May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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:

Leave a Reply


Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

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.