February 2015 – Vol. 27 No. 6

Virtual Courseware: Web-Based Simulations for Promoting Inquiry-Based Teaching and Learning

Posted: Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

by Paul Narguizian and Robert Desharnais

There is wide acceptance that inquiry-based curriculum programs have positive effects on cognitive achievement, process skills, and attitudes towards science. Science instructors seek engaging, effective, and inquiry-based activities that are convenient to implement in their classrooms. While the web provides a vast resource of declarative information (some of it multimedia), there are few places on the web where instructors can obtain effective inquiry-based tools for teaching science. The Virtual Courseware Project fulfills this need with interactive, web-based simulation activities that emphasize the methods of science for both life and earth science topics.

With Virtual Courseware, students learn by doing: making observations, proposing hypotheses, designing experiments, collecting and analyzing data generated by the software, and synthesizing and communicating results. The activities include an online assessment quiz that consists of randomized interactive questions. The students’ answers are graded automatically and stored in a database server, and a printable certificate of completion is issued for each student. The instructor can access student and class results, allowing them to quickly gauge how well the key concepts were understood. The simulations are designed to enhance traditional curricula and provide a supplement to experimental laboratory and field work.

As an example, the Drosophila activity allows students to simulate laboratory experiments where they breed fruit flies carrying visible mutations and analyze the offspring to determine the laws governing genetic inheritance. The paradigm for this activity is a “virtual lab bench” where students can order fly stocks carrying mutations, mate flies in an incubator, and view and count flies under a microscope. Experimental data are entered into a “lab bench computer” which is used for analysis. Data tables and images can be exported into a “laboratory notebook” and results from the notebook can be imported to create an on-line scientific report. This activity promotes inquiry-based learning and the scientific method because it allows students to propose hypotheses, design their own experiments, and collect and analyze data to test these hypotheses in an engaging virtual environment that mimics a laboratory setting.

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Virtual Courseware Offerings

The development of Virtual Courseware began in 1995 with the release of the genetics application Virtual FlyLab. With the support of a series of NSF awards, several additional applications were developed in the areas of biology and earth science. These have been organized into four application suites:

  • Virtual Courseware for Inquiry-Based Science Education consists of Drosophila, described above, and two other applications to be released soon: Natural Selection, which allows students investigate the evolution of traits by performing laboratory experiments involving water fleas, and Relative Dating, where students can pose and test hypotheses regarding the order of the geological events represented in a geological cross section.
  • Virtual Courseware for Earth and Environmental Sciences includes two groups of activities. (1) Earthquake consists of a java-based simulation on determining the travel times of seismic waves and a second simulation on locating the epicenter and Richter magnitude of an earthquake. Also available is a version called Terremoto that is completely in Spanish. (2) Global Warming consists of two simulations and several interactive tutorials. Energy Balance allows students to explore the factors that determine the temperature on the Earth’s surface, and Future Climate Change allows students to experimentally manipulate simulations of Earth’s climate. Seven tutorials accompany these activities: Albedo, Carbon Cycle, Greenhouse Gases, Greenhouse Effects, Hydological Cycle, Milankovitch Cycles, and Seasons on Earth.
  • Geology Labs On-Line has five interactive tutorials: (1) Virtual Earthquake for earthquake epicenter and magnitude determination, (2) Virtual Dating—Isochron for determining the ages of rock and minerals, (3) Virtual Dating—Radiocarbon for determining the ages of fossils and archeological artifacts, (4) Virtual River—Discharge for determining the flow and other properties of rivers, and (5) Virtual River—Flooding for determining the frequency of flooding.
  • Biology Labs On-Line is a collection of 12 web-based simulations for biology education: CardioLab, DemographyLab, EnzymeLab, EvolutionLab, FlyLab, HemoglobinLab, LeafLab, MitochondriaLab, PedigreeLab, PopEcoLab, PopGenLab, and TranslationLab. It is a commercial web site hosted by the academic publisher Benjamin Cummings and jointly owned by the CSU Center for Distributed Learning and the publisher. A site-license for any of the simulations costs $133 per year.

Pre/In-service Teacher Training for Noyce Scholars

The Chancellor’s Office of the California State University was awarded a grant from the NSF NSDL program titled “Building Locally, Linking Globally: Networking Micro-Communities of Noyce Scholars for Advancing Innovations and Improvement in Mathematics and Science Education.” The Virtual Courseware Project partnered with the Noyce-NSDL team to train Noyce Scholars in the use of Virtual Courseware. Several in-person and on-line workshops were held and training materials were developed which became part of the Noyce Teaching Commons. Workshops were presented at annual western regional meetings of the Noyce Scholars and the Virtual Courseware Project hosted a one day series of hands-on workshops for over 60 Noyce Scholars in the Southwest.

The partnership has been a win-win-win situation for everyone involved. The Noyce-NSDL leadership team added another high quality instructional tool into its portfolio of on-line resources. The Virtual Courseware Project disseminated its materials to science majors who are committed to teach in high need schools throughout the nation. Most importantly, in these times of tight budgets and burgeoning technology, Noyce Scholars have been introduced to free and effective on-line simulations which allow them to implement inquiry-based learning in their classrooms in a fun and tech-savvy way.

This is the second in a series of articles that highlight features of the Noyce-NSDL project.

The Virtual Courseware Project was funded by several grants from the National Science Foundation: DUE 94552428, DUE 9752603, DUE 9980719, ESI 0352529, and DUE 0735011.

Paul Narguizian is an associate professor of biology at California State University with expertise in science education.

Robert Desharnais is a professor of professor of biology at California State University, the director of the Virtual Courseware Project, and a member of CSTA.

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.

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Summer CSI Institute in Arkansas Invites Applicants

Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

by Karen Yanowitz, Ann Ross, Tanja McKay, and Renee Carroll

Guess who’s back again?  After last year’s successful summer institute was made possible by a four-year, 1.04 million dollar grant funded by the National Science Foundation (courtesy of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers  – ITEST – program), we are thrilled to announce that the CSI : Classroom Student Investigations program once again hosted its third institute at Arkansas State University.   The CSI Grant focuses on rural high-needs school districts, and its goal is to provide teachers with valuable skills and resources they can use to implement inquiry-based forensic science instruction in their classrooms.

Principle Investigator Karen Yanowitz, Co-Principle Investigators Ann Ross and Tanja McKay, Program Manager Renee Carroll, and ASU faculty organized the CSI Summer Institute, which took place in June 2014.  Twenty teachers, grades 7-10, and 67 students, grades 7-12, participated in the Institute. During the first week, teachers were presented with, “The Case of the Bungled Burglary.”  Using real life forensic science techniques demonstrated by grant senior personnel and both CSI Co-PIs, teachers learned how to utilize crime-solving techniques including robotics, soil analysis, microbiology, forensic entomology, DNA blood typing, and trace evidence.  During the second week of the institute, teachers designed their own lesson plans based on what they learned the first week, then used their lesson plans to teach students how to use the same crime solving techniques.

This year’s CSI institute will be held June 15 – 26, 2015 for teachers and June 24-25, 2015 for students.  To apply, visit our webpage , where you will find both our student and teacher applications.  The application deadline for both students and teachers is April 15, 2015.  Late applications will be accepted on a space-available basis.  We look forward to seeing you at the CSI institute in June!

 

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: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Support for District Science Coaches

Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

by Jill Grace

One of our goals here at CSTA is to be a supportive resource to science educators statewide. In this new environment of NGSS, many teachers now find themselves shifting job positions and are working as science coaches. This job shift is a new frontier for many and we felt there was a need to have a forum where conversations can happen and best practices can be shared. With that in mind, we decided to add to our list of Facebook groups and created California Science District Coaches.

If you are a district science support provider, teacher leader, teacher coach, TOSA, or TSA – we invite you to request to join the group. Once you do we will follow up by sending you a Facebook message (an effort to avoid spammers and individuals that might commercialize the page). Be sure to check “other” in your Facebook messages and reply to get permission to join the group.

Our page moderators will regularly post information that is relevant to you and members of the group can also share resources, ask questions, and find a supportive network. Join us!

Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace teaches 7th grade science at Palos Verdes Intermediate School and is the Middle School/Jr. High Director for CSTA.

Evolution Everywhere

Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

by Josh Rosenau

“We’re leveraging evolution,” Solazyme CEO Jonathan Wolfson told reporter Mike Grunwald, author of The New New Deal (2012). “We take what the planet is good at making, plant sugars, and turn it into what the planet needs, oils.” The San Francisco-based company’s $200 million market capitalization, its fuel contracts with the US Navy and major airlines, and its growing business producing oils for use in foods and cosmetics all testify to the economic value of leveraging evolution.

Further down the Bay, at NASA Ames, the Advanced Control and Evolvable Systems are using evolution to make better spacecraft. In a NASA webpage about the project, researcher Jason Lohn explains, “We’re taking our cue and inspiration from nature,” allowing antennas and computer chips to evolve in software, creating remarkable new designs. “No human would build an antenna as crazy as this,” he explains. But then again, no human could build an antenna that worked as efficiently.

NASA’s engineers are not the only ones who rely on evolution. The space agency’s Exobiology Discipline Working Group, struggling to devise a way to define life (whatever world we might find it on), settled on a working definition: “life is a self-sustaining system capable of Darwinian evolution.” The definition is often attributed to Gerald Joyce, a researcher at Scripps Research Institute whose work in San Diego is leading us ever closer to understanding how Earth’s first life came to be.

Indeed, evolution has been key to the California economy for over a century. Finding and selecting crop breeds that could thrive in California turned the state into the breadbasket of the world. “What a joy life is when you have made a close working partnership with Nature,” explained Luther Burbank, the Santa Rosa-based “Wizard of Horticulture.” Burbank, who developed over 1000 plant varieties at his Santa Rosa research center celebrated his work “helping [Nature] to produce for the benefit of mankind new forms, colors, and perfumes in flowers which were never known before; fruits in form, size, and flavor never before seen on this globe; and grains of enormously increased productiveness, whose fat kernels are filled with more and better nourishment, a veritable storehouse of perfect food—new food for all the world’s untold millions for all time to come.”

Inspired by reading Charles Darwin, Luther Burbank was an ardent advocate for evolution and evolution education. In the era of the Scopes trial (and decrees by the California state superintendent of instruction that evolution might be taught only as a theory, not as fact), he joined with Stanford Chancellor David Starr Jordan and a host of other luminaries to support a new advocacy group known as the Science League of America. A speech on behalf of the League and its defense of evolution education was among the last delivered by the man whose birthday was chosen for California’s Arbor Day.

Operated from writer Maynard Shipley’s home in Sausalito, the League battled efforts to force creationism into classrooms, or to ban the teaching of evolution. Burbank, Jordan, and the congressmen, clergy, doctors, scientists, and teachers who joined the effort all feared the harm that might follow from these attacks on science education.

Ninety years later, that battle continues. From an elementary teacher in Berkeley who told children that evolution, like Santa Claus, is a myth, to school boards attempting to introduce creationist lessons, California remains an active battleground when it comes to evolution. And while the Science League of America no longer exists, we at the National Center for Science Education do remarkably similar work.

We achieved our greatest fame in 2005, for our help with the legal battle in Dover, PA. That case resulted in a ruling that “intelligent design,” like all other forms of creationism, cannot be taught as science. The lawyers who won the case relied on NCSE’s archives and our deep knowledge of the scientific, pedagogical, theological, and legal issues surrounding creationism.

But most of what we deal with doesn’t involve lawyers or press conferences. Most conflicts over the teaching of evolution can be resolved collaborative. A teacher calls asking for help with antiscience administrators or parents, or a parent writes wondering what to do about an assignment which seems to call settled science into doubt. We help them navigate the bureaucracy, give them resources explaining what is and isn’t allowed, and share our experience with successful paths to defusing the conflict.

NCSE is in our 4th decade, and the organized creationist attack on evolution is nearing its century mark. These battles aren’t likely to end soon, even as evolution-related topics from synthetic biology to personal genomics become more central to society. And so long as science teachers and science education are at risk, we at NCSE will be ready to help.

Josh Rosenau is a programs and policy director at the National Center for Science Education. He was invited to write for CCS by CSTA member Minda Berbeco.

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: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Celestial Highlights for March 2015

Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

by Robert Victor with twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller

Links to evening and morning twilight sky maps for use in southern California in March 2015 appear below. Links to related activities on the changing visibility of stars and planets, a selection of sky maps for northern California (exact for lat. 40° N), and a preview of Comet Halley’s next appearance in 2061, are now available at www.abramsplanetarium.org/msta/

March 2015 at dusk. At dusk in early March 2015, the four brightest “stars”, in order of brilliance, are: Venus in west; Jupiter, in eastern sky; Sirius, the “Dog Star”, 40 degrees up in south as seen from the Coachella Valley, and Canopus, less than 4 degrees up when it passes due south about 21 minutes before Sirius does. Sounds of nature enrich the stargazing experience. In Palm Springs, we’ve been hearing frogs in nearby Tahquitz Creek on warmer nights since December.

Canopus passes directly overhead for observers near latitude 53° south, within 14° N of the Antarctic Circle, so you’d have to go all the way to southern Argentina or Chile to stand on terra firma directly beneath the star. From the Coachella Valley, you must choose your site carefully, or mountains might block your view. From my abode in Palm Springs, I see Canopus blink off when it goes behind a mountainside several minutes before it reaches its high point.

From Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs, Canopus passes due south only 4° up in a dark sky at 7:32 p.m. PST on March 1, and then four minutes earlier each day, to 7:08 p.m. on March 7, and suddenly to 8:04 p.m. PDT on Sunday, March 8, an hour later than you might expect, until you recall that you’ve just reset your clock to daylight saving time. (Your friends elsewhere in southern California should add 4 minutes to these times for every degree their longitude is west of 116.5°, or subtract if east.) By March 11 or 12 the star reaches its high point only about an hour after sunset. Within a few days more, as the star’s “transit time” backs closer to the time of sunset, the sky will become too bright to catch Canopus at its high point.

Other features of the early evening: A telescope reveals Venus now in gibbous phase, and up to four of Jupiter’s moons discovered by Galileo in 1610. Venus and Jupiter, closing from 123° apart on March 1, to 85° apart on the 31st, will have a spectacular pairing on June 30. Mars, now on the far side of its orbit, doesn’t reveal much telescopically, but it’s visible to naked eye and binoculars, sinking lower in twilight 4° to 17° below Venus.

Orion’s 3-star belt (not bright enough to be shown on our twilight chart) lies midway between red Betelgeuse and blue Rigel. The belt points the way leftward toward Sirius, and the opposite way toward Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, the Bull, and beyond to the Pleiades or “Seven Sisters” star cluster (also not plotted, but beautiful in binoculars). The huge “Winter Hexagon”, in counterclockwise order Sirius-Rigel-Aldebaran-Capella-Pollux-(Castor, not shown)-Procyon and back to Sirius, with Betelgeuse inside, contains 7 of the 21 stellar objects of first magnitude or brighter (16 stars and 5 planets) ever visible from southern California. Their constellations include a bull backing away from a charging hunter and his two canine followers, a pair of twins, and a chariot driver with mother goat and three kids on his shoulder.

Following this menagerie is bright Jupiter, itself followed by Leo, the Lion, with the star Regulus marking his heart. Perhaps the Lion is chasing his dinner across the sky? Quite a menu!

By March’s end, Arcturus, the “Bear Guardian” star, pops up above the ENE horizon before mid-twilight. Use this memory aid: “Follow the arc (curve of the bear’s tail or handle of the Big Dipper) to Arcturus.”

March Moon Madness

The Moon can be easily spotted daily at evening mid-twilight (about 40 minutes after sunset) March 1-5 and March 21-April 4.

At dusk on Monday, March 2, the fat gibbous Moon is well up in the eastern sky, 5°-6° north (upper left) of Jupiter. Now through July, the Moon will pass Jupiter in the evening sky every 27 or 28 days. The interval is shorter than the Moon’s cycle of phases, 29.5 days, so each time it overtakes Jupiter, the Moon will appear progressively less full.

On March 4, the nearly Full Moon will rise 35-40 minutes before sunset, and on March 5, the Moon, just past Full, rises shortly after sunset. In the following days, moonrise occurs nearly an hour later each night, making it more convenient to switch your moon-watching time to predawn.

March 2015 at dawn.

The brightest objects in morning twilight, in order of brilliance, are: Arcturus high in WSW to W; Vega high in NE; early in month, Mercury low in ESE, closely matches or slightly outshines Arcturus, but it sinks into bright twilight after midmonth as it approaches the far side of the Sun. Saturn, steady in S to SW, is next in brightness in the morning sky.

Look earlier than map time, at least an hour before sunrise, and you’ll find the Big Dipper in NW. Follow its curved handle to Arcturus, and then to Spica. Tip: “Follow the arc to Arcturus and drive a spike to Spica.”

Near Vega are Altair to its lower right and Deneb to its lower left, completing the Summer Triangle.

Compare steady Saturn to reddish twinkling reddish Antares, heart of the Scorpion, 8°-9° to the planet’s lower left.

A telescope reveals the rings of Saturn, now tipped more than 24 degrees from edge-on!

As the sky brightens, listen for the sounds of birds. Is the soundscape the same from week to week as spring progresses?

In morning twilight on Thursday, March 5, the Full Moon is low in the west, with Regulus setting 4°-5° to its lower right. On March 8 and 9, the waning gibbous Moon appears in SW near Spica. On Thursday, March 12, Saturn appears within 3° lower right of the Moon in S, while the reddish twinkling star Antares appears 8°-9° to their lower left. On Friday, Mar. 13, the Moon is close to half full and essentially at Last Quarter phase, 90° or one quarter-circle west of the Sun and 14°-16° left (east) of Antares and Saturn. The last easy morning view of the waning Moon will come on Wed. Mar. 18, when it’s very low in E to ESE in morning twilight. [The invisible] New Moon on Fri. Mar. 20 at 2:36 a.m. PDT produces a total solar eclipse in the Arctic.

Moon returns to evening: On Sat. Mar. 21 at dusk, the 1.7-day-old waxing crescent will be very easy to spot. Mars will be 2° to its lower right. For a few more evenings, look for beautiful earthshine, from sunlight reflected by Earth onto the Moon’s dark (non-sunlit) side. Watch the crescent thicken daily as it moves farther from the Sun on each successive evening. It is 4° upper left of Venus on the next evening, Sun. Mar. 22, and passes widely south of the Pleiades star cluster at nightfall on March 23. The Moon appears within the “V” of the Hyades cluster and 3° lower right Aldebaran on the next evening, Tues. Mar. 24.

The Moon appears inside the Winter Hexagon March 25-27, and has nearly reached First Quarter phase, half full and 90° from the Sun, on the middle one of those three evenings, Thurs. Mar. 26. On Sat. Mar. 28, the Moon is outside the Hexagon, just east of the Procyon to Pollux line, and on Sun. Mar. 29 the Moon appears 6° S of Jupiter. On the last two evenings of March, the Moon is not far from Regulus, heart of Leo the Lion.

A special night: On Friday evening, April 3, the nearly Full Moon rises 4°-5° S of due east about 26 minutes before sunset. About 13 minutes before sunset, Sun and Moon can be viewed simultaneously, in opposite directions, each about 2° above unobstructed horizons. About an hour after sunset, look for Spica 13° below the Moon. A total lunar eclipse will happen early Saturday morning, April 4.

At 3:16 a.m. PDT on Saturday April 4, a partial eclipse begins as the Moon enters the umbra, or dark central core of Earth’s shadow. The Moon will then be in the southwest, with Spica 11° to its left. As minutes pass, the dark circular edge of Earth’s shadow will become apparent. The Moon will pass through the northernmost part of Earth’s dark central shadow, resulting in a brief total lunar eclipse lasting only 5 minutes, from 4:58 a.m. until 5:03 a.m. PDT. At deepest eclipse at 5:00 a.m., Palm Springs will see the Moon 18° up in WSW, with Spica 10° to its upper left.

The brightness and color of the Moon during a total eclipse varies widely from one eclipse to another, depending on atmospheric conditions over places on Earth where Sun is rising or setting at time of eclipse. Sunlight must pass through these zones in order to reach Moon during total eclipse, and presence of clouds in lower atmosphere or volcanic aerosols in stratosphere can block much of the sunlight and darken Earth’s shadow. The great volcanic eruptions of 1963, 1982, and 1991 were each followed by exceptionally dark total lunar eclipses. The French astronomer Andre Danjon devised a five-point brightness or luminosity scale to help observers rate darkness and color of a total lunar eclipse. Observe for yourself how the eclipse on morning of April 4 compares to others! Get Danjon’s scale at http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/Danjon.html and then select the rating from the 5-point L (luminosity) scale best matching the darkness and color of the Moon at beginning, middle, and end of totality.

After 5:03 a.m., the Moon slowly withdraws from the Earth’s umbral shadow, until 6:45 a.m., when the partial phase of the eclipse comes to an end. But from the Coachella Valley, the moon sets before the end of the partial eclipse.

Another total lunar eclipse, the fourth and last in a tetrad of total lunar eclipses at 6-month intervals since April 2014, will be seen at a much more convenient hour for students and the general public, beginning at dusk, Sunday, Sept. 27.

For more information on sky events in 2015, see these articles and activities.

http://www.classroomscience.org/celestial-highlights-for-2015

(A selection of twilight sky charts for use during months of the best planet gatherings.)

http://www.classroomscience.org/getting-started-in-skywatching-for-school-year-2014-2015

(Scroll down to “Modeling seasonal visibility of stars and visibility of the planets.” Includes planet orbit charts, a data table for plotting planets, and an activity sheet with 15 questions on visibility of stars and planets in 2015-2016.)

 Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts, did graduate work in Planetarium Science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

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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.

Crosscutting Concepts Part 2: Structure and Function

Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

by Valerie Joyner

In January we explored, the NGSS crosscutting concept of patterns in the primary grades through the lens of earth, space, and ocean sciences. This month we will take a look at the crosscutting concept of structure and function as it relates to the life sciences.

While structure and function are not taught in kindergarten, they are covered in 1st and 2nd grades. The early study of structure and function is necessary for laying the groundwork for all students’ science education throughout the grades. The importance of early childhood science in grades K-2 cannot be emphasized enough.

“In grades K-2, – students observe that the shape and stability of structure and designed objects are related to their function(s)” (NGSS, Appendix G). Just as a fork with prongs makes eating noodles easier, and a spoon with a bowl makes a better tool for sipping soup, plants and animals have structures that assist them in their survival. Take for example:

  • red tubular flowers attract hummingbirds, pollinators with long slender beaks
  • many berries have protective thorns; small animals shelter in their thorny thickets
  • African trees grow tall to avoid grazers; giraffes have long necks to reach them
  • kangaroos use their tails for stability so they can stand and bound on two legs
  • bats and foxes have big ears to catch more sound so they can hear and hunt better

In first grade 1-LS1-1, students “use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help survive, grow, and meet their needs.” Coming up with simple investigations to illustrate these connections between structure and function can be challenging but here are a few ideas.

Have students make tiny chairs, each with one Dixie cup and no more than three toothpick legs, with a mini marshmallow as a base for each toothpick leg. If you have them start with two legs each and graduate to three, they will notice and appreciate the stability added by the kangaroo’s third appendage, its tail.

First grade scientists can also draw and cut out different size and shape paper ear extensions to see if their hearing improves. Show some basic examples like small triangle cat ears, tall skinny rabbit ears, and large triangle fox ears, and direct students to make any size or shape animal ears they want. Then switch styles among themselves so they can all try several different sizes and shapes (making sure no one actually inserts anything into their ears).

In second grade 2-LS2-2, students “develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants.” Here are a few possibilities for compelling investigations still simple enough for the age group.

Have second grade students make simple Dixie cup “flowers” with fuzzy sticks (pipe cleaners) sprinkled with cornstarch for stamens and pollen. Students can visit the flowers with bees they make from fuzzy sticks and note how the “pollen” sticks to the “bees”.

As a follow up, make Dixie cup “seed pods” by putting some wild bird seed in each cup, covering with tissue paper and securing with rubber bands. Students then go outside and poke small holes in the “seed pod” with a pencil and sprinkle seeds, mimicking behavior of animals that disperse seeds by brushing against or eating flowers and letting some of the seed scatter about.

Hands-on models for demonstrating to kids how structure and function relate to each other are even richer when they complement experiences outside the classroom, like guided hikes, sock seed walks (with old socks on over shoes and pant legs to collect and examine “hitchhikers”), and outings with family and friends. It helps to invite students to make observations about structures throughout their days and share them in the classroom during science time. Kids can speculate together on what functions different structures may serve for the observed plant or animal.

As teachers, we’re always looking for more variety in activities so we can adapt to different student needs and classroom settings. As you integrate this concept into your teaching toolbox, keep an eye out for ideas and investigations to help primary kids connect structure to function. Above all, please share ideas and experiences with colleagues in your school and with us in this newsletter to enrich science learning for all students.

This article is the second in a series exploring crosscutting concepts and offering ideas for applications in the primary grades. Crosscutting concepts “provide students with connections and intellectual tools that are related across the different areas of disciplinary content and can enrich the application of practices and their understanding of core ideas.” (NRC, 2012, pg. 233)

There are seven fundamental crosscutting concepts so necessary for students to learn effectively, throughout all grade levels in all disciplines. These are 1) patterns, 2) cause and effect, 3) scale, proportion, and quantity, 4) systems and system models, 5) energy and matter: flows, cycles, and conservation, 6) structure and function, and 7) stability and change.

Look for another crosscutting concept featured in the next issue, and in the meantime, we’d love to hear from you about your experiences with teaching any of these fundamental connecting concepts to primary students.

Written by Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner is a retired elementary science educator and is CSTA’s Primary Director.