Ignite Curiosity with Phenomena-based Science (NGSS)

Phenomena-based Science

The word phenomenon is something that can be observed to happen or exist. So in science we get to draw upon the natural world around you and connect your students. If you have children or worked with young children you likely remember the question stage. Why this? Why is that? And recall the excitement when they observed something for the first time. This is where you get to drive the natural curiosity of your students, rather than seeing that curiosity dwindle with age. Something we so commonly observe in education is students stop asking the questions. In science we want students to be curious, ask questions and discover. Old school science was to tell students, have them memorize and regurgitate it again. Phenomena-based science education breaks this habit and builds curiosity and overall the ability to think. 

key west, florida, hurricane-81664.jpg

What is Phenomena?

In short phenomena is taking an observable event that allows you to build a student-centered connection and relevancy that allows students to be driver’s of their curiosity, ask questions and create their own knowledge with your guidance. A phenomena can be as simple as a storm that appeared and disappeared one afternoon, the change in a shadow, or the ash that fell from a fire 400 miles away. Taking these events and using them to get students talking, asking questions, and developing ideas is the heart of what it means to do science. My favorite quote is: “Science is trying new ideas, discarding those that don’t work and building on those that do. In science one must search for ideas. If there are no ideas, there is no science.” This is the center of my classroom beginning on day 1. 

Phenomena-Based Science Units

Don’t overthink this. By using the world around you there are phenomena everywhere. Rather than spending all your time trying to write an outline of content, simply take a natural event to build your unit from. To be honest, it is a breath of fresh air if you love science. You yourself get to rediscover your own curiosity and scientist within. 

All you need to do  is start with a question like: What can a shadow tell you about time and the motion of celestial objects? You can take this question and build an entire unit on celestial motion around it. By making this shift you easily are setting students up to become investigators in the behavior of scientists with the science and engineering practices, providing multiple sources with the disciplinary core ideas and naturally building in the crosscutting concepts. 

My Phenomena-based Science Resources

While I believe that I have always strived for this, it really wasn’t as well developed and organized until NGSS brought it alive for me. Over the past 10 years my colleagues asked me to share my resources and units with them and I did. But the truth of the matter is that if I shared my slides or activities it was not the same. 

What truly makes it come alive is the things that are not typed and rather experienced and discussed. So I struggled with this, but finally bit the bullet and began to figure out how to organize it in such a way for other teachers, which led me to launch my TPT store only a few years ago with individual inquiry-based activities that teachers could easily integrate into any unit. But this still was not enough, there was a push for me to support teachers with unit planning as both classroom teacher and instructional coach. So after much thought I have recently begun to figure out how to organize my phenomena-based units of inquiry in a way that supports middle school science and I began with my two favorite topics: Weather and Climate and Celestial Motion. Be on the lookout for more as they are developed!! These two phenomena-based units were born during Covid-19 shutdown and therefore have a fully digital version with everything for anyone to follow and classroom version which can be implemented whether you are digital or paper-based or combination of both. 

I hope you enjoy them as much as my students did. I truly put my heart and soul into them as I balanced my belief in inquiry science education. These units are broken into learning sequences using the 5E Model. 

earth, planet, space

Phenomena: This unit will help anchor students’ learning of celestial motion and its impacts to life. Rather than learning about the facts of celestial motion, seasons and moon phases, students discover how celestial bodies move and their impacts to habitable life as we know it and the future of humanity.

Question: How does the motion of the Earth, Sun and Moon impact our daily lives, time and the future?

The largest difference is we are not providing students with the facts (earth rotation, revolution, etc). Instead students “discover” how celestial bodies interact and move and ultimately lead to life on Earth versus elsewhere. 

Phenomena-based science shows students that science is not a subject to learn about, but is an ongoing process of discovery of the world around them. And the work is never done. 

Looking to try with phenomena based science units or try to start small with some awesome inquiry based science resources, visit my TPT store. 

Putting CER to Work
Classroom, Science

Putting CER to Work

This post is the 5th and final post in the CER framework series. To read any of the previous posts in this series click on those below: 

Putting CER to Work

The final part of the Claim – Evidence – Reasoning (CER) framework is putting all the pieces together. Now that you have explicitly taught, practiced both verbally and in writing, and employed the color visual cues; you and your students are ready to bring them together and see students’ writing improve dramatically.

As with each of the steps before, it is going to be important to employ modeling, collaboration and discussion before you release students to independent writing using the CER framework. Additionally you will always need to keep in the back of your mind that each time you have your students write, that they are applying new learning or content using the CER framework you have built. Because content is continuously changing there will be times that students will struggle and need more support. However, they will likely know what they need to do and be able to begin due to the scaffolds you have put in place.

Building a CER environment:

As you may have discovered, this often does not include ONE lesson in ONE day. Rather this is a cycle of inquiry, information gathering, discussion and collaboration that leads to a well written paragraph that can later be applied to an essay in the older grades.

So what would a CER lesson look like?

STEP 1: Backwards Planning

As with anything you will want to do some backwards planning. I am going to use a simple example for primary grades to walk you through. You first determine what you want your students to be able to do with the content you are teaching. You decide that you want your students to classify organisms into groups based on similar characteristics as your end goal for your unit on Insects.

STEP 2: Engage

You set the stage by showing students a video on insects that captivates their interest. 

STEP 3: Explore 

You set up a learning station in the room where students can examine plastic insects, create drawings, and make observations. 

STEP 4: Explain 

-You circle up with your students and create a Parts to Whole Thinking Map of the different characteristics that students observed about insects using the plastic ones at the station or image cards. 

-Then you watch a video and come up with the main characteristics of an insect and its definition (example video: https://youtu.be/iJlfBNyBKQA). 

-Students then independently read about insects and create a model with playdough

STEP 5: Elaborate 

You allow students to select an insect picture card and then a non-example picture card. Students create a Bubble Thinking Map to compare the insect and non-example from their previous Parts to Whole Map

STEP 6 Evaluate

-Do a whole class model CER for an insect of choice. 

-Give students an image or model of a millipede and ask them to write a claim for whether or not it is an insect using the class example and anchor chart for writing a claim.

-Have students write 1-2 evidence statements using the class model and anchor chart for evidence statements. 

-Finally have students write the reason by having them use the class model and/or anchor chart.

Preparing CER Primary:

Depending on how many times you have modeled will determine whether or not students can use your model and anchor chart to begin. To ensure success you should start by providing students with the model stems like these. 

I think ______________________________.
I noticed ____________________________.
The reason ______________________is because _______________________.

Example Primary CER:

I think that a millipede is not an insect. I noticed that it has too many legs to count. The reason a millipede cannot be an insect is because insects have only 6 legs.

Key Strategies for CER:

I have helped teachers at all grade levels help their students improve their writing. Some key methods have been described here. These strategies have included: 

  • Modeling
  • Thinking Maps
  • Color Codes
  • Sentence Stems/Anchor Charts
  • 5E Model of Inquiry


Additionally I have designed the teaching resources below that you need to begin the CER Framework at any level. They are in printable PDF or Digital Flipbooks. You can use these for yourself to create the framework in your classroom, distribute them to students and use them to model throughout the year and make your anchor charts. Each resource has all the steps for CER across content subjects and is ready to be used immediately. 

Help your students get writing with these CER Resources!!

Reasoning and the CER Framework
Classroom, Science

Reasoning & the CER Framework

This post is the 4th post in the CER framework series. To read any of the previous posts in this series click on those below: 

The third part of the ClaimEvidenceReasoning (CER) framework is the “reasoning.” This step seems to elude students without specific guidance. It really is the critical step in knowing that students have made the connection between their investigation and the concepts they are learning. 

Reasoning and the CER Framework

The purpose of the reasoning is for students to be able to explain the why and how their evidence supports the claim. They should be drawing on the content they are learning or learned at this stage by providing a definition, rule or principle which may also include examples. This may take some in depth modeling and training.

For example, if you were having students make observations of different living things you might ask them to decide if a millipede is an insect? They would make their claim and find evidence using their observations. But to truly make their claim they would need to understand the characteristics or definition of what an insect is.This would require them to give you the definition of an insect and why the milliped does not fit with this model. This is the reasoning. 

Continue with the color coding process.  I use the color green for the reasoning. Whether posting stems on green paper or using a a green highlighter , this visual support will remind students of the importance of the reasoning. 

At a higher level you might be studying the conservation of energy. So in their activity they would state the law of the conservation of energy and how their lab did or did not demonstrate the law. So at this stage you get to see how well your students understand the concepts they are learning. 

As with claim or evidence students will need a strong model and coaching for how to incorporate reasoning. Additionally students will likely need collaborative activities that focus on clear reasoning, which could include a sorting game. 

To help guide your students you could ask them the following:

  • How do you know?
  • Why do you think this?

When students are ready to write their reasoning here a few sentence stems that will get them started and should be practiced verbally or through discussion before they begin the writing process. 


  • This happened because …
  • The reason the ____ is because…

Intermediate (or any primary examples)

  • The ____ showed _____ because…
  • An example of _____ is …
    (or any primary examples)


  • This means…
  • Due to _____ it is evident that…
  • There is little doubt that _____because…
    (or any primary or intermediate examples)

When students are preparing to write you could decide on the scaffolds needed by providing stems that you believe are the best for the type of claim they are supporting or have students discuss ahead of time with a partner or team before they begin writing. As long as you keep this process routine, then when it is time for them to do it on their own they will have a much better understanding on how to support their evidence with reasoning. 

To help you get started with some tools on the entire process, here are some great resources you can immediately put in the hands of your students and model with your class. 

Evidence & CER Framework
Classroom, Science

Evidence & the CER Framework

This post is the 3rd post in the Claim –  Evidence – Reasoning (CER) framework series. To read the first post called: Introduction to the CER framework, click here. To examine the 2nd post: Claim in the CER framework, click here. In this post we examine Evidence.

The second part of the Claim –  Evidence – Reasoning framework is the “evidence.” Think back to a time that you just completed a lesson and then asked students to give you evidence. Did they tell you a story about that one time they were at their house and… Well if they haven’t then you are lucky. Because to my surprise, I would sit down after a great lesson, class discussion and then independent work where they tell me their evidence. I often found recounts of a personal experience embedded either here with the evidence or the reasoning. And the worst thing about this, is you have to tell the kid that their personal experience does not matter in a case like this. So to prevent this from occurring, it is vital that you clearly explain to students what “evidence” is and is not. Evidence is the facts, data, and observations from whatever source you are using. It is not an opinion. It is important to make this distinction.

Evidence & CER Framework

When you are first beginning, give students the claim statement. (Side note: When I do this, it is either printed on blue paper or I write it in blue as a visual cue). Then ask students to find the evidence to back it up. This can be done using a picture or sequence of pictures, data table, graph, or other resource. Make it like a scavenger hunt and they will find you lots of evidence. You can then generate a list from their findings; and depending on the evidence they share, you can make that magic anchor chart of what evidence is and is not. Additionally you can use this same activity to rank the best evidence from the list. If your students are learning this for the first time, you might save this for another day, but we all know that not all evidence is equal. 

As with the color coding the claim in blue, I employ this same system for evidence with the color orange. So if students are sorting evidence they are on orange paper, or they are finding it in text using an orange highlighter and when writing, highlighting their evidence in orange. These visual representations continue to support different areas of the brain and help them. 

To support your students in writing evidence statements here are a few sentence stems:


  • I observed …
  • I noticed …


  • According to the (text/graph/data), …
  • The evidence from the (text/graph/lab) shows …


  • According to the (text/graph/data), …
  • Based on the (text/graph/data), …
  • Further evidence can be found by …

As with claims the language continues to get more complex as the students level increases. Have students practice identifying evidence from a variety of different media: text, data tables, graphs, observations and experiments. Reinforce the language verbally in a collaborative speaking setting and then have them put it into writing. 

It is likely that you will have to constantly reinforce facts and data and not opinion, so expect this to be something you need to constantly review. To help you guide them, you can ask them to show you the data they are using. When they point it out, then tell them that is what they need to write. For example students often try to tell you why, when they should be telling you the “what.” 

Here is an example of a common misconception statement you may see from students. The cheetah is the fastest. Remind them that this is a claim or a conclusion and not evidence. When asking what data did you get this from they are likely to point to the number. That is where you can then say, state that number as your evidence. So an accurate sentence for this example would be: According to the data collected, the cheetah ran at a speed of 60 miles per hour. This will take some training for your students as our brains automatically want to jump to the conclusion, rather than the facts. So expect to have to work on this concept with students. In doing this you will help your students develop strong arguments. 

Getting Started with the CER Framework:

Primary CER

Intermediate Elementary CER Framework

Secondary Science CER

Looking to get started with CER. Visit my TPT Store to get your CER Digital Flipbook and help get your students writing. 

Writing the CLAIM for the CER Framework
Classroom, Science

CLAIMS & the CER Framework

This post is the 2nd post in the CER framework series. To read the first post called: Introduction to the CER framework, click here

The Claim – Evidence – Reasoning (CER) framework begins with the “CLAIM.” A claim in general terms is the answer to the question being explored. Surprisingly, students struggle with writing a claim. However, if you ask students the question, they usually can verbally generate an answer. 

Part of developing an answer to any question is helping students identify the key parts of the question that need to be included in the answer. This is critical and needs to be developed as early as possible and will eliminate many of the challenges that students may face in the future and prevent answers that include: yes, no, it, etc. No matter the age, developing this skill will be invaluable. When developing this, have students speak it aloud as common practice in complete sentences. This step goes a long way. 

Before jumping into writing anything let students share their ideas aloud with a partner, team or class. Allow time for students to practice developing sentences verbally by restating the major parts of the question needed. Techniques such as underlining or highlighting keywords can also be a common practice. (Sidenote: I have students use a blue highlighter for the claim as this provides a visual cue as well). Then once students are ready for the writing portion, it is time for them to use developmentally appropriate language. Below are some ideas to get you started. 

Writing the CLAIM for the CER Framework

CLAIM at the Primary Grades:

  • I think ….
  • I believe…
  • It is my opinion that…

CLAIM at the Intermediate Grades:

  • It is my opinion that…
  • It is easy to argue…
  • The effect of ____ on ____ is _______.

CLAIM at the Secondary Level

  • The effect of ____ on ____ is _______.
  • There is a lot of discussion on the topic of _____. It is my opinion that …
  • On the issue of ____, it is evident that …

While the language changes from a personal to specific language as students progress in academic level,  it is important to support students when they transition from speaking to writing no matter their level. Too often, students are given a writing prompt and asked to write right away. Rather students should be provided ample time to practice verbally with academic language in a collaborative activity, before they ever begin to write. . This simple step can make the difference not only in having something quality to read, but provide the student with stamina and confidence to write a high quality claim.

Primary CER

Secondary Science CER

Looking to get started with CER. Visit my TPT Store to get your CER Digital Flipbook and help get your students writing. 

Introduction to the CER Framework
Classroom, Science

Introduction to the CER Framework

This is the first blog post of an ongoing series to support integrating the CER framework into your classroom for students. In this introduction you will examine what the CER framework is. The following posts will dive deeper into each part of the CER framework and what it looks like in the primary, intermediate and secondary classrooms. 

ClaimEvidence – Reasoning (CER), is a model or framework that allows your students to show what they know as they go through the learning process. All kids are innately curious and easily can engage in discovery. All you have to do is watch them as they explore their world, play at the playground, or even visit centers in the classroom. But too often as learning progresses these natural characteristics dissipate. 

Introduction to the CER Framework

The CER framework, however, supports driving a student’s curiosity as a method to learning and communicating their discoveries. Unfortunately, these strategies are not always introduced to students until upper elementary, when they should be integrated as part of the learning process and inquiry right away. In addition, the CER framework is  seen as a science specific strategy, but it applies across contents and is embedded in the Common Core standards for literacy and mathematics. 

So, what is the CER framework?

The CER framework is centered around a question or phenomena that is either asked by the teacher or even better, generated by the student(s). Then like anything students are provided the opportunity to explore and investigate the question through activities which may include text, experiments, examining data tables or graphs, by making observations, etc. 

The three major parts of the CER framework is: Claim, Evidence and Reasoning.


  • Students generate an answer to the question being explored
  • Generally is only 1 specific sentence or statement
  • Is based on text, data, lab, specific to the question


  • Is data that comes directly from text, tables, graphs, lab, etc
  • Can be qualitative or quantitative as appropriate for the topic/question
  • May come from multiple sources depending on the student level
  • Is not opinion based or based on experience or background


  • Explains the how and why the evidence supports the claim
  • Uses definitions and/or rules or principles
  • Connects the evidence to the claim

While, on the surface this may seem simple for students it will take modeling and practice for students to bring their thinking alive. It is important for you, the teacher,  to plan on this being an ongoing process that is embedded throughout your lessons. One misconception that teachers often have is that they taught it and modeled it, but students still haven’t mastered it. While students might understand the process, they are continuously building new learning which means there will be some struggles with new content and concepts, as well as the development of language from each progressive year. Therefore the CER framework needs to be viewed as an  ongoing cycle in the learning process. Mastery is an ever evolving moving target, just as a learning content occurs in a learning progression. 

Looking to get started with CER. Visit my TPT Store to get your CER Digital Flipbook and help get your students writing. 

Free Weather Curriculum for Middle School Science

Globe Curriculum: A Free Weather Unit for Middle School Science

Teaching a unit on Weather to Middle School students can sometimes be challenging. While I love to teach Weather because I can go outside, I found many of my students didn’t love it as much as I did. So I am always looking for new and better ways. And if you ‘re like me, usually when something is FREE it is not that great. 

Well, not too long ago I learned of the GLOBE Weather Curriculum from searching for free resources to enhance my weather unit. Then at my annual Science Convention I attended a short seminar where GLOBE  educators gave us a crash course on the resources. While I saw some awesome stuff, I knew I was going to have to dig deeper to learn more. And as if it was meant to be, an email followed about a month later from my district to apply for a FREE 2-day training on the Globe Weather curriculum. And as luck would have it, I applied, and was accepted to attend the training.

I was skeptical because I am truly an inquiry based NGSS teacher and most of the curriculum you find, especially on TPT is lecture notes with Powerpoints and a lab here or there. To my surprise, this curriculum was amazing, inquiry based and aligned with the NGSS’s Three Dimensional framework. I was convinced to give the curriculum a try. That is why I want to share it with as many teachers as I can. 

What will you find in the Globe Weather Curriculum:

  1. Phenomena based: The first “anchoring” lesson is called: An Unexpected Storm, which is based on a recent weather event that hit Boulder, Colorado. This is such a great anchoring phenomena because it takes a natural event that was unexpected, whereby students learn throughout the unit possible reasons why this event occurred and finally solve the mystery.
  2. Real World: Every activity builds upon the other allowing students to experiment and search for “models” to explain the storm through guided inquiry. 
  3. Models: Students get to constantly make models to explain their thinking and add to it throughout the unit
  4. Interactive Labs and Activities: The curriculum is filled with interactive labs and activities using simulations and common materials you likely have in your classroom. 
  5. Discussion: Student discussion is a key component of the curriculum with students brainstorming and building on others ideas.
  6. Little to No Prep: On the site you will find the Teachers Guide, Student materials in print or digital, Teacher Keys, and tons of additional resources.

What you may need to consider and supplement:

The curriculum is really focused on MS-ESS2-5: Collect data to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses result in changes in weather conditions. But within that there are 5 Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI’s). Most of these are only partially covered. 

If you are wanting to include other standards such as the: Water Cycle (MS-ESS2-4), Unequal Heating (MS-ES2-6) which is only partially covered then you will need to add some additional resources. However I found this pretty easy to add. I simply placed the water cycle before I began the unit as it was recommended that students have this background prior to teaching the Globe Curriculum. Additionally I was able to easily extend more on unequal heating to the lessons where I added a lab after lesson 5 on land and sea breeze. Then at the end of the last lesson I added 3 additional lessons to hit climate, ocean currents and Global Warming.  I also added lessons on ocean currents that touched on this and also added a few lessons on ocean (MS-ESS3-5).

So if you love this curriculum like I do simply go to the Globe website and access all their resources. If you want to include the standards described that are missing or only partially covered above here are the resources I have created to supplement and make this one of the best weather and climate units all ready for you:

Distance Learning Weather & Climate Unit:

So remote learning began and all my great ideas to try this curriculum and my supplemental resources went out the window. So that is when I got to work on how I could use the resources and make it accessible for distance learning. Over the past two years I have done a few lessons using hyperdocs and had great success with my students. So I took this idea and created a framework for distance learning. Due to this new style of teaching I was not going to be able to have student teams do all the things I wanted them too. And without in class discussions, collaboration and labs I knew I was going to have to adapt my original plan. From this came an entire distance learning weather and climate unit where I was able to utilize about 50% of the Globe resources (videos, online simulations, and guided questions), while creating the other 50% to support student thinking, adding the NGSS standards that was not included as described above and building in ways for students to connect the lessons. The unit ended up being a huge success with my students and they said they loved the unit because they felt like they were able to do science at home. 

So if you need an entire weather and climate unit for distance learning that is ready to go with little to no prep, you can get it at my TPT store right here. And if you are looking for a great in-class option you can get the Globe Weather Curriculum Free at their site and supplement the other standards with the activities I listed above. 

See what buyers are saying about the Distance Learning unit:

Hi Summer, I love your Earth Science hyperdoc bundle for the 7th grade weather and climate. Can you please create more Bundles for other 7th and 8th grade science? It is so helpful that they are based on the 5E model and they are so superior to all the other hyperdocs on TPT.
September 17, 2020

Thinking Like A Scientist

Why I don’t teach the scientific method and what I do instead!

While there are tons of teachers out there teaching the traditional scientific method, it does not define science. This was a controversy I faced in my early years of teaching. Nearly all beginning of the year units and textbook companies emphasize this in their first units. Why the controversy, well science is NOT a set process, nor does it have all the components of the scientific method in many many cases. 

I worked as a field scientist before I became a teacher and brought this experience to my students immediately, which is why I am an inquiry based teacher. I rarely lecture, rather give direct instruction as needed and don’t want students to think that there is only ONE way to do science. This is a big misconception that teaching the scientific method brings to the classroom.

So what do I do instead? I begin my year helping students learn how to think like a scientist. I emphasize that science is generating ideas and solving problems. My favorite quote that I read in an article (sorry I don’t remember the name of the article) is: “Science is trying new ideas, discarding those that don’t work, and building on those that do. In science one must search for ideas. If there are no ideas, there is no science.” This is what I lay as the foundation for science  in my class. And I go out of my way to provide multiple opportunities for this way of thinking in various lessons and activities.

So over the first weeks of school we do activities that help us learn what it means to be a scientist and the skills that we put forth to reach the essence of this quote. So my students do learn how to make observations, how to design and experiment, etc. But they learn that science is ever changing and the skills that are needed to think like a scientist is not a linear set process and that you choose the skills needed for the problem you are trying to solve or the discovery you are trying to make. I still build the vocabulary of what the parts of the scientific method are, but I don’t call it that. I actually show them and then break down the barriers of this being the method of science. 

We discuss the types of questions/problems different scientists might be investigating. We explore what it means to make observational studies, research studies, the use of models and demonstrations and experimental studies. 

  • Observational studies are those where your key method is through observations. This can be like Jane Goodall’s observation of using tools in chimpanzees, or an ornithologist who is examining mating rituals in birds of paradise. The key component is observations that lead to conclusions. 
  • Research Studies: this usually involves an in- depth research on multiple studies within a topic to draw conclusions from correlations. This may lead to an investigation. Oftentimes scientists in their field may make connections between their work and others and realize that their combined ideas are helping answer their questions. 
  • Models/Demonstration studies are those where you take what you are learning through observation and/or research and create a model. A great example of this could be taking shark feeding behavior and breaking it down into steps so swimmers can identify the steps to avoid a shark attack. Or it can be creating a way to explain how rock layers were formed. These observations led to models we use and continue to create. 
  • Experimental Studies are those where scientists design an investigation to test specific variables either in the lab or in a field. Often they employ the skills of the scientific method to think through their process. 

All of these methods are incredibly important to learning and discovery. So I don’t want to limit a student’s possibility and/or curiosity. Rather employ them with the scientific thinking skills to generate ideas and design ways to further investigate our world.

So if you do still teach the scientific method, I strongly urge you to break down the barriers of this and make sure that students recognize that these are components of science for the right type of investigation, but they are not static and not used in many fields of science. Rather they can help communicate with other scientists when conducting and “experiment” and can be formatted in this way. So as you think more about “real world” science, teach students to think scientifically and not be bound by the construct of the scientific method. 

How I Introduce Human Body Systems

How I Introduce Body Systems

Students love learning about the human body and I love teaching it. Whether you teach high school Anatomy & Physiology or a unit on the Human Body Systems in middle school, you will love starting out with this fun interactive activity that can also be used as a pre-assessment of what your students know. 

During my first week of my human body systems unit, I want to know what my students know. I often find that students have many misconceptions and this is great to build off right away and know where you might need to plan for students to address and learn about their misconceptions.

Activity 1: Mapping the Body

I introduce the human body systems by asking for a volunteer. In my class I generally get a lot of hands that go up. So the first hand I see gets it. I explain to the class that they are going to work with their team to create a model of what’s inside the human body.

Human Body Outline
Body Outline on Paper

I pull out a large piece of butcher paper or large blank white chart paper and lay it across the table. Then I ask the student to lean over the table and die on my butcher paper. Usually my student over dramatically will flop down in a strange position. (Note you want the student to get from the waist up on the paper–including arms). Then I take a black marker and draw an outline of the person on the butcher paper. Sometimes these are definitely some funny body outlines. 

Phase I: I post this on the board and tell students that they are going to have one person in their group do the same thing and after I am done with all my directions give the student team the body outline I used as an example. Each person on the team needs to grab a different color marker from their box (any color, but black) that they will use. They will take turns in Round Robin and share something that they know is inside the body aloud to their team, draw it on their body chart where they think it goes and what it looks like and label it. Then the next person goes. Students will continue to take turns “Share – Draw – Label.” This usually takes students about 20 minutes. When students are done they create a key in the upper right corner with their name in the color they used so I know whose thinking is on each part. 

Phase II: Usually in my units students ask a lot of questions, which is awesome. So I like to have a place to capture all those questions. In this phase students take turns writing questions they have about the human body, organs, etc on the outside outline of the body. This usually takes about 10 minutes. 

Then students post their teams drawings around the room and we do a gallery walk where they spend about 2 minutes per poster looking at the diagrams and reading questions. When they return to theirs they look to see if there are any similar questions they wrote and place a star next to them. Then if any new questions arise they get a chance to add them here. Then we do a class share out of our top 3 questions to place on a class Driving Question Board.

After I have had all my classes I post these above their table as a reference. Throughout the unit we visit them to see what we have learned. I also keep a Driving Question Board.

Activity 2: Classification Card Sort

At the beginning of this activity I take about 10-15 minutes to have a class discussion on the vocabulary: System, Organ, Function, Structure and Classification. Oftentimes I have found that students can name some organs within a system,like the stomach to the digestive system, but they don’t really know how to assess why. So we discuss. We spend a few minutes really talking about function using examples like a pen, pencil and marker all having the same function, “to write” as a basis of understanding. We discuss how verbs are used to describe actions which are functions. As they look for functions they should be exploring verbs (or actions). I also discuss that while all organs are structures, not all structures are organs.

Step 1: Body System Cards 
I have students make a 3 column chart. The first column is for the Body System name, 2nd column for functions, and 3rd I have them leave it blank for now. In teams of 4 students, I give each team a set of body system cards and place them in the center of their table with the side that has the diagram facing up (like a set of cards). Students take turns selecting a card off the top of the deck and read aloud to their team. As they read they identify the verbs and create a list of functions for each system and write them down.  (NOTE: I recently also made this digital for distance learning). 

3 Column Chart
Musculatory System Card Side 1
Musculatory System Card Side 2

Step 2: Structure/Organ Cards
After I check teams, if necessary I review, any commonly missed information or correct any misconceptions if they came up through discussion. Now I tell students they are going to identify which organs or structures belong to each system, by looking at their functions. Functions is what classifies organs into their systems.

Card Sort

I usually take the teeth card and model this one with the whole class. First, I just ask them what system should I put the teeth in. Most often, 80% of my students, say the skeletal system. Then I read the function  on the back of the card which describes chewing food to break it down. This is when they have the “lightbulb” moment that it actually is part of the digestive system.

Skeletal Muscle (Function card)

First students lay the Body System Cards out across the middle of their table, so each system is visible. Next, students pass out all the structure cards to their teammates evenly. Students take turns and select a card from their stack, say which system they believe it belongs to and reads the evidence from the function to support it. If everyone agrees then they lay the structure card below the system they chose. When they have completed all cards, they have me check them. If students have them correct, then I have them label the 3rd Column structures and have them list the organs and structures they identified for each system. If they do not get them all correct, I pull the cards and give them the stack to redo and will circulate back. 

Step 3: Assess/Review
While this was designed to be an introductory activity, the goal is for students to know the functions of each of the major systems, as they will learn more specifically about the how they work in the unit. Therefore, I use a quick assessment the following day to see what they can recall about each system and any major organs or structures. You could use this as a homework assignment as well if you chose to. 

Body System Assess

Throughout my unit I continue to assess body system functions to maintain that my students are accurate 80% of time and within each system as they learn them in depth. At the end of the unit, I often have them do this activity again, much quicker to see how well they do. We take our Human Body Layouts down and their teams make  a new diagram with what they learned in the unit and they answer any they place the answers to questions they had on the outside this time. If we have remaining questions, we share these. Often these are strange and unusual questions or facts. I dedicate a class period to these questions and allow the team to search for the answer to the question and place them on a “shared” slide show so all students in their class can assess. Each slide has the question and what the answer was that they found. 

Want This?
If you like this activity and want the Classification Sort Activity you can go to my TPT store and get it, ready to print or in digital format all ready to use. It is also included for FREE in my Human Body Systems Lab and Activities Bundle. My students love this activity and at the end of the unit when they get to go back and see what they learned they are so shocked at their first drawing. See what other teachers had to say about this activity below.

What are teachers saying?

  • Love, love, love this resource! It was also easy to customize since I had to add two of the lesser used systems in my curriculum.
  • Used this the first day of class.  Great way to intro the year in Anatomy
  • Good exercises to give students practice.
Designing NGSS Curriculum Map
Classroom, Science

Designing An NGSS Aligned Curriculum Map

As crazy as it sounds, one of my favorite things to do when summer break arrives is to reflect on the year. Although I have been using NGSS standards to drive my classroom for years, Colorado only officially adopted the standards this past year. With this adoption, our school district revamped all their standards because they were previously based more on the Colorado standards which is where our high stakes testing for science was based on. During this phase of transition I was the lead science teacher who helped facilitate our revised standards, but within the parameters the district laid out for us. One of those parameters was that each year 6th-8th we needed to have integrated standards, meaning some life, physical and earth in every year. Previously our standards placed Earth and Space in 6th, Life in 7th and Physical in 8th. So with these parameters we got to work. 

Working with a group of middle school teachers at all levels we carefully selected standards for each level in a way that they would build on each other year to year. However, many of the physical science standards remained in 8th due to the level of mathematics needed to acquire them. So this last year, these standards were implemented. To my surprise, many teachers took the standards and just taught them as separate content, but also continued to teach how they had previously been teaching facts, ideas and content and just attached the NGSS standard to it. In addition, many teachers would just pick a standard and spend 1-3 weeks on it and then move onto the next standard. 

This led me to realize that many teachers needed support into how NGSS is different from the traditional standards. In addition, when we were working together to select the standards for each grade level, we had looked at how to bundle standards together to create the three dimensional units for NGSS. This had been lost with the roll out. So whether you are doing integrated science in grades 6th-8th or separating them by Earth, Life and Physical there are some key steps you can take to make your life easier and that begins without teaching the standards as separate entities. Rather, look for the standards that can be bundled together cohesively. Having said that you might also have a few stand alones. 

Middle School Science Curriculum Map

STEP 1: Lay out the Standards for Your Grade Level


I love technology, but I found having paper copies of the NGSS standards help me because I can see them, sort them and break them down easier. But if you can simply have them digitally and glance through them together–do what works for you. I have the standards sorted in two ways:

  1. Binder: I have taken all the standards and have 3 sections: Physical, Life and Earth & Space
  2. Binder: I have each grade level 6th, 7th, and 8th with the copies of which standards are by grade level.

Each standard also has a document called Evidence Statements. If you have not examined these I highly recommend that you do because it gives you observable features of what students’ performance looks like for that standard. 

Once you have the standards you need for your grade level you begin to examine them more deeply and find connections.

STEP 2: Combine Topics That Are Easily Taught Together

Now it is time to get messy. Once you have all the standards for the year in front of you you can see things that connect easily with each other. If you’re not sure and feel lost on where to start, you can always scan a textbook to see what was included within a unit of study. In general I try to have somewhere between 6-8 units for the year. But oftentimes I have somewhere between 15 plus standards and 20-25 major learning targets to cover each year to build into these units. 

My process for combining standards consists of writing out the major standards as phrases for the grade level and then I start creating a web of lines to connect them. Additionally, when we were mapping out all three years we started with all of them and looked at learning progressions to see what concepts build on another so we could place it in a previous year and then review the next year with the concept that builds upon another. 

What I found from doing this messy process is my creativity begins to flow and I have more ideas than previously when just looking at them individually. 

STEP 3: Creating Your Scope and Sequence Curriculum Map

If you are only teaching one specific Discipline (Life, Physical or Earth & Space) then you begin by either taking a look at the big picture and working to the small picture or flip flop it. But if you are doing integrated, like I am then you have to factor in what it taught in the previous year and where your students will continue in the next year. Additionally you might consider the time of year for certain disciplines and then teach similar ideas together. 

This is something I actually review every year to see if my sequence made sense the way I envisioned it. So depending on where you are at with your school and district if you have done step 1 and 2 above, I have included my Curriculum Map which is “integrated.” But you will also get a blank template so you can rearrange yours anyway you would like based on your school and/or district needs. Just click on the link at the bottom of this post to get your Curriculum Map and access to other resources OR visit my blog’s homepage at summerslearningcorner.com and scroll to the bottom of the page and click “Get Science Curriculum Map Now.”

STEP 4: Building Your Storyline and Phenomena

Save Create Debate

This is probably my favorite part because this is where you bring NGSS alive. Once I have my major units figured out I look at the Evidence Statements which closely grasp the Practices and Crosscutting Concepts, so I can have exactly what performance from my students should look like. 

Now I get to build the phenomena and storyline. This is where your unit comes alive because you provide students with a real world phenomena to explore and build upon throughout the unit and maintain the inquiry task that NGSS was founded on, the “real science.” 

For example, when I was creating my Natural Selection unit, I opened it up with a controversial topic of whether we should recreate an extinct species or save an endangered species. This allowed us time to look at the pros and cons of the topics, learn why various species went extinct and build upon this throughout the unit of natural selection. Throughout the unit we came back and revisited this idea. Then when it came time to look at local endangered species they were able to evaluate if this was similar or different to the patterns we studied with natural selection and make an informed decision. Students told me this was absolutely one of their favorite units because they felt like they were connected to the content and could make a difference. Additionally, they felt the debate itself has merit and that they really got a 3D perspective. 

Last, while you’re going through this process you might find you have to go back to step 3 and rearrange things and can easily do that.

STEP 5: Breaking your Unit in Learning Sequences

Some of my units can take 6-8 weeks. That means that you have to really think through the performance expectations using the evidence outcomes from the standards you are bundling together. Usually you will see big ideas come out. In general I try to break my units in what I call “Learning Sequences,” which really are the big concepts or subunits within your unit. Whatever you call them, they often follow a learning progression of some sort. 

For example, when I taught my Human Impact Unit it included: natural resources, human impact, uneven distribution of Earth’s resources and global warming. So we began with various phenomena through imagery and began to ask questions as to why this was happening. Building on these questions we looked at global warming data, conducted experiments to understand what causes the earth to warm at the molecular level, and then branched out to our human footprint, which led to natural resources and uneven distribution of earth’s resources and ultimately back to our phenomena of human impact where students got to choose a problem to dig deeper into and use the Engineering Practices to design solutions by looking at cause and effect cross-cutting concepts.

STEP 6: Pacing Your Curriculum Map

I think every teacher struggles with this and I modify this every year. I try to guesstimate how long I expect each lesson will take and then build a one to two week buffer as I have found even if everything I thought is about perfect, something will come up with unexpected schedule changes. Once you have taught your unit then you have a better idea and can rework if needed. 

STEP 7: Be Flexible and Relax

By just making your Curriculum Map, you feel a huge weight off your shoulders and know what you are going to teach. If you are new to NGSS then give yourself some grace and start small, steal some of my ideas here or within my Map. 

Join other Middle School and High School teachers to get my Middle School Science Curriculum Map. Simply click here and join for FREE! Along with the Curriculum Map you will get updates, tips and free resources sent directly to your inbox! (Note: Sometimes this will go to your SPAM box, so double check there if you don’t see it right away and mark it not Spam for future resources).