Author Archives: Lori Andersen

About Lori Andersen

I am a science education researcher.

Rubbish Sort

Tuesday was the first day of the ‘Ōpala unit. ‘Ōpala is the Hawaiian word for garbage and the unit is adapted from the NYU SAIL Garbage Unit, which is an Open Educational Resource. The Garbage Unit was awarded the NGSS Design Badge.

Locally, we use the word rubbish rather than the word garbage. The unit is place-based as we are studying our local ‘ōpala system. The unit is problem-based as students will be figuring out what happens to their rubbish and why it happens. In this phase of the unit, students have opportunities to experience the anchoring phenomenon. We engage students with the phenomenon of rubbish and we elicit their initial ideas. Students will later create a driving question board. During the unit the class will answer their questions through investigations.

Tuesday was the first day of our unit. Lesson 1-1 takes 4 days. The first activity was for students to sort items from the lunch rubbish into categories. I asked each group of students to observe a small pile of rubbish. I asked them how and why scientists make observations. They knew that scientists looked at things carefully to figure out how and why things happen. The students were tasked with sorting their rubbish pile into smaller categories.

Rubbish sorted into food and not food categories

Two kinds of sorting emerged. A few groups of students sorted their rubbish into two categories—food and non food. The rest of the groups sorted their rubbish into three categories—paper, plastic, and cardboard.

We talked about how scientists use patterns of properties to identify materials. The students wrote down the sorting categories and the properties of things in those categories in their science notebooks.

Tomorrow we will predict what happens to those categories of things over time in the rubbish and take a virtual tour of the ‘Ōpala system.

Starting a New Unit

Yesterday I met with my new science class for the first time and I told them that are helping me with my research on science teaching and learning. Their first assignment was to help me find out what they already know. As a formative assessment, students engaged in three learning activities similar to what they will do later in the unit.

Students were presented with three tasks. They were asked to observe substances before and after mixing, then explain if they thought a new substance was formed or not. They were asked to develop a model of how smell travels to your nose and use it to explain how smell travels and why they cannot see it. Finally, they were asked what would happen to the weight when something melts and to explain why weight changes or does not change.

The preassessment items are phenomenon-based and three-dimensional. They provide insight to studentsʻ use of important disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

I learned about students prior knowledge of PS1.A structure and properties of matter. Items probed students knowledge of how to use properties to identify substances, determining if a new substance is formed when substances are mixed, how matter is made of particles too small to be seen, and about conservation of matter (for melting).

Crosscutting Concepts

I learned about studentsʻ prior knowledge of patterns as they used (or did not use) patterns of properties to identify substances. They also used cause and effect to explain what causes smell and what causes weight to change or not when something melts. They demonstrated their knowledge of systems and system models as they modeled smell and showed the components of a system (nose, smelly object, smell, air) and how they interacted to cause smell.

Science and Engineering Practices

I learned about studentsʻ abilities to use two practices—constructing explanations and developing and using models. Students constructed a model for how the smell of food travels to their noses and used the model to construct a written explanation.

This information will help me support students through the rest of the unit. Tomorrow we begin with a rubbish sort!

Structuring science lessons with CCCs

In the quest to shift instruction to be NGSS-aligned, the crosscutting concepts have gotten the least amount of attention. Most curriculum and instruction focuses on the science and engineering practices rather than the crosscutting concepts. Although the focus on the practices makes sense because these are the things scientists and engineers do, another alternative is to focus on the crosscutting concepts to emphasize how scientists and engineers think.

CCCs are the Thinking Tools of Science

The crosscutting concepts are the thinking tools, or cognitive heuristics of science. How can we use these cognitive heuristics to structure teaching and learning? In Ambitious Science Teaching, the authors presented a three-part strategy for whole-class discussions. I noticed that each part aligned with a different kind of crosscutting concept. The first step focused on observing Patterns. The second step asked students to make inferences about Cause & Effect. The third step asked students to apply their new knowledge to the anchoring phenomenon in a System Model. The diagram below shows these three steps using a crosscutting concept model that I presented in a previous post, which evolved from a model of the crosscutting concepts created by Rehmat et al. (2019).

Using CCCs to structure a discussion (Andersen, 2020)

What does this teaching structure look like in practice?

PART ONE: Students identify the patterns in the focal phenomenon through a common experience of the phenomenon. Teachers engage students in a discussion about what they observed. This step elicits student knowledge and provides motivation to learn.

PART TWO: Students make inferences about the cause of the effect that they observed. They examine new science ideas. Students figure out how the science ideas explain the phenomenon and the patterns they saw. This step helps students gather evidence of the explanatory mechanisms within the phenomenon.

PART THREE: Students apply the science idea to the anchoring phenomenon that is the focus of the unit. This step engages students in modeling an explanation for the phenomenon.


Notice that in each of the three parts, we focused on a different set of CCCs. Part one uses noticing (patterns), part two uses sensemaking (cause and effect), and part three uses modeling (systems and system models).

Letʻs look at an example of this in practice. Consider a 5th grade lesson in which students examine why some stars are brighter than others.


The constellation Pleiades or Makaliʻi (Public Domain, NASA)

Students look at a section of the night sky and look for patterns. They notice that some stars are brighter than others. They notice that the sun is brighter than all of the stars. Students discuss why this might happen.


Students investigate cause and effect relationships related to the brightness of stars. They examine how the apparent brightness of a flashlight varies with how far away the flashlight is from us. Students identify a cause and effect relationship between distance and apparent brightness (i.e., farther away flashlight appears less bright). They also identify that bulb rating affects apparent brightness (i.e., bulbs with higher lumen ratings can appear brighter from farther away than bulbs with lower lumen ratings). Now students have two cause and effect ideas to use to explain variations in star brightness.

Simple spreadsheet of star data (Lori Andersen)


Students apply these ideas to the anchoring phenomenon. They use a simple spreadsheet to examine data for the 20 brightest stars (distance from earth, luminosity, apparent brightness). They compare pairs of stars and figure out if the cause and effect ideas can explain which one appears brighter. Students model the system of star and observer with a new conceptual model. They determine that two factors affect apparent brightness: luminosity and distance from the observer. A star that is closer might appear brighter, but a farther away star can appear brighter if it is more luminous.

Cause and effect diagram (Lori Andersen)

Connecting the Lesson to the Anchoring Phenomenon

A summary table is a structure for whole-class sense making that can help students understand how each lesson contributes to understanding an anchoring phenomenon. Class discussions culminate in consensus about what should go in the table.A summary table helps students keep track of the ideas they develop through each activity as they develop a complete model for the anchoring phenomenon. The entry in the table represents the lesson that was describe above.

Summary Table Example


(What we did)
What we observed

What we learned

(Cause of the pattern?)
How it helps us understand?

(System model)
We observed the brightness of stars in the night sky and examined data about distances, magnitude, and, luminosity.Some stars are brighter than others. Stars are much farther away than the sun. Stars are a large ranges of distances from Earth.Many bright stars are closer to earth than other stars, BUT some are not. Some bright stars are farther away from Earth and more luminous.Star brightness is affected by two things:
(1) how much light the star emits, and (2) how far away the star is from Earth.
Summary Table Example

NSM Framework for CCCs

The diagram illustrates the larger model of all seven CCCs with three functional groups — Noticing, Sensemaking, and Modeling. The three-step sequence in this post provides a way to use these three groups in lesson design and create a focus on the thinking tools of science. Of course, the science and engineering practices and the disciplinary core ideas are also integrated in the lesson, which makes it three-dimensional. A focus on modeling makes it easy to integrate many practices (e.g., Passmore et al., 2017). In this way the Noticing-Sensemaking-Modeling framework is an alternative teaching structure that shifts the emphasis from the science and engineering practices to the crosscutting concepts, and from a focus on what scientists and engineers do to how they think and decide what to do.

Related posts

The lesson in this post is part of a larger unit on fifth grade Earth and Space Science. You can find out more about this unit on other posts:

Focusing a Crosscutting Concept Lens

In previous posts, I’ve written about integrating the crosscutting concepts (CCCs) in curriculum. The CCCs are a set of thinking tools, or epistemic heuristics, for science. Each CCC can be imagined as a lens through which we examine phenomena. Each lens reveals a different aspect of the phenomenon that should be included in an explanation of how the phenomenon works. In this post, I present a way to coherently integrate the CCCs into a curriculum unit.

I’ve used my graphic organizer to identify how each CCC applies to the phenomenon. The figure below is for the phenomenon of Makali’i rising at sunset each November, which is an indication for the start of the Hawaiian new year. In this post I will illustrate how to weave the CCCs into instruction over the course of a unit. Each of the CCCs is introduced in the unit as their investigations reveal related aspects of the phenomenon.

Systems and System Models is the Foundation

A key feature in the unit is student modeling. Systems and System Models is the foundational CCC (blue oval in the figure). At the beginning of the unit students create a system model that reflects their initial understandings. The model should include the important parts and how the parts interact. Students revisit the model two more times in the unit, at the middle and near the end. In the middle of the unit students refine the model using evidence from their investigations. Near the end of the unit students refine the model again to integrate their new understandings and explain the anchoring phenomenon. These refined models should address more CCC elements.

Begin Modeling with the Basics – Patterns and Cause & Effect

At the beginning, modeling should focus on the two first-order CCCs – Patterns and Cause & Effect (pink ovals in the figure). Students identify patterns in the phenomenon and attempt to explain the cause of the patterns. They do not yet know the cause and effect relationships that explain the phenomenon. This is a good time to elicit students’ ideas and create a class list. Teachers can offer sentence starters for students to record their ideas about the cause and effect relationships. After individual think time and small group sharing, teachers can gather ideas from the whole class into a list that is a class resource for modeling.

Next, students work in small groups modeling the phenomenon. Teachers can ask questions that help students use the other CCCs and focus their thinking. Based on the ideas a student has, teachers can focus a student’s thinking on a specific part of the phenomenon using focusing questions.

Focus Student Thinking with Remaining CCCs

The teacher should have a list of questions written in advance that target each of the CCCs as they apply specifically to the anchoring phenomenon. Let’s look at examples for the phenomenon of the rising of Makali’i. STEM Teaching Tool #41 is helpful for creating good focusing questions.

Scale, Proportion, and Quantity

  • Can an observer on Earth see the cause of the changes in the constellations that we see?
  • Is the cause too large or does it take too long to see directly?
  • How can a model make this cause easier to see?

Stability and Change

  • What explains why we see different constellations over a year?
  • What explains why the same constellation returns every year at the same time?

Energy & Matter

  • How does energy (light) travel in this system?
  • What causes an observer to see a constellation?

Structure & Function

  • How do the spatial relationships among the parts of the system cause the observer to be able to see a constellation?

Teachers should select which questions to ask based on what ideas students are trying to express in their models. The purpose of questioning is to elicit what students already know and help them express their ideas in models. The questions should not be used to try to change students ideas at this point. The teacher needs to use their judgement to determine which questions will help student thinking and which questions are not productive at this point in the unit.

Revising Models After Investigations

At the middle and near the end of the unit, students revisit their models to improve them. The focusing questions listed above can be refined to ask students to address how new evidence might be included in their models. For example, in the Makali’i unit students learn how Earth’s rotation makes the sun and stars appear to move over the day and night. They learn how the same motion can look different from different frames of reference. A person sees the Earth as stationary and the stars moving, while a person in space sees the stars as stationary the Earth rotating. Teachers can revise the focusing questions to help students examine how this finding affects their models. Here are some examples for two CCCS.

Stability and Change

  • How does the Earth’s rotation explain why our view of the sky from Earth changes?
  • How does the Earth’s rotation explain why constellation rise and set each evening?

Structure & Function

  • How does the Earth’s rotation affect our ability to see a constellation from Earth?

These revised focusing questions help student think about how to integrate their new knowledge into their models.

In this way, we can strategically integrate all the CCCs through iterative modeling and discourse tools. It may be that some CCCs are not helpful for certain phenomena. It may be better to introduce some CCCs later in the unit rather than at the beginning. Those decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis.

What do you think about these ideas? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Transforming a Physics Lessons about Wave Properties

Are you transforming your physics course to NGSS? I took an old lesson of mine about properties of waves and transformed in to a phenomenon-driven storyline. The original activity was an inquiry-based lesson on wave properties. You can find it on the PhET website. I wanted to update this lesson to align with the NGSS…

Developing a Particle Model of Matter

On September 15, we started Lesson 2-3 of The Garbage Unit. This lesson develops the idea that solids and liquids are made of particles and uses this idea to explain sugar dissolving in water. The day before this lesson, students made predictions about what happens to sugar when we dissolve it in water. Most students…


On August 31 we investigated what happens to materials when they are crushed. Making Predictions I asked students to think about a soda can that gets crushed and a piece of paper that gets torn into 100 pieces. I asked them to answer these questions in their notebooks. When a material changes shape, Is it…

Planning Coherent Curriculum

I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about Grade 5 science curriculum. How do we make sure that we are creating opportunities for students to learn what they need to progress to higher grades? The K-12 Framework has learning progressions that we need to carefully consider in curriculum design. We need to use them effectively.

We have three NGSS dimensions with many components: 11 disciplinary core ideas, seven crosscutting concepts, and eight science and engineering practices. The performance expectations tell us what will be assessed by suggesting how the components can be combined, but they are not curriculum. However, most curriculum development approaches begin by grouping PEs into logical clusters, such as described in the front matter for NYU SAIL’s Garbage unit. Therefore, the combinations of dimensions in the PEs often affect what is emphasized in curriculum and instruction.

Let’s look at Grade 5. I analyzed the content of the PEs, which revealed:

  • Of 16 crosscutting concept elements, 56% were not addressed.
  • Of 7 crosscutting concepts, 2 crosscutting concepts were not addressed at all (structure & function, stability & change)
  • Of 40 science and engineering practice elements, 73% were not addressed.

Curriculum developers need strategies for addressing elements that are not in performance expectations in a way that is coherent within and across grades. In curricula that focus on students’ modeling of phenomena, the science and engineering practices are naturally integrated. For example, see this figure from Passmore et al. (2017). When students are actively developing and using models, the other SEPs inform and are informed by Developing and Using Models.

Passmore et al. (2017)

But what about the crosscutting concepts? There has not been a strategic way to integrate the crosscutting concepts. In my last blog post, I introduced a graphic organizer adapted from Rehmat et al. (2017) and used it to apply all the crosscutting concepts to a phenomenon. This could be a way to systematically address the CCCs, just as model-driven curricula are a way to address the SEPs.

Lori Andersen (2020). Adapted from model in Rehmat et al. (2019)

The CCCs are the epistemic heuristics, or “thinking tools” of science (Krist et al., 2018). They help students figure out the mechanistic explanations that are needed when modeling phenomena. If we apply all the CCCs to the phenomenon in curriculum planning, we might ensure that students have opportunities to learn about all the CCC elements in the grade band.

More to come as I explore this idea in my work. Do you have any comments about this approach? Please share here or on Twitter.


Krist, C., Schwarz, C. V., & Reiser, B. J. (2019). Identifying essential epistemic heuristics for guiding mechanistic reasoning in science learning. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 28(2), 160–205.

NYU SAIL. (2019). Garbage Unit Front Matter.

Passmore, C, Schwarz, C.V. & Mankowski, J. (2017). Developing and using models. In C. V. Schwarz, C. Passmore, and B. J. Reiser (Eds.), Helping students make sense of the world using next generation science and engineering practices, pp. 33–58. NSTA Press.

Rehmat, A.P., Lee, O. Nordine, J., Novak, A.M., Osborne, J., & Willard, T. (2019).  Modeling the role of crosscutting concepts for strengthening science learning of all students. In S. J. Fick, J. Nordine, & K. W. McElhaney (Eds.), Proceedings of the summit for examining the potential for crosscutting concepts to support three-dimensional learning. University of VA.

Crosscutting Concepts

By Dr. Lori Andersen, June 2020

The crosscutting concepts are the “thinking tools” of science. These seven big ideas help us describe and explain our world. Why is it important to use them as a set rather than individually, as they are presented in the standards?

A phenomenon is an object, process, or event. A phenomenon can be something very ordinary. It doesn’t have to be anything phenomenal. All phenomena are either a system or a part of a system. This is why systems and system models is the foundational crosscutting concept (Rehmat et al., 2019) and the arrow in the diagram points from phenomenon to systems and system models.

Systems and system models are tools for describing and explaining systems. A system model is a representation of the components and how they interact. The systems model can include pictures and text. The most important feature of the systems model is that it explains how the phenomenon happens.

Patterns are tools for describing what happens. There are many different kinds of patterns we might notice. We describe patterns using two other crosscutting concepts — scale, proportion, & quantity and stability & change.

Cause and effect is a tool for explaining why something happens. Cause and effect relationships can be simple or complex. We explain cause and effect using two other crosscutting concepts — matter & energy and structure & function.

The diagram provides a way to think about how the CCCs operate together as we create system models. In phenomenon-driven instruction, we are going to use many CCCs rather than just one or two. The idea for this diagram came from Rehmat et al. (2019) and I modified it to include phenomenon and adjusted the representation of systems and systems models in the diagram.

By NASA, ESA, AURA/Caltech, Public Domain,

Let’s apply the set of CCCs to an example. One phenomenon is the rising of Makali’i every November, which is used to mark the beginning of the Hawaiian new year.

Makali’i is a group of stars. We see the stars because light from the stars travels to our eyes. Our system model needs to include the stars, sun, and Earth to explain why we see them.

I developed this diagram using the templates on Paul Anderson’s website, Wonder of Science. These are great tools because they are already Google Draw editable documents. I added my system components and supporting text.

This system model explains how we can see Makali’i in November. Components include: Makali’i, sun, Earth, and observer. Makali’i emits light, which travels to Earth so we can see Makali’i in November. How do we use the other CCCs in the model?

Patterns are what happens in the phenomenon. There is a time pattern of specific months of the year when Makali’i can be observed in the sky. The time is measured with units (Scale, Proportion, & Quantity). Constellation patterns stay consistent over shorter periods of time, such as a month, while changing quite a bit over longer periods of time, such as a year (Stability & Change).

Cause & Effect is why the phenomenon happens. There is a cause, or reason, for the effects we observe. We observe Makali’i because the light can reach our eyes. The light can reach our eyes because the arrangement of sun, earth, stars, and the observer creates an unobstructed path for starlight. Light is a transfer of energy (Matter & Energy). The unobstructed path happens because of the structure within the system (Structure & Function). The Earth itself blocks light from reaching our eyes depending on its position in its orbit and its point in the rotation on its axis.

In the example of observing Makali’i, we see that all the crosscutting concepts play a role in describing and explaining the phenomenon. This diagram shows the role of each crosscutting concept.

So, how would you decide which to leave out? How can we use them together without overwhelming students and teachers?

What do you think about using all the crosscutting concepts in creating systems models that describe and explain phenomena? Leave your ideas in the comments!


Rehmat, A.P., Lee, O. Nordine, J., Novak, A.M., Osborne, J., & Willard, T. (2019).  Modeling the role of crosscutting concepts for strengthening science learning of all students. In S. J. Fick, J. Nordine, & K. W. McElhaney (Eds.), Proceedings of the summit for examining the potential for crosscutting concepts to support three-dimensional learning. University of VA.

Planning Science Units with Equity in Mind

This post gets deeper into Chapter 2 of Ambitious Science Teaching. This chapter explains a systematic unit design process used to create a series of lessons that can build understanding coherently. What struck me the first time I read this chapter is how well this planning process supported creating units that embody the vision of science teaching and learning in the Next Generation Science Standards. This design process is also useful for creating problem-based learning units. This post describes the three practices in this process, how the process builds in some equity considerations, and how the process might be extended to address other equity issues.

The process consists of three major practices:

  • Practice 1: Identifying big ideas
  • Practice 2: Selecting an anchoring event and essential question
  • Practice 3: Sequencing learning activities that build specific understandings

Descriptions of each of the three practices are supported by detailed examples from work with teachers.

Practice 1 includes a whiteboard activity to help curriculum writers select the most important ideas that have the most explanatory power. Considering a tentative anchoring event can help guide this process. These important ideas become the conceptual threads that ties the unit together.

Practice 2 focuses on choosing the anchoring event. Curriculum writers should consider features that make the anchor context-rich and more compelling for their students, such as historical significance or issues of social justice that can motivate interest. See Angela Calabrese-Barton‘s Twitter feed for examples of how to incorporate social justice, such as this one about the water in Flint, Michigan. Students will model and explain the causes of an anchoring event over the course of instruction, and these explanations should integrate multiple science ideas. The anchoring event should be complex enough to provide space for students to create different kinds of explanations.

Practice 3 is a strategy for identifying and sequencing learning activities in a unit. A key part of this planning is a teacher-developed gapless explanation for the anchor event, which should be written just beyond the expectation for students at grade level. Learning activities are identified and sequenced to support development of the gapless explanation.

Although the planning process seems straightforward, there are a few other things we might consider in planning for equity. Equity is a key concept in AST (see my post on Chapter 1). The authors made strong connections between the anchoring event and equity, but they did not make connections between the gapless explanation and equity.

Who decides on the content of the gapless explanation?

Philip Bell raised an interesting question on Twitter about gapless explanations. From whose perspective are they gapless? It is important to consider explanations from multiple perspectives and not focus only the Euro-western perspective. How can different ways of knowing be recognized and developed in science teaching? There is much work to do in this area that has the potential to increase equity. We need to acknowledge and build upon the funds of knowledge that all students bring to school science. We need to expand our views of science as a way of knowing to be more inclusive of all cultures. There is a lot of work that remains to be done in this area.

I appreciate reading the posts from my science education colleagues on Twitter that help deepen my understanding. I look forward to working with members of the #ASTBookChat group as we explore AST together.

What are your thoughts about the AST unit design process? What other ways could the unit planning process be more attentive to equity? Share in the comments!

How do we know the Earth is moving?

This post is my musings about transitioning 5th-grade students from an Earth-based perspective to a space-based perspective. Research literature shows that students need experiences to make sense of a space-based perspective to be able to explain the patterns caused by Earth’s motion. Here’s a sequence we could use.

One of the first patterns that children notice is the sun rising and setting. We can explain this pattern with a conceptual model of the sun moving around the Earth. However, other phenomena are not explained well by this model. The moving–sun–stationary–Earth model has limitations. When new evidence cannot be explained by our model, we must revise it.

What evidence do we have about Earth’s motion? Consider the following video that is an astronaut’s view of the Earth from space.

Video taken by Galileo spacecraft in 1990

This video is clear evidence that the Earth is moving. What other phenomena are caused by Earth’s motion?

Here’s a time-lapse video of stars near the North Celestial Pole.

How does a spinning Earth cause what we see in this video? How can we use a model to explain it?

The next example is a little more abstract. How could gravity be related to Earth’s spinning?

Gravity can be evidence that the Earth is spinning. Let’s think through this. Remember the last time you rode on a spinning ride? Maybe it looked something like this one. What did you feel? You feel pulled to the center. Like the girl in this picture who is pulled to the center.

The spinning of the Earth causes objects to feel pulled toward the center of Earth. At the equator, the surface of the Earth is spinning at 1000 miles per hour. So observing a force pulling an object towards the ground is evidence of Earth ʻ s rotation.

After considering these three phenomena, students may be more willing to consider that the Earth is moving. Then they can start using a space-based perspective and we can explain a lot more phenomena, such as why the path of the sun is different at different times of year. This is needed to explain the reason for the seasons, which is a middle school expectation.

Adjusting complexity of data with representations

In my last post, I pondered how to integrate skills across math, ELA, and science in a lesson about falling objects. The mathematics content quickly became a little complicated for fifth grade. What other ways can we represent data to make it more accessible?

My next idea was to look at a ball drop over a longer distance. I found a video of a ball dropped from the roof of a building that was a sample video in Video Physics from Vernier Software. I used Video Physics to mark the position of the ball in every 10th frame of the video. These marks are a visual representation of the data.

Sample video of ball drop with and without markings

Gathering evidence

Students can look for patterns in the spacing of the marks. They should notice the marks get farther apart as the ball falls. How is this evidence of the direction of gravity?

The person released the ball and it fell. The observation that the ball moves downward is evidence that some force pushes or pulls down. But what about after the release? Is that force still pushing or pulling down? How do we know?

The pattern of the marks gives us clues. The marks show the ball position at evenly spaced time intervals. The ball moves farther during each time. This means the ball is moving faster. What made it move faster?

Teacher content knowledge

Here is a little refresher about elementary physical science and the topic of forces and motion. Students learn about forces and motion in several grades.

  • In kindergarten, students explore the effects of different strengths and directions of forces on motion. They also compare design solutions for changing the motion of an object. (K.PS2-1 and K.PS2-2)
  • In Grade 3, students investigation the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object. They also learn to use patterns of motion to predict future motion. (3.PS2-1 and 3.PS2-2)

Student inferences

In Grade 5, we ask students to transfer knowledge from their prior observations of contact forces (pushes and pulls) to a non-contact force (gravity). They should already know that to make something keep getting faster (accelerate) requires continued pushing or pulling in that direction from explorations in kindergarten and grade 3. Applying that to the falling ball, students can infer that something must be pulling or pushing the ball toward the ground to make it go faster.

Once students have made this inference, they are ready to learn about the concept of gravity. Gravity is different than pushes and pulls. The Earth pulls on the ball because the Earth is extremely large. The pull of Earth on objects is gravity.

When the person holds the ball, the forces are balanced. The upward force of the hands on the ball balances the downward pull of gravity. After the person releases the ball, the forces are unbalanced. The downward pull of gravity makes the ball speed up as it moves toward the ground.

The next step is for students to create an argument with grade-appropriate ELA skills. Those CCSS were listed in this post.

Did you find this post helpful? If so, let me know in the comments.

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.