Monthly Archives: May 2020

Is science unbiased?

As a young student, I thought that science was unbiased. I believed that scientific methods were objective ways to uncover universal truths. I thought the history of science shared in my textbooks was a universal history of science. Even through undergraduate and graduate work in science, professors never discussed how culture affected science. It was not until I was in graduate classes in education leadership that professors engaged us in thinking critically about privilege, education, and science. Then I learned that my previous thinking was naive.

Why do White students grow up thinking science is unbiased? White students have the privilege of living in a world where nearly everything reflects their own worldview. Science textbooks described science as predominantly the domain of White men. We were told “the scientific method” was an unbiased, pure way to learn about the world. White students grew accustomed to this version of the world and did not see it as a culture. When we read the Eurocentric history of science, we believe (wrongly) that it represents a universal history of science. Nothing presented in my K-12 education communicated any other worldview.

When we are immersed in a culture we may not recognize it as culture. We often do not recognize our own biases. Dr. Melanie Joy presents an interesting case of not recognizing our own biases when she discusses why Americans think it is okay to eat cows, but not dogs. She also explains why people think eating meat is perfectly fine, but think a diet that excludes animal products is extreme.

She proposes a culture that she named carnism to explain this worldview. People that are immersed in carnism do not see it as a culture or bias. People who hold the carnism worldview may believe other worldviews are invalid or extreme.

Photo by Aditya Aiyar on

So what about science? In the Eurocentric (or Western science) worldview, science is a set of objective practices. Practices such as controlled experiments are highly valued and labeled as scientific. What about approaches to science in other cultures? In Indigenous science, carefully observing nature and prioritizing human relationships to the parts of the system they live in are practices that are highly valued. Someone who holds the Western science worldview might have a biased view about the value of Indigenous science practices. We need to recognize this bias when we teach about science. We work need to include the world views of students who come from diverse backgrounds in teaching and learning. We need to increase our knowledge of how Indigenous science and Western science approaches complement each other.

My current work explores Indigenous and Western world views through the lens of systems and system models in fifth-grade science curriculum.

Planning for engagement with big science ideas

This is week two of a book study of Ambitious Science Teaching (Windshitl, Thompson, & Braaten, 2018) with a nationwide group of science educators. The study was organized by @sbottasullivan. We are working through one chapter of the book each week and I will blog about each chapter. This post is about Chapter 2, Planning for engagement with big science ideas. You can follow our book study using #ASTBookChat on Twitter.

This chapter describes a unit planning process. This unit planning process is very different than the methods in which most science teachers have been trained. The rationale for this process is compelling. A anchor-driven unit has advantages over traditional topic-driven units.

Manuel Keusch

Selecting a good anchor takes time and thought, but is essential to creating a high-quality unit. The anchor must be complex enough that multiple science ideas are needed to explain it. The anchor must also be relevant to studentsʻ  lived experiences. In this way, the choice of anchor contributes to equity and rigor, which were two of the major concepts in my Chapter 1 post.

Eneida Nieves

As we design a unit, we should identify the big ideas that have explanatory power. Which ideas shed light on the inner workings of the most phenomena? The observation that often the most important big idea in a unit is not even explicitly called out in a typical unit was striking. It is important for us to equip students with the ability to use ideas with great explanatory power that can be used in multiple contexts.


Modeling and explanation of the anchor event are key activities in a high-quality unit. Students engage in iterative cycles of evidence gathering and sense-making as they develop their explanations. Models make their thinking visible. Our teaching goals must include explanations that include the “why” of anchor events. Teachers develop the gapless model that is the explanation of the anchor activity before they design the unit.

Anchor events are the thread that holds together the activities in the unit. The activities help students answer questions about the anchor event and are arranged in a logical order. This chapter describes a process for deciding how to order unit activities.

I am looking forward to the weekly discussion from the #ASTBookChat group on Twitter and synchronously via Zoom each week.

For more about #ASTBookChat, see my previous posts:


Integrating ELA, math, and science

In this post, I continue a thought experiment. Can a lesson really integrate ELA, math, and science in a meaningful way?

In my previous post, I showed how to choose standards in science, ELA, and mathematics for an integrated lesson. Here is the lesson objective I wrote: Students will be able to write an argument about the effect of gravity on a falling object that uses real-world data as a source of evidence.

I base this lesson on an Exploratorium activity. I am only using the idea for how to gather evidence for the argument in this lesson.

Gathering evidence using mathematics skills

The data sources that we have to use to gather evidence for this argument are the data table and the video of the falling object.


What evidence can students gather? We have visual evidence and numeric evidence. In the video, students should notice that the object moves down. In the data table, students should notice that the object moves down 0.51 meters in 0.330 seconds.

A very simple argument could be made with that evidence. However, if students use their mathematics skills with number and operations in base ten to look at the data table a little more closely, they can notice more. What can we notice about how far the object falls between each video frame?

By using Google Sheets, we can calculate the how far the object fell from one frame to the next. We can use Google Sheets to calculate the difference. By creating a formula and copying it down the column, the spreadsheet calculates the differences for us.

Lori Andersen

Students can look for patterns in data. They notice that the time between each frame is the same (0.033 seconds is 30 frames per second), but the distance the object falls between each frame increases. Students can relate the increasing distance to how the object gets faster as it falls. The data shows that in the last two frames, the object falls about 20 times farther than it did in the first 2 frames. This kind of thinking requires students to build a solid understanding of number and operations in base ten. This brings in another mathematics standard that I did not include in my previous post. My original idea was that the most important math skills would be representing and interpreting data.

(Side note: The mathematics became a little complicated for Grade 5. In another post, I explore a different way to represent data for falling objects.)

Writing the argument using ELA skills

In the argument, we want students to make a claim that Earthʻs gravity pulls on the object. What could a studentʻs argument look like? In ELA, students learn to write opinion pieces. Four ELA standards focus are related to this task.

    Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which ideas are logically grouped to support the writer’s purpose.
    Provide logically ordered reasons that are supported by facts and details.
    Link opinion and reasons using words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., consequentlyspecifically).
    Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented.

So we see that there is a close link among these standards in science, ELA and mathematics. If we know what students are learning in the other content areas, we should be able to do some integration.

What do you think of this integrated approach? What integrated approaches have you used in your teaching? Tell me in the comments.

For more about this idea, see my next blog post

Integrating Science, ELA, and Mathematics

In my post No Time for Science?, I presented a way to increase the amount of science time in elementary school. We can use the overlaps in the practices among ELA, mathematics, and science to create integrated lessons. In this post, I present a thought experiment using one standard, 5.PS2-1, about gravity.

5.PS2-1 Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is down.

Letʻʻs start by identifying the standards in ELA that focus on argumentation. One ELA standard is about supporting a point of view with reasons and information in writing.

Miguel Á. Padriñán

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.1 – Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.

There are four more standards related to this one about the skills students should be using as they write to support their point of view with reasons and information that can inform the lesson. Other standards in Grade 5 ask students to identify which reasons and evidence support which points. So we see that Grade 5 ELA skills can be practiced in the context of written arguments about the effect of Earthʻs gravity on objects.

What about mathematics? Mathematical Practice 3 is about constructing arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others and is clearly connected to this NGSS Performance Expectation. However, none of the CCSS for Grade 5 mathematics specifically call out this practice. It is up to the teacher to decide how to incorporate arguments and reasoning in mathematics instruction. We could decide to connect this to a standard about data.


CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.5.MD.B.2 – Represent and interpret data.

This combination of standards makes sense because students could look at distance data for a falling object to argue about the effect of gravity.

Now that I have a standard from each domain. I proceed to creating an objective for an integrated lesson. I found this lesson idea from The Exploratorium. I modify it to make it more appropriate for Grade 5 by focusing on the data table only and ignoring the calculations. The activity describes how to collect data about a falling object with video. I can drop an object alongside a meter stick and record it on video. I can go through the video frame by frame to collect distance and time data. Or, I can use the sample data provided on the website.


Lesson Objective: Students will be able to write an argument about the effect of gravity on a falling object that uses real-world data as a source of evidence.

Notice that my lesson objective includes content from all three subjects.

ELA: Students will create a written argument.

Science: Students will argue about the downward effects of gravity.

Math: Students will interpret data.

What do you think of this as a Grade 5 activity? What examples do you have of integrated lesson objectives? Share in the comments.

For more about the development of this lesson, see my next post.

No time for science?

A new report on elementary science was released this month. The findings were not very surprising given similar reports, such as this one that was released one year ago. The time spent on science in elementary school continues to be very low compared to ELA and mathematics.

The average number of science minutes per day falls far short of the 60 minutes per day recommended by the National Science Teaching Association. Often, teachers do not have a choice on how to allocate instructional time among content areas. Most states, districts, and schools prescribe a number of minutes of instruction for each content area and science has a lower priority than English Language Arts or mathematics, which are tested more frequently.

Perhaps the answer to getting more science time into the elementary school day is interdisciplinary teaching. Several years ago, Tina Cheuk created a Venn diagram showing the overlaps among ELA, mathematics, and science.

Cheuk, T. (2013)

These overlaps could be used to create curricula that coherently integrate the three domains. For example, the practices in the intersection have great promise in lessons that facilitate students bringing together skills from ELA, mathematics, and science as they use the practice of argumentation from evidence. Integration leads to questions about coherence. How similar or different are the approaches to argumentation across the three disciplines? There is a need for coherence among the content domains if we are to use integrated approaches.

If you use any integrated curricular materials, please share in the comments!

For more on how to integrate science, mathematics, and ELA, see my next post.

Reflections on CH1 ASTBookChat

Yesterday we had our first meeting for #ASTBookChat. Over 50 science educators from around the country participated either asynchronously via Twitter or synchronously via Zoom. I enjoyed this experience because we shared our perspectives on and experiences with implementing Ambitious Science Teaching ideas. Although we came from different places and roles, we share similar motivations to move toward the AST vision of equity and rigor in science instruction.

We share a motivation to improve science teaching and learning for all students because it is important work. We recognize shortcomings of the status quo and see the potential for making real change with AST and NGSS ideas. We also see that our motivation is sometimes not widely shared because others are in a different place in their professional development journeys. This relates to a video that was shared during our meeting. In the video, Dan Pink explains motivation as due to three factors: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. The key to motivating teachers is not teaching them the small skills, it is sharing the why. What can happen if we change our practice and how will it impact our students? If teachers buy in to the why, they will be motivated more for learning the tools and skills because they have purpose. Then they can build on their strengths to develop mastery and move closer to the AST vision.

A vision of Ambitious Science Teaching

This week, I begin a book study of Ambitious Science Teaching (Windshitl, Thompson, & Braaten, 2018) with a nationwide group of science educators. The study was organized by @sbottasullivan. We are going to work through one chapter of the book each week and I will blog about each chapter. This post is about Chapter 1, A Vision of Ambitous Science Teaching. You can follow our book study using #ASTBookChat on Twitter.

The first thing that struck me about this chapter is the emphasis on two equally important ideas in science teaching – rigor and equity. Often I have seen efforts in science teaching or curriculum that have emphasized one of these, while not attending to the other. For example, a curriculum may focus on cultural relevance, but not provide opportunities for students to grapple with important science ideas. On the other hand, a curriculum may focus on rigor, while not attending to equity. I have seen many examples of this, including approaches that naively present science as culturally neutral.

The authors describe how there is consensus in the science education research literature about the kinds of experiences that are important in science teaching and learning. They point out four things that students and teachers should be able to do:

  1. Understand, use and interpret scientific explanations of the natural world
  2. Generate and evaluate scientific evidence and explanations
  3. Understand the nature and development of scientific knowlege
  4. Participate productively in scientific practices and discourse

Nationally, the current state of science teaching and learning reveals that these things are frequently NOT observed in K-12 science classrooms. The AST book is a “how-to” for developing the skills we need as we work toward doing the things that are important for science learning in a way that addresses equity and rigor. However, reading and understanding what needs to be done is quite different (and much easier) than doing it well in real classrooms with real students. Professional development providers and teachers need to work together to change our science classrooms.

Changing science teaching and learning is a challenging task, but it is important. By enabling students to do the four things in the list, we are preparing them to be productive citizens who can engage in discourse around issues that are important to our world. We need citizens who can evaluate evidence and explanations, and make choices that use science to act responsibly.

I am looking forward to the weekly discussions from the #ASTBookChat group on Twitter and synchronously via Zoom each week.

For more about Chapter 1`, see my post Reflections on CH1 #ASTBookChat