September 2016 – Vol. 29 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.

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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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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” 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.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.