BEACON Researchers at Work: Addressing the Next Generation Science Standards


This post is by MSU postdocs Liz Schultheis and Melissa Kjelvik. See the original article on the BEACON webpage (reproduced below):

The current landscape of K-12 science education is shifting – moving away from memorization of science facts to an approach based on the scientific method where students are taught quantitative skills and how to construct arguments from evidence. These skills are increasingly important as technology increases our access to large pools of data that must be quickly interpreted – including hot science topics in the news, such as evolution and climate change. While teachers support the shift, they currently lack the classroom resources necessary to make the change in their classroom. Additionally, teachers are worried about addressing The Next Generation Science Standards (released April 2013) and preparing students according to the ACT Readiness Standards, as both have increased expectations of analytical and quantitative skills for K-12 students. At present, there is no resource available to teachers that allows them to reinforce these skills repeatedly throughout the school year and continuing grade levels, while also covering core content and hitting on all parts of the scientific process.

The BEACON Project has many overlapping goals with the new science standards, and is well situated to help teachers address their concerns. First, an understanding of evolution depends on a student’s analytical and quantitative skill set. Much disbelief about evolution comes, not from a lack of evidence, but the inability of the audience to understand the scientific process and synthesize evidence to make an argument. Second, a multidisciplinary approach is essential when addressing the new science standards, as quantitative skills must be brought to bear on all science topics and be used as a way of thinking, more than just one unit within the curriculum. Third, once students understand scientific principles, such as the evolutionary process or how to ask questions of the natural world, they will be more excited to pursue a scientific career than if they believe science is purely fact memorization. Students will be able to apply these skills to other careers as well – just as programmers and engineers in BEACON use principles of natural selection to design better software and products. To achieve the goals of BEACON and science standards, teachers need a multidisciplinary and versatile tool that closely resembles the actual practice of scientific research and quantitative analysis.

Data Nuggets give students the opportunity to work with real scientific data.

Data Nuggets give students the opportunity to work with real scientific data.

Introducing Data Nuggets

We are currently developing a tool that we think has the potential to address these curriculum changes and BEACON goals: Data Nuggets, which bring data collected by scientists into the classroom, thus giving students the chance to work with real data – and all its complexities. Data Nuggets are worksheets designed to help students practice interpreting quantitative information and make claims based on evidence. The standard format of each Nugget provides a brief background to a researcher and their study system along with a small, manageable dataset. Students are then challenged to answer a scientific question, using the dataset to support their claim, and are guided through the construction of graphs to facilitate data interpretation. Various graphing and content levels allow for differentiated learning for students with any quantitative or science background. Because of their simplicity and flexibility, Data Nuggets can be used throughout the school year and teachers can provide higher graphing levels as students build confidence in their quantitative skills.

Data Nugget History

Utilizing the unique teacher-graduate fellow partnership organized by the Kellogg Biological Station’s GK-12 program, Data Nuggets were created by graduate students in response to discussions with Michigan teachers who expressed concern about students’ ability to make claims based on evidence. When first designing Nuggets, GK-12 fellows held a teacher workshop at KBS to solicit feedback on the structure, organization, and content to make Data Nuggets a teacher and classroom friendly resource that could be used at all grade levels. Teacher feedback continues to be an invaluable component to the development of the Nuggets as we travel to conferences such as ESA Life Discovery and National Association of Biology Teachers. More recently, the Nugget network has expanded beyond GK-12 to include datasets from graduate students, faculty, teachers, and undergraduate researchers at KBS.

The Future of Data Nuggets: Integration of BEACON research

For the next year, we will be supported by BEACON funds to address both the challenges BEACON researchers face when communicating evolution to broad audiences and the lack of education resources available for teachers to teach quantitative skills. Utilizing BEACON’s network and resources we are excited to:

  1. develop and implement an assessment tool documenting the ability of Data Nuggets to improve students’ quantitative skills and understanding of science
  2. provide professional development for BEACON researchers by facilitating workshops at each institution to create Data Nuggets from their research
  3. enhance accessibility of Data Nuggets by creating a user-friendly website and presenting Data Nuggets at teacher conferences.

Coming to a BEACON University Near You: Data Nugget Workshops

We anticipate Nuggets will be a popular tool for academics to share their research with broad audiences. The short, simple Nugget template facilitates the creation of additional worksheets by making the process quick and easy for faculty and graduate students in all disciplines. Researchers who create Nuggets will improve their science communication skills, important when giving talks, writing papers submitting grants. Additionally, graduate students involved in BEACON can make Nuggets on findings from multidisciplinary collaborations, such as connections between evolution and engineering.

We will be organizing workshops at BEACON-affiliated universities to provide the training necessary for BEACON researchers to create a Data Nugget of their own. We will walk through the basic components of the Data Nugget and provide feedback as to the appropriateness of their Nugget for specific grade levels. Additionally, we will reach out to K-12 teachers at schools near each institution to increase awareness of Data Nuggets and invite them to make Data Nuggets of their own.


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