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Freebies for Science Teachers, April 27, 2021

By Debra Shapiro

Freebies for Science Teachers, April 27, 2021

Grades PreK–12

Data Visualization and Birdsong Activity

For decades, scientists and birders alike have assumed that most female birds don’t sing. Galactic Polymath—an education studio focused on helping scientists, nonprofits, and sustainable companies translate cutting-edge science research into meaningful interdisciplinary lessons for grades 5–12—challenges this assumption with a lesson about data visualization and how assumptions and biases can affect conclusions. This three-part lesson supports the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and is differentiated for three grade bands (5–6, 7–8, and 9–12).

Part One, Ciphers and Data Visuals, uses a “Polymath Puzzle” to engage students in carefully studying a scatter plot to discover how female song has been missed in barn swallows (a very common bird species). Part Two, From Tables to Graphs, builds on discoveries from the first lesson as students make a scatter plot from the bird study data and learn how histograms (bar graphs) are created by binning data into ranges. Part Three, Visualizing Song Data, incorporates knowledge from both lessons as students create a histogram from the bird study data, then use the scatter plot created in lesson two and the histogram for reflection and synthesis. The lesson includes materials for educators (e.g., background information, vocabulary, explanatory videos, lesson timeline) to facilitate implementation in both remote teaching (using Nearpod) and in-person settings.

Plastic Pollution Curriculum and Activity Guide

This resource has more than a dozen lessons and activities to build K–12 learners’ plastic literacy and inspire thoughtful solutions to plastic and water pollution issues. Developed by The 5 Gyres Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on reducing the amount of plastic in the environment, the guide’s lessons cover topics from tracking and recording daily trash data and adopting strategies for using resources wisely (e.g., World of Waste, grades K–3; Landfill in a Bottle, grades 4–6; and Packaging Your Product, grades 7–12) to understanding how plastics pollution can affect both water quality and water organisms (e.g., The Storm Drain Connection, grades K–3; Spill Spread, grades 4–6; and You Are What You Eat, grades 7–12). Although the lessons were written before the NGSS were created, they include relevant background information and extension ideas, and the activity content can be a starting point to developing student-centered, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning experiences for today’s classrooms.

Keep Teaching Science!

Keep Teaching Science! Successful Strategies to Adapt K–12 Science Experiences for Distance Learning highlights effective ways for educators to adapt science materials for remote learning. Developed by WestEd’s NextGenScience and partners, the 37-page report reflects the findings of a project in which a team of materials developers and educators collaborated to learn about, identify, and evaluate examples of effective and equitable adaptations for science teaching and learning at a distance. Eight strategies to adapt science materials for distance and hybrid learning environments are identified. Featured strategies include ensuring all students experience and explore phenomena as directly as possible; providing written discussion questions to support student development and use of the three dimensions; providing a central space for students to track three-dimensional thinking and revise ideas over time; leveraging additional home connections; and providing independent time to formulate questions and drive the next step in learning. The report concludes with guidance for K–12 school and district leaders for supporting educators in distance teaching environments, as well as technology considerations for K–12 educators, schools, and districts.

Sea Grant Educational Resources

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Sea Grant programs have a collection of websites featuring lesson plans, virtual field trips, citizen science opportunities, activity ideas, videos/webinars, and other educational materials for grades K–12 to use in at-home learning settings nationwide. The resources are produced by state-specific Sea Grant programs; however, teachers, students, and parents in any location can use the materials to learn about the plants and animals and other unique features of a particular region. Take a trip to the Hawaiian islands to study species living in the coral reefs; learn about the impacts of climate change and oil spills through Estuary Live!, a virtual field trip to Louisiana; or collect plant data and be a citizen scientist through project BudBurst in Oregon. Visit the Sea Grant Programs homepage and select a state of interest to preview that state’s educational resources, or download the hyperlinked pdf, Sea Grant Educational Resources Summary, for links to all the state-specific Sea Grant programs in a single location.

ASLA's Tools for PreK–12 Teachers 

Looking for instructional materials focusing on landscape architecture, the environment, community building, and design learning? Check out the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)’s newly redesigned Tools for PreK–12 Teachers web page to access resources for inspiring students to think like a landscape architect: one who thinks creatively and critically about complex global challenges, such as climate change, environmental justice, sustainable landscapes, and inclusion in STEM education. The resources, also suitable for distance learning, include interactive activities, lesson plans, case studies, and websites that combine art and design with the complex scientific and technical skills needed to envision future landscapes. 

Of particular interest for elementary learners is the Summer Reading list of books celebrating landscape architecture. In addition, students of all ages can find something of interest in ASLA’s Discover Landscape Architecture activity sketchbooks (available in English and Spanish). Versioned for both younger audiences (ages 9–12) and teens and adults (ages 13 and up), these publications introduce students to great places designed by landscape architects, contain sketches from landscape architecture professionals, and provide opportunities for students to create their own landscape architecture drawings. High school students and teachers can explore websites and case studies demonstrating how landscape architecture incorporates many STEM skills. 

Virtual School Tours of The Secret Life of Earth 

The American Visionary Art Museum offers free virtual tours to Title 1 schools of its current exhibit The Secret Life of Earth. With content from top global Earth science researchers and indigenous land stewards, this exhibition aims to present, in clear and plain language, the rapidly changing state of our Earth, while providing insight into the disruption of the delicate balances that permit life to flourish. The exhibit features little-known nature facts, humor, and scientific findings, along with news about hopeful solutions. Appropriate for all ages, the exhibit also can help students understand the difference between climate and weather. 

A museum docent guides your group and answers students’ questions on the live, real-time tour. Tours last for 45 minutes.


PBS Let’s Learn! NYC and Green Bronx Machine

PBS Let’s Learn! is an online series for helping students ages 3–8 with home learning, featuring instruction from local educators and virtual field trips. In the New York–based version of the series, PBS Let’s Learn! NYC, educator/innovator Stephen Ritz of the organization and a cast of character friends tackle topics relating to healthy living, healthy learning, equity, empathy, compassion, and wellness. In the first episode, Ritz and his friend Leslie the Ladybug learn how seeds grow into food. The approximately 25-minute episode discusses seeds, vertical farming, healthy living, and what it’s like growing food with students year-round, using 90% less water and space.

In other episodes, students explore dinosaurs with Patti the Pigeon (Mr. Ritz Meets a Dinosaur), learn about underwater environments with Sammy the Shark (Mr. Ritz Explores the Ocean), and study the forest environment with General Sequoia and Sam the Squirrel (Mr. Ritz Goes Into the Woods). 

Elementary and Middle Level

Color With NASA: Mars Helicopter

Excite students in grades 3–6 about Mars exploration—and learn about Ingenuity, a novel spacecraft—with a video and coloring activity from NASA’s Space Place website. To begin, print a copy of the Mars Helicopter coloring page from NASA’s Space Place that features a blackline drawing of the helicopter Ingenuity, along with facts about the spacecraft and its capabilities. With the coloring page in hand, watch the short (about five minutes) video, and have students color along as robotics technologist and Mars helicopter team member Teddy Tzanetos colors his own page and shares facts about Mars, the helicopter, its upcoming mission, and how the helicopter works. 

High School

Trash Trip

Check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Trash Trip with the Marine Debris Tracker App, a five-minute video guiding users—including high school students and teachers—through the processes of safely collecting, logging, and tracking trash data using the app. In tracking and submitting trash data, scientists gain a better picture of marine debris issues, and citizens contribute to their community by helping to keep it clean and reducing the amount of trash that ends up in the waterways. A transcript of the video is also available. 

Grades K–College

Museum of Science Virtual Exhibits

Through virtual exhibits from the Museum of Science, Boston, students of all ages can meet experts, observe leafcutter ants in action, discover the science behind Pixar Animation Studios, and explore and identify animal skulls—all without leaving their seats! The multimedia exhibits incorporate videos, discussion questions, and activities, and many also include opportunities to connect with experts in the field. For example, in The Science Behind Pixar exhibit, students can submit questions about any of Pixar’s processes (such as story and art, rigging, sets and cameras, and rendering) to be answered by a Pixar employee and posted on the exhibit website.

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