identify with, like building a wall to keep hungry rabbits out of a garden, designing a safe and sturdy bridge to reach an island play fort, or making an alarm system that reminds you when it’s time to do an after school chore. These scenarios help young children see how engineering relates to their own day-to-day experiences—and also how it’s a “helping” profession that makes a difference in the world.

Novel Engineering gives teachers lots of examples of how a children’s classic can spark ideas for engineering projects. For instance, first graders who read The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats, might engineer an “insulated snowball saver” to keep Peter’s snowball from melting in his pocket; fourth graders who read James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl, might engineer a model crane to lift the peach after it gets stuck on a skyscraper.

Whatever work of fiction the students read, the key thing is that not only are they absorbing the context for their engineering work, they are also exercising some key skills. They have to read the text closely, identify a problem that needs to be solved, and be able to cite the evidence in the text that led them to that conclusion. Both curricula call for student engineers to work collaboratively, in small groups, which means they have to express their ideas clearly and persuasively to their teammates. These small-group conversations call on students to use science and engineering vocabulary words, to draw inferences and make connections.

Engineering engages students in writing as well as reading. Students who are learning with Novel Engineering may present their engineering solutions to the class by, for example, writing their own story (with a plot that calls on the solution they’ve devised) or by creating an advertisement for their solution. Students who are learning with EiE keep an engineering journal; many lessons also engage students in writing persuasive or business-style letters. Students can also create their own personal journal to explore the story topic, or write a creative essay tied to story content.

Not only does engineering integrate well with reading, it can actually can motivate children to work on their reading skills. “Students have a real incentive to learn to read when NOT being able to read prevents them from doing something engaging,” notes Dr. Gerhard Salinger, the retired program director of the National Science Foundation’s Discovery Research K-12 program. “Engineering programs that involve engaging hands-on activities can increase students’ desire to learn to read.”

Cynthia Berger is the Project Manager of Communications and Outreach for Engineering is Elementary, Museum of Science, Boston, MA.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.