Develop Your Student’s Science Inquiry Skills with BirdSleuth

When we lived in California we had a tropical bird-of-paradise in our yard. While it was not a native flower, we could agree that it was extravagant. When we traveled to Peru, we enjoyed a nature walk at the Inkaterra Hotel in Machu Picchu where we observed over 100 different native orchid species in their natural habitat.

Tropical species provide an interesting point of discussion in the classroom, sparking questions such as: “Why are our local flowers different?” or “What characteristics do the wildflowers we find here in North America share with tropical species?” These questions offer a perfect springboard into science inquiry.

inquiry-skills-birdsleuthWhat is Science Inquiry?

When most people think of science class, they picture classrooms of students all engaged in the same canned activity, following a scripted set of procedures that lead to a predictable outcome. Inquiry based science education is much more. Inquiry science engages kids in inquiry-based science lessons provides them with a way to explore on their own. It removes the teacher as somebody who is providing them with information that they need to memorize. Instead, the kids are experiencing, discovering, and developing their inquiry skills as they go. That is what real scientists do.

Although inquiry based instruction has been written about for decades, it is not widely used in science classrooms. Open inquiry, in particular, is often thought to be difficult to use in the classroom. Perhaps one explanation for this is the perceived difficulty in moving students toward the development of experimental questions.

Scientific inquiry also refers to the activities through which students develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world.

Many home educators have experience in leading their children through guided nature studies and observations. Keeping a nature journal is a popular pastime amongst many.  When we take a group of kids outside, however, you will quickly observe that the majority of their questions are reference questions. Questions they can answer relatively easily with experience identifying and using reliable sources.

If your goal is for students to generate questions that inspire investigations, then you need to be able to guide learners into reframing their questions. The Integrating Inquiry for Educators: Developing Student Science Practices online course is a wonderful guide designed to help you – the educator – do just that.

integrating-science-inquiryScience Inquiry Skills for Educators

If you wish to go further with inquiry and citizen science, I strongly recommend Cornell University’s BirdSleuth online course Integrating Inquiry for Educators. They have designed this self-paced course to help educators explore the process of science inquiry and investigation, especially as inspired by outdoor observations and citizen-science participation.

I was provided free access to this course in exchange for an honest review. Having completed the course, I would gladly have paid three times the course fee of just $49. I was very happy with the design of the course as well as how the material was delivered. The course text (eBook option is FREE), videos, assigned NSTA reading materials, case studies, interactive quizzes, and the application assignments were all nicely balanced.

The online course both challenged and piqued my interest in science inquiry. I am now – more than before – looking forward to engaging my kids in a inquiry based science explorations in the years to come.

You can also elect to earn two optional Continuing Education Units (CEUs) if you successfully complete the course. All online materials will be available to you for six months following your enrollment.

Whether you choose to enroll or not, you can support student inquiry by taking the opportunity to download their free Investigating Evidence lessons which will guide you towards supporting scientific questions through citizen science. To accompany these lessons, they have also compiled an extensive list of resources including power points and videos.

Enroll Today

Publish Student Work

In addition to the course materials and other online resources, their annual publication BirdSleuth Investigator provides students with an opportunity to share their research. You will find rich pieces of work done by students in grades K-12 throughout the country. Written by and for students, is also beautifully illustrated by youth.

The goal with BirdSleuth Investigator is to encourage students to pursue their scientific interests through inquiry and investigation by showing them that their hard work can get published. They accept bird-related submissions from all students. Submissions can take the form of artwork, poetry, or scientific reports; anything that a student has truly put effort into has the potential to get published.

To share your students’ projects with us, submit them here. Students certainly feel rewarded for their hard work when they find their work in a published journal! Read the submission guidelines for more details.

The Evolution of STEM to STEAM: A Book Review & Activity Resources

When I was teaching full time, there was a big push to increase student participation in science, technology, engineering, and math courses and ultimately encourage youth to pursue these careers. In fact, I was hired as an elementary science specialist and was responsible for the science instruction of over 330 students in 4th – 6th grades. In this role, I discovered my true passion … science education.

The Evolution of STEM to STEAM @EvaVarga.netThe Push for STEM

STEM arose from the desire of policy makers to encourage the natural curiosity of youth and their sense of wonder about these fields. These experts say our young people need strong STEM skills to compete in the world market. We must work together to cultivate the next generation of critical thinkers and innovators.

The US Department of Education reports that the number of STEM / STEAM jobs in the United States will grow by 14% from 2010 to 2020, growth that the is “much faster “ than the national average of 5-8% across all job sectors. Computer programming and IT jobs top the list of the the hardest to fill jobs and yet they are not the most popular college majors.

With this push for STEM programs and my broad work experiences, I have written extensively about STEM concepts. For several years, I coordinated a STEM Club for homeschool kids in our local area and shared many our activities here with you.

STEAM is the Future

The inclusion of the arts component into STEM makes it more fun to learn, and more approachable to kids. Arts and creativity are crucial to these fields and are the tool that allows technology to be usable in real life.

STEAM represents a paradigm shift from traditional education philosophy, based on standardized test scores, to a modern ideal which focuses on valuing the learning process as much as the results. The arts are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century.

Fostering a strong STEAM education is our best opportunity to boost the spirit of innovation. It’s what we need to help ensure we continue on a prosperous and secure journey. STEAM literacy is also critical because it has a profound and growing impact on our day-to-day lives. Nature, space exploration, the arts, and any STEAM-related interest reveals to us the beauty and power of the world we inhabit.

steam-kidsSTEAM Kids

I am excited to share with you all a fabulous new book by a group of homeschool moms and science advocates, STEAM Kids: 50+ Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math Hands-on Projects for Kids. They authors have pulled their collective experience and wisdom to provide you with a wealth of fun activities young children will LOVE!

They have just launched and I am delighted to have been given a sneak peak at STEAM Kids in exchange for an honest review. I encourage you to take a peak – I know you’ll love it, too. Over 140 pages of fun hands-on STEAM related activities for young children.

If you’re looking for great hands on activities that encourage children to develop their creative abilities while building upon their skills, STEAM Kids is the answer. Teachers and parents alike will find plenty of ideas to captivate young kids and immerse them in an engaging learning environment.

Like what you see? The STEAM Kids ebook is available for just $14.99!  If you have older kids, consider purchasing copies to give as gifts. One activity a week fully outlined using materials easily found around the house for less than 30¢ a week. You can’t go wrong!

steam-halloweenThat’s not all! During launch week (9/14-9/21), you will also received their STEAM Kids: Halloween activity book free. Thereafter, it will be available for $4.99 so don’t delay. Inside you’ll find 59 pages filled with spooky and sweet Halloween activities perfect for the classroom or at home. Things like pumpkin brush bots, spider web science, Halloween building challenges and more.

As an little expression of gratitude, they’ve also created a FREE Printable highlighting 52 weeks of STEAM activities.

Meet the Women in Science with a New Card Game

As a naturalist, the history of science has always fascinated me. I recall fondly reading about the impact Linnaeus had on scientific classification in my college biology classes. I was spellbound as I discovered how Rachel Carson sparked the environmental movement with the publication of her book, The Silent Killer. Many homeschoolers are familiar with naturalist and educator, Anna Botsford Comstock, author of The Handbook of Nature Study.

women in science

I received this game in exchange for an honest review; please see my disclosure policy for details.

History of Science

For the past couple of years, I have been writing a series of Science Milestones posts to celebrate the scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives. I have enjoyed sharing short biographies of the people who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

In addition to the short biographical sketch, I share a list of lesson ideas and activities teachers and students can use to further explore the science these remarkable scientists have made.  I have come to realize, however, that though female scientists do exist, they have rarely received the recognition they deserve.

Women in Science card game

I recently discovered a innovative card game designed specifically for young people to learn about Women in Science. The fundamental idea of the game is to familiarize players with women who have left their mark on science. Often, these women in science did not receive the recognition they were due.

Women in Space

Photo courtesy of Luanagames.com / Francis Collie

As stated by the game creators, Anouk Charles & Benoit Fries,

It’s hardly surprising that few girls display an interest in physics or mathematics when they never hear about women who made extraordinary discoveries in these spheres.

The game is composed of 54 beautiful cards in a full color tuck-box. What I love best about these cards is the versatility. You can play the original, strategic game based on the card colors, collect the cards much like baseball or hockey cards, or play any standard card game requiring 52-cards using the logo in the top left corner of each card. Not only that, but you can also play an online version of the game.

Women in Space

Photo courtesy of Luanagames.com / Francis Collie

The original Women in Science 54-card set retails for $12 and the new Women in Space expansion set retails for $8. The cards are available in both English and French. A free printable PDF is available in Spanish. What is not to love?

National Estuaries Day: Student Activities & Courses

National Estuaries Day is the last Saturday of September. As such, we will celebrate on the 24th this year. Established in 1988 as part of Coast Weeks, the purpose of the annual event is to promote the importance of estuaries and the need to protect them.

With the many threats to the world’s ecosystems, it is critical to prepare our children to be tomorrow’s environmental stewards. Estuaries are an ideal vehicle with which to introduce students to marine ecology. Whether through recreational experiences, scenic views, or making a living on the water, many are familiar with estuaries. estuariesday

All throughout the country, local organizations including National Estuarine Research Reserves and National Estuary Programs organize special events, like beach clean-ups, hikes, canoe and kayak trips, workshops and more to recognize the special role these places play in our everyday lives. It is a terrific opportunity to learn more about estuaries.

Why are estuaries important?

Estuaries are partially enclosed bodies of water usually found where rivers or streams flow into it and with a free connection to the sea. The mixture of fresh water draining from the land and the salty seawater influxes of the tides create habitats where many unique plant and animal communities have adapted to life in the brackish water.

As a result, estuaries are among of the most productive ecosystems in the world. Many animals rely on estuaries for food, places to breed, and resting areas during long migrations. Human communities also rely on estuaries for food, recreation, jobs, and coastal protection.

How can I get involved?

Celebrate National Estuaries Day by learning about the National Estuarine Research Reserves and many local Friends Groups who organize a variety of activities benefiting the local estuary and reserve.

You’ll find numerous ways to connect with your coastal environments whether you are seeking a kayak adventure, want to forage for fungi, explore a class in seaweed art, or take in a history walk – there is bound to be something that appeals to you

nationalestuariesdayWhy teach about estuaries?

Estuaries offer a wonderfully rich context for science education and cross disciplinary learning. As a result of the dynamic ecosystem, estuaries provide an opportunity for learners to integrate many science fields such as ecology, biology, chemistry, geography, geology, and marine science.

Students of all ages can gather data and develop their math skills through detailed measurements of salinity, temperature, and dissolved oxygen. Students also develop language skills as they do further research and begin to communicate their discoveries with other students and scientists. Since estuaries have also played a significant role in human settlement, exploration and development, students gain new eyes on human history, geography, and culture.

Estuaries Curriculum 

I have put together two curriculum units to introduce middle school students to estuary ecology. Each unit is comprised of hands-on inquiry based lessons. A variety of enrichment projects and living books are also suggested to augment the teaching material provided. In honor of National Estuary Week, for the month of September, each of these units is available for 40% off the regular price. 

ecology

Ecology Explorations provides a great introduction to ecology concepts, introducing students to key vocabulary and field collection techniques. It is one of my favorite units because it provides several opportunities to explore your local ecosystems. This 10-week unit includes 20+ activities and lesson plans fully outlined for you. Sale price is $19.90  $11.90.

buynowgreen

Estuary Ecology

Estuary Ecology is a fourteen lesson unit study that focuses upon estuaries and salt water marshes.  It incorporates a month-long moon observation project as well as a field trip to an estuary or salt marsh. The lessons can be adapted to mangroves or tropical regions.  Sale price is $14.90  $8.90.

buynowgreen

STEAM into September with These Great Products

Many educators are familiar with STEM, the acronym for the fields of study in the categories of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The initiative has recently began to include arts and design, changing the familiar STEM to STEAM. And, it seems to be gaining steam. :)

It is almost Labor Day and for many, that means bargains and discounts on clothing and back-to-school supplies. I’m excited to share with you some of my favorite STEAM resources, available at a discount from Educents

S is for Science

Magic School Bus Science Club

Buy Magic School Bus Club
If you have children (ages 5-12) who enjoy the Magic School Bus books or videos–and if you like doing science experiments with them–then you’ll LOVE The Magic School Bus Science Club!

Developed by a team of Harvard graduates, scientists, and educators, the award-winning Magic School Bus Science Kits are delivered monthly right to your doorstep. Children will explore science through experiments that will spark an interest and curiosity in science.

Each kit includes a colorful manual based on The Magic School Bus characters, as well as everything you need to complete at least seven experiments related to that month’s theme.
Buy Magic School Bus Club

One Minute Mysteries Book Set

One Minute MysteriesThese award-winning books make math and science fun. Each mystery features real world scenarios and takes just one minute to read. The brain teasers challenge kids to use critical thinking skills. Perfect for a long car trip or quick errands. Written for ages 8-14.
Buy One Minute Mystery Book Set

T is for Technology 

Learn to Mod with Minecraft

Learn to Mod

The Minecraft world gets kids excited to build their own creations. There are many classes available today designed to teach kids coding skills utilizing Minecraft. What I like about this one is that it is affordable, under $30! If this one’s not right for your family, I highly recommend other Learn to Mod programs – or just google “Minecraft Coding” and dive in!
Buy Learn to Mod

E is for Engineering 

Tinkering Labs Electric Motors Catalyst Kit

This beautiful set gets kids using their hands, creating a bevy of tinker toys from different challenge cards. The sky’s the limit with this set that encourages design thinking that’s so important in the work force. But the best part is this is just fun.
Buy Electric Motors Kit

A is for Art

The Manga Guides to Science & Math
Manga Guides
Come learn about many science and math subjects through a comic book. With fifteen cartoon guides to choose from, these are perfect for teens who love manga and are interested in learning about complex topics like biochemistry, molecular biology, and linear algebra.
Buy Manga Guides

M is for Math 

Life of Fred Math Curriculum


I can’t speak highly enough of this series of narrative-based math books. Kids learning addition to young adults in college benefit from one character’s journey through life encountering contextual math problems that make math make sense!

Buy Life of Fred

Use code LASTCHANCE for 10% Off + FREE SHIPPING on any order. No minimum, one time use code. Sale ENDS September 5th at 11:59pm PST. This is the LAST WEEKEND of free shipping so don’t miss out!

Problem Based Learning with William & Mary

This past school year, my kids and I have been inundated in the study of coastal ecology. The kids worked through the curriculum along side me. Memorizing vocabulary and understand the ecology concepts came easily to them as I’ve immersed them in nature studies since they were toddlers.

We enjoyed several memorable field trips whereupon we developed a list of questions based on our observations: Roosevelt Elk at Dean’s Creek & Foraging for Mushrooms.

We also engaged in several nature study investigations to learn more about the organisms we had observed: Slugs, Snails, and Sea Hares Our Native Maple Trees.

I received this product for free and am being compensated for the time to write the review.  This is an honest review of the product.problem based learning

Yet all along, I knew in my heart that something was missing. While they were engaged in our lessons and activities, they were not captivated. I wanted them to be challenged. I wanted them to struggle to find answers to their questions. I wanted a problem based learning experience.

The units created by William & Mary from Kendall Hunt Publishing provide the perfect challenge. The books provide a wonderful framework for getting students to think, presented in such a way that they want to solve the problem. Along the way, students experience the processes and tools a scientist may use when presented with a difficult problem.

What is Problem Based Learning?

Problem Based Learning is a student-centered pedagogy in which students learn about a subject through the experience of solving an open-ended problem. Students gain content knowledge and develop skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.

When I was given the opportunity to review the William & Mary problem based learning materials, I immediately jumped at the chance. The Animal Populations unit (designed for grades 6-8) was the perfect fit to further our understanding of ecology and wildlife sciences.

william & mary

Problem Based Science Units by William & Mary 

The William & Mary science units introduce real-world problems to initiate scientific investigations. All units incorporate a problem based learning scenario as the catalyst for initiating the discussion of content and scientific investigation.

Students not only focus on specific content learning in science, but they also develop scientific investigation skills as a way to develop the thinking skills of a scientist. Students pose questions, then conduct experiments to answer those questions. They also identify independent and dependent variables, constants, and controls as a guide for quality investigations.

Animal Populations Unit

Animal Populations is centered around the problem of a growing population of deer in a fictitious rural community and the increasing number of people afflicted with lyme disease. The story begins with an email a mother writes to her spouse relaying the symptoms their son has developed.

Immediately, both kids were intrigued and were searching for possible causes. As the story unfolded with newspaper articles and additional personal accounts, they began to collaborate to find solutions to the problem.

In addition to staging the problem, the lessons lead students through the process of inquiry and experimental design. Each step is clearly outlined and in context with the big picture or ecology. We started each lesson with a discussion on the vocabulary and review of where we left off in our previous lesson.

I was really impressed with the lessons on the concept of models. While we are all familiar with physical models, the lessons clarified the meaning of conceptual and mathematical models in-depth. The lessons built on each other and really helped the kids (myself included!) understand the mathematical models of a deer population: exponential growth model and logistic growth model.

deer populationsOur favorite lessons were the field studies whereby we implemented a transect survey. We were fortunate at the time we implemented this unit to be able to partner with a local agency to take part in an ongoing bio-monitoring project at the national estuarine research reserve. Not only was our data useful in the context of our lesson but it was also critical for the success of their long-term estuarine research.

We all enjoyed this unit study as it was both challenging and fun. I look forward to implementing more problem based units in the near future.

Other Science Units

Kendall Hunt Publishing offers several other William & Mary science units to choose from, several have received National Association for Gifted Children’s Curriculum Studies awards.

* Where’s the Beach?—Grades 2-4 
* What A Find!—Grades 2-4  (See Erin’s review at Royal Baloo)
* Acid, Acid Everywhere—Grades 4-6
* Electricity City—Grades 4-6
* Nuclear Energy: Friend or Foe?—Grades 6-8
* Something Fishy—Grades 6-8
* No Quick Fix—Grades 6-8

Unit content has been aligned to national standards and meets national grade level standards as well as standards for grades that are two to three levels above the current grade.

Connect with Kendall Hunt

Follow Kendall Hunt Publishing on your favorite social media. By connecting with them you will get regular updates, information about their products, encouragement for teaching gifted learners as well tips and ideas.