Toolkit Activities

Toolkit Activities

Because the five MDPs are synergistic, some activities found in this MDP overlap or align strongly with activities found in other MDP sections. This alignment is conveyed through color-coded dots in the activity-specific page (“Learn More”).

Ensure students feel recognized and welcomed
Daily check-ins: Spend a few minutes talking about non-school topics with a different student each day; follow up if you notice something is wrong
Acknowledge students who were absent (e.g., “we missed you yesterday”)
Include examples of scientists/engineers with diverse backgrounds in learning materials and/or classroom displays
Call on students and recognize student contributions in different ways (e.g., answering a question, posing a question from the Driving Question Board to frame discussion, etc.)
Work in small groups to build a team mentality and offer peer supports, whether for data collection, analysis, interpretation, model design, solution generating, etc.
  • Emphasize that collaboration leads to the best innovation
Think-pair-share and related protocols (e.g., inner-outer circle with rotating partners) give students an opportunity to build relationships with their peers in the classroom setting
Emphasize that all experience is valuable and that diversity of ideas and experiences are assets by using protocols like Serial Testimony that allow students to share their perspectives without debate or critique
Create an “I wonder” culture. For example, spend 5 minutes at the beginning of class (or at the end of the week) to choose and talk about one thing that students have identified wanting to learn more about
Display all student work with informational feedback instead of grades (e.g., “great display of shared ideas”)
Provide resources that show scientists and engineers who reflect the demographics of your students. Include reading material, video, YouTube, speaking engagements, and diverse career fields in science. Celebrating Cultural Diversity from NSTA Press includes some ideas and considerations for teachers looking to incorporate more inclusive science teaching materials
Because teachers do not always know about different aspects of student identity or which aspects of identity are most important to students, include examples of scientists/engineers with diverse backgrounds in learning materials and/or classroom displays
Look for opportunities to integrate students’ cultural values and community history into the physical space of the science classroom. For example, in Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, Zaretta Hammond provides some ideas about classroom design
Ice breakers help build relationships with peers and teachers
As a class, develop and enforce classroom rules to foster a community mindset and culture of respect being a shared responsibility. Encourage students to hold each other accountable
Keep a compliment box where students can drop off compliments for their peers. The teacher can share these periodically with the recipients. #Remind students regularly to think about using this box, and to drop compliments off on the way out (or into) the classroom
Provide a “Could we change” box (strictly for science related content) to solicit questions that students are afraid to utter in class, or for concerns kids have about group work, or topics they'd like to explore, etc.
  • Make clear that anything personal or sensitive should come directly to the teacher as a personal conversation
Learn about equitable teaching practices for supporting a sense of community among diverse student cultures and identities. For example, in Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, Zaretta Hammond provides basic interactional tips called “Trust Generators” that support belonging and identification within the classroom’s community of science learners
Select volunteers daily to take attendance, pass out/pick up materials, be group notetakers
Identify a volunteer each day to be the notetaker for absent students that day and to brief the absent students upon return
Devise meaningful group roles from which students can choose, so that all students feel they can contribute
Give all students opportunities to experience leadership, and show that you trust their abilities to lead, for example by asking them to lead you in the next step
Invite students into science through displays/school announcements/community learning opportunities that encourage participation in science
Ask students to apply science concepts to their lives outside of class and share their findings via journals, photos, videos, social media to create a sense of connection with each other
Help students understand that their interests and values belong in science. For example, help a student see how their interest intersects with science and focus on the non-obvious (e.g., fashion uses science through textile development; baseball uses engineering to develop new equipment; etc.)
Coordinate opportunities for students to meet and/or observe professionals in science and engineering fields, allowing students to find commonalities between themselves and the professionals and to ask questions #Recognize the many different types of science careers, including careers that aren’t all Ph.D. oriented
If a student says that not many people like them are scientists/engineers, acknowledge that the student may not have learned about it in school but that people of many different backgrounds have made important contributions to science. Give an example of a science/engineer the student can relate to and express a belief that the student can be successful in science
Encourage a student feeling alienated from science to start a science-based journal, scrapbook or other for recording thoughts and observations from outside the classroom that they can share with the teacher
Consult resources on equitable teaching practices (e.g., anti-racist teaching) for additional ideas for talking to students about feelings of alienation that stem from systemic inequities
Strategies and resources listed throughout this section that draw on equitable teaching frameworks (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy) include Trust Generators, Serial Testimony, Celebrating Cultural Diversity from NSTA Press, and Zaretta Hammond’s classroom design ideas
Refer to the section “Motivation as a Tool for Equity in Science Instruction” for additional resources
Post and consistently refer to lesson and unit objectives, aims, driving questions, phenomena, problem, and/or learning targets
Create a rotating role for students to read aloud the objectives. This kind of routine helps to ensure that posted objectives get vocalized consistently
Use an exit ticket to ask students to reflect on new knowledge/skills acquired related to the posted expectations/objectives/phenomena/driving question, and identify the level of personal challenge and personal interest
Post a daily agenda with the major sections of the lesson and anticipated time for each section
Alert students when work time is nearing its end. Check in to see if students need more time, and adjust as needed
Assign students to tasks to help facilitate transitions
Use recent exit tickets or other assessment data to collect information about students’ current skill levels. Use this information to inform subsequent activities and whether one level or multiple levels of challenge are needed
Provide several resources on the same topic at different levels and distribute to students according to reading level or provide students the opportunity to self-select
  • For example, as students are learning to write explanations, the class may be at various skill levels. Offer the following resources to students:
    • a skeleton paragraph with blanks in important places for students to fill in;
    • An outline with sentence starters;
    • an outline;
    • write the explanation without these supports
“Chunk” work on larger tasks/projects to make the work more manageable for students
Use think-alouds to model successful thought processes for new and/or challenging tasks
Create tools to support common tasks and make them consistently available to students. This can help make challenging tasks more accessible
Provide options for level of challenge so students can select the level that suits them. For example, allow students to decide whether or not they need a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning graphic organizer later in the school year
A Driving Question Board with dedicated space for answered questions shows students that they can successfully ask and answer questions
A KWL graphic organizer provides a structure to display students’ prior knowledge in the “Know” column and track what new knowledge/skills they have developed in the “Learned” column
Have students record “I can…” statements about skills they are learning. Periodically revisit these and add new statements throughout the year to help students feel confident as they see their skill set growing
Use individual and private progress charts to track students’ key skills and competencies over time so that students can see their growth. These charts can be used in individual conferences with students, to help students set personally challenging but attainable goals, and to help teachers create work that is appropriately challenging for the student
In general, pair and group work can reduce the perceived challenge of a task for students. Assigning or allowing for student roles can help all students feel confident in their potential to contribute to the group
Start each lesson with a “Do Now,” warm up, or bellwork that asks questions to activate prior knowledge or prepare students for the lesson in a low-stakes way. This provides students with an early experience of success in the lesson
Use appropriate wait time to ensure that all students have a chance to engage in the question/task and potentially contribute an answer
“Warm” call: When circulating among students working individually or in groups, provide informational feedback to students and tell them you’ll ask them to share out when the whole class reconvenes
Think-pair-shares interspersed during whole-class instruction can help students feel more confident in publicly offering an answer or suggestion
Have students share strategies that were successful for them when working on a task. If done in writing, keep some of these to share with next year’s students
Do a gallery walk at the midway point of a project so that students can see alternative approaches to the project by their classmates and decide on any adjustments they want to make for the remainder of the project timeline
Have students post work on the board or display it with a document camera and explain what they did and their reasoning behind it
Use think alouds to model how students might think through an upcoming task
Review and post the supports available to students while they work. Refer to the posted list when students are experiencing difficulty to help them find a strategy to try next
Circulate in the classroom to watch and listen to what students do and say. Assist by pointing to resources and strategies students can use and asking probing questions to move students toward success. Provide informational feedback highlighting successful strategy use
Encourage students with a focus on your belief in them, especially because of their effort and strategy use
Review the Confidence Talk Moves section. Select a few to try out during a lesson
Model for students how to use a rubric to guide their work to completion of an assignment. At the outset they can use a rubric to understand the expectations for an assignment. During work they can use the rubric to self-assess their progress. When the teacher has assessed their work they can use the rubric to interpret feedback and then to improve their work based on the feedback they received
  • Note: Rubrics should be primarily focused on student demonstration of 3-dimensional learning
Grade a draft of a project with a rubric and allow students to respond to the feedback for the final version and update the grade
Use language from the rubric or competencies to help provide students with informational feedback as they work
Use a standards- or competency-based grading system
Promote a culture of asking, exploring, and striving to answer scientific questions by providing question stems, explicit instruction about different question types with ample opportunities to practice, and structures to acknowledge and record questions
Use a Driving Question Board to have students list what they are curious about regarding a phenomenon/design problem, and then use that to generate questions that can be investigated to help them make sense of the phenomenon or design solutions to the problem. Post the question(s) the students are trying to answer and consistently return to them throughout the unit, asking the class what questions have been answered and what new questions have arisen along the way. This helps remind students that the overall purpose of their endeavors in science class is to develop greater understanding
A KWL graphic organizer is another way to encourage question-asking. After identifying prior knowledge in the “Know” column, students can pose questions for the “Wonder” column and see that their questions are central to the process of increasing/developing knowledge
  • As the class answers questions in the “Learned” column, include the supporting evidence (e.g., results of a lab or demonstration, reading of science text, etc.) to emphasize the connection between students’ effort and learning
Jigsaw protocols, which charge students with becoming “experts” on a component of a larger task or knowledge base, can help give students a sense of personal responsibility for learning and communicating new content. Jigsaws can be used for reading, question generation, argumentation, generating multiple solutions, etc.
Turn-and-talk/think-pair-share and other partner or group work allows students to discuss initial ideas before sharing out with the class, helping to decrease feelings of social comparison for students who feel less sure about their answers
Practices for soliciting more equitable participation in whole-class instruction, such as drawing name sticks to call on students, can promote students’ personal accountability for learning but must be accompanied by appropriate community-building to avoid feeling punitive and undermining belonging
Monitor students’ progress during independent or group work and, when possible, allow additional time when students are working thoughtfully
Build in pauses during or at the end of class, or small revision/modification/iteration cycles in classroom activities to allow students to reflect individually on how their thinking has changed and/or raise questions about what they are learning. This helps students integrate their new knowledge and reminds them that their focus should be on developing deeper understanding, rather than completing activities
Gallery walks can be an effective way to share visual work when there are multiple solutions or approaches
When students’ thinking isn’t necessarily visible, plan out protocols for how students can verbally share out
Pair the share-out with structure (e.g., sentence stems or a note-taking guide) to help students observe and reflect on how peers’ ideas are different without judging which one is “best”/“right.” Conclude by asking students to reflect on what they’ve learned/how their own understanding has changed/what new questions they have after taking in the new information
  • See Project Zero’s Connect/Extend/Challenge for a sample protocol of this kind of process
Create a poster or anchor chart of sentence starters/discourse moves to display in the classroom. Use these discourse moves as much as possible and remind students to use them as well. Identify focal talk moves for particular activities so that students can practice them in manageable chunks
Encourage discussion/debate among students with Four Corners or another continuum activity that prompts students to take a stance (e.g., strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree) and then explain their evidence and reasoning to try to persuade others
Project Zero has a number of “thinking routines” to provide consistent protocols and structures for student sense-making
Note: Effective discussions require sufficient time and fluency (for both students and teacher) in academic discourse. Use resources like the Accountable Talk Sourcebook, the “Supporting Discussions” chapter of the Open SciEd Teacher Handbook, Talk Science Primer, and Discourse Primer for Science Teachers to create expectations and guidelines around academic discourse that can be introduced at the beginning of the year and used throughout different learning activities
Design assessments such that they always include an opportunity for students to explain their thinking, not just provide answers. Provide feedback on these explanations as well as the skills students demonstrate, rather than just the percent of correct/incorrect answers, to help students track their progress in developing understanding and de-emphasize points
Use descriptive rubrics that explain to students what demonstrating different levels of conceptual knowledge and reasoning look like. This helps convey to students that they are being evaluated on their understanding and communication of that understanding, rather than on their ability to memorize or some aspect of their person (e.g., intelligence, favored status with the teacher, etc)
Grade a draft of a project with a rubric and allow students to respond to the feedback for the final version to demonstrate their understanding
If using nonverbal formative assessments (e.g., fist-to-five, time checks) in class, make sure to pair them with explicit norm-setting and expectations around their purpose, to avoid social pressure for students to hold up higher numbers or compare themselves negatively to peers
Anonymous live polling (e.g., Poll Everywhere or Google Forms) can help place the emphasis on developing a deeper understanding among all students in the class and on the evolution of thinking (e.g., polling at the beginning and end of a class to show changes)
Frayer models for vocabulary can be used to help students develop and demonstrate a deeper understanding of concepts by applying their understanding in multiple ways, rather than merely trying to memorize definitions. They are also conducive to being shared through a gallery walk or other mechanism
Provide sentence stems, descriptive rubrics, and other structures to support students giving each other constructive feedback (verbally and in writing) to improve their ideas/work rather than merely praising or dismissing it as “good” or “bad”
Think-alouds can model a learning orientation to students by normalizing struggle, confusion, and mistakes; and modeling effective strategies and scientific practices such as asking questions, using feedback to improve a draft (including how to interpret a rubric), and reading a challenging scientific text #Consider gradually releasing responsibility of think-alouds to students as a way for them to share their thinking with the class
Provide opportunities for students to share their working and evaluation preferences

Conduct class votes on seating arrangement, options for collaborative and solo work, etc. to accommodate student preferences while still serving the learning objective

Invite students to contribute ideas for the rubric or evaluation criteria of a project

Convene periodic class meetings to amend norms/rules and solicit student input on how the class is operating

Hold periodic individual conferences to check in with students and offer them an opportunity to ask questions about the class, their learning goals, etc.

Have a resource table where supports relevant for a particular lesson (e.g., post-its, highlighters, chrome books, readings) are available to students and give students the choice to use them if needed or not. Provide students with ownership over their personal area of supplies (i.e., on top of or inside of their desks) where they keep various items including glue sticks, pencils, and a cell phone charger

Invite students to figure out how to explore a phenomenon or solve a design problem by soliciting ideas from students about what procedures and/or materials will accomplish the objective. Then allow the class to choose from these ideas when executing the lab

Provide an “Option A” and “Option B” (or additional options) for certain lab objectives/content/procedures. For example, if students are investigating simple machines, allow a choice of which simple machine to investigate. If labs call for repeated trials with varying amounts, consider dividing up the trials among the class and letting lab groups choose which ones they will perform

For group work, have students decide on group roles that will help them complete the task and let them choose their roles

Consider having students perform investigations themselves to explore phenomena or build prototypes to engage in problem solving (as opposed to the teacher carrying out the investigations or watching a video)

Plan for and set aside time for students to help set up lab materials

If a teacher is leading a demonstration for safety reasons, consider how to make small parts of it more interactive, such as inviting students to verify that the teacher has adequately completed certain procedural steps

Give groups white boards or poster paper when they are solving problems or visually representing their thinking, and/or explicitly state that multiple approaches/solutions, or different ways of communicating information are expected. Take time to ensure that students get to see/hear the different approaches (e.g., with a gallery walk or a discussion) and ask how students’ thinking has changed
  • Where possible/relevant, provide students with more modalities in how they can choose to demonstrate their thinking, e.g. graphs, diagrams, models, other visuals, orally, in writing

Develop procedures for whole-class discussion that support student autonomy in communication preferences. For example, allow students to decide who will share out from their groups rather than calling on students. When students need more time to respond, be supportive (e.g., come back to the student later or ask him/her to choose another group member for help)

During activities like share-outs or discussions, pay close attention to student behaviors that may reflect cultural differences or individual preferences, and be prepared to modify communication structures accordingly to allow for alternative modes of participation

A Driving Question Board provides time/opportunity for students to generate questions about a phenomenon or design problem at the beginning of a unit and to add questions as the unit progresses. Encourage students to research questions that arise that the class might not get to answer during the unit

Support students’ ability to generate and pursue their own questions through research or discussion by using a Question Matrix, teaching levels of questioning, and/or using question/sentence stems

Encourage students to use existing video resources like Khan Academy or YouTube as tools to seek out knowledge on their own

Structure in reflection time after tasks or at the end of class to give students an opportunity to think about their learning and decide on next steps, rather than merely following the teacher/curriculum

Encourage students to take ownership of their own learning rather than always relying on the teacher by providing help-seeking routines/structures like “Ask 3 Then Me,” resource files posted around the room, hint cards for labs/assignments, or red-yellow-green status tags during independent/group work

When possible, use student-driven, project-based learning

Allow students’ questions/puzzles to drive the direction of learning by using organizers like KWLs, protocols or thinking routines like Project Zero’s Think/Puzzle/Explore, or simply giving students time to process and answer a warm-up question

Four Corners and other continuum activities allow students to “vote with their feet” by taking different stances (e.g., strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree) and justifying their opinions to try to persuade others

If students are multilingual and choose to speak or write in non-English home languages for some tasks, encourage them to do so to explore their understanding and ask them to consider how they can share their thinking with the class as a next step

Turn and talk/think-pair-share activities allow all students to discuss their own ideas first with a partner, even if they don’t get voiced in the whole class

A “Chalk Talk,” or silent discussion on paper, allows all students to share and connect their ideas

Jigsaw protocols, which charge students with becoming “experts” on a component of a larger task or knowledge base, give students ownership and responsibility for learning and teaching new content

Frayer models provide a structure for students to demonstrate their understanding of vocabulary/new concepts by defining the concept in their own words and generating their own examples/connections/illustrations of the concept

Identify specific discourse moves from the Talk Moves listed here, the Accountable Talk Sourcebook, the “Supporting Discussions” chapter of the Open SciEd Teacher Handbook, Talk Science Primer, and Discourse Primer for Science Teachers to practice using in classes to ensure that students receive follow-up questions to their comments and/or invitations to answer each others’ questions, rather than the teacher immediately evaluating the response

Use attention-getting strategies like countdowns, “if you can hear my voice, clap once,” or raised hands to get students’ attention instead of controlling language

Teach and use help-seeking norms such as “Ask 3 Then Me” that encourage students to ask each other for help before the teacher

When students are having difficulty engaging productively, have some ideas available (e.g., moving to a different seat, going for a short walk in the hallway, squeezing a stress ball) but prompt the students themselves to identify the best way to refocus themselves in the moment

Provide students with advance warning for content that could be upsetting to them

Provide students with an exit ticket where they can indicate their feelings about and/or thoughts on aspects of the lesson, especially a lesson that might provoke strong emotions

If students are upset or uncomfortable about performing certain tasks, provide alternatives as appropriate, such as:

  • Drawing a model of a frog’s body instead of participating in a dissection
  • Writing out the pros and cons of a controversial issue instead of participating in a live debate
Make connections to students' experiences, interests, goals and real lives
When planning examples, prompts, or relevance connections to incorporate into lessons, pause and reflect on any assumptions you might be making about what students will find relevant and whether some reframing might make the relevance connections stronger and more culturally responsive to students
Coordinate opportunities for students to meet and/or observe professionals in science and engineering fields, allowing students to find commonalities between themselves and the professionals and to ask questions
  • Recognize the many different types of science careers, including careers that aren’t all Ph.D. oriented
Prior to beginning an activity, identify its purpose and how it helps students engage with science the way real-world scientists do (e.g., remind students that data generation is an authentic science practice and that scientists do this!). Then, throughout the activity and related instruction, look for ways to allude back to this framing
Allow students to tailor assignments to existing interests
Invite students to connect their science learning to what they are experiencing outside of school, including events in the news
Take the time to learn about each student (e.g., interests, personal and academic challenges, goals, values) so that these can be incorporated into relevance connections planning. For example, asking what students did over the weekend can potentially illuminate relevance connections with upcoming lessons, or knowing that a student likes a particular sport can inform the selection of examples to illustrate concepts or skills
Use a “Do Now,” warm up, or bellwork to solicit students’ basic reflections on the targeted phenomenon, what it relates to that they want to know more about, how knowledge around the phenomenon is useful to the community, their culture, or to their everyday lives. At the end of class, use an exit ticket, short writing prompt, or a think-pair-share for students to reflect on the real-world applications of what they learned. Sample prompts:
  • Write about how [X] relates to your life (outside the classroom). You don’t need to summarize the material, just describe how it could relate or be used in your everyday life
  • Choose a topic from class [might want to list them for students to choose from] that is personally useful and meaningful to you and describe how learning about this topic is useful to your life right now. Then, with the same topic or choosing a different one, describe how learning about this topic will be beneficial to you in the future (e.g., education, career, daily life)
Use a consistent reflection routine at the end of classes, such as: What [did we learn]? So What [why is it important to me and/or the community]? Now What [do I want to explore next]?
Ask students to think about and share lived experiences of their own (or of those they’ve wondered about) that relate to their current science learning
Design team-based, partner, or group activities that appeal to students’ social preferences so that modes of science learning feel more culturally relevant to students
Utilize narratives and stories to aid in students’ making sense of phenomena and/or designing solutions and convey how specific people in history contributed to great scientific advancements (e.g., Rosalind Franklin collaborating with Watson and Crick with DNA study)
Create an equitable science learning space:
  • Design assignments that encourage students to draw on aspects of their culture, neighborhood, or family values as connected to the current phenomenon, etc. Resources like a Self-Documentation worksheet can help students make connections between what they are learning in science class and their everyday lives
  • Incorporate student-based interests and styles into handouts, discussion boards, materials, examples, etc. Celebrating Cultural Diversity from NSTA Press includes some ideas and considerations for teachers looking to incorporate more inclusive science teaching materials
  • In Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, Zaretta Hammond provides some ideas about classroom design that integrates students’ cultural values and community history into the physical space of the classroom
Refer to the section “Motivation as a Tool for Equity in Science Instruction” for additional resources
Incorporate texts and sources beyond the official curricular materials (e.g., magazine or news articles--especially local news--websites, educational films)
  • Videos often capture students’ interest; be sure to make science connections clear so that the video is not just a “hook” or reward
Utilize materials that are familiar to students (e.g., chalk, Legos) and discuss the origins/composition of those materials (e.g., students are familiar with chalk but probably have not thought about where it comes from or what it is -- it’s something familiar yet intriguing)
Teach students how to use technology like Excel or Google Docs that students may perceive as more relevant to real-world skills than doing calculations or writing by hand
  • Relate the use of technological skills to the work that contemporary scientists and engineers do (e.g., the need to log data and share results through digital platforms)
  • The software and technology itself can also be used as an example of STEM-related work that students can pursue
Center instruction on phenomena and design problems from students’ community, daily life, or current events
Have students engage in argumentation over local scientific and engineering issues that affect their daily lives. For example, there may be flooding in their neighborhood due to recent rains and students can develop solutions for how to minimize its impact and present arguments for which solution is optimal
Many strategies from equitable teaching frameworks (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy) address ways to learn more about the local community and their needs, and to connect science learning to those needs